Reinventing the Braveheart myth

Last week historical fiction writer Jack Whyte was in Waterloo for an in-store event at Words Worth Books promoting and signing copies of his latest novel The Forest Laird.

Originally from Scotland, Whyte is a renowned writer, singer, actor, musician and entertainer. Educated in France and England, Whyte was high school English teacher before moving to Canada in 1967.

He went on to become a writer for CBC television which led him to a career in advertising which allowed him to hone his writing skills as Writer and Creative Director of several advertising agencies. Since then Whyte has written an array of novels such as The Templar Trilogy, which are historical novels presenting the tale of King Arthur and the Roman departure from Britain.

Recently, Whyte has spent most of his time researching and writing for his latest novel The Forest Laird.

Released by the Penguin Group in September, the novel tells the tale of Scotland’s first heroic figure from the Scottish Wars of Independence, Sir William Wallace.

Whyte spoke to the crowd at Words Worth Book and explained some of the difficulties with writing a book about William Wallace for a post-Braveheart audience.

Even Whyte admits that Mel Gibson did a solid job staying true to the story of William Wallace in the movie, citing only a few notable inaccuracies and omissions.

An additional challenge in writing this novel was “running the risk of being accused of cribbing from the movie” as he puts it at the outset of his novel.

Whyte posed a question to his eager crowd on Thursday: “How does one say something different about William Wallace?”

The answer for the Scottish author is found in research and matters of separating the man from the myth.

Instead of simply retelling the story of the Scottish Wars of Independence, The Forest Laird attempts to shed new light on the relatively unknown early history of William Wallace and debunking past myths and misperceptions of the man.

With a renewed “large following” for the subject matter, the novel is meant to be a depiction of William Wallace from his early life through to his execution.

Wallace is commonly perceived as a brute of a man swinging a long sword, sporting war paint and a kilt. In reality Wallace was an archer, and although large in stature, he did not wear the blue war paint and kilt depicted in the 1995 movie Braveheart.

The war paint was a Roman tradition fabricated by Hollywood, while the kilts were historically inaccurate. The kilt would not be introduced to Scotland for another 300 or so years after Wallace.

The Cord spoke with Whyte and asked him how he conducted his research for the novel. “The writing process took about two years [plus] one year of research, reading books and papers and visiting historical sites.”

He added that “ever since the National Scottish Museum opened in 1997 without one word mentioning William Wallace there has been a new wave of scientific research on William Wallace.”

When asked what the most difficult part of the writing process was, Whyte described the challenges with portraying Wallace as the archetype for literary protagonist Robin Hood.

“A lot of English people are angry at me for that because he is an iconic hero in Britain,” he stated.

“In the beginning I said, if I do my job I can piss off every Scotsman with my book. The thing is, they are all quite happy with it. But I did end up pissing off the Englishmen.”