A number of years ago, I attended a writer’s conference in the Midwest, where I was asked to give a speech about writing as a craft.  I said that my aim as a novelist was “to entertain and to inform.”    Later in the program, another writer surprised me by quoting what I’d said, and then declared that her aim was “to heal.”   That seemed overly ambitious to me and so I’ve stayed with my objectives—to make the MA come alive to readers in a way that makes them want to keep turning the pages.  

      As those of you who’ve read past blogs or my Facebook posts know, I am somewhat (okay, very) obsessive-compulsive about historical accuracy.  Obviously a historical novel must draw upon the writer’s imagination, but I always attempt to build a sturdy factual foundation for each book, and if I have to take dramatic license or historical liberties with known fact, I try to play fair and alert my readers to this in the AN.    The real challenge comes in depicting a way of thinking that is often alien to ours today.   I can think of at least five topics in which medieval and modern views have little in common: the concept of religious tolerance, anti-Semitism, the conduct of war, the status of women, and the treatment of animals.  I thought (hope) it might be interesting to discuss how a historical novelist approaches these controversial issues. 

      Anti-Semitism is the ugly underside of medieval life.  In Falls The Shadow, I addressed this, making no excuses, but seeking to root it in the context of the 13th century.  Anti-Semitism exists to this day; the difference is that in the MA, the Church gave official sanction to it.   My Christian characters were taught from birth to view Jews with suspicion and hostility.  In Falls The Shadow, Simon de Montfort tells Rabbi Jacob that “I was taught that over every Jew, God holds His breath, waiting to see if he will decide for Christ.  How can you give Our Lord such grief?  How can you reject salvation?   It took courage for you to come here.  Yours is a soul worth saving.  Why will you not admit that Christ is the Messiah?  Do you not fear damnation?”    In this passage, I distilled the essence of the medieval view of Judaism.  Rabbi Jacob then reminds Simon of his time on crusade and asks if Simon would have abjured his Christian faith had he been captured by the Saracens.  Simon says he’d have chosen death, and Jacob says softly and sadly, “Just so, my lord.”     The chasm between the two men is too vast to bridge.

      I try to stay true to the tenor of the times, so virtually all of my characters are infected to some degree.  When I needed a character to voice doubts, I had to choose an outsider to make it believable, a character who was a natural rebel and therefore more likely to question even the teachings of the Church—Llywelyn Fawr’s strong-willed daughter, Elen.   In When Christ and His Saints Slept, Ranulf is ambushed and almost killed by bandits, rescued by two young peddlers.  He is naturally very grateful to them, but when he learns that they are Jews, his first reaction is an involuntary recoil, for they are aliens and infidels. “For an unnerving moment, Ranulf felt an instinctive unease.  But then common sense reasserted itself. These men had saved his life.  They had chased after his horse, bandaged his wound, even buried his dog.  What more proof did he demand of their goodwill?”   Because Ranulf is an intelligent, decent man, he is able to recognize that his suspicions make no sense under the circumstances, and he and the brothers, Aaron and Josce, are able to forge a tentative, temporary bond.  

       Religious tolerance was as rare in the MA as the unicorn.   All men—be they Christian, Jew, or Muslim—were convinced that theirs was the True Faith.  In Lionheart, the crusaders and Saracens each refer to the others as “infidels.”    They can respect one another’s courage, but neither side doubts that damnation awaits their foes.   So I have to take care in my novels to acknowledge this bedrock belief, so alien to most of us today.  And to show that they could be less forgiving of sinners than we are.  I recently interviewed a writer friend, Margaret Frazer, on this blog, and I said that she is even more obsessive-compulsive than I am about historical accuracy.   In her medieval mystery, The Apostate’s Tale, Sister Frevisse is confronted with a ghost from their abbey’s past, a nun who’d run away and taken a lover.  I was sympathetic to this woman, who’d been compelled to take holy vows, who’d never wanted to be a nun.   Sister Frevisse was not.  Margaret did not take the easy way, did not have Sister Frevisse embrace the erring sister as many another novelist would have done.   To a nun of the 15th century, there would be no greater sin than apostacy, for it was a rejection of God, and Margaret was true to that in Frevisse’s uncompromising, medieval judgment.   Had this been my story, I hope I would have been as honest and as brave.    

      We also have difficulty comprehending the medieval attitude toward war.  They glorified it in a way that we no longer do.   It is impossible to understand Richard I without taking this into consideration.  Some modern historians have found fault with him for the very actions that his subjects most admired.  War was a medieval king’s vocation and at that, Richard excelled.   Ours is a time in which we sincerely decry attacks upon noncombatants, although the body count continues to mount in much of the world. During the MA, the Church attempted to shield noncombatants, too—women, children, priests, pilgrims, etc.   But the nature of medieval warfare—laying waste the lands of one’s enemies—all but guaranteed there would be civilian casualties.   And kings, knights, and soldiers accepted this as inevitable.  Some of my characters might regret the burning of a village and its crops, but they would still do it, for that was how their wars were waged.  There was a strain of pacifism in the MA; there were even a few to criticize the crusades.  But we’re talking of a small minority and their views never wielded any influence.   This was an age, after all, in which even bishops rode out into battle, wielding swords instead of crosiers, and no one saw anything odd about this.  (The oft-repeated legend that warring clerics always used maces instead of swords so as to avoid the Church stricture against spilling blood is just that, a legend.)  So to be true to the times, I cannot have my characters reacting to the destruction of a town or the raping of its women as if it were a war crime, the way we would characterize it today.  I do try to take our modern sensibilities into account by not dwelling needlessly upon the atrocities of war, but further than that, I cannot go. 

     Fortunately my readers seem willing to judge my characters by medieval standards rather than ours.   I say “fortunately” because almost every medieval monarch could be painted as a homicidal maniac if we held them accountable to 21st century standards, and that includes those who enjoy a reputation for mercy and chivalry such as Salah al-Din, better known to us as Saladin.   Even Henry II, who shared none of his son Richard’s zest for battle, ordered the blinding of a number of Welsh hostages without hesitation; moreover, he saw it as a merciful act, since he was sparing their lives. 

    There is obviously a huge gap between the status of medieval women and women today, at least in the industrialized countries.   This can present problems for some readers, those who want their female characters to be strong, to speak up for themselves, to have a measure of control over their own fate.  I am not saying there were not strong women in the MA; there certainly were.   But the restrictions placed upon them by society and the Church severely limited their choices; biology truly was destiny if you were born a woman in medieval times.  There is a scene in Lionheart in which Berengaria’s brother Sancho is contemplating her future as England’s queen.   “He could see that his father took comfort from his certainty, and he was glad of it.  It was not as if he’d lied, after all.  Why would Berenguela and Richard not find contentment together?   The ideal wife was one who was chaste, obedient, and loyal.  Berenguela would come to her marriage bed a virgin and would never commit the sin of adultery.  She believed it was a wife’s duty to be guided by her husband.  And she would be loyal to Richard until her last mortal breath—whether he deserved it or not.” 

      Yes, there were those rare rebels like Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Empress Maude, but they paid a great price for their independent spirits.  It is obvious that both Eleanor and Maude chaffed under their matrimonial bonds, wanting more freedom than their world was willing to allow.  But there is no evidence that they viewed themselves as part of an oppressed sisterhood; they wanted power and autonomy for themselves, not for all members of their sex.   So it would be unrealistic if I were to write of a female character resentful of male dominance, one eager to prove herself as capable as any man.

      It would be even more unrealistic if I had a female character determined to marry “for love.”   Berengaria’s brother Sancho hopes that she finds “contentment” in her marriage.     There were some marriages, of course, that held passion and/or love. By all accounts, Berengaria’s own parents had a loving relationship, and there was certainly passion aplenty in Henry and Eleanor’s union.  But in the MA, marriage was a legal union, recognized by the Church and Crown as a means of getting children and transferring property in an orderly fashion from one generation to the next.  Love was not a component of marriage then, especially marriages among royalty and the highborn, and there were no expectations of finding soul mates, not in the 12th century.

      Medieval and modern views are even more divergent when it comes to the treatment of animals.  The concept of “animal rights” could not be more alien to them.  People did have pets, at least those who could afford such a luxury.   There is evidence of loved dogs and cherished horses and valued falcons.  While cats were not normally kept as pets, some apparently infiltrated nunneries and the hearts of their inhabitants, for nuns were occasionally scolded for doting on cats and small dogs.   And there was even that occasional free spirit who truly empathized with all of God’s creatures.  It will likely come as a surprise to learn that the notorious French queen, Catherine de Medici, was one of them; see C. W. Gortner’s The Confessions of Catherine de Medici.  

         But—and it is hard for me as an animal-lover to admit this—she was definitely an anomaly.  When daily life is so hard, few can spare sympathy for hungry dogs.  This is especially true in a world in which people believe that God has given them dominion over the earth and all in it.  So when one of my characters is moved by the plight of a suffering animal, he often is vaguely embarrassed by his Good Samaritan inclinations.  When Justin de Quincy rescues a drowning dog in The Queen’s Man, he does it after he “casts common sense to the winds,” and he is motivated in some measure by the tearful entreaties of a small child.  The life of a horse was worth a great deal and the life of a pet dog might have mattered to its owner.  But the lives of animals in general had no intrinsic value and my characters cannot display the same outrage in the face of cruelty that we would.  I do cheat a bit; I’ve never dramatized a bear-baiting scene because I know my readers would find it as unpleasant to read as I would to write it!

         Now it is your turn.  Is it difficult for you to do what I am asking of you—to judge my characters by the standards of their time and not ours?   I know that my “hard-core” readers feel as strongly as I do about historical accuracy, so I am guessing that most of you always make that effort, right?   I wonder, though, if the casual reader does?   Would someone unfamiliar with the MA be repulsed by the description of a medieval execution, with its throngs of avid spectators and its raucous fair-like atmosphere?  Shocked that Henry and Eleanor married their daughters off before they reached puberty?  How far do you think historical novelists should go to make their books palatable to modern readers?  Is it necessary to make the characters in a novel about the anti-Bellum South all secret abolitionists at heart in order to win reader sympathy?   What of a family living in Nazi Germany?    Compared to challenges like that, I have it easy, don’t I?


January 14, 2011




261 Responses to “HISTORY VS FICTION”

  1. Suzanne Says:

    What a fascinating, meaty blog post! Some questions:

    Anti-semitism nowadays seems as much based on ethnicity as on religious beliefs. The Nazis didn’t care about your religious beliefs, just who your ancestors were. Would converted Jews in the MA have been accepted and integrated into Christian society, or would you still be viewed as a Jew by blood and therefore still a target of suspicion and hatred?

    As to the nun who took a lover, I know there was a scandal when Eleanor de Montfort abandoned her vows to marry Simon. Was it to the same extent as you describe above? Did the people generally consider her an apostate, and if so, did it just wear off after a while and become accepted? Would it have been different if she had not been the king’s sister (and forgiven by him)?

    Was there more marrying for love among the lower classes? I assume there was plenty of sex for love, so I would guess that that would lead to more marriage…

    I didn’t know the mace thing was just a myth. Am I misremembering things, or didn’t you send Thomas Beckett to war with a mace at one point?

    I have more comments, but I need to go take my kids to school…

  2. Lesley Says:

    I remember seeing Lindsay Davies at a convention being heckled by an audience member for making her Roman lead characters sympathetic to the plight of slaves. She dealt with it superbly, pointing out that at no point do her characters discuss the abolition or freedom of slaves and, in fact, become slave owners themselves. They might be more benevolent than many but that was not out of character and she had the research to prove it. And then she asked the audience member if those same characters had been harsh against slaves and dreadful slave owners, would said person have still enjoyed the books?

    There was a protracted silence by way of response :)

    It’s a fine line but so long as you’re true to the history, you have to trust that the story will take the audience along with the characters. Not everyone is going to be able to accept MA attitudes, but if that’s the case, they shouldn’t read books set in the MA.

  3. Yvette Says:

    Interesting topic, as usual. I think for the average person, cruelty wouldn’t surprise them at all. The movie industry has given us plenty of stereotypes of cruel persons in Braveheart and Robin Hood.

    I think the way you introduce readers to the way people think is great. You don’t take for granted that the reader will know about marrying daughters off young, but by letting your characters explain these practices to their children, you’re teaching the readers as well.

    One thing I’ve got to say though. After I read one of your books for the first time, then before the author’s note, I try to guess which characters are historical and which aren’t. I’m usually right. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but the fictitious characters always stand out somehow. I love the way you explain not only which parts of the story are accurate and which are fiction, but also your motives behind the fiction. I always agree with you that it helped the story.

  4. Fran Johnston Says:

    Sharon - you have done a wonderful job of informing and educating (and entertaining!) your readers - without “exploiting” the violence that was a part of daily life in the MA. You’ve indicated it without throwing it in our faces. The necessary descriptions of horrific events are as tastefully done as the event makes possible (sometimes not at all). People who chose to read about the MA should be dealt with honestly - made aware of how life was lived - if not, what do we have? Romance novels.

  5. Yvette Says:

    Another thought: most interesting books aren’t written about average people. There would have been as much variation in human character back then as their is today. It’s just that the average is somewhere else then than it is now. So you can have a character that deviates from the MA ‘norm’ without it feeling anachronistic. Eleanore and Maud are great examples.

  6. Yvette Says:

    their = there (can’t find an edit option)

  7. Julia - pagesofjulia Says:

    Thanks for this wonderful post. Ties in pretty well with my blog post about your work last month.
    I don’t have trouble placing myself in the historical setting, when I read your work. You paint things so realistically that I’m really there; it’s not logical to expect feminism or animal rights, once I’m established in the time and place. I am able to buy into things completely because you do such a good job of transporting your reader.
    I do think you have a great responsibility, and I deeply appreciate your dedication to accuracy (and your author’s notes addressing it). I read a certain amount of historical fiction for a historical education, which I hope I am sufficiently aware is very dangerous! So I appreciate your diligence. Thank you! Write more books please! :)

  8. Sherill Roberts Says:

    Sharon - Thank you for this thought-provoking explanation of your thinking. This is one of the reasons you are my favorite historical novelist.

    I really appreciate that you write from the perspective of the period. I am fascinated by how differently people thought in the MA. Yes, I am shocked by some of their attitudes and actions, but I want to know about them.

    At the same time I appreciate that you don’t drag us through a lot of blood and gore. That is my main objection to Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Chronicles. I don’t want to have that stuff in my mind, ready to jump out and ambush me when I’m least expecting it.

    I also love that you are so obsessive about historical accuracy. I don’t understand why novelists (and screenwriters) change history - usually the true story is much more interesting than what they change it to. (Think BBC Tudors.) That always seems like cheating to me. Much better is the challenge of constructing a novel based on the factual structure.

  9. Misfit Says:

    Thanks for this. I prefer to have my history accurate as possible and not sugar coated, anymore than I would reading a novel on the US Civil war and freaking out over use of the “N” word. That’s how it was.

  10. james watson Says:

    Blood and Gore(towton),…..Bastard Children, of Establishment, or Church. (Monasteries and Convents)……or if highborn a william Marshall? Take no Prisoners! Mentalatie, And then find room for Love. Humanaty at its worst or Best, Were All products of our own Times.

  11. Julia - pagesofjulia Says:

    You gave me some fodder for today’s post too :)

  12. Sandi Thompson Says:

    Sharon, this is why I love your books. I want to know and understand what things were like in the context. I often go from reading one of your or other books to researching and reading some of the books used as reference material (if I can get my hands on it). It broadens my perspective. People who think people had the luxury of thinking and acting as we do, have no concept of the changes that have occured sinvce the MA. Can you imagine what the men who wrote the Magna Carta would think of our Declaration of Independence and Constitution? Thanks for being true to the time. WE love it!

