[GUEST POST] Sarah Cawkwell on Alternate History with Fantasy and Magic


An NHS worker by day and a writer under the cover of night, Sarah Cawkwell‘s first novel The Gildar Rift was published by the Black Library in 2011. Since then, she has written several other novels and short stories set in the grim-dark worlds of Warhammer. Heirs of the Demon King: Uprising is due for release in May 2014. Other works include tie-in fiction for World of Warcraft and several original tales for an assortment of publishers. Sarah lists her hobbies as reading, writing, reading about writing, writing about reading, online gaming and writing about online gaming. She needs to get out more.

Alternatively Speaking…

by Sarah Cawkwell

As the release date for my novel, Heirs of the Demon King: Uprising gets closer, I find myself musing on the whole aspect of writing alternative fiction. Heirs is a something a little bit different. It’s more than just an alternative history story. It’s more than a ‘what-if’ scenario. It adds in an entirely new dimension of fantasy and magic – things that absolutely, categorically did not happen. No, sir. That we know of, at least. History, remember, is written by the winners. Or the people who don’t like to own up to that bit of it that embarrasses them for any given reason.

When I was asked to consider an alternative history, I knew exactly where I’d be starting. I’ve been shamelessly fascinated by the history of the Plantagenets since I was at school. They seemed to produce incredible character after incredible character. Even the ‘walk on parts’ of their story are interesting. Take Eleanor of Aquitaine who was, and still is, one of the most remarkable women in our country’s history.

But the Plantagenet line slowly became more dilute and infinitely less competent as time passed by. Cue the Battle of Bosworth field and this extraordinary family is largely forgotten except for moments when they wheel out Richard the Lionheart to put a film into context (I’m looking at you, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves), or when Richard III hits the news for being located under a Leicestershire car park.

Historical fiction allows you to carefully step around the minefield of Absolute Reality. (This is not a new alcoholic drink. Although it should be. Jeeves, note that down). But there will always be the comments that ‘well, that’s not historically accurate’. And in this case, that’s perfectly fine. Because it isn’t. And it isn’t meant to be. It’s alternative. Not in the asymmetrical haircut, mournful lyrics sense, but in the ‘everything’s different’ sense.

It’d be a complete lie to say that there’s no research needed for historical fiction, because there is. But there is also a calming breeze of common sense that blows through your anxious world. Those moments when you go ‘someone, somewhere will notice that this isn’t in Actual History’. Your wiser side gently reminds you that ‘this may not be what happened in 1685 in the real world, but things are different in this world.’

Don’t worry, though. It’s not a case that everyone in the seventeenth century of Heirs carries a semi-automatic. The generals of the various armies don’t text each other.

Can U C Hal Tudor anywhere? He scarpered LOL x

There are no scenes with King Richard V searching frantically for the TV remote.

I tried very hard to keep a medieval feel to Heirs, but to occasionally remind people that things are not exactly the same as their school text books would have them believe. The king’s engineer, for example, is perhaps a little more advanced in his designs than an engineer of the time would have been – but he is limited by the materials available to him. In a lot of ways, the research for the story became just as absorbing as writing the story itself did. It was the IMDB of book research: you looked up one thing and then you found yourself looking at an associated link, until you went from ‘seeing if this town was even in existence’ to looking at a list of popular dances from the region without even blinking.

History is filled with remarkable stories. I consider it an honour and a privilege to have taken just one chunk of history and been allowed to run rampant in its sandbox.

If people have as much fun reading it as I did when writing it, then that’ll do for me.