INTERVIEW WITH ELIZABETH CHADWICK
INTERVIEW WITH ELIZABETH CHADWICK
I am very pleased to have a special guest on my blog today, one of my favorite historical novelists, Elizabeth Chadwick. Elizabeth and I share the same passion for the past in general and the MA in particular, and we have been blessed in that we’ve been able to make a living doing work that we love, both the writing and the researching. I’d like to begin by asking a few basic questions. What first drew you to the MA? Sometimes writers say a particular book or film first sparked their interest in history. Was that true for you?
Thank you for inviting me onto your blog for this interview Sharon!
My interest in the MA stems from history lessons at school when I was about 8 years old. I grew up in Scotland and our village school did the usual thing when it came to teaching history. The lesson was written on the blackboard for us to copy into our exercise books. But this particular year, our teacher, Mrs Robinson, had a more enlightened approach. Once the writing work was done, out would come the dressing up box and she would choose various pupils to take the roles of the people we had just been writing about and we would make up small, impromptu plays that reinforced the history. I loved this part of the lesson, especially if I was chosen to take part. The year Mrs Robinson taught us, we were studying Scottish Medieval history. The following year we’d moved on both with the history and the teacher and the play-acting treats stopped. So I guess my interest kind of latched onto the Medieval period as being more interesting than others. The transformation was completed when I fell hook, line and sinker for a gorgeous knight in a TV program titled Desert Crusader, which was set in the Holy Land during the mid twelfth century. The hero was half-Arab and half-Frank and moved between the two cultures. I was so in love with him that I began writing a story based on his character, but it quickly digressed into my own tale. Here’s the full story at my blog. http://livingthehistoryelizabethchadwick.blogspot.com/2008/04/tall-dark-and-handsome.html I had to begin researching because I knew nothing about the Holy Land in the twelfth century. Aged 15 I embarked on what has been a lifetime of research into the Medieval period. It was also at this point that I realised I wanted to write historical fiction for a living. I was 15 when that awareness hit and 32 when I finally achieved my goal, so a long time getting there, but it has been my career since that point. Up until acceptance I worked in department stores and filled supermarket shelves just to earn enough to keep my head above water, but those jobs were just the means to earn money. The aim was to become a historical novelist - specifically medieval!
You have an amazing website; you seem to have anticipated every possible question a reader may have about your writing. It is also a wonderful source for anyone wanting to learn about medieval life. Here is the link. http://www.elizabethchadwick.com/ I urge all my readers to check it out. You appear to be very computer-savvy, Elizabeth. In addition to your website and several blogs, you also have a Facebook presence and I believe you have recently begun to use Twitter. How do you manage to find the time for all of this midst the writing and researching and trying to have a real life? Do you follow a set routine or is it catch as catch can? Do you have a clone?
I wish I did have a clone - several in fact would be useful! I don’t run my website, the very talented Thea Vincent at Phoenix Web Designs does that part for me. I do, however, run my own blogs and Facebook and Twitter applications. I suppose the thing that saves me (apart from learning to touch type when I was 17) is that I can turn the writing on and off like a tap in short bursts. So my working day tends to be one where I am the hub at the centre of a wheel with many spokes going out. One spoke is the writing, another is Facebook, another is Twitter, another the blogs, and I’m constantly working on those spokes. It’s fast multi-tasking basically. Since the USA has bought my titles though, I have had to gear up on the promotional work and it has meant that I don’t get much time off. I work 7 days a week 52 weeks a year. I’m hoping it will become less frenetic once the backlist titles are in place in the USA, but the next couple of years are going to be manic. Anyone awaiting an e-mail reply from me, let me assure you I will get around to it - it’s just a matter of time!
Your American readers will be delighted to hear that both of your novels about William Marshal, The Greatest Knight and The Scarlet Lion, are now available in the US; Sourcebooks has just published The Scarlet Lion. Are there plans to publish the rest of your books in the US, too? I do hope so!