  13. Lisa Markovitz Says:

    Sharon, thank you for a wonderful post! I think it takes a very good writer to stay true to history but keep interest and characterization enthralling. You can do this. You even are able with your skill to bring a polarized situation, such as depicting opposing religious views, to light on each side. We can even see each side’s good points and bad, and not just take the side we would choose and condemn the other with our support swinging only to one character. Instead you give each character eloquence in describing their viewpoints and so real turmoil is felt and appreciated.

    Henry II and Eleanor and their brood have such great history to mine! Your portrayal of these characters is wonderful, as usual, and we are awaiting more on Richard I with much anticipation. I do not go a year without reading one of your books, preferring new ones, of course, but a good reread is also enjoyed!

  14. Britta B. Says:

    When I read a historical novel about people who actually lived, I expect the author to write as truthful as possible. That includes, of course, customary practices, believes, actions. No matter how alien those are to today’s standards. After all, that’s why it’s so fascinating to learn how different life was back then. It’s also a greyt teaching tool, both for “see how fare we’ve come” and “see how those actions parallel today’s and how we still make the same bad decisions.” Take women’s rights and gong to war for instance. And I so appreciate the author’s notes.

    Coincidentally, I am currently reading the Apostate’s tale and twice I’ve thought how weird it is that all the nuns seem so uncaring about Cecely’s fate but again, in those times, as Sharon said, it was greyt sin to reject God like that, especially for a nun, but M.F. also shows us why Cecely did what she did so you get both sides of the story.

  15. Paula Says:

    The first historical fiction novel I read was ‘Here Be Dragons’. At the time I could also get ‘Falls The Shadow’ and ‘The Sunne in Splendour’ which I read as soon as I could afford them with my pocket money. I was a teenager, quite naive and trusting. I would go out and buy other historical fiction novels and always be disappointed. But, I would still try. It took me a long time to realise that I was ‘chasing the dragon’. It wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I understood about the research required and the historical accuracy needed to write good historical fiction. By then I stopped trying to find other books and learned about the joy of reading a book again! Other books would jar the senses if they were too modern or if history was whitewashed to make it more palatable to current thinking. I’m sure Simon de Montfort would be considered a tyrant if he were alive today.

  16. Matt Says:

    Sharon, I think your books strike just the right balance, in contrast to some other authors in your time period. I appreciate your approach because to me, anachronistic attitudes are an even worse kind of historical inaccuracy than the occasional slip regarding the use of a word or object not available in that time or place.

    As for more casual readers, I think they would generally understand that historical fiction must imbue its characters with attitudes, beliefs and lifestyles true to the times, even if some of those facets of the past are repulsive to us today. Entertainment can attract popular enthusiasm even when a key character behaves in ways unacceptable to mainstream modern audiences: Look at the Archie Bunker character from “All in the Family”!

  17. Sandy Says:

    Sharon, I love this line of questioning. Yes, I find viewing your characters in the terms of their times extremely difficult, but it’s also very rewarding. Questionning one’s assumptions is always valuable. For example, much of what I saw on my trip to China was quite disturbing. It took a couple of weeks for me to realize that people I perceived as being rude were simply following the norms of their society. They may well have prided themselves on being polite and have been viewed as such by their peers. Similarly, I discovered that the hearty laugh I thought of as communicating appreciation for a joke was perceived as too loud to be polite. These insights mean as much to me, if not more, than having walked on the Great Wall.

  18. Dave Says:


    I liked your blog. The part about marrying off children who hadn’t even reached puberty can be understood since the marraiges were more political, and life expectancy was very low in the middle ages. With all of the disease’s(Black Death), Famines(great famine of 1315), and War(pick one) you had to marry young, and produce the next generation since you didn’t know if you were going to live to see tomorrow.


  19. Suzanne Says:

    Here’s one thing I find difficult when reading about the MA but coming from a modern-day mindset — I don’t have a good sense of when I should be shocked. I’m perfectly willing to suspend my own prejudices and accept that they had very different views of acceptable war tactics, life was violent, etc. But once you do that, it’s hard to know what is supposed to be beyond the pale, and, having temporarily abandoned my modern sensibilities, I don’t have a reliable guide.

    Entire villages, men, women and children, are deliberately subjected to starvation and/or wholesale rape, pillage and murder, and it’s considered an object lesson. But one woman starves to death in prison, and it’s an unspeakable horror. Brothers betray brothers, sons betray fathers, and then everyone is forgiven, only to turn around and betray each other again with amazing regularity — are we supposed to be surprised or shocked when it happens yet again? Steven is considered weak because he fails to kill hostages, Henry considers himself humane for only blinding and maiming them instead of killing them, but when John actually does kill them, he’s a bloody tyrant (and yes, I was shocked by that too, but that was the modern-day me). You can execute a man without trial for sleeping with your wife, or for countless other reasons, but when your captured enemy (who presumably would have happily killed you on the battlefield) dies in your custody under mysterious circumstances, it would be such a scandal that you have to cover it up for years afterwards.

    It’s not that I don’t understand the differences in all those cases. It’s more like after you expend the effort to tamp down your modern-day outrage to supposedly make it fit the MA, it’s hard to know when it’s appropriate to let it bubble up to the surface again. I hope this makes some sense…

  20. Patrick O'Toole Says:

    In my view, when in doubt, always go with the historical truth. Let peoples sensibilities be challenged. Wake up to the reality that the world has not, and will not, be the same as now.

  21. Trish Sullivan Says:

    Sharon, thanks for the thought provoking message. For me, the sometimes “repulsive” descriptions and disturbing imagery (when examined and found to be historically correct) are usually a necessary (and expected) part of the story. I prefer the researched details, especially when the event/action helps identify/explain the “ego” and “spirit” of the individual. But then, too much of it and I put the novel down, so I guess I do prefer it “tempered”.
    A question…how hard is it to write the woman’s point of view? It seems most scribes/historians of the MA were men and I expect their influence is what we now read, not exactly the MA woman’s own thoughts.

  22. Koby Says:

    Sharon, half the reason I enjoy your books so much is because of their historical accuracy. I read a lot of fantast and history, and I always grit my teeth when someone says something like ‘OK’ or ‘Let’s rock and roll’. One of my favorite authors, Sherwood Smith, also wrote at length about this failing, and in her world, when characters from Earth appeared and used such words/phrases, they immediately had to clarify them - even such things as apostrophes may not have existed as such, or with that particular name. A large part of history and fantasy is making sure the scenery and background are believable, and when that doesn’t happen, all the book feels off to me.
    Personally, I’m not shocked at all. I accept this as a different time, equivalent to a different palce, and with obviously differing attitudes. I first learned my lesson in this when I was about 15. I hard read a story on the internet, and two teenagers (16&18) had comitted sexual relations. I was suprised, and wrote to the author, asking if he considered this realistic. He answered that of course, why not? The age of consent in the country the story was taking place was 15, and many teenagers often first had sex at that age. I, who lived all my life in a religious community, had never personally known someone who had sex before marriage, and certainly not as a teenager. At that moment, I realized how vast the gulf could be even between living in the same country, whose only real difference was that they didn’t share a religion.
    I will note that regarding the story of priests not using swords, you yourself may have made a mistake in your first days of writing. I quote from The Sunne in Splendour: “There were priests as much as home on the battlefield as at the altar, Men of God who circumvented the sciptural ban upon ’smiting with the edge of a sword’ by using the mace.”
    Lastly, today, Elizabeth I of England, the Virgin Queen, was crowned.

  23. Suzanne Says:

    Incidentally, I didn’t misremember it — in Time and Chance, you have Ranulf commenting to Hywel that the mace was Thomas’ weapon of choice, in deference to the church’s stricture against smiting with a sword. But I won’t hold it against you :-)

  24. Emily-Jane Hills Orford Says:

    I agree with your opinion on historical accuracy. When a writer draws its reader into the story, the reader wants to feel/ to experience the authenticity of the time, the place, the event. You do this so well, Sharon. You describe the scene as it would be viewed by a real-life character in the time period of the story. You give life to your stories by presenting real-life scenarios, sometimes just simple events such as a market day. Your characters converse in a language which provides a feeling, a sense of this time period; but they often converse in a relaxed manner that suggests that these people were real and lived real lives. All good writers can only aspire to do as much.

  25. Sharon K Penman Says:

    What interesting responses so far. I will try to get back later today to reply. When I was typing that bit about the mace, I was smiling, sure that some of my sharp-eyed readers would point out that I’d perpetuated the myth, too :) You probably know the old joke about there being three kinds of falsehoods–lies, damn lies, and statistics. (might be from Mark Twain?) Well, there are three kinds of mistakes made by historical novelists. There are sloppy ones, where the writers did not do enough research–as when I had a little grey squirrel being fed by Richard III. (In my defense, that was my first book and I was still learning the ropes.) There are ones where the writers subsequently learns that his initial information was wrong–the mace falls into this category, as does the lovely velvet gowns that I had Joanna wearing in the 12th century. The third category of mistakes–those that are so inexplicable that they cannot be explained, even by the author. As far as I know, I have only committed one of these, but was it ever a doozy. I did not discover it till last year, when I was looking in The Reckoning for a particular scene and was truly horrified to find that I had Roger Mortimer telling Edward I that crossbows were more difficult to master than longbows. Now it is true The Reckoning was written a number of years ago, but I knew better then; that is not information that has suddenly come to light. So at the time, I knew that was not so. I was sober, for I never write drunk! I can’t blame it on computer malice, since I didn’t have a computer then. I have no explanation whatsoever for how this got into The Reckoning, but I was abolutely horrified. I at once did a huge Mea Culpa on my blog and added it to my Medieval Mishaps page on my website, where I red-flag some of my more blatant errors. I also plan to mention it in the AN for Lionheart, as I would hate for anyone to read that passage and think it was true. I just wish I could figure out how it happened!
    I put up a long note on Facebook yesterday about Legacy, which is one of the best historical novels I’ve ever read. Since it really fits in with the topic of this blog, I am going to post it here, too, as soon as I send this one out. Thank you all for encouraging me to continue to be obsessive-compulsive!

  26. Sharon K Penman Says:

    Okay, here is what I said about Legacy.
    On this date, January 15, 1559, Elizabeth Tudor was crowned Queen of England, beginning one of the most remarkable reigns in British history. It seemed like a good time, then, to talk about a novel that covers Elizabeth’s life—Legacy, by Susan Kay. I read this novel twenty-five years ago, and while the details eventually blurred, I remembered how much pleasure I’d found in reading it. Sadly, it was out of print for a long time, but Sourcebooks reprinted it this past year and I was happy to give them a promotional quote. I recently started to reread it, and was very glad to find that my memory had not played me false, for I’ve been recommending it to many people. This is an amazing book about an equally amazing woman. Susan Kay has managed to capture lightning in a bottle, portraying Elizabeth in all her neurotic brilliance. Elizabeth is as elusive as quicksilver, often unpredictable, always elegant, occasionally too clever for her own good, a woman who walked through the fires of Hell and somehow survived, but with psychic scars she’d carry to her grave. Her intelligence inspires awe, diamond bright and diamond hard. But if the queen is always two chess moves ahead of her opponents, the woman is a wounded soul. Elizabeth’s natural inclination is to be merciful; she is desperately determined to spare her subjects the horrors of a religious war. Yet she can also be unfair, arrogant, even cruel, especially in her dealings with the man who was the love of her life, Robert Dudley. The dramatic depiction of their tortured love affair is the heart of this book, although Susan Kay does not skimp on the political turmoil, the diplomatic wheeling and dealings, the strife between Catholics and Protestants.
    She gives us characters who are three-dimensional, fully drawn, credible. The Spanish king, Philip, whose hatred of the English queen burns with the white-hot heat of a rejected suitor, for this cold, calculating, bloodless man had briefly let himself be bewitched by the seductive aura of the young Elizabeth, then his sister-in-law, who’d seemed to be everything that his aging, unhappy wife Mary was not. William Cecil, the prop of her throne, whose devotion to his royal mistress brought nothing but misery to his loyal wife. The willful, impulsive Scots queen, Mary, so pitifully overmatched against Elizabeth. The young Earl of Essex, giving off such a dazzling light that few saw the hollowness at his center. And Robert Dudley, ambitious, cynical, passionate. We see his flaws as clearly as Elizabeth does, but we understand why she loves him, just as we understand why he loves her even more than he fears her.
    Elizabeth is her father’s daughter, after all, and people forgot that at their peril. She is also her mother’s daughter, haunted by Anne’s fall from grace and brutal end, denied even a proper coffin for her hasty, humble burial. When we consider what the young Elizabeth was subjected to—bastardized, shunned, growing up in the shadow of the crown and the axe, seduced at thirteen by a charming scoundrel, sent to the Tower at twenty, exploited and betrayed and threatened—it is surprising that she emerged from such an ordeal with her sanity intact, and not surprising that she had so many demons to battle. Susan Kay’s Elizabeth is so very human that we never lose sympathy for her—at least I did not. Perhaps it is true that to understand is to forgive. I am guessing that after reading Legacy, you, too, will understand and forgive.
    My only complaint is that there is no AN. Susan Kay comes up with an imaginative, clever explanation for the mysterious death of Robert Dudley’s unloved, inconvenient wife, Amy, which is certainly as plausible as any of the other scenarios suggested over the years, but it does cry out for an AN, for it warrants further discussion. Moreover, it would have been fascinating to be given a glimpse into Susan Kay’s creative process, to learn when she took dramatic license or why she chose to interpret facts in a particular way. But that missing AN is all she denies us. The book itself is one that will long linger in a reader’s memory, much like the queen she conjures up for us.

  27. Suzanne Says:

    Thanks for the book recommendation, Sharon. I’ve just finished reading a couple of books on Elizabeth that I really didn’t enjoy that much, and I don’t think I can take any more of her for a little while, but I’ll look into Legacy at some point after a break (and after I’ve worked through my backlog a little bit more!).

  28. Sharon K Penman Says:

    I am going to try to respond to a few questions at a time–very interesting ones, too. Suzanne, it is my understanding that the medieval hostility toward Jews was based upon religious grounds and so if they converted, they would be integrated into Christian society. I confess it has been a while since I did any extensive research on this subject, though, and while I do have a number of books dealing with the subject, I just don’t have the time now to really look into this for you. So if anyone is knowledgeable about it, I’d love to hear your views. Henry III’s sister and Simon de Montfort’s wife Nell never took vows as a nun, so the question of apostacy would not have come up. What she did was take a vow of chastity after her first husband’s death, which was not the same as becoming a Bride of Christ, but was considered serious enough to require a papal dispensation.
    Lesley, I love the Falcon series. I was lucky enough to hear Lindsay Davis speak once; she is a highly entertaining speaker, though she does not suffer fools gladly. She told us a wonderful story about how she was able to get permission to venture down into the Rome sewers to research a scene in which Falco did the same. I remember thinking–Wow, and I thought I was going to great lengths by climbing over a fence to see Swallow Falls at night in order to make sure it looked as I described it in Dragons! And LD is quite correct–readers would have been put off had Falco treated his slaves inhumanely. She handled a sensitive issue very well, by having him accept the institution while not being a Simon Legree.

  29. Koby Says:

    As far as I know, attitudes towards converted Jews varied by place and circumstance. Of course, Other Jews despised them, considering them worse than Christians. Christians themselves - as I wrote, it depended. For example, in Spain, after 1492, when the only Jews left were those who converted so they wouldn’t be banished, those ‘Marranos’ were despised by Christians, who had been denied an oppurtunity to gain their wealth should they have left Spain (Castile/Aragon at the time). Many Christians claimed these Marranos were secretly practicing Judaism, even when they had no evidence, again so they could claim the Marranos’s wealth.

