As I had stated on my book review for Taking the Cross, when I decide to soak inside a war drama, I like to seek out the humanity and the light; the stories centered around the people who are breathed to life through the characters a writer elects to bring out of the folds of history itself. I always find that the best empathy and compassion can be found whilst pulled inside someone else’s life for a grounding of understanding as much as a knowledge of a life that was lived that is different from your own. For me, the character that still comes back to mind quite fondly from this debut novel is Eva, yet I found it quite incredible the breadth of research that is stitched into the very fabric of the story’s backdrop. This is a credit to the pen wielded by the writer whose passion is translated into the story he produced for us to find.
I was incredible blessed to have found pieces of his research on his website (of which I also noted on my review!) that gave us such a piercing and raw glimpse into the era in which Eva lived. He brings history to life in a way that keeps it palpable as much as intriguing to want to know where the next chapter will lead the characters you simply do not want to stop learning more about! Even Ms. Emma @ France Book Tours cannot wait to read the sequel, and I agreed with her quite readily, what a blessing to know the sequel is already written!
I attempted to query questions that would not take away from what the author already gave a response on his blog, but rather to extend a bit further past what he offered previously and present a compelling conversation for my readers! I hope that you enjoy where my curiosity led me to go and that you might become inspired to give Taking the Cross a chance!
Taking the Cross is a historical novel by Charles Gibson about the little-known crusade launched by the Roman Catholic Church against fellow Christians in France, a time of great religious turmoil and conflict.
In the Middle Ages not all crusades were fought in the Holy Land. A two-pronged threat to the Catholic Church was growing within Christendom itself and Pope Innocent III called for the crusade against heresy to eliminate both the Albigenses and Valdenses, two movements that did not adhere to Church orthodoxy.
Andreas, a knight who longs to go on crusade to the Holy Land, finds himself fighting against one in his French homeland. While Andreas wages war for the lives and religious freedom of his people, a battle rages within his soul.
Eva, a young woman of a new religious order, the Beguines, discovers a secret message within a letter about the death of her father in the Holy Land. As she learns more of her father, she is forced to confront the profound and perilous spiritual inheritance he has bequeathed to her. A legacy for which she must fight.
Hearing of the feats of Andreas, Eva senses her inheritance may lead her to him.
Filled with battles of the flesh and the spirit, Taking the Cross reveals a passionate aspect of Medieval times where some fought ardently for the freedom of others.
Content Warning for Readers: some medieval warfare violence
An Excerpt from my Book Review:
The section where Eva is first introduced to us, is one of my favourites, as we see her as a woman of twenty before her thoughts and re-collective memories take a stronghold in the text. From thence we find her as a young girl of ten, of whom is listening to her Mum tell her about the Beguine community as much as the benefits of being a Beguine woman can have in the age of where women had less freedom than they do today. Old English words and French words are interspersed throughout the story, but none of them are intrusive nor distracting to the reading Taking the Cross as I give full credit to Gibson for utiltising their inclusions in such a natural way of understanding their meanings. When Eva disclosed her visions and her second sight starting to emerge out of anguished sorrow, I felt a murmuring of Hildegard echoing through my heart.
Eva’s character for me was the channeling center of the story, as her path in life was quite a unique one to step into as she was given certain gifts which afforded her a great purpose throughout Taking the Cross. Each step of the way, as we unlock hidden glimpses of her patronage and settle inside the ruminations of her own heart, soul, and spirit, we start to acknowledge that she has been given an enlightenment of knowledge not always etched onto a person of her birth. Eva’s courage and her fortitude to rustle out information that gave keener insight to unravell a bit of the puzzling circumstances her region was undergoing provided a bit of foreshadow as much as intrigue. Eva’s best gift as a character is giving the reader a way into the soul of the story itself — to ground us in the suspense and the tentacles of unlocking where this part of history has such a hard time in asserting it’s voice.
What kind of research did you conduct for this novel as far as to insert yourself directly into the era of the Albigenstian Crusade? Did the Crusades in general pique an interest or did you stumble across this particular stretch of history and felt you were onto something with potential for an engrossing historical fiction arc?
Gibson responds: When I was in college, I came across a book about the Albigensian Crusade. It looked like a fascinating time in history and I was surprised I had never even heard of it before. I thought all Crusades went to the Holy Land, but here was one that went to France. So I began to read more about this period in time. I read dozens of books about the history of this time, what everyday life was like, books about different religious movements such as the Beguines, the Waldensians, and the Albigensians, who are also known as the Cathars, books about weaponry, how battles were fought, what sort of foods people ate, and on and on.
Someone asked me once if I did my research on Wikipedia, and the answer is a resounding “no”! In studying about the Beguines, as an example, I first read about them on an online blog, and then I bought a scholarly work on the Beguines called Cities of Ladies by Walter Simons. A unique thing about the Albigensian Crusade is that there are 3 contemporary accounts of the Crusade, that are written by people at the time the Crusade was actually happening. This is unusual for an event that happened before the invention of the printing press. Two of these 3 accounts are my primary source of events and time-line. One of them, The Song of the Albigensian Crusade, was written by 2 different authors, one who was in favor the Crusade, and one who was strongly opposed.
