HISTORYFact vs. Fiction
Historical Fiction Workshop From an early age I was obsessed with Celtic myths, lifestyle and religion. One archaeology degree later, and I had added knowledge about their history to the mix.
Celts: I should make it clear that scholars don’t like using this term. The people the Greeks called Keltoi lived in West Central Europe around 500 BC, but strictly speaking, it can’t be used for any other peoples. The inhabitants of Great Britain and Ireland did not see themselves as one people. They consisted of many tribes with their own names. Those from modern-day France the Romans called Galli, later Gauls. The root words for “Keltoi” and “Galli” might come from the native tongues of those peoples, but we don’t know. Romans used the term Britons for those in the UK, which probably also derives from a native word, and later spoke of the Picts (pictii) and Scots (scotti) in Scotland.
We don’t know if the peoples we call Celts in Gaul were related to those in Britain, or the British to the Irish. Modern DNA studies suggest that the bulk of people in the UK and Ireland have bloodlines going back to the Mesolithic hunters who colonized the islands after the ice ages. In other words, they got there ten thousand years ago and stayed put, without mass invasions of Celtic warriors from elsewhere. (The exceptions are areas subject to Norse or Saxon settlement, which do show different gene markers.)
However, there is a similarity of art styles and probably language across swathes of Western Europe from 500 BC. Also, Roman and Greek writers state that there were similarities of lifestyle, religion and customs between the Gauls, Irish and British. Many scholars think that ideas, fashions and language moved across Europe, rather than invaders.
So…for ease of use, I DO use the term Celts and Celtic to refer to the tribes who lived in Great Britain, Ireland and Gaul, and who were swept up in the expansion of the Roman Empire.
Deciding on a novel…or two…For my first trilogy, I looked at the major events in “Celtic” history. The Celts enter written history via the Greeks, but their great enemy was Rome and its expanding borders. Celtic tribes sacked Rome around 390 BC. Later, of course, they were on the retreat, with people like Julius Caesar conquering Gaul, and Emperor Claudius Britain, in AD 43.
The time when the Romans, entrenched in what is now England, pushed north into Scotland soon caught my eye. I had always loved Scotland since I first visited, I had family connections there, and few people set prehistoric books there.
Most importantly, focusing on the Romans invading Scotland gave me some wonderful baddies; some brave goodies (the Scots defending their land); and a great deal of battle and bloodshed. It created danger and forced partings for my characters, and I could also explore the greater themes of freedom and sacrifice.
Of the many invasions, the first push by the Roman governor Agricola was the most interesting, as it culminated in a great battle with the Scottish tribes. The famous Roman historian Tacitus was also Agricola’s son-in-law, and after the governor's death, Tacitus wrote about Agricola’s campaigns in Scotland. So that gave me a small amount of fact to go with my fiction.There is more information about choosing when and where to set historical fiction in my Historical Fiction Workshop »