  30. Sharon K Penman Says:

    Kpby makes a very good point. We have to consider the times, too, for what would hold true for the 12th century might not hold true for the 15th. Unfortunately, anti-Semiticism has not been addressed that often in fiction about the MA. Sharan Newman did so in her excellent series set in 12th century France and Margaret Frazer did in one of her Sister Frevisee novels, The Sempstress’s Tale. A friend of mine is now reading a novel set in 11th century France. I don’t know the author or title, but if anyone is interested, let me know and I’ll find out.

  31. Sharon K Penman Says:

    Me again. I wanted to alert you that Elizabeth Chadwick has a very interesting blog about Eleanor’s vase. She also has the new book cover for Lady of the English up. Here is the link. http://livingthehistoryelizabethchadwick.blogspot.com/2011/01/eleanor-vase.html The book jacket is up, too, for her new one, Lady of the English

  32. Sharon K Penman Says:

    Thank you all for taking the time and trouble to let me know that you appreciate all the research I do for my books. It means a lot to know that. Trish, I have no problems at all writing from a medieval woman’s point of view, You are correct that most of what comes down to us is from the male perspective–there were no female chroniclers, after all. But every now and then something slips through–think of Margary Kempe and the Paston Letters in the 15th century. And I remember reading–though I can’t remember the source–of a conversation between two women in the 14th century who were discussing a 3rd woman who was wed to a man who was very abusive to her. One of the women said, “If I were treated like that, I’d die,” and the second one said, “If I were treated like that, I’d kill.”
    Koby, that was a very interesting acccount of your correspondance with Sherwood Smith. It reminded me of something I learned recently on the Historical Novelist forum–many publishers of romance novels set age limits for sex scenes; they will not publish a book if the girl is bedded at 15 or 16, even though this was the common practice in the time in which the character lived. That amazed me. By that standard, I’d have been in trouble with Here Be Dragons, as Joanna was 14 when she wed Llywelyn and 15 when they consummated the marriage. I guess it is lucky I don’t write romance!

  33. Koby Says:

    Thank you, Sharon. Just in case what I wrote was misleading: I’ve had such converations with Sherwood, but that specific one (with the girl having relations at age 16) was with an author who had wrote a short story and had posted it on the web. I can’t recall the name, though…
    Today, Henry VII (VIII) of England married Elizabeth of York.

  34. Sharon K Penman Says:

    Sorry I misunderstood, Koby. And thanks for mentioning today’s wedding.

  35. Koby Says:

    No problem. I just don’t want people to misattribute stuff - the fact that it isn’t history is no reason for it not to be accurate!
    And the wedding was also no problem. Although it isn’t a happy occasion, or a happy marriage.

  36. Sharon K Penman Says:

    A reader posted earlier on my Facebook page about a young, blind white shepherd in LA in desperate need of a home. I’ve had experience with blind dogs and they usually do very well, can have very happy lives despite their disability. Anyway, here is the link, just in case someone who reads this knows someone else who can help this poor boy.

    “This will touch your heart - There is a beautiful 8 month old white male German shepherd named Ray available for adoption at the Louisiana SPCA. Unfortunately Ray was born blind and his owner couldn’t deal with his special needs. If anyone out there is interested in adopting Ray, here is the link for contact: The Louisiana SPCA [info@la-spca.org]“

  37. John Phillips Says:

    I had never heard or read any of your novels until in November last, when I bought ‘When Jesus and his saints slept’ on Amazon, and have since read all your novels save for ‘Sun in Splendour’, which I am saving for a while. I am as passionate about History as anything, and so do not see myself as a casual reader, but have scarcely dipped into historical fiction till now.

    I feel that historical novelists should do what you do, namely to be as accurate as possible, reflecting the mores of the time, whilst acknowledging where you have invented characters or altered events.A crucial aspect of doing this without losing ones audience is by depicting the characters in a way that is psychologically convincing in all their inner contradictions, and so vividly that they are no longer creatures of the author but have a life of their own. It is then for the reader to discover how they tick and admire them while knowing their faults ( or visa versa). Chekhov was a master of this and so are you. It has been said that everyone does the best within the limits of what they know and that to understand ALL is to forgive all. Your Novels achieve this understanding in portraying your characters and thus grip one even when leaving one appauled.

  38. Britta B. Says:

    John, Sunne in Splendour has become my all time favourite novel, so you are in for a very special treat when you do decide to dip into it. Enjoy!

  39. Emilie Says:

    I’ve always loved historical fiction but as I get older, I tend to appreciate it more when the historical portions of the novels are as accurate as possible. As others have already mentioned, reality is often more interesting than fiction.

  40. Sharon K Penman Says:

    John, thank you for a very eloquent post. I am always very happy to hear that I’ve attracted a new reader, too. I am not saintly enough to forgive all, but I try to get inside the heads of all my characters, and Shakespeare’s Richard III to the contrary, few human beings are determined to prove themselves villains. To make a character believable, I have to be able to convey that he sees his behavior as justified.
    Emilie, I am fairly sure I am about to misquote Mark Twain, but I think he was the one who said that the difference between fiction and nonfiction is that fiction has to confine itself to what is possible. That is very much a paraphrase. Can anyone give us a more exact quote?

  41. John Phillips Says:

    Sharon, neither am I that saintly, but I have always striven to understand what motivates us, and have come to the conclusion that inside our minds we are more like a board of directors than a unitary personality; which explains how those who carry out horrific deeds can nevertheless in other contexts behave like normal human beings.
    Re that Mark Twain quote, I have just been looking in my books of quotations,and this is it.
    “Truth is stranger than fiction; fiction is obliged to stick to the possibilities,truth isn’t.” As a retired GP I have been witness to a number of situations that would be ridiculed as fiction.
    I am postponing ‘Sunne in Splendour’ until I can spare the time for an extensive blitz on Richard III, including a revisit to the Bosworth battle site now that the discovery of battle artifacts a couple of miles to the west of the official site have indicated that is where the battle actually took place.

    My all time favourite quote is from Andre Maurois’ ” A short history of France (p156) in relation to an attempt in1561 to debate the current religious divide.
    “Reasonable men have always the tendency to believe that humsnity is like them, in which point of view they are not reasonable; life itself undertakes to disillusion them.

  42. Koby Says:

    Today, Rouen surrendered to Henry V (VI) of England, completing his reconquest of Normandy.

  43. Sharon K Penman Says:

    Thank you, John, for finding the Mark Twain quote. I think he is the greatest American writer and I am looking forward to reading his “real” autobiography; for those who don’t know, he specificed that it not be published until 100 years after his death. Like you, I’ve always been fascinated by what motivates people. Thank you, too, for sharing that insightful quote by Andre Maurois.

  44. Sharon K Penman Says:

    I have very good news. Saints is finally available in e-book format, both as a Kindle and a Nook! I am very excited about this because we were trying for well over a year to make it happen, and at one point, I’d been told Saints would be exclusive to Kindle, for reasons that made no sense whatsoever to me. So seeing it as a Nook, too, is wonderful. I posted links on Facebook that list the books available.

  45. Susan Says:

    Yeah! I just logged on to mention that Saints is now in Kindle (after purchasing it, of course) and I see you already know the good news. I’m excited because my husband has read the Here Be Dragons books on his Kindle, and loves them. He loved Legacy too. I wanted him to read Saints before the rest of the books in the series, so I know what he is going to be reading for the forseeable future:) We’re planning a trip to England and Wales in the fall. He is already picking out Welsh sites to visit from Dragons. What a guy!

    Sharon, do you have any updates as to when ‘Richard’ might be available?

  46. james watson Says:

    Britta B , Sunne in Splendor! is My Favorite Novel of All Time Too?? How Sharon (American) Captured, That Yorkshire-Englishness! is Beyond Me? Beautiful-Writing. Also i Suppose, it is American History Too ( We are Cousins…After all.)…..Is this Change at Bosworth! for real then? readsmore plain.??.

  47. John Phillips Says:

    Britta and James, I think I must get stuck into Sunne in Splendour soon!

    For a report on the new Battle site check this url :-

    Further support for Richards right to be king is laid out in a new book 2009, paperback 2010 called ‘Eleanor , the Secret Queen ‘ by John Ashdown-Hill, published in the Uk by ‘The History Press. It is all about the widow of Thomas Butler, born Elanor Talbot (1436-1468), daughter of John Talbot Earl of Shrewsbury, who was secretly married to Edward IV in the presence of Canon Stillington in the spring of 1461, thus making EdIV’s subsequent marriage to Elizabeth Woodville on 1st May 1464 a bigamous one!

  48. Sharon K Penman Says:

    Susan, we expect to publish Lionheart in October. E-mail me when you start doing the actual planning for your trip and know exactly where you’ll be and I’d be happy to suggest some “must-see” places. Amazon has removed Time and Chance from its Kindle store, but my agent says they often do that if there has been a reader complaint about a glitch of some sort and it ought to be restored soon.
    Thank you, James; that is a lovely compliment.

  49. Joan Szechtman Says:

    While I prefer historical fiction to stick to the actual history, culture, sensibilities, and place as much as possible, I don’t mind if the author knowingly strays from absolute accuracy to get at what I’ll call a different truth. For example, one of my favorite novels that takes place during Edward IV and Richard III’s reigns, “The Adventures of Alianore Audley” by Brian Wainwright, where the MC is a spy for Edward and then continues her service for Richard, has a lot of tongue-in-cheek 20th-century sensibilities. But as far as I know, this book was written as a satire. Despite the “inaccuracies” I came away with an appreciation for the times and events and the historical people in the book and understood that Wainwright has a solid handle on the history.

    And no matter how thoroughly researched (and I can think of no one who is more meticulous about the research than Sharon), new facts may turn up after the book is published, and historians make mistakes or worse push an agenda. One example of “reverse engineering” of a fact that I believe I’ve come across that shows how historians may unwittingly mislead has to do with Richard III and his supposed murder of his nephews. In 1674 during a massive project to renovate the Tower of London, skeletal remains of two children were found that had been buried about ten feet under the stones of the White Tower’s stairs. The bones were ignored for a few days and thrown on a pile of other debris until it came to the attention of Charles II, then England’s king. He declared the bones were those of the princes, probably based on Thomas More’s “History,” which had first placed the boys remains there but later said the remains had been moved to consecrated soil. As it happened, the jaw bone of the older child showed evidence of a long, debilitating disease. From that point on, Edward V suffered from a bone disease that affected his jaw. As a result, I can hardly fault historical fiction writers for giving Edward V a diseased jaw of some kind since historical non-fiction today say the bones were the princes remains. Although an absence of any mention of Edward having a diseased jaw before the excavation is not proof that he didn’t, one would think that contemporary records such as the Crowland Chronicle would have mentioned it, considering its severity and the effect on the boy’s health especially when there are references to things of much less significance. In fact, contemporary references to Edward portray a lively, mischievous, athletic boy.

    So, I’m much more willing to give historical fiction writers leeway with bending some facts that I am to give the historians. Fiction may be more true to fact than non-fiction. In Sharon’s case, this is indeed true.

  50. Koby Says:

    Today, the first English parliament conducted its first meeting held by Simon de Montfort in the Palace of Westminster.
    Oh, Sharon, another thought about comparison with olden times and our time, brought on by mention of Edward’s bigamous marriage - it’s not that rare. My great-grandfather lived in Yemen only about 100 years ago, and he had four wives. How’s that for perspective and realizing the world was different?

  51. cindy ash Says:

    Sharon, your post was spot on. Like others, I admire the way you are able to write historically accurate books and still make them entertaining. It can be done, and I wish more authors would do so!

    I am frustrated by people who want to sugar coat history. The author who rewrote Mark Twain’s classic Huck Finn thinks he’s doing young folk a favor but removing what we now consider as inappropriate and insulting language. So I guess we should now remove all comments made be Nazis against Jews from novels about the time - not. We should be shocked by that kind of language, as we should be shocked by the horror that Suzanne mentions in her post above. But at the same time we need to put the time period and its attitudes in perspective, and not try to change things and pretend they didn’t happen. If we forget our history, we are condemned to repeat it, and I’d rather not thankyouverymuch. (that being said, I really don’t need to read over the top violent scenes in books. I know it happened, I don’t need those images in my head. Pillars of the Earth’s rape and torture scenes are a perfect example)

    I think it was you who turned me on to Legacy and I am forever grateful! Excellent review above.

  52. Sharon K Penman Says:

    I’ve done a blog and posted about Shadow, the shepherd I adopted after losing Cody. Shadow is very ill, is undergoing surgery this morning, and we both would appreciate any and all positive vibes you could send our way.

  53. Sara Says:

    This is a great post with great questions. For myself, I don’t have a problem placing myself in that time and trying to see things through the eyes of the characters - that is, if it is written well. It is far too easy to write an Anti-Semitic character that comes off as a cartoon instead of a real person. When it is researched and written well - as your characters are - it is a lesson in where we have been as a civilization - which I think is important to understand. I think we need to understand where we have been to comprehend where we are. We need to understand the centuries of antisemitism, negative views of women, etc., to understand where we are now. This is why I love historical fiction. It draws back the curtain on a world that is alien to us and helps us understand where we have been. If you create characters who have 21st century views, you have missed the point of historical study entirely, and you are like those people who want to change the words in Mark Twain’s books to make it less offensive. Real life, and real history, is offensive, and we need to study those times and see from where we have come.

  54. Graham Says:

    Just finished reading “Devil’s Brood” this morning….. superb, as is usual with your books! Keep to the balance and write the truth in your established way… it works for me. Now looking forward to “Lionheart”, and hope to try “Legacy” in the meantime… thanks for the recommendation.

  55. John Phillips Says:

    Sharon, Cats tend to keep us at arms length and dane to accept our worship, the opposite of dogs, who are so often not just our best friends but also like children who never grow up. I’ve had four and loved them all. They like children bring such joy that even the possibility of loss is dreadful. I am sure all of us are wishing the very best for Shadows recovery. Hang in there and hope that the op will be succesful , but remember that we are upset lest we lose the joy, but we never do unless by failing to let go of hurt we fail to grieve in a healthy way and remain cut off from the love. Love past and present always survive in our hearts ready to resurface. The key learning of adult life is learning the art of being upset with the confidence of knowing that they can get through it because the love and the joy is ultimately stronger than the hurt, and so in time hurt becomes a ‘warm’ pain because the love contains and mingles with it. This what I discovered when my second son Lucian died at just under 6 months old,and hope to share with you should our fears prove true. XX

  56. John Phillips Says:

    sorry addenda.

    should you fears prove true

  57. John Phillips Says:

    your fear

  58. John Phillips Says:

    LOve and JOy wins OK

  59. Sharon K Penman Says:

    Thank you all for your kind thoughts and prayers. I know they helped me and I think they helped Shadow, too, for I have some good news. He came through the surgery okay. The next two days will be critical as they wait to see if his lungs will refill with fluid again. If not, he ought to be able to make a good recovery, and that seems miraculous to me, for at this time yesterday, I was sure he was doomed. Initially my vet had thought he had IBS. But his blood-work revealed that his liver enzymes were through the stratosphere and the ultrasound results showed a mass in his liver and fluid in his chest cavity. I took him to see a specialist yesterday afternoon, and for a time his prospects seemed hopeless, for they feared the fluid in his chest might indicate a tumor there, too. But then they did a chest x-ray, and the results were very surprising. Shadow had a diaphragmatic hernia. This can be congenital, but it is more often the result of trauma and I know Shadow suffered plenty of that in his young life.
    The surgery revealed that 2/3 of his liver and spleen had moved into his chest cavity. They did a biopsy of his liver but they seem to think that the mass was caused by his liver’s attempt to regenerate itself. His lungs and liver will not be functioning fully after what he’s been through, but the vets say he could still have a very good life—provided that he gets through the next two days. If his lungs fill up with fluid again, it would be difficult to treat. But he has beaten the odds before—in getting away from his abusive owners and finding a second chance at life. I know that I was greatly relieved to hear we were dealing with a diaphragmatic hernia and not cancer. So I am optimistic that he will continue to improve over the weekend.
    I am so grateful for your emotional support and understanding. I have been lucky in my life, for I’ve been loved by family, many friends, a few good men, and lots of pets. But I honestly don’t think I’ve ever been loved so wholeheartedly or unconditionally as I am loved by a grateful white shepherd with a tragic past. Losing him would have been very hard, but I really believe we’ve both been reprieved. Yet to be on the safe side, more positive vibes couldn’t hurt!

