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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Guest Post: Digging for Gold. Choosing the People I Want to Write About by Elizabeth Chadwick

Please welcome Elizabeth Chadwick to Reviews by Martha's Bookshelf as a Guest Blogger today. 

Many thanks to Martha for inviting me onto her blog to talk about how I choose my characters.

Digging for Gold. Choosing the people I want to write about.

I was eleven years old and on the family summer holiday at an English Coastal resort called Hunstanton in the county of Norfolk.  It stands on a shore line known as The Wash, notorious in legend for being the treacherous stretch of sands, mud and quicksands where King John lost his treasure when his baggage train was caught out by the tide while taking a short cut.  My father, with a twinkle in his eye said: ‘You know, if you dig in the right place, you might come across King’s John’s lost treasure.’

That was it.  I spent every spare minute at the beach, digging holes all over the place, searching for the missing gold – without much luck it has to be said.  The land has been reclaimed from the sea in this area, and what was the original tidal crossing for King John’s baggage train, is now somewhere several miles inland.  Nevertheless, I did find treasure of sorts in a couple of ways, because that incident led to two novels and a slight change in my career path.

Down the years, I often thought about that holiday in Hunstanton, and wondered what had happened to the treasure.  What if some of it was washed up the next day, or rescued at the time?  We know that one of the items lost around the time was a crown that King John’s grandmother, the Empress Matilda had brought from Germany.  I began asking myself what would have happened if someone had found the crown.  What would they have done with it?   It’s not the sort of item you can easily sell, display round the house or wear. You could melt it down, but at that time, you would have to be a person of rank to have access to gold and jewels and you would immediately arouse suspicion.  It would be difficult for other than the king or an aristocrat, to do anything with such an item.  I was fascinated by the idea of an ordinary person coming into possession of the crown and sundry other bits of the treasure and decided to explore the ramifications in a novel.  The book became The Marsh King’s Daughter.  The hero and heroine were imaginary, but the historical background was real and most of the historical incidents.  While writing, I needed to find out about a person called Eustace the Monk who had really lived and in his day was a mercenary pirate and the scourge of the English Channel.  I discovered what I was looking for in a book titled Two Medieval Outlaws: Eustace the Monk and Fouke FitzWaryn by Glyn Burgess.  It was a translation of two medieval chronicles/tales about these men who had turned outlaw.  Being as I had the book anyway, I read Fouke’s story too and realised that here was a tale bursting to be told.  Fouke, or Fulke FitzWaryn, was a Shropshire baron who rebelled against King John, and with his small band of men, ran rings around the king for several years until John finally made peace with him, buying him off with privileges and a great heiress to wife.   Some scholars say that this is where the Robin Hood tales originate.  Up until this point I had never written about real protagonists, but I was keen to write Fulke’s story and taking a chance, dipped my toe in the water.  The result was a novel titled Lords of the White Castle, which wound up being shortlisted for The Best Romantic Novel of the Year Award in the UK.  Another author on that shortlist was Philippa Gregory with The Other Boleyn Girl.  The readers seemed to like my new direction; I certainly did.  Writing Fulke’s story had given me a taste for finding out about people who had actually lived in the middle ages and for bringing their forgotten life stories to modern readers.

The Greatest Knight: The Unsung Story of the Queen's ChampionMy subjects are usually chosen from something that sparks my interest about them, and it usually happens as a ‘ping’ moment when I am writing the previous novel.  My books about the Marshal and Bigod families have all worked in this way.  The Greatest Knight, which begins the series came about because I had heard so much about William Marshal’s rags to riches story while working on research for my other 12th century novels.  I thought he might be interesting to write about, but when I began delving into the research, I realised that beyond just a good story, what a great man he truly was.  He made Fulke FitzWaryn’s life look like a staid social picnic.  William’s life was so full, that I needed 2 books to tell his tale, and even then I had to leave bits out.  Further on, For The King’s Favor and To Defy A King grew out of the two novels I had written about William Marshal.  I became very interested in his eldest daughter’s story. Rather like my curiosity about King John’s lost crown, I started asking questions about Mahelt Marshal.
What was it like to be a girl growing up within the rigid social structure of the aristocratic Middle Ages?  How would it feel to be married to someone you barely knew when you were 14 and he was 25?  How would you cope if your family saw you married to this man and then went abroad and left you with your in-laws?  What would you do if your family was threatened and you had a way to help them out but knew if you were caught, the consequences would be terrible?  What would you do if your husband left you and the enemy showed up beneath your walls and took your child away from you?  Who would you blame and how would you deal with the aftermath?

Behind every historical event, behind every dry fact in a history book, there are people with feelings, emotions and motivations.  That is what I seek to bring to the fore.  Their hidden histories, told as fiction.  All I need is that first spark of interest, and I’m away with my bucket and spade!


Elizabeth Chadwick
To Defy a KingElizabeth Chadwick lives near Nottingham with her husband and two sons.  She is the author of novels such as The Greatest Knight, The Scarlet Lion, A Place Beyond Courage, and For the King’s Favor. Much of her research is carried out as a member of Regia Anglorum, an early medieval re-enactment society with the emphasis on accurately re-creating the past.  She won a Betty Trask Award for The Wild Hunt, her first novel. 
To Defy a King is a brilliant story of a vibrant woman in a tyrant’s world.

Please see my review and giveaway and announcement about a sale for the ebook!

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