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I like weaving actual history into my novels, as those of you who read me know. As a young girl at St. Marys School in Peekskill, NY I enjoyed reading the encyclopedias in the study hall bookcases. A thought would pop into my pointed little headi.e., Incasand I was off and researching.
I believe this is how it all began with me. That and the fact that my history teacher in eighth and ninth grades was Sister Mercedes, an Anglican nun who had won two Newberry medals writing historicals for young people under her outer world name, Ivy Bolton. She was my favorite author as a little girl. Imagine discovering as a student at St. Marys that she was my history teacher! Not only that, Sister Mercedes didnt think it odd that a 13-year-old wanted to write novels. She encouraged me, and nurtured me during my five years at St. Marys.
Though my early experiences gave me an edge for researching, it is really quite simplelike a treasure hunt of sorts. The trick is to gain just enough of the flavor of the time without allowing your reader to smell the garbage in the streets. Just a little practice can make your book
so much better. There are all sorts of places to begin your research.
For a good start, think about general sources. A dictionary. An encyclopedia. Then once comfortable with your research topic, focus on a few specific elements. There are books on just about everything you could possibly want to know. Castles, including floor plans. Everyday life. Religion. Clothing. I love collecting costume books. There are books that tell you what was grown in a particular area, and what the weather was like. There are books on food. Some dishes in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance would turn most modern stomachs. Lots of spice was used to disguise that perhaps the meats were not as fresh as they might be. You learn that only babies drank milk, and even little children drank watered wine, or beer. There are books on manners, and customs. And books on sex!
I have found that childrens history books, and kids books on animals, birds, insects, fish, etc. are wonderful for research. These books give you the facts in an interesting and easy way. Im always on the lookout in second-hand book stores for childrens histories. The reading in itself can prime the pump of your creativity as it does, mine all the time.
The Kadin came about because I read that the mother of Suleiman the Magnificent was a western European by birth, and was known in her old age as Hafsie, i.e. The Wise One. Francis Stewart-Hepburn, main hero in Love Wild and Fair actually lived once. All the historical facts about him are true. The date of his death in Italy is hotly debated. And for my current novel, A MEMORY OF LOVE, my heroine, Rhonwyn uerch Llywelyn, was developed because her father, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the last great prince of the Welsh, did not marry until late in his life. Since most men of that time had a mistress or two, I gave Llywelyn a leman who gave him two children, a daughter, Rhonwyn, and a son, Glyn.
Research. Its a wonderful way to get ideas, and an even better way to make your books come alive and hum with authenticity. I hope you will enjoy both the story and the history in A MEMORY OF LOVE.
I love hearing from readers! Please write to me at P.O. Box 765, Southold, NY 11971.
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