Peace Corps Writers
Talking with Elsa Watson (page 4)
 Talking with
Elsa Watson
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You mentioned in the novel the tensions between the Normans and the Saxons. How important is this to the main story?
In some ways I mentally compared Norman England of 1190 with the United States today, 140 years after the Civil War. Despite the time that’s passed, no one would say racial conflicts have evaporated in this country — the Civil Rights Act of 1964 proved that, 100 years after the war, tremendous division still existed between the races. England experienced similar racial blending after the Norman invasion of 1066. The Normans, led by William the Conqueror, became the rulers of the English, who were primarily Saxon. It seems reasonable to me that, 120 years later, when my story begins, tensions would be nearly as high as they had been in the years after the invasion.
     The Robin Hood legends, passed down to us through songs, are folklore — the stories of the common people. I wanted, therefore, to emphasize the issues they would have cared about, such as the prejudice and injustice of the Norman elite. It seemed natural to make Robin Hood a Saxon-speaking character who came from laboring people. And I purposefully chose to make Marian a Norman noble, knowing that each would bring a set of biases to their meeting and that this would increase the tension of their romance. Annie, Marian’s Saxon nurse, also plays an important role by introducing Marian to both Saxon culture and its language.
How does your book differ from others?
In the 1800s, Thomas Love Peacock wrote a novel entitled Maid Marian, in which both Marian and Robin are nobles. There have been some young adult books on the subject, but the overwhelming number of Robin Hood retellings dwarfs the number of stories specifically about Maid Marian. In most versions of the Robin Hood legend, Marian is relegated to a minor character’s role. I wanted to bring her story to the forefront, to give her a voice of her own. I chose to write it in the first person so readers could enter into her thoughts and feel personally involved in her journey.
The rumor is that you started to write this book by candle light while living in the village — true?
Well, I started writing in Peace Corps, though not this book. At some point in the first year, probably when I was sick of reading the true crime books I’d picked up in the PCV library, I decided to write a book, just to see if I could. Thinking that romance novels were pretty simple (so untrue!), I wrote one on a couple tablets of paper I’d scrounged from somewhere. When we went in to the capital, I’d type up whatever I had until it was done, at maybe 200 pages.
     My husband and some other PCVs were kind enough to read it and give me some encouragement, so I started on a second one. The second book caused me a lot more trouble, and I learned some tough lessons about plotting and story structure — it was a really rocky sophomoric attempt. By the time we left, I think I had two and a half books done, none of them really worth anything except the writing lessons they’d taught, one of which was that romance novels aren’t simple at all. I have them here in my “never to see the light of day” folder.
Are you working on another novel?
I’m between novels at the moment. I’ve just finished editing the two I wrote while Maid Marian was in production, and those are floating around right now in search of buyers. One of those is a King Arthur saga, about his mother, Ygraine. The other involves Anne Bonney, a pirate who sailed the Caribbean in the early 1700s. I have a topic chosen for my next book, but I’ve decided to stick with freelance work until I sell another book, since that earns a paycheck.
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