Having read “Citadel” by Kate Mosse, I have become acquainted with the Languedoc region of France, but what I found incredible is how two writers (you & Mosse) have found such a captivating story to interweave through this region. From two incredibly distant eras of unrest, and finding the breadth of story to place on the shoulders of characters who step straight off the page and teach of us something we need to learn. What do you think this region holds within it’s heart that has continued to inspire curiosity and attention in fiction?
Gibson responds: When I traveled to the Languedoc and went to Carcassonne in particular, it was a revelation for me. Walking through the Chateau Comtal and on the walls of Carcassonne, seeing the crossbeams in the Tower of Heretics where those considered heretics were hanged brought the history alive for me. It was as if I could hear them crying out and experience their pain. I also went to Paris on the same trip, but the time in the Languedoc made a deeper impression on me. It was a sense that important things had happened in this region that needed to be told. The result was Taking the Cross, and hopefully more books to follow in the series. I have read Labyrinth by Kate Mosse, and the part of the novel that takes place in the past, follows the same time-line as Taking the Cross.
The background on the Beguines (of which your character Eva represents) is most fascinating, and disheartening at the same time as fear, prejudice without justification, and persecution ended the ability for women to become a Beguine. In your research, did you find any other example of the type of freedom the women had inside this nexus of sanctity elsewhere? Has history become softened and kind to allow something similar to become allowed again?
Gibson responds: I think history is like a spiral in many ways. Often things move forward, and then regress for a time before moving farther ahead than they were before. In the case of the Beguines and of women’s rights, the Beguines represented a huge step forward. Yet the initial founding of the Beguines was driven by need as much as anything, for Crusade widows and their children to protect themselves in a society where women and children were very vulnerable without a husband or outside a convent. As the Crusades came to an end in the later 13th century, so did the immediate need for such protection. Despite the persecution of the Inquisition, the Beguines did persist what is now Belgium into the 16th century. But it was only in the 20th century that more widespread rights for women, such as the right to vote, became more mainstream, but that was only in the industrialized world. In much of the world, women are still marginalized, second-class citizens.
This is a personal endeavor for me as I’m on the board of a non-profit organization that seeks to build shelters for abused women and their children in such countries as Indonesia and India.
Freedom is a theme knitted through your writing endeavours, and the variations of how freedom is expressed, granted, and given. Why do you think stories of freedom from oppression and from stern rule still has merit in today’s modern era? What is the best lesson that every reader can glimpse from reading “Taking the Cross”?
Gibson responds: I think the best lesson to be learned regarding what I call universal freedoms is that such freedoms should not be taken for granted today. It took centuries to get to the place where we have freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, etc. Those are freedoms that people of centuries past only dreamed about, except in places like the Languedoc before the Albigensian Crusade. The Albigensian Crusade also led to the Inquisition. The spirit of the Inquisition persists today, in governments that oppress their people because of their beliefs.
The further we go back into history and the more the folds of time distant ourselves from certain epochs, what do you find to be the hardest way to bring a story to life inside of a novel? How to make the time and setting of the story tangible and real enough to transport us to a specific ‘moment’ that is removed from our knowledge without a reassuring ‘connection’ to help us envision it?
Gibson responds: One of the greatest pleasures of writing Taking the Cross was to bring alive a (hopefully) authentic world from 800 years ago and populate it with characters that are not only authentic to the time but authentic people. One way to make historical fiction authentic, yet have it relate to modern times, is to have characters who are clearly rooted in their time period, and yet are reaching for something better, who are ahead of their time. For the two main characters of Andreas and Eva, their separate quests to see people live in freedom, brings relevance to our times today.
Another way to connect people to the past is to use words that are recognizable to people, but they don’t hear everyday. For example, instead of using the word “dawn” for the break of day, I used “cockcrow”. I wanted to make it feel removed from people’s everyday experience, but not too removed.
We have an author in common, I started to read “The Skin Map” by Stephen Lawhead during last year’s Sci Fi November and will be re-alighting inside it this year (during the same event) to complete my review of his novel. It is interesting that you mentioned Lawhead as there is a level of parallel creativity between the two of you. History has a way of yielding our perception to hidden truths and for enlightening us with a better understanding of where we are heading next. Yet, all the lessons are only worth their salt to a mind that is open to the plausibilities of what is found within the context. What do you think is the hardest aspect of writing historical fiction as far as curating a way to relate to the readers who thrive on historical fact inside historical fiction?
Gibson responds: I’m honored to be compared to Stephen Lawhead in any favorable way. He was the first Medieval fiction author I read. I particularly enjoyed his Celtic Crusades series and his retelling of the Robin Hood legend. Stephen strikes a good balance between using fictional characters within the framework of actual events. I’ve read another author – Sharon Kay Penman – who uses nearly all actual historical figures in her books and follows actual events very closely. While I enjoy reading her books, I prefer to mix fictional character with historical figures. In Taking the Cross, Andreas and Eva are fictional, while characters like Raimon Roger Trencavel and Armand Amaury are real historical figures.
