Wednesday, 30 May 2012


My huge welcome, today, goes to fellow author from Crooked{Cat}Publishing- MARK PATTON-whose debut novel 'Undreamed Shores' was published last week. (I've just started reading it, and wonder who Mark just might be talking about below!)

Mark is here today to tell us how he uses
Secondary Characters in his novel.
In 2003, workmen digging a trench for a water-pipe near Boscombe in Wiltshire discovered human bones and pottery.  Archaeologists were called in, and confirmed that the remains dated to the Early Bronze Age, making them around 4300 years old, roughly the same period as the construction of nearby Stonehenge (  At the time, I was starting to formulate the idea for a novel, set at just that point in both time and space, and featuring the construction of Stonehenge itself.

As the Boscombe dig progressed, it became clear that this was no ordinary grave. It contained the remains of seven people, only one of whom had been buried in the usual way for the period (as an intact body, lying on his side in a crouched position).

(image: Wessex Archaeology)
The scattered bones of two men and a teenager were found around this central burial, as were the partial remains of three children, one of whom had been burned. Chemical analysis of the teeth suggested that three of the individuals had been born in Wales (possibly the same region from which stones had been brought to build Stonehenge).

These seven people became secondary characters in my novel, now published as Undreamed Shores, and the mystery of how they came to be buried as they were became an important sub-plot.

Undreamed Shores includes quite a few secondary characters. There is an epic journey at the heart of it, requiring a crew of eleven, and, like Homer’s Odysseus, my protagonist, Amzai, also meets many people on his journey, some of them friendly, others less so. Unlike, say, a psychological drama or a romance, the nature of my story cried out for a substantial cast of secondary characters, who would hardly be credible if they were not three-dimensional.

When I thought, however, about my all-time favourite secondary characters in literature (Thersites in The Iliad; Treebeard in The Lord of the Rings; Mr Deasy, the pompous headmaster in James Joyce’s Ulysses; Thomas “Call-Me-Risley” Wriothesley in Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall & Bring Up The Bodies), it seemed to me that as well as, in many cases, providing an element of humour, the way in which they are characterised often carries forward key themes in the author’s creation of a fictional world.

In developing the characters of Treebeard and the Ents, for example, Tolkien develops the theme of an ancient world order, the passing of which is already underway. He gives this strange character (part human, part animal, part tree) a long history, and a memory filled with regrets (the separation of the male Ents and the female “Entwives”; the consequent lack of “Entings” to continue their race and traditions; their betrayal by the wizard Saruman; the rise of the evil empire of Mordor).  This theme of the passing of an old world, a loss of innocence, is central to the whole narrative of The Lord of the Rings.

My narrative purpose in Undreamed Shores is almost the mirror image of Tolkien’s, my aim being to summon up a vision not of a passing social order, but of an emerging new one, a world (suggested by my reading of the archaeological evidence) in which individuals travelled further than they had ever travelled before; in which people from very different cultural backgrounds were coming into contact with each other for the first time; in which a new religion was putting down roots; and new technologies being adopted. 
It might be thought that the emergence of one social order presupposes the passing of an older one, and so it does, but Undreamed Shores is told unambiguously from the point of view of the enthusiasts for the new order, prominent among them Nanti, the young woman with whom Amazai falls in love, and her father, Arthmael, the architect of Stonehenge, and himself an immigrant from a distant land.

image from

There must certainly be another story to tell. I will probably write it some day, but I haven’t started to think about it yet. Writing, for me, is too much like method acting: I can’t exit stage left as Prince Hal in one breath, and re-enter stage right as Harry Hotspur in the next; so that will have to wait. It won’t even be my next novel (that’s set 2000 years later, and will feature one of Amzai’s distant descendants).

And the people buried at Boscombe? In my story they include Engus, Nanti’s cousin, and his three companions from “the Westlands.” I have given them all histories, and personalities, and given the “Westlanders” a distinctive pattern of speech which (quite artificially) draws on the way in which English is used in modern Wales. In elaborating their story I have given some hints as to the conflicts that I might develop further in either a sequel or a prequel but, in either case, it will probably be secondary characters (if not necessarily Engus and his companions) who provide the link between the two stories.

Mark Patton
Mark Patton was born in Jersey, and studied archaeology & anthropology at Cambridge. He is the author of several non-fiction books, and currently teaches for The Open University. Undreamed Shores is his first novel.

Undreamed Shores is published by Crooked{Cat}Publishing and is available to buy from:

Mark can be contacted at:

Thank you for visiting today, Mark, and best wishes with 'Undreamed Shores'.


  1. Very interesting post.

    Like Mark, I find historical discoveries like that intriguing. Who were these people? What happened to them? I find such inspiration useful, as it enriches a historical novel immensely and brings characters to life.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thank you for stopping by, Cathie. History gives such wonderful inspiration for fiction writers, resulting in many different sub-genres.

  3. The character of Arthmael is loosely based on another such discovery, "The Amesbury Archer."

    My friend, Richard Lee, recently questioned whether Undreamed Shores should be considered as historical fiction, given that we have no historical record as such for the period. He has a point. Academically, history and archaeology are separate, and my degree is in the latter. I think of Undreamed Shores (and Goldings The Inheritors, and Jean Auel's Earth's Children series) as historical fiction because they are set in the past, and I'm not sure what else to call them. Bjorn Kurten (author of "Dance of the Tiger") coined the phrase "palaeofiction," but it never caught on.

  4. Palaeofiction has a nice ring to it, Mark, though I can see why it didn't catch on. Fiction can have a factual basis, but imagination also comes into play.

    1. As a very rough guess, I'd say that "Undreamed Shores" is about 15% facts and 85% imagination, and I don't think that's atypical for historical fiction. Leaving aside specific recent discoveries, I knew almost all of the facts when I left Jersey in 1993 (they are set out in "Statements in Stone," my non-fiction book published in 1994), but it was more than 10 years before I was ready to start writing the novel. What happened in between was that I fell in and out of love several times; suffered the pain of bereavement; experienced the joy of success and the misery of failure; visited shores that were, to me, undreamed; lived Life with a capital L - which enabled me to imagine the 85% of my characters'lives that the "factual basis" could never shine a light on.

  5. Great post! I'm looking forward to reading Undreamed Shores.

  6. Hi Kimm! I'm working through my revisions as fast as I can, so that I can get on with my reading of it, too.


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