Angus Donald was born in 1965 in China, the son of British diplomats. He has worked all around the world in a variety of careers -- journalist, anthropologist and fruit-picker to name a few.
But he is best known as the author of The Outlaw Chronicles series of Robin Hood novels. The initial series began wtih Outlaw in 2009 and concluded with the eighth book, The Death of Robin Hood, in 2016. He resumed the series with Robin Hood and the Caliph's Gold in 2020. The series also contains three novellas published in 2013.
Angus Donald has also written three books featuring the 17th century real-life figure Holcroft Blood, beginning with 2017's Blood's Game. And under the pseudonym Angus Macallan wrote the 2019 fantasy novel Gates of Stone.
He lives in Tonbridge in the county of Kent in the United Kingdom.
Visit Angus Donald's website
This interview was conducted by email in June 2020.
AWW: What are your earliest memories of Robin Hood?
AD: My earliest memories of Robin Hood are watching the 1938 Error Flynn movie on TV when I was about 12, and absolutely loving it. I think it was at my parents' house in Kent in the 1970s. I like other versions too – particularly the Kevin Costner one. But Errol Flynn is still my go-to image of Robin Hood – although, I have made my version a lot darker.
AWW: Your original novel Outlaw contained the tagline "Meet the Godfather of Sherwood". What inspired you to refashion Robin Hood as a mafia don – accepting tributes from the people in exchange for protections and favours?
AD: I read some of the original ballads when I was researching the first book in the series, Outlaw, and there is one episode in the ballad Robin Hood and the Monk (c1450), where a monk sees Robin praying in a chapel and informs on him to the authorities. Robin is captured by the Sheriff and Little John and Much the Miller's Son go seeking revenge on the monk. They murder him, and also murder a little page boy who witnesses their crime. It struck me then: these people behaved like gangsters! And it made sense to me that Robin should be drawn as the ruthless head of a gang of hardened criminals – a mafia don, if you like – rather than a happy-go-lucky trickster or a freedom fighter. The original Robin of the ballads is quite a tough customer, not shy of murder in the slightest. His image was considerably softened in later versions of the legend.
AWW: You've had several careers and lived in a number of places – how has that informed your fiction?
AD: I think the brief time I spent as a war correspondent in Afghanistan was the biggest influence on my writing. I was very frightened, and saw a lot of death and danger. Several people I knew were captured, tortured or raped and their corpses dumped by the road. I tried, thereafter, to make the terrifying experience of war in my books as realistic as possible, given that my heroes are pretty awesome fighters, almost superheroes. I had a very low period when I came back from Afghanistan, in which I was drinking too much and abusing other substances, and I incorporated that despair/depression in one of the novels, when Sir Alan Dale suffers from PTSD.
I also wrote a fantasy novel set in Indonesia – called Gates of Stone, under the pseudonym Angus Macallan – which was based on my time in the 1980s as an anthropologist studying witchcraft and sorcery in Bali. I incorporated a lot of the magical stuff I saw practised then in the novel.
Actually, now I come to think of it, Nur, the Syrian witch in the Outlaw Chronicles, was influenced by my Balinese studies, too.
AWW: How did you decide which historical events to tie into the Outlaw Chronicles? I know you teased Runnymede in the first book which paid off in the seventh book The King's Assassin. Did you have a sense even from the first book which moments of history you wanted to touch on?
AD: Not really. I wanted to do Magna Carta because I saw Robin later in the series as a rebel baron and wanted him to be a significant player in one of the most important legal events in history. But most of the fun is taking a couple of years of history and reading up on it and then seeing how my heroes Robin and Alan can fit into the real events of that period. All the stuff about King John and the loss of Normandy (1203/04) was new to me and fascinating to research. I think it has made the series stronger. I could not have written nine – ten soon – novels about Robin Hood if I had kept him as an outlaw in Sherwood. Three books, maybe, no more.
... but the worst men are the ones who appear cold, but inside they are hot. They have the raging power of anger, but the icy control of a calm man. This cold-hot man, this phlegmatic-choleric man, is the one to fear.
-- Outlaw by Angus Donald
AWW: I like Tuck's description to Alan of Robin as a cold-hot man. Where do you think Alan falls on the temperature scale, and is it the same place where Alan himself thinks he falls?
AD: I think Alan Dale is a "hot" man. He's rash, he's impetuous, sometimes he's a bit of an idiot. To be honest, I regretted putting that bit in the first book. It was a sort of riff on the four-humours theory of heath, which was prevalent at the time. But I messed it up – it didn't really make sense – and should have stuck with that real medieval medical diagnosis. I dumped the whole hot-cold thing pretty soon.
AWW: Whereas Robin has remained fairly constant to Marie-Anne, Alan Dale has had numerous love interests over the series, what did you look forward when creating these partners for Alan?
Robin is ALWAYS faithful to Marie-Anne. That one of the things about him. He might murder and cheat and torture and and blackmail people, but he truly loves his wife. He is also absolutely loyal to his followers. I felt I had to give Robin some redeeming features, having made him, on occasion, a bit of a selfish sh-t. Alan Dale is not lucky with women. Goody dies and Tilda betrays him. But he is a romantic, and he keeps coming back for more. I'm really proud of the story arc with Nur, the witch. I felt genuinely sorry for her but she gave the story a very interesting magical dimension.
AWW: After your initial run with The Outlaw Chronicles, you moved forward to the 17th century with the real-life character of Holcroft Blood. I understand that you originally intended to focus more on his father Thomas Blood. What opportunities have you had in this new setting?
AD: I was told before I started that the 17th century was the graveyard of historical novelists. Not enough people were interested in the period to make a success of a 17th-century series. I didn't listen. And though I think the books are all pretty good, and they did quite well, they didn't have the same mass appeal as the Robin Hood tales.
AWW: Why did you return to Alan Dale and Robin Hood with Robin Hood and the Caliph's Gold?
AD: When my publisher said they didn't want any more Holcroft Blood books, thanks, I decided to do some more Robin Hood. People had been asking me for more Robin and Alan adventures for some years, so I thought, why not give them what they want? I had to self-publish, but so far, it has been selling well. In fact, so well, I'm writing another one called Robin Hood and the Castle of Bones, which will be available on Amazon in August.
AWW: What further adventures do you have in store for Alan and Robin?
AD: After Castle of Bones, I may do another three Robin and Alan novels set between The Iron Castle (1204) and The King's Assassin (1214). I left a hole in the timeline deliberately. But before that I have a Viking series that I'd like to get off the ground. And it will also depend if there is the demand for more Outlaw Chronicles.
AWW: Is there anything else you'd like to add?
AD: If people would like to buy a copy of Robin Hood and the Caliph's Gold, here is a link. (See below for links to purchase all of his books.
Also, I am always happy to talk to my readers about my work. My website is angusdonaldbooks.com and there is a contact page there.
AWW: Thanks again for speaking to me.
AD: My pleasure.
The novels and novellas are available in print, Kindle and audiobook format on Amazon.