Yes. Sourcebooks has bought THE TIME OF SINGING - It’s to be retitled FOR THE KING’S FAVOR in the USA, and it will have a different cover. It’s an atmospheric blue and purple and the heroine gets to keep her head! It is closely related to the Marshal novels and William Marshal has several strong cameo scenes. Sourcebooks are also going to publish my latest UK novel TO DEFY A KING. It comes out next spring in the USA, so actually ahead of the UK paperback publication, although not the hardcover, which is out in the UK this year on May 6th. Sourcebooks have also bought another title, as yet undecided, but it might just be A PLACE BEYOND COURAGE - about William Marshal’s father.
Actually, you’ve written three books about the Marshals, since A Place Beyond Courage tells the story of William’s father, the controversial but always fascinating John Marshal. Writers are sometimes loath to admit they have a favorite among their novels, but I’ve gotten the feeling that A Place Beyond Courage is yours. Am I right?
Writers are always most involved with what they are writing at the moment, but books are like children. You love them all but for different reasons. So I love my first romantic novel The Wild Hunt for finally wedging open a publisher’s door seventeen years after I wrote my first novel as a teenager. I love The Champion for being my first nomination for the UK’s RNA Award. I love Lords of the White Castle for showing me that yes, I might just have the confidence to write biographical fiction, and I love my Marshal novels because of the way that these people, and two men in particular - William and John Marshal have enriched my life and taught me so much. John in particular holds a special place in my heart because I feel he has been maligned by history. We have looked at him with modern eyes and not always recognised the true calibre and integrity of this man. The soldier who stood hard against William D’Ypres when he came down the Andover Road, thus enabling the Empress to make her escape, but at great personal cost to himself. The cool brinkman, forced to bargain with the life of his son in order to keep Angevin hopes alive as he blocked the way to Wallingford ( alone and without help from Brian FitzCount who had absconded to a monastery), thus buying the future Henry II the time he needed. His son, the great William Marshal learned about courage and loyalty at his father’s knee and went on to put his own self in the path of danger in the same wise that his father had done. If William Marshal became one of the greatest men England has ever seen, then it was his father who laid the groundwork. They were made in the same mould.
I know the two books about William were written before the one about John, but that may have been a tactical decision on your part, as William is the better known of the two men. So which came first, the interest in John or William?
William came first because he was the better known with this huge story. I could really have done with a third novel solely about him to pack in everything he did with his life. But as I wrote about William, I began to wonder about his father, John. What kind of man would say of his son ‘I do not care about the child because I have the anvils and hammers to get better sons than him.’ What kind of man would bar himself and a companion inside a burning church and refuse to come out, even when he’d received a face full of molten lead? A heartless father? A mad adrenalin junkie? A faithless self-serving pirate? I decided to find out, and when I went delving - looking deeper than the superficial that the modern mindset tends to grab, I encountered a very different man whose story just had to be told and the record set straight. The bottom line was that my fascination with the son led me to want to find out about the father, and once I started investigating, I was hooked. When I embarked initially on The Greatest Knight, I didn’t have a clue that I would end up writing A PLACE BEYOND COURAGE - and lose my heart.
I think you find the Marshals as intriguing as I do the Angevins. You have a novel coming out in May, To Defy a King, about William Marshal’s daughter Mahelt, who wed Hugh Bigod. Any chance we’ll be able to buy it here in the States? Most readers won’t be that familiar with Mahelt. Could you tell us something of her background and why you decided to write about her?
