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The legend of Robin Hood and Maid Marion is brought vividly to life in Tim Hall's SHADOW OF THE WOLF (David Fickling Books), where Robin and Marion are forced to fight the brutal regime of the Sheriff of Nottingham so they can be together.
We asked author Tim Hall to tell us more about his stunning debut novel.
Q: What is Shadow of the Wolf about?
A: Shadow of the Wolf explores the origins of the myth of Robin Hood, how Robin Loxley the boy becomes Robin Hood the legend. It's an old story with a new skin because it's more fantastical than other stories about Robin Hood, so it features Robin Hood in a new form that people won't have seen before.
Q: Has becoming a writer changed your life?
A: Yes, I previously worked full time as a journalist for newspapers like the Daily Mail and The Telegraph covering news so I did a lot of work around celebrities and crime and so on, but I'm taking a sabbatical from that because I found it didn't work very well with writing fiction, it's such a different mode of writing that it's hard to go from one to the other. I still do odd pieces and I look after my young daughter for a few days a week and write when she goes to bed.
Q: Why did you want to write about Robin Hood?
A: Partly it's because I always really liked books that have a cross over element, that appeal to a wide range of ages, like John Steinbeck's The Pearl and Alan Garner's The Owl Service. I like books that are very open and I don't think the Robin Hood legends are for children rather than adults, or boys rather than girls.
As a child I was transfixed by stories about Robin Hood and King Arthur and as I grew up I was fascinated to read all the different versions of their story and to see how they could transform so thoroughly over the years. One of the most impressive retellings I have read recently is Bernard Cornwell's Warlord Chronicles books about King Arthur, which begins with The Winter King. Then several years ago, I started to think about my own version of Robin Hood.
Q: What was the starting point for your retelling?
A: My starting point was Sherwood Forest probably because of a trip I had made to the Amazon Rainforest ten years ago. It was in many ways a shocking experience because it was an environment unlike any other I had ever been to, it was such an awesome place and not many people would be able to survive there. We had help from people who did know their way about but I was so thoroughly out of my element that the rainforest became Sherwood in my mind, a forest that was dark and mysterious and as dangerous as the Amazon.
I realised that in order to survive in that sort of place and to be able to do battle there, Robin would have to be something out of the ordinary himself, something other than the usual human outlaws, so someone who merged with the forest and became more elemental.
Q: What is it about your Robin Hood story that will appeal to today's readers?
A: I think that there is something timeless in the story of Robin Hood and Maid Marion, like any lovers you want those two to be together and we know that they belong as a pair. It was important to me that Marion would play a major role in their story, she is not a simpering damsel in distress, in fact she's quicker, smarter and faster than Robin.
I also decided to bring in a fantastical element to the story to bring it more up to date. The fantasy story is strong at the moment and I felt it would bring in some fresh elements to my story.
Q: There is a strong mythical element in Shadow of the Wolf, can you tell us more about that?
A: I bring in a number of mythical characters to the story. The Cernunnos character, who helps Robin to survive in the woods, was the first to arrive and he is synonymous with the Green Man or Herne the Hunter. I drew on the Norse and Greek myths for another character, the Vixen Girl, a trickster character that often appears in other myths. In my story, she seems to be helping Robin but she always has her own agenda.
I was interested in how these different mythologies cross over into new forms, so my mythical characters stemmed from my own love of mythology and wanting my setting to have a myth of its own. My story will be a kind of Ragnarök, which comes from Norse mythology and described the end of the world for the gods. In Shadow of the Wolf, the mythology is around Sherwood and its fate and how Robin and Marion and the Sheriff bring Sherwood to 'the end of days'.
For me, myths and legends are about the landscape, look at stories like Persephone, and it seemed to me that the story of Robin Hood was also about landscapes and the forest. You can't divorce Robin from the forest, so it seemed to me that the stories are reflecting our relationship with nature now and from the time of the Industrial Revolution when these stories were circulated with a more nostalgic view of the 'green wood'. Our relationship with nature will be explored more in the third book.
Q: Did you need to do a lot of research for this novel, especially into the Robin Hood stories?
A: I spent quite a while doing background research. I re-read everything I could get my hands on about Robin Hood because I knew my Robin would be so different that I wanted to keep the core of his story, so I reread the original ballads and classic stories to make sure it would still be a 'Robin Hood' story, although at the same time, I couldn't let those guide my story.
Historically, I'm interested in who Robin was although I think it's something that no one will ever know. I have my own theories. I like the idea that Robin Hood started from the idea of something elemental or supernatural, like Puck, which takes us back to the roots of legends. The name 'Robin Hood' turns up in so many legal cases from the 13th and 14th centuries that it became synonymous with wrong-doing, so people would use the name 'Robin Hood' in a legal case if they didn't know a person's real name, so Robin Hood became equated with outlawry, which I liked.
Most of my research, though, was around natural history. I have always been interested in environmental concerns and the landscape in Gloucester where I live was very inspiring when I was doing my research into our natural landscapes for this book. I wanted readers to feel that I could be describing any English landscape rather than specifically Nottingham.
Q: What can we expect from the second book in the series?
A: I'm doing research for that at the moment. I'm reading natural history books like The Secret Life of Trees and books that explain what it's like to be a bird, because I want the Sherwood I describe to really come to life. I'm also reading a lot of fiction.
Q: What do you do to relax?
A: It's hard to relax with a very young daughter, who I look after three days a week, but I do a lot of running in the countryside and walking, and I read at every chance I get. I enjoy music, too.