The first draft of The Beltane Choice wasn’t the first novel I attempted to write and the following account wouldn’t make sense if I didn’t mention both of the manuscripts that I’d started.
I already had the ongoing manuscript for a time travel novel for Middle Grade/YA readers mentioned in Part 3 of this series. (This was eventually what morphed into The Taexali Game though it was initially set in Agricolan Aberdeenshire in AD 84) Because of that work in progress, I didn’t want to get myself confused as a new novelist about the story for the adult market since it was going to have romantic elements in it. I deliberately set about choosing a different location and time for what became The Beltane Choice.
I’d read a few historical novels which were set in first century AD—primarily about Bouddica, Queen of the Iceni. They were located in southern Britain but I wanted to write about northern Celts. Queen Cartimandua of the Brigantes was a possibility but there were already novels ‘out there’ about her; and there were also novels about druids. I wanted something fresh and different.
I investigated what was going on prior to the Agricolan campaign in north-east Scotland and my studies led me to the conclusion that it was more logical to begin The Beltane Choice at a time of Roman expansion in northern England rather than target the Roman activity in Scotland. By doing that I could see me taking the action northwards in a more realistic way. I initially homed in on activity in the territory held by the Brigantes in AD 71.
In the first drafts of that manuscript for the adult market—occasionally pulled out and worked on during the long school summer holidays—I made my main protagonists a Brigante male and a Selgovae female which made me feel happier about getting in a ‘Scottish’ bit since the Selgovae tribe lived in southern Scotland. Using my general knowledge of the era of first century Britain I made them high echelon members of their Celtic tribes but they weren’t kings or queens. No specific notable people appeared as characters and I used no fixed dates. Unfortunately, I didn’t find that very satisfactory and I felt that if I wasn’t happy I guessed my readers wouldn’t be either. That version was shelved.
I eventually submitted a different draft of The Beltane Choice to an editor in the US. That version had a central romance but it was overshadowed by the depth of historical detail and the political and military struggles that were going on in northern Britannia in AD 71. The editor gave it a quick overview and rejected it—but also gave me two pages of changes that in her opinion would make it acceptable as a historical romance for her publisher. Receiving those pages was a devastating moment, yet also a very salutary one.
By early 2012, I had made huge changes to The Beltane Choice. When I submitted it to Crooked Cat Publishing, it was accepted and only minor changes were made. It was launched in August 2012.
More will follow about the political and military landscape in the era of the Beltane Choice.