As i’ve mentioned above, TO DEFY A KING is coming to the USA next year. I decided to write about Mahelt for two reasons. One was that I had begun the story of Roger Bigod Earl of Norfolk in THE TIME OF SINGING (FOR THE KING’S FAVOR) and had found him and his family to be very interesting. Roger Bigod lived more or less the same timespan as William Marshal and both men had a great deal in common. William was of a more military bent though, served for a lot longer overseas, and wound up with a chronicle being written about his life. Roger Bigod worked on the judicial side of matters and was more concerned with the wheels of government than William. He rode on numerous judicial circuits and mostly got on quietly with his life in England doing his admin thing and spending his free time under the wide skies of East Anglia. But he was a man of no less calibre than William and doubtless would have had a very fine ‘Histoire’ if someone had chosen to write it. He married Ida de Tosney who was a former mistress of Henry II and mother of Henry’s son, William Longespee, future Earl of Salisbury. FOR THE KING’S FAVOR (I’ll call it that for a USA audience) is about that relationship between Ida and Roger, and about the tangled web woven by Ida having this bastard son by Henry II. Jealousy and sibling rivalry are themes of the novel , pertaining both to the triangle between Roger,Ida and Henry and to the relationship between young William Longespee, bastard born royal, and his eldest half-brother Hugh, who got to keep his mother and was heir to an earldom almost 3 times the size of of Longespee’s. FOR THE KING’S FAVOR ends as John comes to the throne which is where I come to the second part of my explanation - if people are still here! I very much wanted to continue to explore the relationship between the half brothers William Longespee and Hugh Bigod. There was still a great deal of family history left untold, including sieges and battles that were going to have a profound effect on the family and its loyalties. I had also become interested in William Marshal’s eldest daughter Mahelt because of the girls, she is the only one in the Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal who gets a mention beyond the conventional. William loved all of his daughters, but it is obvious that Mahelt was his particular favourite. She was born the third of his children, having two older brothers. Two more boys followed on from her and she would have been around 7 years old before the next girl came along, by which time her father was probably slightly less at home. The father/daughter bond had had a chance to develop into something special that was to last until William died. Her family emigrated to Ireland in 1207 when she was a young adolescent (we don’t have an exact birth date for her) and she was married to Hugh Bigod and transferred to Framlingham, the Earl of Norfolk’s seat in East Anglia. What was it like for her to finish growing up in a different family while her own was threatened by King John and her brothers taken hostage? To become a wife and then a mother? How did Hugh relate to his child bride? How did the steady Roger Bigod who enjoyed the quiet life, cope with a spoiled daughter in law who was as spirited and head-strong as a young thoroughbred horse and accustomed to getting her way? How did Hugh balance the rules of his family and deal with a disruptive influence like Mahelt without alienating both? As well as these matters of internal family conflict, I also wanted to look at the Magna Carta issues in slightly more depth than I did in The Scarlet Lion.
Have you thought about continuing the family history with William’s sons? I always thought Richard Marshal had a story worth telling. (hint)
I guess my thinking on that might be similar to your initial reaction to The Reckoning. There are an awful lot of tears before bed-time. All five Marshal sons went down and I suspect foul play happened to most of them. Richard was definitely murdered in his prime and in a truly horrific and dishonourable way. Gilbert too - murdered at a tournament when someone cut his stallion’s reins. I think it would make very grim telling and one always has to be aware of the readership. I have considered writing the story from the viewpoint of Mahelt’s son Roger Bigod III, who had a lot to do with his Marshal uncles in the early years, and I have done some research towards it, but it’s on a very slow back burner at the moment. I’d need to feel my way with that one.
Our readers are going to be very happy to learn that you are now working on a novel set during Stephen’s reign, with a queen and an empress taking centre stage, Adeliza, the young widow of King Henry I and Maude/Matilda, the widow of the Holy Roman Emperor who would become best-known as the mother of Henry II. I am really looking forward to this one. What made you decide to write about the empress? And did you initially expect Adeliza to have a starring role, too, or was this her idea? Have you decided upon a title yet?
