Apr 24

2018

Author Interview: Kate Heartfield, “The Road to Canterbury”

Posted by: Mary Duffy | Comments (0)

London, 1375. The Black Prince of England is dying, and peace with France hangs in the balance. You are a young pauper on a secret mission. Join a pilgrimage to Canterbury with the powerful noblewoman Philippa de Roet, co-sister-in-law to the Black Prince, and Philippa’s husband, Geoffrey Chaucer himself, the customs agent, spy, and occasional poet. Your mission is to persuade Philippa to change the course of history. The Road to Canterbury is a 175,000 word interactive medieval adventure novel by Kate Heartfield. I sat down with Kate to talk about The Canterbury Tales and her experiences writing The Road to Canterbury, which releases this Thursday, April 26th. 

What inspired this game? Obviously The Canterbury Tales did, but I mean what inspired you to write this game?

The Canterbury Tales seemed perfectly suited to an interactive adaptation: after all, Chaucer describes a very interactive form of story-telling, in which the pilgrims interrupt each other’s stories, or choose their own tales in response to each other. Chaucer gave us a set of timeless and entertaining characters, and I was eager to put them (or people very like them) on the road together and see what happened. I’m also very interested in the politics that ran through Geoffrey Chaucer’s life: I majored in political science, so I’m always fascinated by those undercurrents in history.

What did you find most challenging about writing interactive fiction?

I have a tendency to get tangled up in my plots, even with a single linear storyline, so keeping everything clear in my own mind was a challenge. Although I do outline, I am also the kind of writer whose tales evolve in the telling, so I wrote myself into corners more than once, or ended up with bugs because I ended a scene with a different conception of the plot than I’d started it with.

Did you have a favorite character in this game?

Oh, that’s a tough call! Probably Philippa de Roet, who in real life was not only married to Chaucer but was also right in the middle of all the intrigue at the English court at the time. Next to the player’s, her decisions matter most in the game, and she has a complex, thoughtful personality.

What do you want players to know about this period of history and the folks who populate it?

One thing that was in the back of my mind as I wrote the game is that medieval Europe was not as homogeneous as it’s often portrayed. There were, for example, people of color and people of various religious beliefs, in 14th century England, and the notions we have about what women could and couldn’t do in the Middle Ages tend to be overly simplistic.

Medieval Europe wasn’t static, either. The England of 1375 was changing, largely because of the social and economic effects of the Black Death a generation before. Parliament’s influence was growing, and the game takes place only six years before the Peasants’ Revolt. It’s also right in the middle of the Hundred Years War between France and England. Many of the pilgrims’ concerns are not that different from ours today: they argue about tariffs and trade, for example, and about whether pacifism is a viable ideology.

What else are you working on now?

My debut novel will be in bookstores in mid-May, and the ebook version is releasing April 24. It’s a historical fantasy set in 14th century Flanders, called Armed in Her Fashion, and as it happens, the epigraph is a quote from The Canterbury Tales.

In late 2018, I’ll have a time-travel novella called Alice Payne Arrives out from Tor.com Publications. I’m working on the sequel to that novella now.

I’m also working on a bunch of short fiction, and I’m in the early stages of planning another project for Choice of Games. Stay tuned!

Short answer, Bernard Pivot-style questionnaire:

Favorite color? Dark green.

Favorite word? Unbeknownst.

Profession, other than your own you would like to attempt? Archaeologist.

Profession you would never want to attempt? Anything more than three feet off the ground.

Middle English or Modern Translation? Middle English (the Penguin Classics edition glosses the difficult words very nicely) but I also like the Usborne illustrated edition for kids.

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