Saturday, June 09, 2007

Lighting Fires

Jenny Davis' comment about Lords of the White Castle having inspired her to all things Medieval, led me to wonder about my own inspirations as a writer. I'm often asked at talks where I get my ideas. The answer in my case, is frequently that one thing leads to another.
I was eleven when my Dad suggested that if I was lucky whilst digging on the beach at Hunstanton, I might come across King John's treasure. Of course that treasure, if it was ever lost in the Wellstream in the first place, will either be lying in a field inland miles away, or scattered, having been found and melted down/sold on by its discoverers. However, that didn't stop the notion from inspiring me and roughly 30 years down the line, my speculation about what really happened to John's treasure became my novel The Marsh King's Daughter. While researching a piratical character called Eustace the Monk for this novel, I came across the tale of 13thC outlaw Fulke FitzWarin. Realising this was a great swashbuckling tale about a guy who had actually lived, I knew my next novel would be his story - told in Lords of the White Castle. While researching ' Lords'I came across a genealogy chart which featured Judith, niece to William The Conqueror, who had married a Saxon Earl. Norman Lady marries English thegn...hmmm, I thought. Room for conflict here. Thus The Winter Mantle became my next project. Meanwhile, Lords of theWhite Castle had been shortlisted for an award and had sold very well. I found myself becoming interested in the tale of the hero's father, who apparently as an unknighted squire rescued his future father in law from enemy clutches, armed with no more than an old hauberk, an axe and riding a spavined nag. How could I resist? Shadows and Strongholds was the result And so it goes on. Two novels about William Marshal, The Greatest Knight and The Scarlet Lion have interested me in writing a novel about William's father John - A Place Beyond Courage. Still digesting the Marshal material has led me to the Bigod Earls of Norfolk and the current work in progress - the tale of a royal mistress forced to leave her infant son behind when she marries a man striving to rebuild his family's fortunes in the wake of disgrace and treason.
But when did the first ever spark ignite? For me, I think, it comes down to visuals. From being a very small child, even before I could read and write, I was making up stories to pictures in books - having adventures deeper into the picture and imagining new scenes and scenarios in my mind's eye. I would watch
Stingray, The Lone Ranger and Champion the Wonderhorse on TV and then go and make up new tales around what I'd seen. Gender and species were no object to my imagination, I'd easily become Troy Tempest or Champion, the Lone Ranger or Silver and spend hours on the 'film set' in my mind, making up the script as I went along and testing out new ideas. When I was older, I transferred my stories to swashbuckling movies such as El Cid, The Warlord, The Vikings. I think it had a lot to do with horses. It was much more fun pretending to gallop around than it was to drive, and horses were organic rather than mechanical. Sounds daft I know, but that was how I felt.
Adolescent hormones kicked in about the same time as Keith Michelle starred in the BBC's Six Wives of Henry VIII and at 14, for the first time, instead of talking my stories out, I actually wrote them down. I began a great Tudor novel, got bored about page 15 and gave up for a while. If not who knows. Philippa Gregory might have had a run for her money in that department! (she says with tongue in cheek). A year later along came a programme on children's TV called Desert Crusader, starring "Thibaud" a dark, handsome French knight in flowing robes, striding around the 12thC Kingdom of Jerusalem. That was it! Love at first sight and suddenly I was desperate to write a story about a lookalike. I wouldn't say it was exactly fan fiction, but along similar lines. Certainly the programme was a very powerful inspiration and the flame to ignite the bonfire stack that had been growing since I was 3 years old. I wrote a 500 page novel over the course of a year and realised that this was what I wanted to do for a living. I was 16 when I finished the novel - titled (very badly) 'Tiger's Eye' after the jewels in the hilt of the hero's sword. My Dad suggested I call it 'Crispin's Capers.' At the foot of the post I've enclosed the first 2 paragraphs of that first ever completed novel.

So, how did others become inspired to write? Or turned on to historical fiction? Or to whatever you do that is your passion. What was the spark that lit the bonfire? I'd be interested to know.