It was initially a decision brought on by the fact that I had one book left to write on my publishing contract with LittleBrown before we negotiated the next one. I have a couple of irons in the fire with reference to multi book projects for the future and am still mulling them. I was pondering what to do for a single title and decided to take a look at the Empress using the Akashic Records (see later in the interview) to garner an up close and personal view of her from the time she left Germany in 1125 and up to 1148 when she returned to Normandy from England. I always like to put in a strong, satisfying, male/female relationship close to the core of my story. The Empress’s marriage to Geoffrey of Anjou is a poisoned chalice as you well know! Her relationship with Brian FitzCount is the great love affair that could have been but never was - sad but restrained. In the course of my research I investigated Adeliza of Louvain, Henry I’s second queen. As far as I know, no one has ever written about her and she makes a good foil to Matilda. Her second marriage to William D’Albini has been very interesting to follow in the Akashic Records and has provided that strong relationship I was looking for. It’s not a great,sweeping love affair at all - but it has this wonderful solid core that reminds me so much of marriages between ordinary people today. Yes, he left his clothes on the floor, tramped about in muddy boots and forgot that they were having visitors when she’d expressly told him, and he thought she was too finicky and fussy at times, but he gave her security, protection and children,(something massive for her since she hadn’t conceived during her 15 year marriage to Henry I ) and she gave him class, style, and the softer side of feminine understanding. They liked each other in bed - a lot. But then you have the conflict of him being Stephen’s man and thinking the Empress a trouble-maker and Adeliza being all for the Empress, her step-daughter. So running through their daily routines, their irritations with each other and their delight, is this conflict of opinion. I am deliberately keeping the novel in close focus with viewpoints. I use the Empress’s, Geoffrey of Anjou’s and Brian FitzCount’s for Matilda’s story, and Adeliza and Will D’Albini for Adeliza’s side. Every time I’m tempted to digress, I pull back and close the focus.
I believe you told me that your first novel, The Wild Hunt, would be classified as a romance novel. How would you differentiate between romance and historical novels? I would imagine that the best books combine elements of both. You know I am a huge fan of your novel set in Outremer, The Falcons of Montabard; I liked it so much I even devoted an entire blog to it. Would you classify Falcons as romance or history?
THE WILD HUNT isn’t an out and out romance novel as such; more it’s a ‘romantic historical’. My own personal classification - which is not the definitive for everyone but how I see it, is that the romance novels have the hero and heroine right at the fore and the story focuses strongly on their feelings for each other and the relationship. In the more extreme versions, the history is only incidental - like moving wallpaper, which is fair enough. Other times there is more historical context but the relationship is still the be all and end all with a happy ever after. The romantic historical tends to straddle the line between the historical romance novel and the straight historical. It will contain more history and the hero and heroine will be joined by a cast of characters and situations that have more diversity than the pure romance element. Examples of such would be Roberta Gellis’ wonderful Roselynde Chronicles, Grace Ingram’s Red Adam’s Lady and Anya Seton’s Avalon. This is also where I would fit my earlier works. I would say that ‘THE FALCONS OF MONTABARD is a line-straddling romantic historical. I still do enjoy writing a romantic element into my ’straight’ historical fiction and feel that it’s just as valid as say the politics or the battles.
I believe your earlier books dealt with purely fictional characters. I know that was the case with one I really enjoyed, The Conquest, which has an excellent dramatization of the Battle of Hastings. But your recent books focus upon people who actually lived. I think the first was Shadow and Strongholds, about Fulk Fitz Warin, no? What caused the shift?
LORDS OF THE WHITE CASTLE was my first work focusing on a protagonist who actually lived. SHADOWS AND STRONGHOLDS, although a prequel, came later. I had been slowly moving along a career line where I felt I wanted to write about real people but wasn’t sure I had the confidence. I thought it was the province of ‘grown up’ writers such as yourself! However, when researching for one of my line straddlers, I came across the character of Fulke FitzWarren in a 13th century chronicle. It was part true story and part fantastical adventure. I decided that I would test the waters by writing about him. After all, his own chronicler had told Fulke’s story very much as a round the fire adventure tale, and that gave me some leeway. I began researching what was known in the historical record about Fulke, and I had so much fun doing the research and working out how to fit the pieces into the structure of a full blown novel, that I decided this really was the path I wanted to take. My decision to do this was further endorsed when LORDS was short-listed for the Romantic Novelists Association Best Romantic Novel of 2000 (I think that was the year). It’s an award in the UK for mainstream commercial fiction involving romantic input but not a category romance and the shortlist is chosen by readers. The year that LORDS was short-listed, I was up against Philippa Gregory with THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL and Joanne Harris with FIVE QUARTERS OF THE ORANGE - among others. Philippa Gregory won and historical fiction suddenly took on a whole new life. The fact that LORDS had been reader-chosen though and down to the final six, told me that I was heading in the right direction.