  60. Emilie Says:

    Reading about Shadow brought tears to my eyes. My thoughts are with you and Shadow. I truly hope he recovers and gets to reap the rewards of having found an owner who will care for him and cherish him as much as he deserves.

  61. cindyash Says:

    Im hoping for the best, Sharon.

    > Cats tend to keep us at arms length and dane to accept our worship, the opposite of dogs, who are so often not just our best friends but also like children who never grow up.

    WTF? I just lost my cat of 18 years. She was a loving, loyal member of our family, and will be greatly missed by us. I suggest that you may have not met many cats in your life.

    >The key learning of adult life is learning the art of being upset with the confidence of knowing that they can get through it because the love and the joy is ultimately stronger than the hurt, and so in time hurt becomes a ‘warm’ pain because the love contains and mingles with it.

    So true, and my deepest condolences for the loss of your son.

  62. John Phillips Says:

    Cindy Ash, You are right of course; I have tended to view cats from the perspective of my dogs, my only excuse is I did say ‘tend to’. Sorry, and thanks for your condolences. Due many WW2 separations I grew up semi detached from life, and it was grief at Luciens death that began the long process of reattaching me. It was like having a large needle stuck in me and whilst aware of the hurt, also discovering a huge awareness of Feeling where previously there had mainly dispassionate observation

    What great news Sharon. In humans we only start getting symptoms of liver failure when we are down to our last 10% of functioning liver,so removing the constraints on its functioning normally should allow it to recover substantially. I woud suspect that Shadow has a chest drain to keep any fluid from accumulating,if the lung has been shrunk for some time to help it re-expand; so yes the prospects are indeed much more hopeful than they appeared yesterday. lets pray that well deserved good fortune is with you both from here on.

  63. Joan Szechtman Says:

    Like Emilie, tears came to my eyes when I read your note about Shadow. But they were hopeful tears. I was especially encouraged to read that the cause of his troubles is a herniated diaphragm, because that can be FIXED. I’ve got all my digits crossed for his full recovery. Beaming good vibes to you and Shadow.

    I’ve had aloof dogs and affectionate cats. They’re all individuals. I currently have a very affectionate and somewhat velcro cat. She’s also a dingbat.

  64. Sharon K Penman Says:

    John, my deepest sympathies for the loss of Lucien. Yours was such an eloquent post that it brought tears to my eyes.
    Cindy, I am so sorry to hear that your cat has died. 18 years is such a long time to share your life with her. The donwside of loving pets is the pain we feel when we lose them. But that is even more true for people, of course, and who’d chose to go through life shunning love?
    The news about Shadow is good this morning. He had a peaceful night, and so far there is no indication of fluid returning. So if his luck holds, I may be able to bring him home on Monday. This morning I have to bring my other dog to the vet as she has stopped eating, too. At least the odds are in her favor that she doesn’t have any ailment as exotic and dangerous and scary as Shadow!
    PS John, have you ever turned your hand at writing? You seem to be a natural-born writer.

  65. Koby Says:

    You and shadow have all my best-wishes and prayers, Sharon. Weird, though - I expected more people to be surprised at my tale of my great-grandfather.

  66. Jack D. Raddatz Says:

    Sharon, I have just read your History vs Fiction blog. A friend recommended your books yesterday over dinner, so I have yet to indulge. Please continue to be true to history. There is enough fiction, religious, social and political, in contemporary life already. I want the historical details no matter how upsetting. How else will we learn from where we came and use that as a tool to move forward. Weaving history into the Novel or story teller form is a great way to put it into perspective for someone like myself who hated History 101 at university.
    Going on a treasure hunt for your books tomorrow.

  67. Sharon K Penman Says:

    It is so heartening to get feedback like this from my readers…especially when I just learned that the book by Snookie of Jersey Shore has made its debut on the NYTimes bestseller list.

    My dog news is good and bad. Shadow continues to do well, and may be able to come home on Monday. But when I took my other dog to the vet this morning because she’d suddenly stopped eating and began to vomit, the vet and I were both stunned when a blood test showed she is in kidney failure. This dog seemed perfectly healthy on Thursday! So she is at their hospital now, getting the dog equivalent of dialysis; Monday they will do another blood test, and if she is lucky, her readings should have started to go back into the normal range. If she is not…well, I’d rather not think about that tonight. I’m just not sure if I get two miracles in the span of five days.

    Koby, does your family know if your great grandfather’s wives got along or not?
    John, nothing makes writers happier than getting new readers; okay, well maybe winning a Pulitzer Prize. After you get a chance to read one of my books, I hope you’ll let me know what you think of it. And if you do not like it, please feel free to lie to me.

  68. Joan Szechtman Says:

    Oh no, Sharon! I hope that the kidney problems are an anomaly and that you are able to bring both dogs home quickly.

  69. John Phillips Says:

    Sharon, I so hope that all will be well for you and both dogs.

    I have emailed you some info on the subject of canine renal failure, but it is encased in an attached word document.

    Only open it when you wish to know more on things like causes , management and outcomes .

    In my experience in humans, Acute renal failure in which treatment is successful , recovery is usually complete.

    Jake, I think Sharon meant her last paragraph for you not me .

  70. John Phillips Says:

    I have mislaid my spectacles and am very short sighted.

    to Sharon, I meant to write IF not When

    to Jack D Raddatz, when I wrote Jake I meant You.


  71. Koby Says:

    Well… it’s complicated, Sharon. My grandmother claims they all got along horribly, and that in fact, my great-grandmother (her mother-in-law) poisoned the other three wives. But this is very unlikely, and generally accepted as family legend and a result of a really bad mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship. However, it is known that my great-grandmother was not a pleasant person, and it is believed that she was very mean to her fellow wives.

  72. Joan Szechtman Says:

    Koby, not to trivialize what you related about your great-grandfather, but when you mentioned it I immediately thought about a current HBO series called “Big Love” that is about a polygamy within LDS today. While the main line LDS church has renounced polygamy, there are sects that I believe call themselves fundamentalists (I know I’m getting some details wrong) and who have polygamous “marriages.” The wives are called sister wives.

  73. Koby Says:

    Interesting. The fact is, it was widely accepted in Yemen back then, and there are still Arab countries in which men have several wives, and this is considered normal and acceptable.
    Jewish Halacha (Religious Law) allowed for several wives, but a ban on that was instated in 1000 by Rabbi Gershom ‘Me’or HaGolah’ (Light of the Exile). Typically, word of this ban never reached Yemen, which was quite far away from any other Jewish community, so they continued as they and the Arabs always had.
    This is what I found interesting about my great-grandfather’s story - that while today polygamy is taboo, back then it was quite accepted in that particular area, despite most of the world and most Jews considering it wrong.

  74. Beth Says:

    I return to this blog with some dubiousness, I must admit, for I used to post on here with some regularity but gave up after not one of my posts was ever responded to by anyone, and I’m reluctant to say that Sharon recommended some historical books by other authors which I went away and read and found to be not worth the paper they were printed on, they were that awful. I know this seems silly but I was amazingly disappointed after that, especially since I’ve loved Sharon’s books since I was a child and picked up my first (When Christ and All His Saints Slept) when I was just 10 years old, and indeed I count Sharon’s books in my Top 3 best historical fiction writers of all time. So I post this feeling a little uncertain of myself, and rather in the expectation that my comment will once again be lost in amongst all the other posts. Nevertheless I wanted to answer Sharon’s question.

    “Is it difficult for you to do what I am asking of you—to judge my characters by the standards of their time and not ours?”

    For me, it’s not difficult at all. But I fear this may be because I’m a qualified historian and have devoted my life to history - and am not one of your casual readers. I’m a person who has therefore learnt long ago not to let my modern day standards infect my judgements when examining the past. Obviously I believe that many situations and standards are an improvement over how things used to be, but I don’t let that belief spill over when making a judgement about past peoples and times. I think… as an historian, it’s simply all important not to “rewrite” history by letting our own preferences and biases taint what we write - unfortunately we’re only human and some historians do write biased works (I’m talking of factual works and academic papers, not novels here), but a fellow historian once said to me that history loses all meaning and values if we allow certain groups to pressurise us into omitting, altering, or rewriting history in our own image - such a history has no intrinsic value to tell us about the past, but instead is a warped reflection of our own current values and culture.

    For that reason I totally commend you, Sharon, for sticking to historical accuracy as much as possible, even if casual readers, maybe even a significant number of casual readers, don’t agree. On the matter of you avoiding depicting bear-baiting, I think that’s fine, as there’s a difference between being historically accurate and being gratuitous. By “gratuitous” I mean a scene containing gore or sexual content which is included for no purpose other than its own sake. Now, I actually have a pretty strong stomach, and I have no problem with blood or sex in what I read/watch, and sometimes it can be enjoyable if it is written/produced WELL… however if it is not done well and it is distasteful and it doesn’t tie into the plot somehow, then it just seems to me that it’s unneccessary. So I think it’s not a problem that you’ve never included a bear-baiting scene.

    “How far do you think historical novelists should go to make their books palatable to modern readers?”

    Having answered the first question I can answer this one more quickly and easily. I believe that historical novelists should never pander to their readers to make their books more palatable. Simply put, what’s the point in altering the history if you’re going to write an historical novel? You might as well write a completely fictional story written in a fantasy setting. That’s how I see it anyways.

  75. John Phillips Says:

    All that you write is cogently argued, eminently sensible, and agrees with the most if not all contributors to this thread, including me. I have only recently embarked on Historical novels, and although I have been impressed by Elizabeth Chadwick’s novels, like you I find Sharon’s exceptional in their ability to keep to the known facts , while filling out the characterisations into real human beings in all their contradictions. The result is a vivid and moving drama unfolding before ones eyes which does not distort , but like all great authors heightens ones involvement, and flags up enhanced insights into the psychology of the interactions.

    What I wish to comment on is this :- ‘unfortunately we’re only human and some historians do write biased works’.
    Yes we are ALL human whatever occupation we espouse and that means we bring to that occupation all the emotional baggage and bias, that we carry. Now it may not be blatant, but nevertheless in medicine a Surgeon as a doer will tend to take a complex situation and ‘cut it down to ‘I’ll operate at 2PM’. Whilst a Physicain will be more likely to nibble at the problem.
    Historians throughout history from Caesar through Carlisle, to AJ P Taylor have exhibited great bias , to quote just a few examples. The problem for Historians is no less complex than that for Historical novelists. Indeed quite similar. AS E.L. Carr wrote in his seminal book ‘What is History’ (1961) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/What_Is_History%3F

    “The belief in a hard core of historical facts existing objectively and independently of the interpretation of the historian is a preposterous fallacy, but one which it is very hard to eradicate”

    Carr elegantly points out that historians select their facts and marshal their arguments to express a point of view. This can prove just as much a mine field to professional historians as to novelists. After all do not Academics have a reputation having very strongly held views. Now it is true that they are much better able to argue their point of view coherently and apparently with great logic. However when I once was a junior member of staff in a Psychiatric Hospital engaged in becoming a therapeutic community. I noticed that the psychiatrists in their various power struggles were rationalising their points of view all the time, underneath a more sophisticated veneer of pseudo logic than most of the rest of us can manage. So ‘ we are ALL human whatever occupation we espouse and that means we bring to that occupation all the emotional baggage and bias, that we carry.’

    It is not easy even if one is ‘reasonable’, (see my early post)

  76. Brenna Says:


    I know how you feel. In addition to Sharon’s blog, I regularly follow the forum Historical Fiction Online. Some times I get a response when I post something, but mostly I don’t. I wouldn’t take it personally! While reading comments on Sharon’s blog for instance, I find myself going “hmm interesting. I’d like to learn more.” Then by the time I get back to posting a message, the comments have already gone off in a different direction!

    On the subject of Sharon’s recommendations. I find books and book tastes to be very subjective-how could they be anything else? Sometimes they are hit or miss. Don’t give up! Have you visited Historical Fiction Online? They cover a myriad of historical books and have tons of recommendations. Maybe you can cross reference Sharon’s list with theirs to compare.

    Sharon- I hope Chelsea is feeling better and safe travels picking up Shadow! Tons of prayers and hugs for all of you!!

  77. Joan Szechtman Says:

    Brenna wrote: “On the subject of Sharon’s recommendations. I find books and book tastes to be very subjective-how could they be anything else?”

    Yes–the adage “one man’s meat is another man’s poison” is especially true for the arts, including fiction.

  78. John Phillips Says:

    I have often wondered whether taste is more determined by ones dislikes rather than ones likes.e.g. could you enjoy a fantastic meal if the dishes were flavoured with garlic and you loathed garlic.
    Herbert von Karajan was greatly admired as a conductor, but especially later in his career he cultivated an orchestral sound that to me smacked of Odeon cinema plushness which I found repellent , and prevented me from enjoying interpretations that otherwise may have had great merit

  79. Joan Szechtman Says:

    John Phillips wrote: “I have often wondered whether taste is more determined by ones dislikes rather than ones likes.e.g. could you enjoy a fantastic meal if the dishes were flavoured with garlic and you loathed garlic.”

    That’s an excellent point, Another factor, I think, is what the person’s expectations are. I know that I have thoroughly enjoyed and been delighted by movies that received mediocre or even negative reviews, but have been disappointed by some that have been extolled. If I found the movie mildly entertaining–that is I was able to sit through the entire movie–then I’ve chalked up my disappointment to having had my expectations set too high. Worse, is expecting one thing and finding something else. So it’s very important to set expectations properly–easier said than done. In Sharon’s case, she could really enjoy a book and recommend it, but because the writer isn’t her, but has his or her own style, may not meet the expectations of a reader who came to the recommended book via Sharon even though she probably set reasonable expectations for the work.

    Ya can’t win.

  80. John Phillips Says:

    I do hope things are ok with Shadow and Chelsea. Lest anything bad has happened I have sent you an e-mail with an attached Document i hope may be of some help.

    Joan, I have always thought that happiness has a dynamic in that it brakes out when things are getting better, hence to have great expectations confounded is a definite let-down, as you indicate.

    Beth, in quoting EL Carr I am aware that he was in his own way an extremist, but I do believe that the quote indicates an incisive mind.

  81. Joan Szechtman Says:

    Sharon has posted on Face Book that Shadow is home and that Chelsea is on the mend. Sharon, please forgive me for preempting your good news, but I know that I’ve been anxiously looking for status updates on both Shadow and Chelsea–so I assume other folks here who aren’t on FB are doing the same.

  82. cindyash Says:

    Sharon, my thoughts are with you and your animals, hope for the best. Thank you for your comments about my cat. I’ve had other cats die before, and they’ve never affected me the way that this death has. I see her everywhere, in the garden where she used to follow me as I went about my work, near my reading chair where she used to jump up onto my lap, in bed when she used to cuddle close, and when I wake up, when I wouldn’t feel her little nose on mine, telling me it was time to get up. I admit, she was my favorite. This is going to take a little time I suspect. (the other cats seem fine; they have already gone and taken over her various favorite spots as if they were planning for the day…). Anyway

    Beth, I’ve been involved in net fora for a while, and learned never to get upset if my posts weren’t commented on. I appreciate the things I read, but I don’t always feel the need to comment on them unless I have a question or something to add, or something to debate. So don’t feel so bad. If I want someone to comment and no one has, I sometimes will repost something, and ask specifically for people to comment on something specific. That often helps get people thinking and typing.

