Sarah tells us we need to create memorable characters.
I can’t think of a more memorable character than Peter Ellis’s Cadfael, and that ties in with the research everyone tells us to do. Alma Boykin’s excellent blog on ATH last week https://accordingtohoyt.com/2016/12/08/flavors-of-history-alma-boykin/
is a good intro to history if that’s what you need to research.
Part of the reason Cadfael is so real to me is the totally authentic world he inhabits. It was painful to come to the end of the twentieth book and realize that there would be no more stories, that Ellis Peters—Edith Pargeter—was no longer with us.
And for the first time I was driven to do some historical research. Because I had to know what happened next. This involved lots of spelunking at the Houston main library, for histories that were probably well removed from original sources.
But let me tell you, there’s stuff happening that has Cadfael’s fingerprints all over it.
Oh, and “Real life can do stuff that a fiction writer can’t get away” is everywhere you look.
The Empress Maud’s son Henry (the future King Henry II), aged 14, hires a bunch of knights on promise of payment. They crossed the channel, besieged a couple of castles unsuccessfully. His little army walked. The Empress had no money, and in fact retreated to Normandy later that year. His uncle, Robert Earl of Gloucester refused to pay for the debacle . . . So Henry applied to his mother’s cousin, King Stephen . . . who sent him enough money to go back to Normandy.
For those of you not familiar with this mess, this war was between Empress Maud and King Stephen. Yep. The Bad Guy sent him home. Okay, maybe you could get away with that in a book. Maybe.
Or the Earl of Leicester persuading the barons on both sides to refuse to fight? Leaving King Stephen and Prince Henry riding up and down opposite sides of a river both shouting about their traitorous supporters? Nope. No way.
My main question, at this point, is how the heck did they make history so bloody boring in school?
And I really ought to see what I can find on Project Guttenberg, my notes being totally insufficient to re-satisfy my curiosity a decade later.
However, the best research find was actually at my childhood home.
My Dad never saw a book he didn’t covet, the older the better. Where he came by these I have no idea . . . but I sort of remembered them . . . and sought them out the next time I was in California.
And there it was, full of issues between King Stephen and the Church. But far away from Shrewbury. Really, it’s silly to imagine an old monk had anything to do with any of it . . .
Cadfael himself is totally fictional, but what, you ask, about the rest of the characters in the stories? When William Fitzalan was reinstated as sheriff after King Stephen’s death, he eradicated every mention of King Stephen’s sheriff. Hugh Beringar was made up whole cloth. Abbot Radolfus (real person), died the next year and Prior Robert (real person) became the new Abbot.
Cadfael’s in trouble.
And since it’s December, I’ll put my old Christmas Story up for free: