Image of Empress Matilda (far right) from a 12th century manuscript
These days, I tend to get the same question time after time. “What is your novel about?” People ask this question after they learn that I have written a novel. If they were to ask it before receiving that piece of information, I would consider them rather odd…or maybe psychic. In any case, it’s a natural sort of inquiry. They no doubt wish to know if I am the sort of person that writes Stephen King-esque horror novels (in which case they should avoid me), or one who writes teenage chick lit (in which case they should also avoid me), or even one that writes science fiction epics (which in my husband’s case would make me his ideal woman).
Alas, I write none of these things, and thank God for that! The only one I might attempt some day is the sci fi epic, and then only because my husband is already begging me. No, my domain is that of historical fiction, if indeed I can refer to it as “my domain”. It must be noted that it was never my life ambition to write novels, and I did not receive the level of academic and/or professional training that is common among many of those hoping to break into that industry. I am simply a person who wrote essays and academic papers, only to one day be seized by a particular story…and then wait a few years before doing anything about it.
Some people know they want to write a novel, so they go searching for a story to tell or create one on their own. That was not my experience. It all started back around the time I graduated from college (the first time). I developed an interest in family history and decided that I would attempt to trace my bloodline back as far as I could in any and all directions. I was rather fortunate in this enterprise, for a few relatives had made a start at gathering records in years past. This allowed me to quickly discover some of my heritage, though in the cases where I had less information at the start, the task was that much more difficult. Nevertheless I progressed to the point where I was able to identify approximately 2,000 of my ancestors.
Early on I realized that a few of these lines were particularly interesting. When you reach a certain point in history, the record keeping is just not as good. Births, marriages, and deaths were somewhat forgotten unless the people in question were very rich. For this reason, I have had difficulty tracing many lines back past the 16th century. Lucky for me, some of my ancestors were rather important people, and as a result, I was able to follow the line not 100 years, nor even 500 years, but well over 1,000 years into the past.
One day, I was sitting in my dorm room in London (for I was a student at King’s College at that time) and came across a rather interesting name: Empress Matilda. She was clearly a member of the English royal line, but I was quite confused as to why she should be called “empress”, as that is not a normal title for British monarchs. (Technically, Queen Victoria did have herself styled Empress of India.) I quickly went to that source of all questionable wisdom – Wikipedia – and what I read there ended up changing my life. Continue reading