    As for the recommendations, eh - we all have different tastes and while I love Sharons books, Im sure there are books that I read that wouldn’t be to her taste, and so certainly they’d be books she’d recommend that I wouldn’t like. But I still enjoy the recommendations on the theory that usually there is a gem amongst all that coal!

    BTW did you really read WCSS at 10? Wow - I can’t imagine you were able to pick up on all the historic stuff at that time. You must have been quite the reading prodigy

    And John Phillips, thank you.

  83. Sharon K Penman Says:

    As usual, very interesting posts. I hope to get back tomorrow. I’ve just been so exhausted today I’ve done little but take care of Shadow and sleep. It is partly the blasted mono and partly the stress of the past week and also because Shadow kept me awake all night crying and pacing. With with pain meds, he is hurting, which I guess is to be expected after major surgery. he’s probably not accustomed to having his organs in all the right places all of a sudden, too! Imagine how compressed his lungs were with 2/3 of his liver and spleen in his chest cavity. Beth, I am sorry I haven’t been able to respond to earlier posts, but I promise I will do so to this one! Meanwhile, thanks for all the good wishes you sent Shadow’s way; same for Chelsea–I hope she can come home tomorrow.
    Cindy, I think certain pets lay a deeper claim to our hearts; sometimes we are not even aware it is happening until they’ve moved in! And when we lose them, their ghosts can seem so real. We catch a glimpse of them from the corner of our eyes, think we hear the soft jingle of dog tags, find an indentation on the bed where a little body used to nestle. It is the downside of loving creatures whose lives are so much briefer than ours.

  84. Paula Says:

    Beth, I am sorry for you that the recommendations Sharon made were not to your liking. Personally, I have had a very different experience with her recommendations. I used to have a terrible strike rate in finding novels I liked. Now I feel I have struck a gold mine. Two of the recommendations that Sharon made I have not enjoyed, but there are 30 or 40 novels which have been fantastic, the most recent the medieval mysteries written by Priscilla Royal.

    In regards to posts being answered or not I think Sharon does an amazing job with that. Yes some posts slip through, but I have found her to be ‘perhaps’ overly generous with her time. I think of it as being a little like what I experience at work everyday. I sometimes get tired of having to do the same thing every day at work 15 or so times over. But, even though I may do 15 consults a day, for each of those patients it is their only consult for the year. For Sharon there may be hundreds or thousands of us but for us there is only one Sharon. Having said all that though, I am still waiting to hear about several previous posts where I asked questions about the food dish called a ‘glazed pilgrim’ :). I can be a very patient person though and I know the answer will come to me in the fullness of time.

  85. Koby Says:

    In regards to history, and things which were done which we cannot understand: A meaningful International Holocaust Remembrance Day to all.

  86. Sharon K Penman Says:

    Definitely a day we all need to remember, Koby. It is not that surprising that there should be controversy over events that occurred 800 years ago in the 12th century. But I find it appalling that there are people who doubt or deny the Holocaust, which occurred so recently in our history and which is so well documented. It is unforgivable.

    Beth, I am sorry you felt slighted if I did not respond personally to your comments. I wish I could engage in a one-on-one dialogue with the readers who post here. But it is impossible. I do not have any assistants to help me with the large volume of mail I get or with research. There is just me, with too much to do and never enough time in which to do it. I have tried to answer specific questions posted here, but I am sure I’ve missed some of those, too. If life is more chaotic than usual or deadlines are looming, I have to do triage, and unfortunately I must give priority to my books over my blog. I wish it could be otherwise, but I do not know how to change the reality of it. Yet even if I have to limit my own personal participation, I think my readers’ comments make the blogs well worth reading!
    With respect to my book recommendations, I am sorry you were disappointed with my choices. But reading is so subjective that it is inevitable that we all won’t enjoy the same books. People may not realize how often writers are asked to give blurbs or to help publicize other writers’ works. We naturally want to help one another, for ours is a precarious profession. But I feel a sense of responsibility to my readers, too, for many of them have told me they buy books based on my recommendations. So I will not recommend a book I have not read. I will, however, call it to my readers’ attention, letting them know that a novel about a particular historical figure or event has just been published. In that way, I feel that I am doing a service both to the writer and to readers who might otherwise not know about that book. If I read a book and enjoy it, I pass my opinion on, just as we all do with our families and friends. And every now and then, if I read a book that I consider to be truly remarkable, I will praise it to the heavens, as I did with Legacy. But the only way I can avoid disappointing some of my readers would be to avoid offering recommendations at all, and I do not want to do that. I think one of the great joys of reading is that we share the experience with our fellow book lovers. Since our reading tastes appear to diverge a bit, I can only suggest that you not buy any of my recommendations, but rather find them at a library if they sound interesting to you. However, I do heartily recommend Legacy to you! And thank you for your eloquent response to my initial questions about a novelist’s responsibility to his/her readers. It means a lot to me when I get validation like this from my readers.

  87. Koby Says:

    Today, Charlemagne died, and so did Henry VIII (IX).

  88. Beth Says:

    Sharon - please think nothing more of it! It was over a year ago I think, so a long time hence. As for the recommendation, it was only one book series and indeed the vast majority of your recommendations I do find to be truly excellent. On that occasion however I guess I just found myself truly and honestly baffled! As aforementioned, for me you are in my top 3 best historical fiction authors, the other two being the great Mary Renault and the esteemed Pauline Gedge, and to me you really know your stuff. Way more than myself, definitely, and I’ve got actual history qualifications. I feel rather shame-faced admitting to this but I suppose I was confused in a childlike way about how/why someone who I look up to, as a stunning good writer and an undeniable authority on historical accuracy, would recommend something that… well I’m turning red, as I’m a nice person and I do not want to be rude, and I actually thought the author themselves seemed lovely and really passionate about the subject, but the historical accuracy was a ways off and the writing quality was not so great. It was just like mentally that incident threw me through a loop and couldn’t fathom it. I still consider you to be the cream of the historical fiction writers crop and have endless admiration for the sheer historical knowledge you’ve got. It’s truly amazing. I actually don’t know how you do it! On a pets note, I hope your Shadow is feeling better soon! I have two adorable cats, sisters from the same litter named Jet and Jade because they have jet black fur and jade green eyes, who have been with me for almost 12 years now, and I can’t describe how much I love them. They’re very intelligent and have been real companions.

    Philip - The “what is history” question is one that my colleagues and I have been tackling recently in our post-grad studies, and it’s one that has been on my mind a lot for the past four months. I must confess, it makes my head spin, and I’ve secretly had moments when I’ve worried excessively that I am the only one of my colleagues to be confused or unable to reach a conclusion over the question - it seems like everyone else understands it perfectly and has their own perfectly thought out and unwavering conclusions about it.

    Everyone else - Thank you all for your responses. I feel terribly embarrassed about it all as I never wanted to cause a ruckus, and I want to assure everyone that I never intended the tone of my original post to be quite so jaded. I adore both Sharon and her works and have never doubted her skill and knowledge, and I sorely wish that I had the funds at the moment to go on her amazing Eleanor tour that’s currently in the works - hopefully there’ll be another one in a couple of years?!

    I must admit I’ve been feeling down on myself and out of sorts lately. I mentioned that I’m a qualified historian - I’ve got a great passion for history, and an equally great love of reading and writing. I couldn’t tell you how long it’s been my dream to become a writer of either historical fiction or non-fiction. It’s like a need, a deep compulsion. But lately I’ve been feeling really lost. I spend day after day reading books and articles about history, and I feel like all of them know the period so much better than I do and I feel like I ought to have that kind of in-depth knowledge. I’ve been horrified to discover articles on periods that are actually my speciality and find out as I read them that most of the facts contained therein are ones I had never even heard of before. Earlier today I found that I was asking myself questions like “What kind of an historian are you?! Your knowledge is horrible! You ought to know all this stuff! Why don’t you know everything about the subject? You can’t write about history, either in fiction or non-fiction, if you don’t know everything about it! How could you even form a coherent book without knowing everything there is to know about it? And you know you don’t want to foist something on the public with shoddy arguments or a half-baked plot…” I feel awful and useless as an historian. No matter how much I read and research, day in and day out, I feel like I’m still worlds away from knowing enough to actually write anything.

    Sigh. It’s not just that. The research seems like its monumental and in the mean time no amount of research sates the itch to write. But I can’t start at the beginning without having a more coherent idea of the whole, and I toyed with just starting in the middle somewhere and writing out of order but then I couldn’t do that either because I found that I couldn’t write those scenes with confidence without knowing what would precede and follow it and without knowing my setting, facts and characters like the back of my hand. I can’t even settle on a period. I have certain periods of history that interest me more than others, but on the whole ALL of it interests me and I don’t know what to choose! There are some that would make a great standalone book but I’m so shaky on that period that I don’t know how wise it would be to write about it especially as a first book, and there are other periods that are my specialism that even then I think “I STILL don’t know enough about this!” and besides they’re better suited to being a series and I’m not sure if I should be going for the first part of a series when I’m writing a first novel and going through that whole business of trying to get it published and so forth.

    *rubs temples* I feel like I’m all in a whirl. Do please forgive the length of this post. Am I being too hard on myself? And does anyone have any advice?

  89. John Phillips Says:

    ‘So I will not recommend a book I have not read’.

    That great wit the Reverent Sidney Smith ( 1771-1845), once said
    ‘I never read a book before reviewing it, It does bias one so’.

    Of no relevance to this blog , here are a few more examples of his wit

    He once said of a colleague who was successfully climbing the greasy pole
    ” You and I defy the laws of Newton; for you have risen by your gravity, whereas I, alas, have sunk by my levity ”

    ” marriage resembles nothing so much as a pair of shears, inexorably joined together, frequently moving in opposite directions,, but always punishing anything that comes between.”

    “The further he went west the more convinced he became that the wise men had come from the East.’

  90. Sharon K Penman Says:

    Beth, you did not stir up a “ruckus” at all, truly. I thought both of your points were worth discussing, and I’m glad I had to chance to elaborate a little about my “philosophy” concerning giving book blurbs requested by other authors or publishers; new readers to the blog wouldn’t know about it. What time period would you like to write about? And thank you for not mentioning the name of the author you found so disapointing. That was a kindness to the author that I appreciate. Even if a writer is successful, it is a little hurtful to suddenly come across a very negative on-line comment, and it is even more so if the writer is just starting out.
    Shadow and Chelsea are convalescing, and it will take a while. At the moment, I feel like Florence Nightingale, with so many meds to administer that I had to resort to a flow chart!
    John, I’d never heard that quote from Reverend Smith, but I love it. Thanks for getting my day off to such a good start with a laugh-out-loud moment. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit I know nothing whatsoever of Reverend Smith. Can you educate us a little about this clever man?
    And on this date in 1547, as Koby notes, one of my least favorite kings, Henry VIII, died. No wearing black in the Penman household here today. Charlemagen slipped through my radar, though; thanks for that mention, Koby.
    I will be putting a new blog up over the weekend, an interview with Priya Parmar, whose first novel, Exit the Actress, is being published next week. It is not medieval, set in Restoration England. But Charles II has always been my favorite non-medieval king and Nell Gwynn another personal favorite of mine. I’m happy to report that Priya does them both proud.

  91. John Phillips Says:

    Beth,I believe I read somewhere that ‘If you are not confused you don’t understand the issue properly’. When I was doing Psychiatry I came up with a definition as to what it was about.Namely “ It’s all about groping in a fog with confidence”. I think it very important to separate what is the state of knowledge on a subject as opposed to what sort of mind set to use as a working hypothesis when dealing with that knowledge. In diagnosis, and when fighting a battle decisions have to be taken on management with an incomplete knowledge of the facts. A perfectly correct diagnosis after the patient has died is not nearly as helpful as a nearly correct one earlier, as long as that ‘ball park’ diagnosis leads to the correct action.

    Beth I get a feeling that your morale is low at the moment, possibly you are even a little depressed.
    ( confidence, decision, concentration, all down). First make sure that there is not anything else in your life getting you this way. Having done that then consider whether you are getting so bogged down in details that you are losing the bigger picture. e.g. after reading Time and Chance and the Devils Brood I felt that despite all his strengths, Henry II was diminished and reduced by his failure to acknowledge let alone learn from his mistakes ( probably because he believed in himself too much), whereas Eleanor learnt from her mistakes and grew in stature throughout her Life.

    If you can get into a frame of mind where you can be excited by discovering new facts, then you are energized and more likely to be struck by ah harr moments when new understandings strike.

    Some matters are TOO important to be taken seriously.

    Sharon, Sydney Smith was a vicar , who also lectured on moral philosophy, and also an accomplished speaker. As you might expect with his wit he made enemies as well as friends and spent 19 years ‘exiled ‘ to a parish in Yorkshire before returning to London in 1828. In 1831 Charles Grey ( in his Young days the lover of The Duchess of Devonshire [ film The Duchess], but from 1830-34 was Prime Minister and in 1832 got the Great Reform Bill passed ) appointed him a canon of St Pauls Cathedral.

    ‘I must believe in the apostolic succession, there being no other explanation for the descent of The Bishop of Exeter from Judas Escariot’.

  92. Sharon K Penman Says:

    Thank you, John, for this information. And for another great quote, “groping in a fog with confidence.” I suspect you are going to be the life of the party on our tour! I’m glad to hear Sidney Smith did not have to pay too high a price for having a tongue sharper than a scalpel. Of course, as a Londoner, he may have considered a Yorkshire exile to be a harsh penance, indeed. I personally love Yorkshire; I was lucky enough to live in York for a few months when I researched Sunne.

  93. Beth Says:

    Thank you both for your thoughts on the matter.

    Sharon - Oh yes, I can definitely sense the author’s enthusiasm for the subject and my dislike for their writing is absolutely nothing personal at all, and I wouldn’t name names. I recently found a new way to look at their work in fact and I found that it improved no end from this new perspective. I’m also noticing improvements in leaps and bounds, so I’m really hopeful that they’re just going to get better and better and I must admit to a good deal of curiosity over their next book. As to what time period I want to write about, the clearest way would be to do a quick list, that way I can tell you whilst getting some of my own ideas in order!

    1) PTOLEMAIC EGYPT. This is one of my specialist periods, and I would be very into writing about this period. Only one author is currently writing about this entire period, that I know of, and their style is very different to mine so I’m confident that whatever I produced would be something different. However, I don’t feel like I know every single detail inside out and I really don’t want to get anything wrong if I write about my favourite period! Also writing about the entire period would rather be an actual series instead of a standalone book.

    2) TUDOR ENGLAND. I adore Tudor England and it’s another one of my specialities though once again I doubt my own knowledge here! I’m not sure whether I should do this idea or not though because the market right now is so flooded with Tudor novels.

    3) PRINCESS CHARLOTTE AUGUSTA. She was actually the daughter of George IV and sole heir to the throne but died young in childbirth shortly after making a marriage that was unusually a love match. The period is not one I’ve ever been terribly interested in and my knowledge is limited, however I think her story would fit into a single book and it’s a real hidden gem and I haven’t gfound any novels ever written about her life.

    4) THE NEO-ASSYRIAN EMPIRE. As far as I know only one author has ever written fiction about this place and period, and that was a few decades back. The events and tangled relationships within the royal family are screaming out to me with the potential for a good story. My knowledge here is middling, and I suspect it might be a series rather than a single book.

    Any other period that I’m interested in… that could really be anything as my interests span the Bronze Age Aegean to Roman Britain, anything Egypt of course, Medieval Europe, early Imperial China, the Harappan civilisation from India, pre-Columbus North American natives peoples… I seem to lap it all up! However I do become less interested the closer to modern day it gets - history after 1650 doesn’t really interest me. I don’t know if an historical fiction author has ever written about such diverse periods and places before but I seem to have that desire! Sometimes history itself could be a problem though as sometimes we know so little!