I think many readers prefer reading about real historical figures; in an odd sort of way, it seems to validate the story line. Do you agree with that?
I think so, and it seems to validate their reading time and make them want to go and find out more about the characters and their life and times.
I honestly think it depends on the novel. Readers can become very passionate about non-real characters too. Francis Crawford for example, Jamie Fraser, Richard Sharpe, Scarlett O’Hara at one time. I think if a character is imaginary, they have to be writ large in people’s imaginations. I think where historicals have suffered is perhaps in the above mentioned line-straddler department where an imaginary hero or heroine, while satisfying, often doesn’t command the same memorable presence as either an actual historical character or a big hitter in the fiction stakes. I guess there’s less room for the enjoyable B movie novel these days.
Do you anticipate continuing along this road for future books? One drawback, though, is that we cannot play God with real people, and we lose some of our freedom as writers. Do you miss having that total control over your characters?
I do anticipate continuing down this road, very much so. Actually I don’t mind not playing God. I’ve been there and done that. I actually find one of the fascinating and rewarding things is fitting what really happened into the conventions of the novel form and in a way that will keep modern readers interested. Also the facts are there to be interpreted and as long as we keep historical intergrity strictly at the forefront, there is still room for artistic manoeuvre. Bottom line - no, I don’t miss it. The Akashic Records do have something to do with my attitude as well. They’re a huge wealth of untapped information about people’s daily lives.
Could you tell us how your career was launched? I was reading a very funny story on your website about your first meeting with your editor and how your husband gained a certain amount of fame at Penguin which eventually reached the ears of Prince Charles. Could you share that story with us?
Sadly Prince Charles didn’t actually get to hear that bit of gossip! My first novel, THE WILD HUNT, was entered for the Betty Trask Award. This is an award for novelists under the age of 35 and is for a first novel of a romantic or traditional nature. It’s administered by the Society of Authors. TWH won the award which was presented that year by Prince Charles at Whitehall. This was almost surreal for me, because just a short while ago I had been a young mum writing in my spare time and contributing to the family budget by stacking supermarket shelves at night. When THE WILD HUNT was first accepted for publication, I was invited to London to meet my agent and editor. I took Roger, my husband along for moral support. We were taken out to dinner at The Groucho Club and my then editor at Michael Joseph leaned towards me and said ‘I adore your love scenes. They’re erotic without being pornographic!’ At which point Roger grinned and said ‘Yes, well I’m the research assistant!’ Anyway, cut to the Betty Trask Awards a year later. I was approached in the throng to be congratulated by Susan Watt, editorial director of Michael Joseph. She shook my hand to congratulate me, and then turned to Roger and said with a smile ‘And this is the research assistant is it?’ His little quip had been all round Penguin. I have told him that he has a reputation to live up to now, or one he will never live down!
You use music as a source of inspiration when writing. You even have a section of your website titled Soundtracks to the Stories. Could you tell us more about this?