I did follow the actual time-line very closely, but still made a few small changes in the events to suit my story. For example when Raimon Roger Trencavel goes to the city of Montpellier to meet with Armand Amaury, the papal legate and leader of the Crusade, to try to make peace to avert the Crusade, they actually met in a tent outside the city, but I had them meet in a church in Montpellier because it fit my storyline much better.
What was the impetus which gravitate d you into writing? And, when did this occur? Who was your best cheerleader?
Gibson responds: I took creative writing classes in high school and in college. My college professor was instrumental in helping me find my voice as a writer. That is one piece of advice I would give to other writers, is that you need to find your own voice. You may love the voice of another writer, but if you try to write in their voice, you’ll just be a tinny version of that writer, until you find your own voice, and in doing so you’ll learn a lot about yourself in the process.
What are your favourite tools to use whilst writing? And, where do you write to gain the most inspiration?
Gibson responds: Some of my favorite tools I use in writing are music and pen and paper. I love listening to movie soundtracks while I write, instrumental soundtracks. I wrote a lot of Taking the Cross while listening to the soundtracks of the Lord of the Rings movies or the Jason Bourne movies. Both have great instrumental soundtracks. It helps me to immerse myself in the world I’m writing about. When I’m writing a chapter or a new section of the book, I also found that I write better if I use literal pen and paper. Then I go back and type it in on my computer and revise as I go.
Outside your writing life and the research that inspires you to create new stories, what do you find to be your best bit of happiness outside the creative arts?
Gibson responds: The most important aspect of my life is my faith in God. It is the core of who I am. I’ve been through many struggles in my life, and knowing God has brought great peace and healing in my life, and also a purpose. By God I don’t mean religion, in the sense of this denomination or that denomination, or a certain set of rules, but what I consider a relationship with the living God. I enjoy spending time with my family. I’m married and have 2 boys, who are 11 and 6. and my family is a joy to me. I also love to travel. I originally wanted to be a travel writer, and write books about my travel experiences. That may still happen.
About the Author:
Charles Gibson first started reading about history and geography when he was seven. He wrote his first short story at the age of nine. He continues to read and write whenever he can. Charles has spent many years researching the Middle Ages and the Crusades, and has traveled to the Languedoc region in France. He has combined the passions of history and geography and prose to finish his first novel, Taking the Cross. It takes place during the summer of 1209 in France. Charles Gibson has previously written for the inspirational book series God Allows U-Turns as well as for a Minnesota newspaper. He also works as a project manager for a medical device company. He also loves travel writing, and would like to start his own magazine some day about travel as a journey through life. The dominant theme of his writing is freedom.
“It was for freedom that Christ set us free;
therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.”
He lives in Minnesota with his lovely wife and energetic sons.
I am always honoured when I can interview an author whilst hosting a blog tour, especially when I found myself connecting to the heart of the story through a character who illuminated a part of the narrative itself in such a way as to make me curious and dearly interested in reading the sequel! I realise most of the blog tour focused more on the Crusades themselves and of the battlefields therein; for me personally, war is always going to be a part of our lives. What I am more keenly interested in are the people and the transcendence of fortitude of spirit, courage in the midst of fear, and the succession of independence for the oppressed. The metaphysical aspects of the novel itself captured me whole-heartedly and I truly want to re-read all the passages involving Eva directly because there is an echoing nod towards ancient wisdom and elemental truths for humanity itself tethered and tied into her character’s essence. Eva is one of those characters that you are thankful you had the opportunity to meet.
And, I am equally thankful Mr. Gibson gave such hearty responses to my questions! I am not entirely sure why everyone has this cunning sense of logic that points directly towards Wikipedia, as it is merely a stepping stone of a ledger towards further research. There are times where I reference Wikipedia on my blog, but I find it as a tool for reference off-blog rather than the be all total of how far I want to research a subject or topic. This is one reason calling myself a ‘bookish library girl’ is a secondary clue that I spend a considerable amount of time at libraries! The pursuit of knowledge only becomes a heightened adventure with age, and the quest for understanding enhances as well. I appreciated learning more about the books & authors who not only inspired Mr. Gibson but helped pave the way for his novel to come to life on the page. I also agree there is something about writing words down on paper that helps curate a story your attempting to create from scratch. The process of creativity differs per writer, but I always found myself quite humbled and aware that my own creativity takes a traditional route of process!
I had forgotten to mention the language of words in the story on my review, but I did reference ‘Old English’ in a small shout-out of joy! I love learning how times of day were spoken aloud at different timescapes, this is one reason why my readings of The Study of Murder & Murder by Misrule were such engaging reads! I do try to make mention of language, dialect, and the curious differences in spoken patterns of speech, but there are times where I find myself happily distracted by the story itself!
Virtual Road Map for “Taking the Cross” Blog Tour:
Previously I reviewed Taking the Cross.
Be sure to scope out upcoming tours I will be hosting with:
on my Bookish Events page!
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