    Philip - Oh thank goodness. I felt certain that I was the only one of my colleagues who wasn’t getting it. In my opinion… I sort of believe both! I do think that bias creeps in everywhere and many historians’ works have been influenced, and I’ve always felt so aware of the need to guard against bias! But on the other hand, I feel it’s got to end somewhere! I recently read the work of an historian who was debunking crackpot history if you will and explaining why such absurd and disproven ideas are gaining traction in recent decades. She pointed out that such “fiction as history” rejects factual evidence on the basis that everything is biased in history, even the raw data, so facts and evidence no longer hold any weight or value whatsoever, they’re simply some part of someone’s “agenda”. She pointed out that whilst we should always examine ourselves for our own biases, if we accept the idea that even the facts are untrustworthy then our whole historical basis dissolves and it opens the door for absolutely anyone to make up whatever they want and just call it history, including groups who might have very disturbing agendas - so for example I could say that fairies built the Pyramids and argue that anyone who argues against me has a bias against me and that the facts they use to disprove my claim are merely untrustworthy cover ups because it’s all part of a big conspiracy to keep me down. And I think that’s very dangerous because suddenly we’re saying that our whole basis for logical reasoning; facts, evidence, critical analysis and so forth, has no weight, and history itself ceases to actually be as much as possible about what really happened and starts to become about how we in the current day view ourselves and our past. Woops, sorry for the mini-essay there!

    Anyway, yes, you’re quite right, my morale is down at the moment. I was forced for certain reasons to defer my post-grad study until this coming autumn, which has really disappointed me, and I don’t even know if I’m going to be able to take up that place in the autumn. In the mean time I’ve been trying to find some work in the history field but everything I’ve looked at either wants me to have had several years experience already, or it’s well below what I’d expect to be doing as a graduate… And then last night I read something my old Classics school teacher sent to me about what he thought of me as a student and a person and it made my cry because no one has praised my skills like that in a long time, and I beat myself up over why I’m such a middling student at university, and whether or not I’ll ever be good enough to do PhD when I can’t even come up with a coherent idea for a Masters dissertation, and why I didn’t get better results etc etc etc. I’m feeling a bit directionless as a result and having trouble seeing how I’m ever going to get to where I want to be - get such and such a degree, write a book, get published and so on. I see so many successful people around me and I don’t know how they do it! Forgive my low morale.

  94. John Phillips Says:

    Beth, The Psychologist Jung once said ”giving good advice rarely does any harm as so few people take any notice.’ Nevertheless here goes.

    When you are feeling down be kind to yourself. Ask yourself whether you would like to have a good wallow, and if so for how long. Be honest with your self. we often get stressed from the strain of covering up a fear that we might be failing at something. If one is honest and ask yourself whether you feel that and then take a little time to practice the art of being a RELAXED failure. You then save a lot of energy that you were wasting in covering that thought up , and start to realise that it isn’t true anyway.

    I’ll share with you a card I used with my anxious patients consisting of a question and a few statements, I called it

    ‘ A Mantra for the highly stressed’

    1) Am I trying hard enough to worry about these things?
    2) I must try very hard not to RELAX today.
    3) I must try very hard not to ENJOY myself today.
    4) must try extremely hard not to LAUGH
    5) I must try very hard not to think about Kangaroos.

    then at the bottom of the card was small PTO
    then on the other side of the card it said


  95. John Phillips Says:


    PS Beware of people who KNOW that they are right, they frequently suffer from that fatal combination of Arrogance and Ignorance.

  96. tej Says:

    The first historical novel I ever read was The Sunne in Splendour. I have since read everything you’ve ever written, and I’ve had a hard time finding other authors of historical fiction who can compare favorably. I often find myself doubting the authenticity of the story/characters/scenes. One of my favorite things when finishing one of your novels is reading the notes at the end where you either confirm the authenticity, make note of author’s license, or occasionally admit to outright mistakes (like the velvet dress incident!). When I read your books I feel like I’m learning something I can trust–I don’t need to employ the suspension of disbelief so much as I do with others.

    As far as the question of not offending modern readers, I think the level of description depends on the story. Does it forward the plot? Is it important for character development? I was turned off by The Pillars of the Earth because of so many explicit rape scenes. To my mind, telling me that it happened and was brutal is enough; I don’t need the gory details. In some cases, that level of detail may be necessary to inspire certain emotions about the characters, but don’t keep describing it over and over again. Lay the groundwork, but don’t belabor the point for the sake of sensationalism.

    For readers who are interested in fantasy, there are plenty of other genres in which they can find it. To me, historical fiction should place as much emphasis on the history as it can. We understand that it’s fiction because no one can really know what a historical character was really thinking–even on the rare occasion when we have documented evidence. We readers understand that’s why it’s called fiction; but I still hope for historical accuracy. I really appreciate the efforts you make in that direction. I didn’t know much about the MA until I read When Christ and His Saints Slept. It has since prompted me to read biographies of people like Simon de Montfort and Eleanor so that I can continue to learn.

    Gosh, I can’t seem to shut up, but I have one afterthought…

    When it comes to softening history to make it palatable for modern readers, I am frankly appalled. A current example is the recent re-publication of Mark Twain that removes the word nigger because it’s offensive. To me, that’s the whole point. It is offensive and it should be offensive. We need to understand the atrocities of the past, and that’s only possible if we can learn about them in all their ugliness. Re-writing history will do nothing to help the present or the future. Let’s face up to our past and get beyond it. How will we ever defeat anti-Semitism, racism, sexism, or whatever if we don’t understand its roots. If we don’t talk about the atrocities of the Nazis or whomever, we can’t possibly understand them. And, as the saying goes, if we don’t know our past we are doomed to repeat it.

    Ranting done. Sorry if I’ve offended anyone. Just my opinion; I know there are many others. :)

  97. Beth Says:

    Hear hear, I fully agree! This is exactly why I disagree with pandering to the masses. I think one has to stay true to oneself and also tell it like was as far as is possible. I think we almost have a duty to the people who lived through those times to get it right.

    In light of tej’s post however I must make an admission - I was never that into the Medieval period until I read Sharon’s When Christ and All His Saints Slept when I was 10 years old! And truthfully, I was so engrossed that I didn’t go to sleep one night when I was reading it and I finished it at about 6 in the morning having had no sleep at all!

    Btw, John, thank you very much for your advice, I am going to try and take things at a slow pace this weekend and relax!

  98. Sharon K Penman Says:

    I am so lucky to have the readers I do; these posts are always so interesting and thought-provoking. Beth, it is so unfair that our current society makes it very difficult for people with history degrees to thrive. Any time you want to vent to me privately, please feel free to do so. I don’t have any answers, but I can definitely share the frustration.
    John, we are going to have so much fun now that you are joining our tour! In Lionheart, I have a scene with several highborn women in which they discuss what quality they value most in a husband. One says wealth, another says absence, but Eleanor says she valued a man who could make her laugh. (Precious few laughs with old Louis, but I think she had her moments with Henry.) Since I’m convinced the real Eleanor would agree with mine on this subject, you’ll probably sense her ghost hovering approvingly in the background, John.

  99. Beth Says:

    Sharon; it’s very difficult at the moment, especially with the current economic climate. And the university I went to (and also have my Masters deferred place with) is one of the country’s best and in the worlds top 5. Their history and archaeology departments are rated #1 for this country. I OUGHT to be getting work with the degree I’ve got. And yet the most suitable job I’ve seen in the past 4 months was for Assistant Curator of the Chinese Collection at the British Museum. It was graduate level entry, no experience needed just the degree and the demands as well as the rewards were exactly what I would be aiming for… but they wanted someone who could speak Chinese, and I can’t and I never did any modules in ancient Chinese history! But that would be the sort of thing that I want to aim for. Instead I find myself applying for jobs as gallery warders in heritage palaces, which I could do standing on my head and don’t pay nearly as well! It’s really tough. To be perfectly honest with you, the reason I was forced to defer my MA for a year when I was meant to be studying it currently, was because of funding issues. I don’t know if over the water you get to hear much about news here in Britain, but that’s a problem I’ve got to resolve and get back on the course quickly, because in a couple of years the tuition fees for our universities are set to skyrocket! To be a history author of some description would be a dream, but there are the twin issues of actually getting published, and secondly funding yourself whilst you spend a couple of years doing that research and writing the manuscript! I won’t go into it here but I’ll be fine on that front in a couple of years… but I’m not one to sit on my heels waiting for something, the paths I’ve pursued so far I took because I wanted to do something productive and improve myself and work and so on. And for it’s own sake of course.

    Dragging up my memory of reading WCAAHSS has prompted me to remember some other little anecdotes, which I thought to myself I simply must tell you. Ranulf. I adored Ranulf from that very first page I read some 12/13 years ago, and he’s still my absolute favourite even though he’s totally fictional. And the one scene I’ll never forget is the introduction of Geoffrey d’Anjou! It was hilarious and so unexpected, but so clever. It won me over to him instantly despite his less than moral actions! I think Joanna is my second favourite character - her story was so good, but also so sad all at once! - and then it’s a tie for third spot between Maud and Eleanor. Eleanor I had always had some interest in, but you really made me fall in love with Maud. What a woman! What I love about her story is that you didn’t make Stephen the bad guy though, but presented him in an equally human light. I didn’t agree with his actions, but I never disliked or hated him and I understood his motivations, I also liked that he himself questioned his decisions in regards to taking the throne. As for Eleanor, I can well imagine her sharing some laughs with Henry. Even though the relationship soured, I think it had real heat and passion behind it and simply later on that heat got directed from passion into fury!

    I really hope one day I’ll be able to join one of these fantastic tours, and I also greatly appreciate your offer. A lot of stressful things just seem to have combined in my life recently! And I’ve never had this much trouble with my writing before! Writer’s blocks, yes, but not even being able to pick a starting topic?! I think I’ll take a break from thinking about all that for a while, then try and just do some brainstorming and organising my thoughts and get back to you.

    Oh, I did want to add, despite having been hooked on your books for years, strangely I only recently learned of the story when your manuscript was stolen. My goodness, I can only imagine. It reminds me of a time when I was 16 and writing a story (for practise, as it wasn’t an entirely original work) which I did lots of research on and spent the entire summer holidays working on, getting up really early every morning and working for hours every day… then when I was about 150 pages (A4 size) in, somehow my father accidentally deleted the document from the computer. I was speechless and didn’t come back to it again for ages, and when I did I completely rewrote it in a different way and all of that research never got used! But what happened to you…!!! Ten times worse, nay, a hundred times worse!

    Well I’ll be off for a bit to enjoy my prescribed relaxing weekend. I’ve got a new book to curl up with - non-fiction, The Mycenaeans by Louise Schofield, which I’m looking forwards to immensely as it’s one of my top five favourite historical periods.

  100. james watson Says:

    I Agree with tej?…….History was,… is! Harsh.? I,e, a Fireman! (used too Burn people- joan of arc! at the Stake) Now there supernice Heros(rightly) what a cruel Past, medevil-times were,( inquisitors) etc nicey, nicey?….no way Thank-you Again Sharon! Anyone burnt at the Stake? in Lionhart???.

  101. Janna Says:

    Oooh, Beth, I wish you WOULD write a book about Charlotte Augusta. I learned just a little bit about her when I read a history of Victoria a while back, but I was really intrigued. One of my favorite things about Victoria’s story is the fact that she chose a man she loved, and I think, if I understand correctly, Charlotte Augusta did the same thing. I realize that it’s highly unlikely that you’ll write a book just because one random person asks you to :-) but still. I wish you would. I would definitely read it.

  102. Joan Szechtman Says:

    Beth, as much as I’m tempted to “give” you the advice you’ve requested, I find I can only relate what works for me. If you find that works for you, great, if not–well we’re not clones and to each his own.

    I’ve always admired writers and loved to read, but never thought that I would write until I became so compelled by the life and persona of Richard III (thank you Sharon for giving us “Sunne in Splendour”) that I found myself having these imaginary conversations with him. So for me, it’s all about character. Once a character comes to life into my head, it’s a short trip to my needing to tell a story about that character.

  103. Beth Says:

    Janna, yes, you’re right, Charlotte Augusta also made a love match (though of course he was also acceptable, as a foreign royal). You may not know, but her husband is more well known as Victoria’s “Uncle Leopold” in Belgium! I think to some extent he was hoping to repeat with his niece and his nephew Albert the circumstances that he had with Charlotte Augusta. I think the really interesting thing about her is that her story is so similar to Victoria’s, but we’ve completely forgotten about her. Like Victoria she was the sole heir to the throne and her future reign was looked to with hope. She seems to have been quite independent and headstrong and defied her father the king on several occasions - she was closer to her mother, and there was a big rift between her parents, with quite a lot of the British population taking a dim view of her father’s treatment of her mother. Some of the members of Charlotte’s household thought her behaviour undignified, and she once ran off on her own to join the crowds outside her residence to see why they were there - it turned out they were there to catch a glimpse of her but she passed through them completely unrecognised. Her father tried to foist his own choice of suitor on her, whom she initially agreed to be betrothed to, but she soon broke it off and returned to an earlier suitor, Leopold of Belgium, and her father eventually gave in and allowed them to marry, conceding that Leopold would make his daughter happy. Their wedding was a massive event, the equal of any royal wedding today, and Charlotte flaunted the solemn mood of the event by giggling when Leopold promised to endow her with all his worldly goods. She later wrote that he was “the perfection of a lover” and were married about a year and a half, spending as much time as possible together, before Charlotte died in childbirth giving birth to a stillborn son. I think that my favourite quote about her comes from one of her ladies in waiting who said that she was candid and rarely chose to put on the airs of dignity and called her a “fine piece of flesh and blood”. To me she comes across as very down to earth and human, and she strongly resisted all attempts by her father to turn her into a porcelain doll princess - he tried to lay down restrictions, such as telling her that when she went to the opera she should sit quietly at the back of her box and leave before the end; Charlotte sat eagerly at the front, and blew kisses to the leader of the Whig party, Earl Grey, to demonstrate her partisan support of one political party over the others.

    I don’t know if I’ll write a book about her. The period isn’t my specialism and I’ve never had much of an interest in it. However it is a good story, just waiting to be written, and you may not realise but hearing someone tell you that they do wish you’d write it is a tremendous boost and rather encouraging, and does improve my inclination to write it.

    Joan, coincidentally, I feel exactly the same way. Sometimes I feel like my characters dictate the story to me. I don’t decide what they do or what their dialogue is - THEIR character dictates to me how they should act/react and what they say. They have lives and personalities completely independent of me as the writer! I’ve always felt that way. I think my trouble in being unable to settle on a period/topic right now is because I’ve not quite got a handle yet on the exact personalities of the people that lived them. And… in some cases that can be tough when the evidence for their lives is fragmentary… and sometimes the people themselves can be very contradictory. I’ve come across such people who seem by one action to indicate that their personality is one way, but then later take completely contradictory actions that just don’t fit with their established personality. That really makes me scratch my head and wonder how I can pull these handful of incidents into a character whose personality makes sense, and fill in the huge gaps in the historical record in their lives, plausibly!

  104. Britta B. Says:

    Legacy arrived in the mail yesterday; I’ll let you know how I like it.

    re: Mark Twain book. I think the person’s goal was to get the book accepted on the reading lists of many more schools, as it is banned precisely due to the use of the word nigger. If students can read it now, albeit it the cleaned up version, doesn’t it follow that those students truly interested will search out the original version in libraries or book stores and re-read it that way? Then at least more people are aware of this greyt story on the whole and the goal is achieved: getting the book into more people’s hands and knowing about American past. I think that’s admirable, to get a book to more people through a bit of subversive action. Yes, this new version is a cleaned up one pandering to modern sensitivities, but there are so many editions of the original version, that those who want to can find it.

