Blast From the Past, No.1: Holy Warrior

A few days ago my daughter asked me how many books I had written, and I had to think for a bit before replying sixteen. But it struck me that this is a fairly decent body of work. And that with the relentless writing, publishing and promotion of my new and up-and-coming novels, I was sadly neglecting my extensive backlist. So I decided to do an occasional blog called Blast From the Past a few times a year in which I would showcase past some of my older novels. And this week I’m kicking it off by talking about the second book in the Outlaw Chronicles – Holy Warrior.

Holy Warrior - Angus Donald

I wrote Holy Warrior in 2008/09 at around the time the first book in the series Outlaw was released. But what I remember most about this novel is the huge amount of travelling I did to research the story.

Holy Warrior begins with the horrific pogrom of the Jews of York in 1190, in which several hundred members of that faith committed suicide in The King’s Tower in York Castle rather than face death at the hands of a baying mob of crusade-fevered Christians. I spent a day or two in York, researching it and visiting what is now called Clifford’s Tower, where the tragedy occurred – and it was quite harrowing to write, to be honest, with mothers killing their children and being killed in turn by their own husbands. It still moves me to read it now.

Tracing the route of the Third Crusade

The rest of the book is largely about the journey of the English and French crusading armies to the Holy Land in 1190. The English army (containing a reluctant Robin Hood and his loyal teenage lieutenant Alan Dale) travelled from Southhampton to Normandy and then right down France to Marseilles. They took ship along the Italian coast to Sicily, where they spent the winter. Then Richard the Lionheart and his men sailed to Cyprus – and conquered it – before popping across to the Holy Land. All the way on the journey someone is trying to murder Robin Hood and Alan Dale is trying to protect him and find out who the assassin is. I’m still rather pleased with the reveal at the end.

As well as going to York, I travelled to Sicily, Cyprus and Israel to research the book – and even now the cost of the airfares and hotels makes me wince. I spent a full week in Israel visiting the sights, including Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. But it was early days in my career and I wanted to “walk the ground” as I thought of it, to get it right. I also thought writing historical fiction would be a lot more lucrative. Recently, I haven’t been travelling at all to research my books – but that is more to do with Covid-19 than the prohibitive cost of the expeditions. But in more normal times I usually allow myself one trip per novel, partly as a brief holiday, partly as research. For example, I spent a wonderful few days a couple of years ago in Ireland visiting the site of the Battle of the Boyne to research Blood’s Campaign (below). But nowadays I more often rely on Google Earth, online maps and my own imagination.

However, the year when I wrote Holy Warrior, and did such a lot of expensive travelling, still sticks in my mind. I lost my temper in York and swore at some English Heritage types who refused to even consider stocking my novel in Clifford’s Tower, which they now manage. I was ripped off by a taxi driver in Messina. And I discovered just how painful it is to get water in your eyes from the Dead Sea. These are all now cherished memories. I doubt I will ever do so much foreign research for a single novel again. But I don’t regret that year in the slightest.

So there you have it – Holy Warrior, the second novel in the Outlaw Chronicles. If you like, you can order a copy here. And if you like it, the next one in the series is Robin Hood and the Caliph’s Gold, which you can buy here.

If you are not at all interested in my Robin Hood tales, you might like to try my latest novel (my fifteenth) which is called The Last Berserker, the first in a new Viking series. Number sixteen The Saxon Wolf will be out in the autumn.

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