Research, fiction writers and perceptions.

Getting lost in research must happen to every writer, especially historical writers. I am currently preparing to write the first in a new series, set in the Wars of the Roses. What sparked the idea? It started with dear old Richard in his car park. The further along the saga went, the more emotionally involved I became. When confirmation that the bones were his was made public, it was a definite shiver down the back moment.

I began to read about the period and very soon, I transferred my interest to Richard’s brother, Edward IV, an extremely underrated monarch who never lost a battle. And he fought plenty. He is known mainly for being ‘beautiful’ and ‘charming’. However, that takes no account of his incredible abilities as a strategist. He knew when to walk away, when to submit, when to make a show of strength and when to forgive. In July 1469, the Earl of Warwick, furious that his puppet-king had demonstrated a mind of its own, took Edward prisoner, first at Warwick Castle, then up to the earl’s stronghold of Middleham. Edward went willingly, pretending that all was well, that he wasn’t really a prisoner, just a guest.

All this time, behind his charming indolent facade, Edward’s brain would have been working overtime. Finally, he became tired of the game. In September 1469, realising Warwick had no power to keep him, he asked the earl what his terms were, agreed to all of them and calmly called for his horse. With the alleged assistance of his Master of Horse, Thomas Burgh, Edward rode away from Middleham to York and then back to London. It wasn’t quite as clean cut as that, of course, but you get the picture.

The aforementioned Thomas Burgh’s, paternal grandmother was a Percy, and therefore a Lancastrian, had a big house in Gainsborough – Gainsborough Old Hall – in Lincolnshire, which, like much of the north was staunchly Lancastrian. Burgh was considered to be a “Yorkist parvenu”,  not liked by his Lancastrian neighbours. They waited until he wasn’t at home, tried to destroy the hall and rob it of as much loot as they could carry. These events are the backstory to the Battle of Empingham, also called Losecote Field. They also happen to be the backstory for the first of the Gethin Wilde Chronicles.

By happenstance, I am also trying out a new outlining system, which allows me time to get all the research done and out of the way before I come to write the book. In theory, I won’t then have to keep stopping and checking. Including pdf book downloads, papers, physical books and ebooks, I now have about 25 items to read. To read, make notes, let the information spark ideas, make more notes and so on. Soon day 1 will come when I actually put words on the screen. But until then, I am enjoying the research so much, I don’t know if I want to stop.

Which leads to several questions. How many historical writers probably know more than scholars about their chosen period? I would hazard a guess that most of us could write a scholarly paper without too much trouble. But how seriously would we “mere fiction” writers be taken by academics? And that’s a whole new can of worms.

Meanwhile, did you know…

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