  105. John Phillips Says:

    I can’t work out whether it is a product of the ageing process , or belatedly waking up to life, but I find I am much more emotional these days than I have ever been; and this change I notice especially in relation to childbirth. I worked as a trainee Obstetrician for a while in a very deprived area of East London, where I must have delivered 1-200 babies, nearly all abnormal deliveries. Now when I read accounts like Sharon’s accounts of Eleanor delivering John, or Ellen( Eleanor) dying delivering Gwenllian (only for her to spend her life in a convent, although maybe for her it was just home) or Beth mentioning Charlotte Augusta dying in childbirth, I am there in the birthing chamber it is so vivid. It was years before I was able emotionally to realise that normal childbirth could be relatively safe. I have seen that sudden change from normal delivery to a PPH (Ellen) and worse. On the other hand repeatedly having to resuscitate new born babes by intubating them, inserting a small tube into their little larynx (quite a knack) and then ever so gently puffing air into their lungs from my own mouth, has left me even today with the feeling that a baby bawling is one of the most wonderful and relaxing sounds in the world……. And yes it usually was me that got up in the night!

  106. John Phillips Says:

    for our own babies that is

  107. Beth Says:

    John, sadly Charlotte went through a particularly harrowing ordeal, a product of her time I fear. Her own physicians put her on a diet whilst she was pregnant because they didn’t want a big baby that might be difficult to deliver. Her husband Leopold’s physician from Belgium, the infamous Baron Stockmar, was horrified at this and recommended she eat more instead of less and though the advice of Charlotte’s doctors was very backwards. He however declined a position on the team officially advising her through the pregnancy as he feared that something was going to go wrong (from the advice of the British doctors) and he would be blamed. The physicians also bled her from time to time, another practice with Stockmar advised against. When she went into labour she had difficulty expelling the baby and her physicians sent for an obstetrician… but would not allow the obstetrician to examine the princess in person (I can only assume this was part of the prudish idea that male doctors ought to avoid examining a woman down below, especially a royal lady), and her physicians flat out refused to allow the use of forceps. Historian Alison Plowden suggests that Charlotte may have survived if forceps had been used. She eventually was able to birth a large stillborn boy, but all efforts to resuscitate it failed. Charlotte initially felt better but later that night felt pains in her stomach and suffered violent vomiting, she felt cold to the touch and began bleeding; her physicians administered hot compresses and sent Stockmar to wake Leopold in all due haste, but the princess died before her husband could be roused and brought to her.

    The public outpouring of grief was monumental, and drapers actually ran out of black linen because everyone attired themselves in some form of mourning wear, including the poorest of the poor, and sellers of bright fancy clothing actually petitioned Parliament to shorten the mourning period because they feared they might go bankrupt. Shops, docks, law courts, the royal exchange and so on all closed for a fortnight, and prominent newspapers lamented the tragedy. Charlotte’s father, the future George IV, at that time still Prince Regent, was absolutely devastated, Charlotte’s mother fainted when she first heard the news, even Charlotte’s ex-fiance who she jilted for Leopold ordered his entire court into mourning. Charlotte’s head physician shot himself three months later. Stockmar who of course remained close to Leopold for the rest of his life, said that Leopold never recovered his happiness, and Leopold actually wrote “Two generations gone. Gone in a moment! I have felt for myself, but I have also felt for the Prince Regent. My Charlotte is gone from the country - it has lost her. She was a good, she was an admirable woman. None could know my Charlotte as I did know her! It was my study, my duty, to know her character, but it was my delight!” With the lack of any heirs following, Prince Edward of Kent, Charlotte’s uncle, married in a hurry and Victoria was born 18 months after Charlotte’s death.

    It’s a terribly moving story, and I think the actions and testimonies clearly prove that Charlotte was both amazingly well-liked and that her early death was powerfully felt by those who did and did not know her alike; whether or not it caused a constitutional crisis. It’s so surprising that no one remembers her today, especially as her life closely mirrors in certain ways the life of Victoria. Undoubtedly had she survived it would have been Charlotte whose reign gave the name to the age and who would now be known as the redoubtable grandmother of Europe. All those books I’ve read about some distant relation who should have succeeded such-and-such a monarch with titles like “the lost king/queen of Country X” or “the man/woman who should have been king/queen”, I think Charlotte comes closer than any other case to that description of “the woman who should have been queen”, and it was only by terrible tragedy that the absolute certainty of her succeeding was averted.

  108. John Phillips Says:

    Beth, thank you for the Story about Charlotte Augusta, despite the whole episode sounding appalling. It could be unbearably moving as a historical Novel , so much so that it reminds of Richard Wagner’s remark after seeing his opera Tristan und Isolde staged . ” I am saved by bad performances , a good one would be unendurable”. It is one of my favourite operas and I know what he meant.

    Sharon, in an Interview I see that you said this “It disturbs enormously when people seem so indifferent to the lessons of History”, and mentioned the lack of notice paid to past difficulties. Now I have raged over this point most of my life ( History was my life as a child , I think since being taken around Carnarvon Castle in 1944 ) and especially over the British Government pussy footing around over involvement in Yugoslavia because of the partisans ( when they were largely Croat and Slovene , whilst the Chetniks a much less effective force were Serb) and much worse the US administration in the last gulf war not apparently knowing how artificial a country Iraq was ( thrown together after WW! by the victorious allies without thought of or for its constuent populations.) However since coming across what Hegel said on this subject , whenever I am tempted to rage I repeat to myself the ‘Reasonable Men’ quote I posted earlier in this blog.

    Oh..Hegel said ” The Lesson of history is that no government or organisation has ever learnt from history”.

  109. John Phillips Says:

    BTW Sharon, your comment about thinking that I might be a natural born writer has, after years of prodding from patients family and friends, finally got me started.; and yes I am thrilled to be on the tour after someone cancelled. I will however endeavour to curb my ‘tiggerish’ bounce lest I exhaust everyone, though having been unwell maybe my body will succeed in this without any effort being required from me.

  110. Beth Says:

    John, yes, coincidentally her story is perfect novel material. I think it will require considerable research however. Not very many historians have studied her life extensively, however on the plus side many examples of her correspondence survive, so it is possible to hear Charlotte Augusta in her own words. It is the little details that worry me! Sharon’s Medieval Mishaps page encapsulates how I feel - the errant grey squirrel is a small but significant detail, and before I’ve even started I am aflush with worry that I will do something such as put words in the mouths of my characters that they never would have spoken at the time, or place them in an incorrect environment, or give them incorrect beliefs and values! I also understand the meaning of the Wagnerian remark. I recently finished reading an historical novel which I could only describe as “perfectly horrid” - the novel itself was perfect, the setting, characters and plot an absolute sublime dream… but oh the fate of the characters!

    I’m afraid I must agree that it also disturbs me when people are indifferent to the lessons of history, and so very many are. One of the many reasons I accord history so much value is because it offers us the opportunity to gain experience without ever having to go through such events ourselves - the actions and mistakes of others have tested out such situations for us, and we can improve our approach to any number of events and circumstances by examining what has already been done.

  111. John Phillips Says:

    I agree with both you and Sharon about how much can be learnt from history, the problem is usually it isn’t, so the really interesting question for all of us and Hegel is why? I think I know. Hegel is right; but unfortunately Leaders very rarely either know or care to find historians who can give them the learnings from history that they need to know. Worse if by some strange quirk of fate A wise historian who knows exactly what a leader or cabinet needs to know , and has an opportunity to meet with and sell it to them; it almost certain that pressures from sectional interests, or self interest, or both, will render them unwilling or unable( or Both ) to pay any attention to what they have heard. (reasonable men again) e.g Stalin was warned about Hitlers planned Attack on the USSR, but refused to believe it.
    That reminds me of another reason Festinge’rs theory of Cognitive Dissonance. Try googling it

  112. John Phillips Says:

    Festinger’s theory of Cognitive Dissonance ( 1957)

    I came across it in a fascinating book called

    ‘The Psychology of Military Incompetence’ by Norman Dixon

  113. Cindy Says:

    I don’t make it to this blog often, but every time I do, I remind myself to come back more frequently as the discussions are so fascinating!

    Let’s see, first, Sharon, I SO appreciate the hard work you put in, slaving away so that we, your loyal readership may be better informed of the realities of MA life. I think one of the challenges I have in reading historical fiction is just that there is some real dross out there.

    Which leads me to my second bit of thanks for the recommendations, both from Sharon as well as others about the worthwhile books that are out there, waiting to be read. As the old saying goes, “so many books, so little time” - life is too short to read crap & nonsense (such as that troll from jersey shore’s book, ugh…how is it that there are real writers going unpublished and she managed a book deal? Ugh)

    I first read Sunne in Spendor (honestly after having looked at it a few times in the library) and was totally hooked, devouring the Welsh trilogy and then the Henry & Eleanor books. Can NOT wait for LH!

    Sharon, I’m glad to her your puppers are doing better, know firsthand how stressful pet illnesses can be. And Cindy, my condolences on your kitty’s passing, the fact you were blessed to have 18 years does not lessen the sadness when they do depart,speaking from experience after having lost two cats (one we’d had for 14 hrs, the other 15 hrs) within the last fewe years.

    And, lastly, Beth, here’s hoping that your studies do come off in the near future. On this side of the water, state funded colleges/universities are experiencing funding issues as well. When (not if) you start your studies, think about your fiction possibilities as you do your research. Don’t worry about the topic of your masters (or PhD) topic, trust me, the topic usually finds its way to you, whether in the middle of the night, in the middle of a shower or while you’re trying to focus in class

  114. Gilbert Applegate Says:

    Hello, I can’t understand how to add your website in my rss reader. Are you able to Assist me, please

  115. Sharon K Penman Says:

    I had to put my beautiful boy down yesterday morning. Shadow seemed better after the fluid was drained from his lungs Friday afternoon, but that night he took a turn for the worse. He couldn’t breathe and the two possibilities were equally dire–that the surgery had failed or he’d developed pulmonary edema. My vet said he wouldn’t have made it as far as the clinic up in North Jersey, even if I’d have been willing to put him through another surgery. I’d been warned beforehand at the clinic that this could happen, but at first he seemed to be doing quite well and we were all so optimistic. And then Friday the normal pain after surgery became something far worse.
    He was suffering and the vet said there was no hope, so I know I made the right choice for him. But I’m absolutely devastated. I thought losing Cody was hard, but this is much worse. At least Cody lived to be 11 and had 9 good years with me. Shadow had only 9 months in which he was loved; before that, his life was hell. He was murdered by his former owners, for it was their abuse that caused the diaphragmatic hernia. He deserved so much better. In time I hope that it will be a comfort to know that I was able to give him the only good months of his young life. But that does not help much, not now, not yet. We all go through pain like this when we lose animals we love. But just as Shadow himself was so special, the circum-stances of losing him seem so very cruel. I want to thank you all for giving Shadow and me so much support and kindness and love. It did help.

  116. Ken Says:

    So very sorry to hear of your loss, Sharon. Your love for your animals shines through in every post in which you mention them. Hope you have friends nearby to comfort you.

  117. tej Says:

    Sharon, I am so sorry about Shadow. A few years ago my 15-year-old Pem Corgi had a severe seizure that left her brain damaged. After spending several hours with her at the vet, I finally knew we had to put her down. It was such a difficult, devastating day. But, as you know, in time we remember our loved ones for the joy they brought us and are able to smile. You may have had only 9 months with Shadow, but they were the best nine months of his life. I’m sure he was just as grateful to have you as you were to have him.

  118. Joan Szechtman Says:

    Oh no, Sharon–there’s literally a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes for Shadow and for you. I know you did the best for him, having gone through having to put dogs and cats down myself. It’s never easy, but much worse to see a beloved pet suffer.

  119. John Phillips Says:

    Sharon, I am sure that you know that you have a great company of loyal fans who are with you in spirit at this very sad time. Although I am a relative newcomer here, I already especially admire among many wonderful qualities you possess as a writer and as a person, your compassion. Unfortunately at times like this it may seem a curse; but the key word is seems. We cannot truly love without suffering pain at times, and when that happens if one takes one day at a time and trust your unconscious to know best, you will get through this dark spell and Chelsea is still there to remind you of the light; a light of which your and Shadows Joy in each other was and will be part.
    For the rest of us on this blog, I intend to continue making contributions in the hope that lively and interesting posts from new and old contributors will be our way of pleasing Sharon if or when she does take a peek from time to time.

  120. Cindy Says:

    Sharon, I’m so sorry to hear of Shadow’s passing, that must be so hard as you’ve just had him a short while. When we’ve had animals for a long time, we have many memories that can be a bit of comfort. But with Shadow, you had just begun to show him what a good life he could look forward to. Why people get animals just to then abuse them is beyond me.

    I do hope that the memories of Shadow’s happy times with you, short though they were, will bring you some peace, along with the knowledge of how fortunate he was to have found you.


  121. Paula Says:

    John, as I am sitting here crying again I just read your latest post. All of your posts are so eloquent, your wisdom and compassion shine through. I very much look forward to meeting you as I am going on the ‘Eleanor’ tour as well. I also anticipate being greatly entertained by your ‘tiggerish’ bounce. I am quite shy and reserved until I feel comfortable and what better way to feel comfortable with my new ‘friends’ than to have someone with such a bounce and zest for life in the group. I think I read in one of your posts that you live in England. Is that correct? Most of the people that have I have come across who are also on the tour are from the USA. I was beginning to think that since I am Australian I would be the only one with a funny accent.

  122. Beth Says:

    Oh no, this is sad news indeed, Sharon! I don’t know what to say, as animal cruelty is one of the few things that makes my blood boil and make me see red. In some related way I understand, as I’ve had pets before whose lives were cut short. Before getting my current two cats, I had a gorgeous rescue cat. We adopted her when she was about 9 months old and apparently she’d had a rough time of it with her previous owners. Astonishingly given her past she was the most friendly cat you ever did see - much more so than my current pair of moggies! - and curious about everything. She crawled into my bed one night on Christmas Eve. We only had her about a year I think when she was run over by some drunk drivers returning home from nightclubbing, someone else took her to the vets but they couldn’t do anything for her, and we only found out a few days later when our desperate lost cat notices turned up a response. The entire family was devastated, and worse, just before we adopted her we had a gorgeous kitten who ate a chicken bone and didn’t survive. I take comfort from knowing that we gave them happy lives whilst they were with us. I would definitely encourage everyone to consider adopting a rescue pet when thinking about a furry addition to the family! It’s a chance to turn the life around of pets who have sadly suffered before they were rescued… and it breaks my heart to think of all the pets in rescue houses awaiting adoption because most people want to get pets from a friend’s pet’s litter or a breeder or a pet store, and the pets most in need of a loving home are just waiting for a family to bring love into their lives, after they may have been abused or abandoned by their previous owners.

  123. Emilie Says:

    How sad, I really hoped and thought that Shadow had made it through the worst and was on his way to a full recovery. At least, the last months of his life were his best.

    One day, you may find comfort in knowing that you did everything you could for Shadow. You gave him love and care, but most of all you gave him a chance.

    My thoughts are with you, Sharon, through this difficult period.

  124. John Phillips Says:

    Paula I am glad you have given me an opportunity in replying to you to modify my last post. . I feel the ‘If or” was unduly pessimistic and inappropriate. I suspect that Sharon will need some private space, but am absolutely confidant that Sharon will rebound given time to recharge her batteries and heal .

    Yes I do hail from the UK. I was told that someone from australia had booked , and I think someone from Germany too, but otherwise everyone else was from the USA as far as I recall , the total being some 30 of us.

    I have to say that the more I read about Sharon’s life the more I admire her sheer grit and determination. to do all the research she does, places to visit, facts to store and then recall, and then the multi marathon task of the actual writing. 15 years for a trilogy of books. That must require real staying power. No wonder the loss of her half done 500 page manuscript for “The Sunne in Splendour” destroyed her ability to restart for 5-6years. She is a real hero, and I think that it is these qualities along with her softer compassionate ones that make her such a special writer and person.

