Rosemary Sutcliff on writing Sword at Sunset in the first person

Press cuttings about Historical novel Sword at Sunset by Rosemary Sutcliff

Rosemary Sutcliff once said about writing her Arthurian novel  Sword at Sunset – a bestseller in 1963:

… after I had finished the story I had great difficulty getting back into a woman’s skin, because I had been living as a man for eighteen months, thinking as a man, making love as a man, always looking from a man’s viewpoint. I am always deeply involved in my books. For me the book doesn’t work if I am not. But I have never been as deeply involved as that before or since.

When I started writing Sword at Sunset I made at least three false starts, but I couldn’t think what was the matter. I knew exactly what the story was that I wanted to tell, but it wouldn’t come. Then suddenly the penny dropped: it had to be first-person singular. I had never done first-person singular before, but the moment I started doing it that way it came, like a bird. But I had problems with it: first-person singular is very different from third-person writing, and I had no experience of it at all. But it was the only way it could be written.

Quotes from Rosemary Sutcliff’s Arthurian novel Sword at Sunset |Chosen by ~*LunaSea*~ blog

Press cuttings about Historical novel Sword at Sunset by Rosemary SutcliffQuotes to ponder from Rosemary Sutcliff’s Arthurian novel Sword at Sunset in the eyes of a recent reader:

“The taste of vomit was in my very soul, and a shadow lay between me and the sun”

“To go into battle drunk is a glory worth experiencing, but it does not make for clear and detailed memory”

“In war and in the wilderness one easily loses count of time”

“A wonderful thing is habit”

And the author of the blog, a lunatic reader with self-ascribed ‘book lust’,  especially liked :

“Silence took us by the throat”

from:  ~*LunaSea*~ | a life reading words.

More about Sword at Sunset by Rosemary Sutcliff on this blog

Sword at Sunset Arthurian novel by Rosemary Sutcliff an ‘odd one out’ | The Independent newspaper in Dec 2012

Historian, writer and journalist  Christina Hardyment reflected on Sword at Sunset by Rosemary Sutcliff in response to the anniversary edition of  Sutcliff’s Arthurian adult novel – an ‘odd one out’.

Rosemary Sutcliff is most famed for The Eagle of the Ninth, but there was much more to her than that. In the 1950s, historically-minded children found her books a magic carpet into the past. I began with Brother Dusty-feet (1952) and The Armourer’s House (1951), and never looked back an insatiable interest in history has remained the backbone of my life.

In 1954, The Eagle of the Ninth introduced Marcus Flavius Aquila, a young Roman who chooses to stay in Britain after the legions leave. Seven subsequent books follow his family’s fate, usually directly. The odd book out is the fifth, Sword at Sunset, now published in a new edition to celebrate its 50th birthday. In 1963, it was firmly announced to be for adults, and given the (for their time) graphic and violent scenes of sex and slaughter, it deserved to be.

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King Arthur almost killed Rosemary Sutcliff, author of The Sword at Sunset | Letter to Helen Hollick

Historical novelist  and children's author Rosemary Sutcliff's signatureRosemary Sutcliff was an inspiration for author Helen Hollick, who was well aware of the place of the dolphin signet-ring in Rosemary’s Roman novels, as well as the dolphin in her signature. In her novel  Harold the King (entitled I am the Chosen King in the USA) captain of Harold II’s fleet was Eadric, later arrested and imprisoned by Duke William after the English defeat. In her acknowledgements she wrote: ‘The books by the late Rosemary Sutcliff, an historical fiction author sadly missed, have always been an inspiration to me. Her last novel brought the feel of the sea and those beautiful – but deadly – Viking longships to life. As a small personal tribute to her gift of storytelling, Eadric the Steersman’s ship, The Dolphin, is for her.’

I first encountered Rosemary Sutcliff at school when I was about 14. Our English mistress, Mrs Llewellyn, was a real dragon. We were, on the whole, terrified of her. It must have been towards the end of term, I assume she had covered the Curriculum (such as it was back in 1966/7) for we trooped into class and she announced, ‘Settle down, I am going to read you a story for the next few lessons’.

Sitting there, listening enraptured to that story (The Queen Elizabeth Story) my delight was complete. Until then I had basically only read pony stories (I so wanted a pony of my own) but Rosemary Sutcliff transported me into another world of the enchanted past. I had no idea a novel without a single equine in it could be so utterly engrossing.

I eventually plucked up courage to write to Rosemary to tell her I was working on an Arthurian novel, how her writing had inspired me, and how the character of Arthur was almost possessing me at times. To my delight I received a letter back, written in her own, somewhat unsteady handwriting – she did, after all have arthritic hands. This is part of what she wrote:
“I do hope all goes well with your King Arthur – I know just how you feel about him, he almost killed me when I was writing “Sword at Sunset”. His demands made me take work to bed with me, work till the small hours, and wake up at 6 am still thinking about him and planning the day’s work. And when the book was at last finished, having spent two years thinking and feeling as a man, and that particular man, it took me six weeks to get back inside my own skin again.
With all good wishes

Rosemary Sutcliff’s Sword at Sunset is in first-person singular

Original Hardback cover Rosemary Sutcliff's Sword at Sunset Arthurian historical novel

When I started writing Sword at Sunset I made at least three false starts, but I couldn’t think what was the matter. I knew exactly what the story was that I wanted to tell, but it wouldn’t come. Then suddenly the penny dropped: it had to be first-person singular. I had never done first-person singular before, but the moment I started doing it that way it came, like a bird. But I had problems with it: first-person singular is very different from third-person writing, and I had no experience of it at all. But it was the only way it could be written.

Source: Raymond Thompson | Taliesin’s Successors: Interviews with Authors of Modern Arthurian Literature