When I was a little girl before I first went to school, I fell in love with everything to do with adventure and the glories of the past. My mother and the local library had a great deal of trouble keeping up with my insatiable desire for books and magazines with an historical bent. I didn’t care if the subject matter involved the builders of the pyramids in Egypt, the priest-kings of Mesopotamia, or the marvels of bull dancing in Knossos on the island of Crete.
I remember the visceral thrill of reading The King Must Die, by Mary Renault, and the other novels that flowed from her pen. I revelled in the poetry of Tennyson and the novels of Sir Walter Scott. I was fascinated by a Mayan society that could care for orphaned children with compassion and humanity, yet sacrifice these same children in times of drought, as they were sent plunging into the lightless depths of a bottomless pool wrapped in golden chains and jewels of great price and rarity. I loved it all!
Once I reached my teens, I became more discriminating and gave up the scatter-gun effect of my reading. If I devoured an historical novel and was interested in the period, I hunted through text books with an obsessive desire to discover everything I could about the period – and there was no particular pattern to my research. I didn’t care if I read good literature or popular novels, because it was all the same to me. Georgette Heyer introduced me to Regency England; Leo Tolstoy fascinated me with War and Peace and two popular American writers, Zane Grey and Margaret Mitchell, seduced me with two vastly different periods and stories from the history of that great, vast country. Riders of the Purple Sage marked my interest in the West, Utah and, by association, the fascinating history of the Mormons. And then, long before I saw the movie, I adored the history of the American Civil War through Gone with the Wind.
And then The Lord of the Rings sent me scrambling after all things Celt and Anglo-Saxon. I really must have been a very odd teenager, because on the one hand, I was obsessed with the Beatles recording of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts’ Club Band, while devouring the poetry and paintings of William Blake on the other. I was driving the small library in Ipswich, Queensland, crazy with demands for everything they had on Macbeth, historical and literary, while studying The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich and I remaining besotted with the Kapok Kid in HMS Ulysses.
In between my voracious demands for stories of historical interest, I pursued technical information – anything to do with warfare, swords and sudden death. My girlfriends were convinced I was really quite weird since I was half in love with my notion of William the Conqueror and Julius Caesar. By the time I was at university, I was content to just sit in their huge libraries where anything and everything I wanted to discover was at my fingertips.
For years, that thrill remained as real as the life I lived – often far more real to me! Perhaps I have always been a dreamer, but I loved to teach Ancient History, using stories to bring the ancient world to life for my students. The glow of young eyes as they listened awestruck to the deeds and exploits of great men and women fired me up and kept me excited for years.
And then, when I finally became a writer, I began with a study of my first love, King Arthur, and the legends of the Arthuriad. Perhaps my love for the legends was because my husband shares a name with the venerable hero. Perhaps, I was just so upset because the story had become so bastardised over the years that I decided to put my own mark on it. And perhaps I wanted to honour human courage rather than magic. Whatever the reason, I am certain that there are so many stories in the great sweep of history that are so vivid, compelling and riveting that I will never lack for subject matter.
A lifetime would not be enough to explore them all – but I intend to try!
M. K. HUME