I have always written soundtracks to my stories since writing that first one when I was fifteen. I had soundtracks with pop tunes long before advertisers thought of it or film and TV started using it. Indeed, I was quite miffed when A Knight’s Tale came along and stole all my Queen tracks for their film! I don’t write with music on in the background. That would be far too distracting. What I do is listen to music away from the PC while doing mundane jobs round the house or when I’m at the gym. I am looking for lyrics and music that explain character traits, describe scenes, or evoke a theme at the novel’s core. If the song has the right resonance I get an adrenalin ‘ting’ and I know it’s right. I will then play the song over and over until it ’sets’ in my subconscious ready for when I come to write. I don’t listen to that much medieval music. I believe society changes but our hard wiring doesn’t, so I use songs that give me a personal emotional kick or a way into understanding a character. In The Greatest Knight, I used Billy Joel’s All About Soul as the bedrock of William’s marriage to Isabelle. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jK8Nq2arWTc&feature=related Just listen to those lyrics. They couldn’t be more apt. In The Scarlet Lion, I used Parallel Universe by The Red Hot Chili Peppers for William at The Battle of Lincoln - a hard rocking tune that suits a battle field. It’s about an altered state of consciousness in battle and the absolute joyous, triumphant chorus. I could see William as the young man in the old man’s body and the sword swinging through that first magnificent ‘Christ I’m a sidewinder’ etc. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9fPYyoY49Bc
I have a distinct preference for hard rock and the metal side of music. I’ve already got a preliminary soundtrack lined up for the Empress and Adeliza novel. That is still work in progress, but I felt the adrenalin ‘ting’ exploring the relationship between the Empress and Brian FitzCount when I heard Razorlight’s Wire to Wire. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rBuXLu43Bfo&feature=related
You asked me a very interesting question when we did an interview on your blog last year and I’d like to ask it of you now. Do you instinctively know when you’ve written a particularly memorable or dramatic scene?
Not when I’m immediately writing it. It doesn’t actually strike me until I’m reading it through at second draft. I sometimes think scenes ‘might’ be good, but I’m always cautious. Having said that, I did know that the ending of THE SCARLET LION was extremely powerful - but then I’d only be using history almost verbatim and those moments needed very little embellishment by me to strike home. The bottom line is that generally it’s not until after I’ve written a scene and go back to take in the whole that I get an inkling, but for me it is only really validated by agent, editor and reader reaction.
Do you write at set hours every day or just when you can find the time?
A short answer this time. I can turn the writing on and off like a tap so I write in short bursts throughout the day and intersperse with other e-mail activities. I generally work a 12 hour day, 7 days a week.
Do you set a goal, so many hours or so many words, etc?
In construction mode it’s three pages a day - roughly 1200 words. At second draft it’s about 10 -20 pages a day.
Do you do a first draft and then polish it with rewrites or do you stay with a chapter until you are satisfied with it?
I write and polish the first three chapters and send them off to my agent and editor so they can see the state of play. After that I write through to the end of the first draft without fixing anything and without looking back. Although I have the basics of the research before I start writing, I deepen it at the same time as writing the first draft and I find out more about the characters. My subconscious toils away in the background too, honing out of sight. When I reach the end I go back and edit hard on the PC. I would say that the first draft is the most difficult because it is getting those words onto the blank screen. The second draft is about taking the work to the gym and giving a nice firm six pack to the blob I’ve created! This may involve tweaking to take extra research into account. Since I’ve just about forgotten what I’ve written by the time I get to the end, I’m looking at it with fresh eyes too. Having done a full re-edit, I print the work out and read in hard copy and fast as I would read a book and I make notes in pen. Then it’s back to the PC and another re-read, altering as per the notes. Then print out again and read aloud to my husband because the ear picks up what the eye often doesn’t in terms of pace and nuance and info-dump. Back to the PC again and then it’s ready to go.
British historical novelists have one great advantage over their American counterparts; your reenactment societies usually are medieval ones, while in the States, they focus upon American history, oddly enough. Not only are these societies fun for all concerned, they offer writers an unprecedented opportunity to see what we write about come to life before our eyes. I know you are affiliated with one of the best, Reglia Anglorum and their local Nottinghamshire branch, Conroi de Vey. Some of my readers might not be familiar with the activities of reenactment societies. Can you tell us a bit about your experiences with them?
