Anyone who knows me, knows I adore retellings. That’s why I was delighted to chat with author A.E. Chandler about her book, The Scarlet Forest: A Tale of Robin Hood.
Tell us a bit about The Scarlet Forest: A Tale of Robin Hood?
The book is a historical novel about Robin Hood that blends true history with new stories and almost forgotten medieval legends. It includes details from when I was living in England and studying medieval history at the University of Nottingham. Robin’s character goes back to his medieval roots, when he stood for the ideal social order, while Marian (or Anne) – whose character was added in modern times – takes on the role of the rebel, which is also a modern idea that was added to the legend. I wanted to write a novel that accurately represented the medieval cultural origin of the Robin Hood legend, while also paying homage to the modern additions with which people are generally more familiar.
I read that you are an expert on Robin Hood, even writing your dissertation on the social history behind Robin Hood. What about Robin Hood captured your interest?
When I was four years old, I saw the Disney cartoon of Robin Hood, and since then he has been one of my heroes. I did my first research project on him when I was in grade eight, which led to a love of history and eventually an MA with Merit in Medieval Studies from the University of Nottingham. Exploring his story has enriched my life immeasurably.
The medieval Robin Hood stands for a fair social order, in which everyone upholds their responsibility toward one another. He stands against corruption, is devout and respectful of those deserving respect. Looking around, we can see corruption, especially when it comes to those in power; people out for themselves, neglecting to help others; and people ready to throw right and wrong out the window when it suits them. We are facing many of the same dilemmas as those in Robin Hood’s day, making his example still very relevant.
Another big draw to Robin Hood is the debate over whether or not he was a historical figure as well as a literary one. A good case can be made for both sides. When looking at the five known extant medieval Robin Hood tales we can see that, unlike stories about other outlaws from the time, the events have a literary twist but are largely realistic. Every amazing feat of archery that Robin Hood is said to have performed is actually, physically possible with the equipment available in early to mid thirteenth century England, assuming that the archer had the skill. The places in West Yorkshire where Robin Hood is said to live and travel are all described accurately, and with a level of detail that would only have been known to locals. The adventures we are told about were obviously meant to be understood as happening in the real world, though whether or not they did actually occur we still can’t know for sure.
I see you’ve traveled extensively. How have those experiences influenced your writing?
Books and travel have a lot in common: being transported and learning about the world from someone else’s perspective, stimulating your mind and challenging you to think about things differently. Travel experiences can definitely enrich writing, especially when you’re writing about the places you’re travelling to. The first time I visited Nottingham, before moving there for my master’s, I went on a tour of the tunnels and caves underneath the castle. We were shown a cavern where prisoners used to be chained to the walls, right underneath the kitchen, so they could smell the bread being baked while they went hungry. It was such a vivid detail, the next morning I got up early and wrote the scene in The Scarlet Forest: A Tale of Robin Hood where Robin’s childhood friend Will Stutely is imprisoned in that cavern while Robin plans his rescue. That afternoon, I visited Rufford Abbey for the first time, and found it completely fascinating. It’s a medieval abbey turned enormous country house turned ruin, right by Sherwood Forest. Rufford Abbey ended up playing a role in The Scarlet Forest as well, and inspired another writing project: a historical mystery novel.
What was your writing process for The Scarlet Forest: A Tale of Robin Hood?
At the time I was also in school, with a goal of writing at least three pages a day, grabbing a few minutes wherever an opportunity presented itself. These pages included a novella and short stories, but The Scarlet Forest: A Tale of Robin Hood was my main focus. The rough draft spans six coiled notebooks with my literal blood, sweat, and tears in them (as well as a classmate’s sneezed Pepsi). I spent at least an hour every night running the characters through various scenarios in my mind. Most of this never made it into the book, but it helped me to really get to know the characters. After getting a good feel for the world of Sherwood Forest, I ended up rewriting the first forty pages from scratch. One of only two things kept was the line when Robin sees Marian for the first time in six months and doesn’t “know whether to flush red or drain white.” The other was a description of the sheriff. The rough draft took exactly one year and one week to complete.
Editing tends to be a longer process than the initial writing. The Scarlet Forest: A Tale of Robin Hood has gone through about two dozen drafts. One major change was cutting the second chapter. There wasn’t anything wrong with it, but the novel’s pacing worked better without it. As Quiller-Couch said, sometimes you have to murder your darlings. Sometimes, though, your darlings get a new life; anyone who goes to my website and signs up for my author newsletter is given exclusive access to that deleted chapter.
What was the path for publishing The Scarlet Forest: A Tale of Robin Hood?
Querying publishers. After fourteen rejections, the fifteenth publisher sent a letter requesting some additional chapters be written. I returned a proposal outlining alternate rewrites that would add the elements he was looking for while keeping historical authenticity. After nine months without a response to the proposal, or a couple of follow-up messages, I pretty much figured the publisher had moved on, but then they got back in touch. The proposed rewrites were a go. I never received an official acceptance letter – a couple weeks before the revised manuscript was sent in, a contract just arrived in the mail. The editor assigned to The Scarlet Forest: A Tale of Robin Hood was great: Michael Kenyon. He was so supportive, and excited about the book. During the editing process I experienced a worsening health concern, and ended up going over his notes and editing the last section of the manuscript in a hospital bed, right up until being wheeled in to surgery. So the last seven pages or so had to wait a couple more days, but we got there alright!
During COVID, the publishers retired and sold the company, reverting the rights to the novel back to me. I decided to put out an expanded second edition, adding hardcover and audiobook versions as well as new paperback and ebook versions. Experiencing both traditional and self-publishing with this book has taught me so much about publishing and marketing. I’ve gotten to meet so many wonderful readers and booksellers, it’s hard to believe there was also time in there to eat and sleep!
What is a piece of advice you’d give to aspiring authors?
BIC pens say it all: Butt In Chair. Write constantly, and read books that you think will make you a better writer (not just books in your genre).
Where can people order The Scarlet Forest: A Tale of Robin Hood?
It’s available most everywhere books are sold: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Blackwell’s, Chapters/Indigo, Kobo, etc. The audiobook is available from Amazon, Apple Books and Audible, and is narrated by the incredibly versatile English actor and musician Joel Benedict, who not only voices the characters, but sings and plays the lute.
Where’s the best place to follow you?
I’m on Goodreads almost everyday at https://www.goodreads.com/aechandler. I also have a YouTube channel called Original History with videos about history, artefacts, and travel related to my writing projects: https://www.youtube.com/@original_history. A number of videos are from behind the scenes at a museum where I was a visiting expert examining their weapons and armor.