It doesn't often happen here on Getting Medieval, but today we are very pleased to have this particular guest blogger. Award-winning author Margaret Frazer, author of two very popular medieval mystery series, the Dame Frevisse series and the Joliffe series, is here today offering insight into her modes and methods. She's got a new e-novella out called WINTER HEART and wants you to know about it. Here she is:
by Margaret Frazer
If there’s anything that I enjoy in the same degree that I enjoy writing, it’s the research that goes with it. My life might be simpler if I wrote books set some more “convenient” time than late medieval England, but as I recently described to Karen Johnson at Release Notes, my fate was to become enthralled with that time and place and the people there. Nor was it enough simply to read what other writers said about it. I wanted to know what it was like from as far inside it as I might go.
It wasn’t long before I discovered that what I really wanted to do was tell my own stories about it. Because to write truly about a time and place, a writer has to inhabit that time and place, must learn to think and act as people living there and then would have thought and acted -- must learn to see the world through their eyes and consider it according to the shape of their thoughts, so that the stories grow out of what actually was, rather than be simply a story with a few period details pasted onto it and people that could be put into another time or place without much trouble.
Of course, as I lately shared in detail with Patricia Stoltey on her blog, it’s possible to write stories without going as deeply into a time as I do – to skim the possibilities without ever sinking deep roots or draw enduring strength from the richness of a different time and place. Such stories can be fun, but to me it’s like taking a trip to an exotic foreign locale and never venturing beyond the streets closest to your luxury hotel.
I started, as a teen, with a small town library and whatever was readily available, which usually meant general studies of late medieval England (things like Thomas Costain’s The Last Plantagenets). But I very early moved on to more detailed biographies (like Paul Murray Kendall’s Richard III and Warwick the Kingmaker). Those latter had – wonder of wonders! – bibliographies that listed other books, including primary sources! My young self was thrilled by the vast vistas that were opening before me and I set forth to explore them. First, there were interlibrary loans. This was long before the world of the internet – long before personal computers, come to that – and I may have been the first person to ask my hometown library for an interlibrary loan. So imagine when I went into the heady world of university libraries! And then -- traveled to England itself!
I honor the friend who went with me that first time. She was going to England for the fun of going to a foreign country. I was going in quest of a lost world. I’m sure she saw far more castles, churches, battlefields, and out-of-the-way museums (Weald and Downland Open Air Museum -- actual medieval houses rescued and restored!) than she ever counted on, but she was a good sport about it. She gave up on me in York (Look! Actual medieval streets!) and went home, but I carried on, not only with travel then and later but with reading and researching, constantly wanting to see and know more and more, wanting to use all I was seeing and learning to tell stories.
Yes, you may think “fanatic” here. And I confess you’d not be wrong. And, yes, only a very small percentage of what I learn goes into the actual novels and short stories I write, but everything I learn is there behind what goes into the stories. And there’s never any knowing when something learned in passing will circle around and be ever-so-useful when least expected. For example, I’d read about drovers and drove roads because they were interesting, without any plan of when or how to use them. Yet when I came to plotting my lately e-published novella Winter Heart, there was that nugget of knowledge that slid perfectly into place with hitherto unused facts about medieval village government acquired along the way for other stories (such as The Reeve’s Tale) to give me a plot webbed into and out of the nunnery world already built for my series of Dame Frevisse novels.
It’s that sort of serendipity that keeps me reaching for one more book, going through one more bibliography, attending one more convention of medieval scholars, because there’s no knowing which next, sometimes tiny, piece of information will give insight and depth and texturing to what I know about late medieval England and send my characters (and me) away into another mystery and adventure.
Thank you, Margaret, for stopping by! You can see more at http://www.margaretfrazer.com/.