Actually, Regia Anglorum does have a USA branch now, and there are societies such as the SCA in the USA which tend to be a bit uneven in terms of authenticity - not everyone joins for that reason - but there are some very dedicated and knowledgeable members. Regia Anglorum (website www.regia.org) aims to portray through living history the peoples of the British Isles in the earlier Middle Ages. Originally the society’s brief was 954-1066 but down the years we have moved outside those parameters, particularly with a view to later datelines and we go as far as early King John now. Regia tries to be as authentic as possible. No one is allowed onto the field without being checked by our authenticity officer and items need at least three separate provenances before they are deemed authentic for use at shows. We appear at various castles and civic events throughout England and we do filmwork too. We own six full scale replica ships and we have an equestrian team. We have bought some land in Kent and are in the process of building a fortified Anglo Saxon burgh - Wychurst- circa 1000. Being a member of Regia means that I own replica medieval everyday costume and equipment. I know what it feels like to walk in a turnshoe, to negotiate castle stairs in a long dress, to cook using cauldrons and earthenware containers. To spin fleece on a drop spindle and weave braid. I’ve observed how mail shirts are put on and taken off. I’ve tried them on myself. I talk to the guys who fight in them. I see them being made and I own a piece of finely worked riveted mail. I also own a sword, kite shield and helm. When my shield was delivered, I was out and the postman put a note through my door saying ‘Would not fit through letterbox’ He had also written ’surfboard’ across the top of the paper. I now have this wonderful vision of the gorgeous John Marshal on the beach in a clinging wetsuit, hair all salt-tangled! I am useless at textile work; I wasn’t born with any sort of gene for that side of things, but I am not a bad cook, so I generally have charge of our group’s cauldrons if we are at a show. I quite often make something I have christened ‘King John’s coronation pottage.’ At the time of John’s coronation we know large quantities of beef on the hoof and the spice cumin were brought into London. So I make a beef and cumin pottage, adding galingal (like ginger) and long pepper (like modern black pepper). The entire thing, when cooked, is not unlike a modern day chili con carne!
One of the many things I enjoy about your novels is your historical accuracy. It is obvious that you do a lot of serious research, and we’ve often discussed books that we find helpful in our study of the MA. But you also do a more unorthodox form of research, drawing upon Akashic Records. I confess that I am still not sure how this works exactly, although I know you’ve found it to be very useful in “fleshing out” a character. Can you explain to us what this entails?
Well I’m not sure what it entails myself as I’m just the very grateful client, but after you asked your question, I went to Alison and asked her for some pointers as to how she sees it working. Here’s what she said.
‘When people think, feel or speak, it creates a subtle electrical charge. For example, the brain’s electrical activity (such as when thinking) can be measured by ECG equipment (in fact, it’s a measurement of whether we’re alive or dead).’ The electrical vibrations we create all the time are discharged into the environment, where they are impressed onto a subatomic substance which is only just starting to come to the edge of scientific awareness, (think string theory and the environment that would suggest). An analogy of this process might be voice recording techniques, where the vibrations of the voice are impressed upon susceptible material, such as magnetic tape or digital receptor. Once the Akashic recording has been made, it can be read in a similar way to listening to a voice recording or watching a movie, with similar facilities to fast forward or rewind. The huge difference is, the Akashic Record is an organic structure, rather than 21st century technology; it therefore requires an organic reader, such as a human being, who can attune sensitively to the vibrations required. A mundane example of this would be, walking into a room, and being able to pick up on an atmosphere without knowing of any preceding events that have taken place there.