The First 2 paragraphs of "Tiger's Eye", written when I was 15 and revised i.e. edited when I first typed it out when I was eighteen.

Syria, Spring 1136

When he awoke from a restless sleep, the darkness of night was gone and with it the cold. In its place was a dingy daylight and a heat that was already making his skin prickle. His thighs and calves were spasming with cramp in this poky little hole and he ached all over. He was weary of all this hiding, of being a fugitive, he who had never hidden from anyone in his life and he was beginning to wonder if the prize was worth the suffering.

The beaded curtain that led from the back room to the shop counter on the street, clacked to one side. He whipped his dagger from its sheath and, breathing shallowly, prepared to strike.

(If my agent or editor happens to read this - it's available for consideration ladies! :-) )

Just joking....


Taminator said...

I always wrote as well...I remember writing and illustrating my own book around age 5 (something interesting about a woman eating a bologna sandwich..hey, I was 5!). Can't remember what may have turned me on to historical fiction, other than watching Elizabeth R or The 6 Wives on pbs (public broadcast system).
What a thought-provoking post!


Carla said...

Fascinating post! Tiger's Eye looks rather promising - the Crusades is a marvellous setting for exotic derring-do :-)

Asking when I got interested in history is like asking when I started breathing, I can't remember a time when I wasn't! One of the first books I remember reading was a children's history book called Our Island Story. It had a few colour plates - I remember the one about Boudica in particular - but mostly it told snippets of British history, just enough to make me want to find out more. And, as is the way with history books, when you read a second one you find it doesn't agree with the first, which, after you get over the shock of there not being a 'right' answer means you're allowed to make up your own story about what might have happened :-)

Elizabeth Chadwick said...

Tammy, the fact that you can remember that first story says how important it was...I wonder how many five year olds take it into their heads to write about bologna sandwiches - LOL!
I remember at seven having to write a diary about life at home, and inventing some horrendous lies about us having a load of baby parrots with brightly coloured feathers - far more interesting than what I had for tea. I then sweated like hell 'cos I knew I'd told a pack of lies, but the temptation at the time was just too great!

Carla, I vaguely remember Our Island Story too. I remember becoming very interested in the 'Wild West' as a child and poring over some very biased 'cowboy and injun' books on the matter. But as you say, that led me to want to know more, and then I read books that saw the other side of matters.
You don't know you're educating yourself; you learn by osmosis and it leads to other things!

Jen said...

For me the first serious attempt to write was after doing MacBeth for A level. I realised how maligned the ancient king was and started researching. You could call it a blaze of indignation over Shakespeare's portrayal! I called it Banners of Alba and published it as an e-book in 2006 - and it's a helluva long time since I did that A level!
Jen Black

Flora said...

Hi Elizabeth!!

Regarding King John's lost treasure, have you seen Alan Marshall's website and all his work??


I believe also that Richard III had been his first cousin 12 times removed.

Eigon said...

Oh, golly - Knight Crusader!
I loved that too. I remember the squire was fairly old and always wore a long scarf - and Thibald was just gorgeous!

Elizabeth Chadwick said...

Hi Flora,
No, I hadn't seen Alan Marshall's website. It IS interesting isn't it. Wish it had been a round when I was writing Marsh King's Daughter. Whata fabulous resource. I have bookmarked it.
Eigon, thanks for dropping by. I sometimes wonder if I'm the only one who remembers Thibaud, but them occasionally I'll meet another fan. They just don't make them like that any more do they. I can still sing the theme music!

Alan said...

Hello Elizabeth,

I'm Alan Marshall, the guy who owned the website and who wrote the essay on there about King John.

I came across your site when I was exploring the Google engine and just what was mentioned about my site on there.

Elizabeth my site has now moved to my new one. Its (because I am, lol); I hope you found my resarch interesting.

By the by,I saw your lovely photo on your site. Hmmm...well...yea....