Tuesday, November 13, 2012
A Story to Tell
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Since Gwen and I share a love for historical fiction I want to share some of the historical background in A Darkly Hidden Truth, book 2 in my Monastery Murders series.
A particularly perceptive reader once asked me, “What drives you?”
Ah, good question! Writing is hard work. One must be self-motivated and determined to get up every morning and go to the computer (or typewriter was it was in those days). The answer obviously wasn't money. I did make a modest income, but less than I could have been making teaching school as I did before becoming a full-time writer.
“The story,” I replied. “I want to tell my characters’ stories.” This is especially true when working with historical characters, as I almost always do in my books. Whether the historical characters are my hero and heroine or background characters, I’m driven— I’ll use the word— to tell their story.
We can learn so much from people from the past. They have fought, suffered, endured to pass their knowledge and wisdom on to us. We need to know and appreciate what they have done.
That was many years ago when I was first asked the question, but my answer holds just as true in my 41st novel which I am now working on, as it did in that very first series my reader asked about.
A Darkly Hidden Truth has two remarkable women in the background whose stories I have long wanted to tell. Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe were both mystical medieval women writers and their life spans crossed— they actually met in an event Margery records— but they lived far different lives, had far different personalities and wrote in vastly different styles.
Julian of Norwich (1342-1416) became the first woman to write a book in English when she wrote an account of the 16 mystical “showings” she experienced of the love of God. After her amazing showings Julian lived a life of quiet contemplation as an anchoress in a single room attached to a church in Norwich, going nowhere and seeing only her servant and those who came to her worldside window for counseling— Margery being one of those seekers. Margery travelled the world, going on pilgrimages as far afield as the Holy Land and Santiago de Compostelo.
Julian wrote her Revelations of Divine Love, speaking only of her visions and of the love of God for his creatures. She divulges no details of her personal life— we don’t even know her name. We call her Julian because that was the dedication of her church. We know how she would have lived because she lived by The Ancrene Rule which set out rules for anchoresses. That left me free as a novelist to imagine a life for her prior to her visions which she experienced at the age of 30. Had she been married? Had she taken vows as a nun? No one knows, but I had great fun entering into “what might have been.”
Margery Kempe (1373-1440) “wrote” the first autobiography in English, although she was illiterate, by dictating it. Unlike Julian, Margery tells all. Even of the joyous sex life she shared with her husband. (They had 14 children.) She tells of her period of madness after the birth of her first child. She tells of her spiritual struggles with earthly vanity. She tells of her shrieking and bouts of uncontrollable weeping that made one group of pilgrims abandon her so that she had to cross the Alps in a blizzard with only an aged priest as companion.
And yet both women tell of the love of God, of the goodness of life. They speak of joy and beauty in the midst of unbelievable suffering. They tell stories I could never invent in my wildest fantasy. And it’s all true. And it’s all ours because two women centuries ago put their unique experiences on paper. And now I have the privilege of telling their stories alongside the adventures of my fictional Felicity and Antony in A Darkly Hidden Truth:
Antony needs Felicity’s help to find a valuable stolen icon. But Felicity is determined to become a nun. Then her impossible mother turns up unannounced. And a dear friend turns up murdered. Felicity and Antony are off on another adventure that takes them from remote Yorkshire to London to the soggy marshes of the Norfolk Broads. Felicity learns the wisdom of holy women from today and ages past and Antony explores the arcane rites of the Knights Hospitaller. But what good will any of that do them if Felicity can’t save Antony’s life?
To read more about Donna’s books and see pictures from her garden and research trips, go to: http://www.donnafletchercrow.com/
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