I would add to this, that from what I can tell, we all have our own individual energy pattern like a fingerprint and our energy doesn’t die when our body does. So that energy pattern can be accessed by someone like Alison. Her energy connects and communicates with theirs. Alison has always been able to see auras and has a very strong electro magnetic sensitivity (which does cause her health problems as she can’t deal with all the electrical pollution most of us don’t notice). We found out she could access this data when I was about three quarters of the way through writing The Greatest Knight and we came to it by accident in a way. We were having an ordinary coffee and chat as friends and Alison asked how my writing was going this week. I told her I was having difficulty finding out anything about the mistress of William Marshal’s brother. Alison thought she might be able to help by tuning in to her. Recently she had been working with clients who had had issues in the recent past that she had been able to deal with by going back. If she could do it for ten or twenty years, then why not a thousand? It was the same thing. So, feeling skeptical but interested, I gave her a name a date and a place and waited to see what would happen. Alison started describing to me a woman standing on a piece of grass swinging some sort of bag on a string round and round her head. I immediately thought of a hawking lure, but Alison, without any knowledge of the Middle Ages, thought she might have been drying lettuce or something! Anyway, she continued to watch this woman and then her lover, and what came through was so astonishing and gripping that it was like finding re-enactment as a resource for adding to my research. If this was for real, then I could get up close and personal with people from the distant past. Alison receives the full sensory impact. She not only gets the sights, sounds, smells, touches and tastes of the past, she also very strongly gets the thoughts and the feelings - the motivations. She can do it for anyone. So I can ask her to go to a scene and then I can get the impressions of the happening from everyone present - like taking witness statements to build up a picture, but these can be both internal and external witness statements. What was seen, and what was felt. We must have around a thousand pages of notes now and I don’t know how many hours of digital recordings. We do these back in time sessions about once a fortnight now. Once I’ve written up the recording, I send it to someone who is a professional medieval historian by training and by day job. She told me that when I first started sending her these notes she thought ‘yeah, right.’ and was very skeptical. But in the five years I’ve been doing this, she has completely turned around and now thinks there are more things in heaven and earth, and that this is one of them and a precious resource. However it happens, it works. She tells me that what is coming through is medieval mindset, not modern. There are the occasional moments when Alison’s tuning goes awry or we get anomalies - I have to factor that in - but I would estimate that on the whole, it’s spot on. The difficulty is that sometimes history is not as we’d wish it to be in a novel, and fitting my findings into those conventions without warping it out of true, can be a bit of a conundrum - but it’s one I enjoy working around. I have just started a blog to post Akashic excerpts from my research for TO DEFY A KING. The url is here. http://todefyakingakashics.blogspot.com/ I have also posted an audio file featuring part of a recorded session at Youtube and hope to post more as time goes on. Url here. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-3XRIcvAH2o
Because it is unconventional, have you ever received any negative responses from readers or reviewers?
The most we’ve had is disbelief, but in a polite way and that’s fair enough. Each to his or her own. The other response is ‘prove it’ but that’s like trying to prove evidence for ghosts or anything else that comes out of left field. What has been wonderful is people coming forward and saying ‘Thank Goodness!’ Or relaying their own experiences. There is so much that is hidden away because people are scared of being ridiculed or vilified. I have had two serious professional historians tell me they use similar for their own research on the quiet and two archaeologists the same. But none of them would dare come forward and say so in public. I’ve also had people come up to me at talks and tell me things and readers e-mail me with their experiences. We gave a talk at the conference for the British Society of dowsers last year and that was just wonderful because we had a lecture theatre full of people who knew immediately where we were coming from. We had a physics professor attend our lecture. He is working on the science behind what Alison does and was very excited by what we were doing as it aligned with his studies thus far. I also work with another lady with similar skills to Alison who frequently corroborates what Alison says without having seen the material. Her description of John Marshal is exactly the same as Alison’s - tall, good-looking, brown/blond hair, walks like a predator. Alison’s in Nottingham, she’s in Orkney and they don’t know each other from Adam! I suppose I could just keep quiet and write the novels without saying anything (like my historian and archaeologist colleagues), but it’s such a fascinating resource that I want to share it. I don’t expect everyone to take it on board. I just say ‘Look, for what it is worth, this is what I do as a strand of my research’. And it is a strand. I don’t research less in other areas because of it - in fact I probably research more!
Well, I think I’ve taken up enough of your time; we’d much prefer that you spend your every waking hour at the computer, writing! Thank you so much for dropping by, and thank you, too, for letting us time-travel with you back to the MA.
Thank you so much for inviting me Sharon and for being such a good friend - as well as a favourite author! I seem to have written a novel here!