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Interview With Helena Schrader: Author of ‘Defender of Jerusalem’

Posted by on September 7, 2015
1. Tell us about your latest release, ‘Defender of Jerusalem’.
“Defender of Jerusalem” is the second book in my three-part biographical novel about Balian d’Ibelin. It covers the historically significant last decade leading up to the devastating defeat of the Christian army at the Battle of Hattin and the fall of Jerusalem in 1187. The book follows Balian and Maria during that crucial period, covering (through them) the Battles on the Litani and at Le Forbelet, the sieges of Kerak and Nablus, the constitutional crises of 1183 and 1186, the death of Baldwin IV and the usurpation of Guy de Lusignan, as well as — of course — Hattin and the defense of Jerusalem led by Balian. This book covers the same period as the film “The Kingdom of Heaven” and so will seem more familiar to readers than “Knight of Jerusalem,” which described Balian’s youth, marriage and the Battle of Montgisard — things not covered in the film.
2. Who is your favorite character and why?
That’s a tricky question for an author. Do you mean which person do I like best in the sense of who would I like as a friend? Or do you mean which character do I think is the most successful literary creation?
If we’re talking about “like” in the sense of admiration and affection, I would note that I personally could not write a biography or biographical novel about someone I didn’t like. I have to like and admire the subjects of my biographies. I’m always a bit suspicious of authors who write about, say, Josef Goebbels, because it seems to me that if you’re going to spend years of your life studying about and trying to get inside someone else’s skin so you can understand and explain them, then you must find something fascinating about them. So obviously I’m fascinated by and admire the real Balian d’Ibelin. 
But, if we look in contrast at which characters I think I did the best job of fleshing out so that he/she is exceptionally complex and fundamentally more human and comprehensible, then it is particularly difficult to judge success in a biography. If Balian is a compelling and attractive character in my novel, how much of that is because the historical Balian was an attractive character and how much of it is because I, as an author, did a good job?  
In terms of what characters do I think I was most masterful in molding, I would say: Reynald de Chatillon, who is usually portrayed as monotonously evil, and Isabella of Jerusalem, who is usually depicted as vapid, bland and spineless. One of my favorite scenes is where the 11-year-old Isabella confronts Reynald about her husband coming of age. I also like my interpretation of Balian’s elder brother, the historical Baldwin of Ramla and Mirabel. He discarded his first wife and mother of his children in order to be free to marry Sibylla, only to be jilted by her in favor of Guy de Lusignan. Then although he fought well under Baldwin IV  and Baldwin V, he dramatically refused to take an oath of fealty to Guy, and abandoned his son and third wife (he married twice after Sibylla rejected him and married Guy) to go to Antioch. That’s a pretty volatile personality — and totally different from the diplomatic Balian, who managed to reconcile Tripoli and Lusignan and negotiated with Saladin so well. So the trick was having two brothers who are very different, but also very close in that they stick by one another through thick and thin. 
3. Who is your least favorite character and why?
Here my personal dislike probably inhibited my ability to write a good character. Sibylla was such a stupid woman and such a disastrous queen (see my article about her at: Sibylla, Queen of Jerusalem ) that I found it extremely difficult to understand her or see things through her eyes — as an author must in order to be able to effectively conjure up a person with words. I simply cannot understand how a woman, who knew from the age of nine or ten onwards that she was going to be queen, could place her personal feelings for a man ahead of the welfare of her kingdom. I despise Sibylla because it was only her selfishness and deceitfulness in crowning Guy de Lusignan king that resulted in the Christians losing almost everything. It was all so unnecessary!

Sibylla, Queen of Jerusalem

Biography of Sibylla, Queen of Jerusalem. Daughter of Amalric I, Sister of Baldwin IV (the Leper King), and wife of Guy de Lusignan.
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4. You really brought the Battle of Hattin to life. Your descriptions and your characters’ display of emotions were very vivid. As we all know, the Battle of Hattin and the events that unfolded in the months following was a very dark time for the Christians in the Levant. How did you feel writing that about that scene?
That part of the novel wrote itself. That deep into the novel, I already empathized intensely with my characters, and it really was only a matter of closing my eyes and feeling what they felt. All I had to do was say: OK. Historically this is the next event, and then slip inside my characters and let them tell the reader what it was like. I often feel like a medium for characters more than their creator. Or another way of looking at it is that when I write I’m communicating at or with a spiritual level — the souls of the dead or a divine being — by listening to them. I feel only what they feel/felt and have no reactions or feelings as Helena. 
5. You are writing a third book in the Balian series: ‘Envoy of Jerusalem’. Can you tell us a little bit about it? When do you hope to release it?
“Envoy of Jerusalem” is the third and final book in my Balian trilogy. It will cover the period following the surrender of Jerusalem until Balian’s death.  That includes the siege and assault on Tyre in November/December 1187, the siege of Acre 1189-1191, the arrival of the crusaders under Philip II and Richard the Lionheart, the bitter rivalry between Guy de Lusignan and Conrad de Montferrat for the throne of Jerusalem, and, of course, the campaign fought by Richard the Lionheart for the Holy Land that ended with Balian negotiating a three year truce. But it also covers the establishment of the Latin Kingdom of Cyprus under Guy and — more important — Aimery de Lusignan. Aimery was married to Balian’s niece Eschiva, and then latter to his step-daughter Isabella, and there is good reason to believe that — in contrast to Balian and Guy — Balian and Aimery got along well and respected one another. Guy was given Cyprus by Richard I, but died two years later. It was Aimery who established effective control over the island and founded the Lusignan dynasty  that lasted 300 years. Notably, the Ibelins were the most powerful baronial family in the Levant from the start of the 13th until the 16th cenury, and both Balian’s sons at different times served as regents, John in Jerusalem and Philip in Cyprus. So while the first part of the novel will cover familiar ground to those who have studied the crusades, the second half ventures into lesser known — but fascinating — historical territory. 
6. Where can we find ‘Defender of Jerusalem’?
“Defender of Jerusalem” is available in paperback at both amazon and barnes and nobleAnd, of course, it can be ordered through your local bookstore. I strongly recommend the paperback because of the maps, genealogy tables and glossary that are easier to use in the paperback. However, it is also available in a variety of ebook formats, including kindle and nook.

Defender of Jerusalem: A Biographical Novel of Balian D’…

Available in: Paperback. The Christian kingdom of Jerusalem is under siege. The charismatic Kurdish leader, Salah ad-Din, has succeeded in uniting Shiite
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Thanks very much for this opportunity to talk about “Defender of Jerusalem,” and keep up the good work on this website!

One Response to Interview With Helena Schrader: Author of ‘Defender of Jerusalem’

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