9 September 2016

Myths in Historical Fiction, By Mark Noce, Author of Between Two Fires

New on Amazon US and Amazon UK

Saxon barbarians threaten to destroy medieval Wales. Lady Branwen becomes Wales’ last hope to unite their divided kingdoms when her father betroths her to a powerful Welsh warlord, the Hammer King. But this fledgling alliance is fraught with enemies from within and without as Branwen herself becomes the target of assassinations and courtly intrigue. A young woman in a world of fierce warriors, she seeks to assert her own authority and preserve Wales against the barbarians. But when she falls for a young hedge knight named Artagan her world threatens to tear itself apart. Caught between her duty to her people and her love of a man she cannot have, Branwen must choose whether to preserve her royal marriage or to follow her heart. Somehow she must save her people and remain true to herself, before Saxon invaders and a mysterious traitor try to destroy her.

Thanks for having me over here today, Tony! My debut novel with St. Martin’s Press, Between Two Fires, uses a lot of legendary influences even though it’s a piece of historical fiction. I’ve found that when writing about a historical “dark age” in which very little reliable text or even artifacts have survived, myths and folktales have sprung up to fill the gap.

Now of course, these tales must be taken with a grain of salt, but I’ve found that genuine bits of truth can be gleaned from these ancient tales. They display the way medieval people thought, how they approached religion, and even how they thought someone should behave in varying circumstances. All of this is a potential goldmine to an author writing about a “lost” age in early medieval Wales.

My story doesn’t have a Holy Grail or flying dragons, but it does have knights and ladies who would look very familiar to a reader of Arthurian literature. Even myths and legends draw inspiration from everyday life. Various historical warlords and queens were often condensed by storytellers and bards into a single character within an Arthurian lay. This is just one of the many fascinating tidbits of the overall human story that can be inferred from this ancient era.

In Between Two Fires, my main protagonist is Branwen, a sixteen-year-old noble woman who is the daughter of one king and soon set to marry another king. She is not the Branwen of the Mabinogion, but she certainly has some of that great heroine’s characteristics. In addition, the few medieval texts that do survive this time period reference occasional queens amongst the Welsh and Cornish who ruled as stoutly as any man.

To me, this is a story just begging to be told. An age when despite the hardships men endured, there were courageous women just as willing to stand beside them and determine the fate of their people. In addition, many elements of Celtic culture lasted well into the Christian era, resulting in nation of people who had been influenced by Rome and the Church, but still adhered to folkways and even the more matriarchal leanings they inherited from their Celtic ancestors.

We can see some of these influences in one of the earliest Arthurian legends to survive, the Tale of Culhwch and Olwen. It’s full of supernatural elements, but at its core, it’s a romantic quest set against the backdrop of the chaotic 6th and 7th centuries of early medieval Wales. We get a sense for the atmosphere of the place in a way that the modern buildings and expressways of the UK cannot.
We see the vast wild forests of the era, the sense of danger just across the border with the Saxons, and the ever-present uncertainty of living in that barbaric time.

Yet people still found time for romance, love, adventure, and all the things that make us human. This for me, is the most essential element that comes through these ancient legends. They give us a sense for what people felt and how they lived in a virtually unrecorded age. They provide a small window into that otherwise unknowable world. 

Modern historians don’t have much to go on from this era in Wales. In fact, we’ve even lost some of the names of their kings and kingdoms, let alone any extensive recorded data on the common people. So in addition to reaching out to oral tales and legends, I’ve found that a certain degree of common sense helps fill the void of missing information. For instance, people still had to eat, raise their children, and find inspiration in their daily lives. By asking ourselves how people would hold on to their humanity in an age of chaos and strife, we reach out for the things that make us human – truly human – in any age or setting.

I hope that you enjoy Between Two Fires, as it has a lot of love and thought that has gone into it. It’s available online and in bookstores worldwide now! The sequel is already in the publisher’s hands, although we don’t have a firm release date yet. It’s been a long and fruitful journey composing this first series of historical fiction, and I’m looking forward to many more to come. Thanks for reading!

Mark Noce
# # #

About the Author

Mark Noce writes historical fiction with a passion, and eagerly reads everything from fantasy to literature. Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, he’s an avid traveler and backpacker, particularly in Europe and North America. He earned his BA and MA from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, where he also met his beautiful wife. By day, he works as a Technical Writer, having spent much of his career at places like Google and Facebook. In addition to writing novels, he also writes short fiction online. When not reading or writing, he’s probably listening to U2, sailing his dad’s boat, or gardening with his family. Find out more at Mark's website Marknoce.com and find him on 
Facebook and Twitter @MarkNoce.

Praise from Bestselling Authors for Between Two Fires

“A spirited ride through a turbulent slice of Welsh history!” – Paula Brackston, NYT Bestselling author of The Witch’s Daughter

“A fast-paced read that has a wonderfully visual style and some memorable characters. Mark Noce combines Welsh history with a touch of folkloric magic in this promising debut novel. Lady Branwen is a strong and engaging narrator and the turbulent setting of early medieval Wales makes a fine backdrop for an action-packed story.” – Juliet Marillier, Bestselling author of Daughter of the Forest and Wolfskin


  1. Thanks, Tony! Glad to be here today:)

  2. You did an excellent job filling in those missing bits. You made the past world come to life. :)

  3. Nice to see this book getting a lot of exposure. It's excellent!

  4. Sounds like Mark is really passionate about his work. Great post.