    I wonder whether while Sharon heals, we could when this current subject of History Vs Fiction winds down , perhaps possibly consider as a subject discussing the trials and tribulations of being an author, and the strategies writers use to get and keep pen to paper. What say you all? or any other ideas?

  125. AMK Says:

    I’ve just now found this blog. My condolences to Ms. Penman.

    Thank you for your dedicated research, your writing, and your blog which allows us readers/writers a peek into your lovely mind.

  126. Emilie Says:

    John and Paula, one more country will be represented on the trip to France as I will be attending. I am French Canadian. I look forward to meeting everyone!

  127. John Phillips Says:

    Paula, I have just realised the implications of what you said in your last blog.
    you think that I might speak with a funny accent too? What ! Dammit, I shall probably be the only one there speaking english with an ENGLISH accent; proper received english at that . Seriously, isn’t the whole question of accent dialect and the evolution of languages fascinating; how they develop, what they signify. For example, If some of the purest examples of English folk songs survived in the Appalachian Mountains, might there not in the American accent survive remnants of Jacobean English blended with some traditional regional English. I remember talking with my son in law, whob hails from Manchester about how Chaucer in the original was much easier to understand today than the English in ‘Sir Gauwain and the Green Knight’ because the latter was written in the northern dialect , whereas Chaucer was in the Southern , which became the basis for today,s English.

    He disagreed and with a straight face and northern accent laid on with a trowel proceeded to speak bits of Sir Gauwain, demonstrating words still in use in the North today. That shut me up, save for laughing my head off.

    Emilie I stand corrected, I should have referred to America.

  128. Paula Says:

    John, a lot of the television shows I watch are English so I am more used to English and Australian accents than I am to American ones. As far as I am concerned you and I will sound normal whereas everyone else will speak with a funny accent. But, from the perception of the majority it will be the other way around. When I am surrounded every day by the Australian accent it obviously seems normal to me but after I have been travelling then hop on a Qantas jet to come home I have been known to cringe at how coarse the Australian accent sounds. And a very kind English lady once explained to me why she laughed at me sometimes when I talked. I had never noticed the inflection at the end of sentences, now I notice it all the time. It will be fun.

    Emilie, I look forward to meeting you on the tour and learning more about the part of Canada that you come from.

  129. Beth Says:

    I do so wish I could be joining you all, but if I had funds then my current studying woes would be the first to benefit! I hope I can come on a future tour. Briefly, in regards to accents, my father reckons that Australians raise the pitch of their voices at the end of a sentence, making everything sound like it’s a question. As for how Americans perceive the British accent, well, I hail from the UK, from London specifically, so all I know about it are the American tv shows I’ve seen in which they’ve introduced a guest British character… but quite often those portrayals are miles off and I watch them with true bemusement! The way those shows seem to think we speak is very quaint and outdated; the accent is not nearly as exaggerated as that, it’s much more subtle (at least, mine is! We have several varying regional accents though some of which can be rather strong!), and also sometimes the language used is over 50 years out of date! No one says “pip pip” or “cheerio” to each other! I’ve never said that to anyone or had it said to me by my fellow English folk, and many other phrases that come out of the mouths of supposedly British characters on American sitcoms are nonexistent in modern day Britain. Also, why is it that Americans think we all speak with a “Cockernee” accent?! A Cockney accent was always a small regional accent and never how the majority of us spoke anyways, but these days you hardly hear it at all. It was a lot more prevalent pre-1950!

  130. Emilie Says:

    Well, I just spent the day home with a cold…I hate being sick!!! On the upside, I just started reading “When Christ and His Saints Slept”. I haven’t made it past 100 pages yet but I love it already! I had been saving the Henry and Eleanor trioly but if I want to be ready for June, now’s the time.

    On the topic of accents, I find them fascinating and I love the variety. I think it’s like listening to music. It will be interesting for me this summer. I will have an accent when I speak in English which is something I am used to since English is my second language. I will also have an accent when I speak French because the French Canadian accent is very different from the France French accent.

  131. james watson Says:

    I once helped an old lady from Scotland, lift her Bags in Singapour Airport! I asked her if she was Going Back too Scotland?…She replied Och! No son, “I;ve Been in New Zealand for 40 yrs Now?”……I hail from Sunderland (County Durham)….Lived in Portland Oregon 12 yrs Now , still have my Durham Accent, Surfice, the old Lady was pure Scottish Brogue! And My Kids are All Yankee-Doddle , Accents are Brilliant!!

  132. Dave Says:


    Not all Americans think that all English people speak with a Cockney accent. Only the uneducated Americans think that. The last time I was to Wales, my English tour guide said I had a little bit of an english accent, but that is probably from watching too much BBC America/BBC videos.


  133. Paula Says:

    One thing that fascinates me about accents is how well (or how badly) actors deliver them. I was laughing so much the other day at an English actor trying to do a Welsh accent. But, as far as I can tell, some Scottish actors (eg Kevin McKidd and Ewen Macgregor) can do English accents really well. Obviously, there are a lot of different English accents across the country. I laugh out loud at Russell Crowe attempting an English accent (ie Robin Hood) but to me his American accent sounds fine. Are there any Americans out there who would disagree?

    As far as international actors doing an Australian accent, the only credible one I have come across is Kate Winslet.

    John, I read with interest your suggestion about discussing the trials and tribulations of being an author. I would love to hear your perspective on writing and getting started on putting pen to paper.

  134. Koby Says:

    My mother and sisters claim I have no recgonizable accent - not English, not Amreican, not Israeli. I have no idea if that’s even possible, but hat’s what they say.
    In any case, Happy Imbolc.

  135. John Phillips Says:

    Paula, throughout my career I have been urged to put my ideas, especially those related to mental health into print so that they can be in the public domain; and yet I HAVE PROCRASTINATED. I am good at that, and therefore know that one of the most important requirements to be a writer is to get ON ones backside and make a start. ( and Sharon’s exhortation to me added to all the others I have interpreted as an order). Now having started it seems to me that what is needed is self discipline, persistence and determination; for without these all efforts are likely to fall by the wayside when up against all the pressures of the real world. The life of a writer is a lonely labour intensive effort, with uncertainty of success at the end,so self belief is also needed. finally one has to have something that is worth saying and a way of expressing it in print that is worth reading.
    Now all that Sharon has said is that she thinks I fulfil the requirement in the last sentence ,and while that is no doubt the most important, ne the essential requirement, for an end product to result I must WORK HARD at all the others, for a product to appear.Apropos of this I feel another quote coming on..here it is

    Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence.
    TALENT will not. Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.
    GENIUS will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.
    EDUCATION will not; the world is full of educated failures.
    PERSISTENCE and DETERMINATION alone are omnipotent.

    I knew this quote a long time ago, and copied into the back page of my Biography of Beethoven, and only recently went online to find out who wrote it

    It was Calvin Coolidge.

  136. james watson Says:

    just started (time and chance Again?)… Trouble on the Marches! sorry to hear about your Dog Sharon! “you need an Alaunt-Next or! irish wolf hound or something Historically Linked with your Books. mind you, you would Need a Big Fire in the Evenings?, Bid dogs Love a Fire ! we Have a Bull mastif, and a Black Canadian Lab ?(both Very Big) and Soft!love Rain or Snow walks in the Coloumbia -gorge(beautiful)….Food then a Fire, Then i can read Time and Chance Again(3 fingers Two Ice cubes of whiskey ) .. Oh yes?……

  137. Beth Says:

    Dave, thank goodness! Just some American sitcoms and those who don’t know any better, then! Nice to hear that an American has a hint of British in their accent… I feel kind of patronised when Americans refer to the British accent as “cute” or “quaint”. Quaint?! PAH! I’m from England, my accent’s how English is supposed to sound! Quaint indeed!!! Yet they often pressurise me to adopt an Americanised accent when I’m in their company, for the sake of fitting in to their world. Actually, speaking of being accentless, I almost mentioned this in my previous post, but I think that I don’t have any accent. To me I sound accentless. It’s a difficult thing to wrap my head around but I suppose to everyone else you might say I have a Londoner/South East England accent… but I don’t know what that is because to me, I just speak normally, to me I’m accent-free and it’s everyone else who has the accent. I mean, I can point out certain things in other accents to highlight what characterises them (for example when I said earlier that the Australian accent seems to rise in pitch at the end of sentences making everything sound like a question), but I can’t actually point out any characteristics of my own London/SE accent… there’s nowhere where I can say something like “ah well, the R’s are rolled” or “I’s are pronounced like oi.” That’s why I wonder if I’m accentless.

    Random accent story, my father loves to tell the story of the time an Australian asked him for directions to “Loogabarooga”. The Aussie meant Loughborough, which we would pronounce “Luff-buh-ruh”. And I’ve noticed that Americans have trouble with Leicester Square, trying to render it “Lie-sess-ter” when it’s really a very easy “Lester” pronunciation!

  138. james watson Says:

    Beth , just like Hawick, on the scottish border(hoique)…..I love it, opinions Differ i know but Estury- English (thames) for me is Too easy!….Also pronuciations, of village-names(flitic-flitwick) wolpit-wolfpit…ect, ect. all local, from Cornwall too cumbria.

  139. tej Says:

    As an American, I’ll chime in on the accent discussion. I once read a book called The Story of English, which traced the history of the changes in the language across time and geography. It’s really fascinating to me. However, the U.S. is filled with lots of people, and some of us are more “aware” than others. I could tell many stories of my fellow-Americans saying something really silly about language and accents. (I think the worst was when a clerk asked a visiting Londoner if English is the native language where he comes from. grrr.) So, it depends on whom you’re talking to. It also depends on how good a person’s “ear” is in detecting differences. For example, I live in Wisconsin, which, to me, has three very distinct accents depending on the region you live in. (One area is mostly populated by Dutch, one by German, and one by Scandinavian immigrants.) But there are lots of people who live here and think we all sound just like the newscasters (who are trained to speak in the accent of people from Iowa). So imagine how hard it is for us to distinguish the different accents of England. While I can identify Cockney (thanks to My Fair Lady :) ), I couldn’t tell the difference between Yorkshire and Manchester. I like to think I can tell the difference between English, Irish, and Scottish (though I’m not too sure about the Welsh accent). Aussies are pretty distinct, but I was really disappointed in myself when I couldn’t hear much of an accent in Geoffrey Rush when I recently watched The King’s Speech. Knowing how to pronounce the geography, like Gloucester or Edinburgh, are challenging for many who have never heard it pronounced. They try to sound it out phonetically, which of course doesn’t work. Where I live, we have a lot of towns with Native American names like Wauwautosa. It’s fun to hear non-Wisconsinites try to pronounce that correctly!

    As for non-American actors using an American accent, I’m really impressed with Hugh Laurie in the tv show House. Cate Blanchett is also very good.

  140. John Phillips Says:

    Beth ,”Warr ya gunn on abarrr”. You can get close to estuary english if you remove as many consonants as you can.

    I remember an author once wrote a book entitled strine, which got its genesis from hwhen in a Sidney store he overheard a woman suddenly for no apparent region say a woman’s name

    Emma Chisett.

    Later He followed it up with a book called Fraffly

    including such remarks as ‘Assai earl chep’ ‘ earce’ and ‘eggwettergree’

  141. Beth Says:

    John; nope, I can’t understand a blind word you are saying. What is “Estuary English”? I have never heard of this! Are you talking about the East London/Essex/chav accent? I can just about decipher your first quote as meaning “what are you going on about”. I certainly don’t speak like that! I enunciate almost every single letter, so mine must be a different accent. Well, there are exceptions - we British do have some strange pronunciations of place names. I would pronounce the river Thames as “Temms” for example.

    tej, well, I’ll have a guess; either “wow-wow-toh-sah” or “war-war-toh-sah” is my guess. Am I anywhere near close? Talking about American accents, I find the easiest to understand is East Coast, especially New York. Second easiest is West Coast. However the regions I would find really difficult to understand would be South East Coast (Virginia, Pennsylvania, Louisiana) and the Central States. I can’t understand 90% of those accents. I can easily tell the difference between all the accents in the British Isles though. The only one I might have trouble actually understanding though is a really strong Northern Scotland accent, that can be quite difficult. You can tell a Welsh accent because they roll their R’s a little bit and they elongate their vowels. I dug something up for you since you said you’re not too sure about the different British accents:


    It’s a quick-fire round-Britain guide to our regional accents. Hah, I would probably say that my accent is closest to the “Home Counties” accent that the guy in the video does, however, mine isn’t quite like that - in the video he’s slightly exaggerating the Home Counties accent, kind of giving it a nasal quality to make it sound posh, which I don’t really have. My accent is kind of like a more clipped version of that, and minus the nasal quality. That’s why I say that my accent is a fusion of South East England and London - not East London though, I don’t speak remotely like a Cockney!

  142. tej Says:

    Thanks for the link, Beth. I’ll have to check it out. I have to admit that the one accent I struggle with is Scottish. I used to work on an international help desk, and the Scots were the most difficult for me. I actually preferred calls from South Korea because I could get a translator. Unfortunately, there is no English to English translation service!

    The pronunciation of the town I mentioned is wah-wah-TOH-sa.

  143. james watson Says:

    I find the west -coast Accent!……seattle too San Diago, quite the same really, were as the east coast is ,Well different! jersey, to new york, for instance. again Accents are Brilliant.

  144. John Phillips Says:

    Beth, my apologies ! I misread who I was referring to. It was James Watsons “(thames) is to easy” not You.

    BTW Did anyone get ‘Strine’ and ‘Emma Chisett’

    and ‘Fraffly’ with ‘Earce’, ‘Assai earlchep’ and Eggwetter gree’

    Clue:- Just read what you see aloud off the page

  145. Paula Says:

    ‘Strine’- Australian
    ‘Emma Chisett’- how much is it?
    Not as sure about the others but I reckon
    ‘Eggwetter gree’- It would agree
    ‘Fraffly’- roughly
    ‘Earce’- is

    Did I pass my strine lesson? And, yes a lot of us do sound like that.

    I think it’s funny when I travel and people sometimes are not sure if I am Australian, South African or a Kiwi. The father of one of my patients today was a Kiwi and I had a lot of trouble understanding him. I think I sound nothing like that.

  146. John Phillips Says:


    Strine was the first book the chap wrote and it was inspired by hearing
    Emma Chisitt ( How much is it? ) as you divined correctly.

    Fraffly ( Frightfully) was his 2nd book and replicated the sounds of the Sloane Rangers, the young well to do, living and shopping in Knightsbridge and around Sloane Sq. so:-

    Assai earl chep (I say old chap)
    earce ( yes)
    eggwetter gree ( I quite Agree)

    I still have the boks buried somewhere in the house.

  147. Koby Says:

    And today, the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross took place, also known as the Battle of the Three Suns, where Edward, Earl of March, who would later become Edward IV defeated Jasper and Owen Tudor, and Owen Tudor died.

  148. Sharon K Penman Says:

    And today is Candlemas, an important day on the medieval calendar, and the date in 1237 when Llywelyn Fawr’s wife, Joanna, died. She was buried at Llan-faes and Llywelyn founded a Franciscan friary in her memory.

  149. james watson Says:

    john, My london friend told me about (estuary-english), commenting, on the influx of Other English, young people! after working in (Lahndon) for a year or two,….end up speaking the english language in this fashion.I have a northern Accent “but At my Grandmothers -insistance” I was made too Speak Slowly, But Clearly.( “what must it of been like in middle Ages- i find chaucers!vocals…Amazing).

  150. Britta B. Says:

    James, you are too funny. And yes, I agree w/you, Sharon needs a “historical” dog next; I am partial to Greyhounds myself ‘-) But she probably needs some time to properly grieve Shadow. He deserves it.

    I hail from Germany but most Americans tell me they can’t hear a German accent when I speak but alas, I do have an Italian-American New York accent, as all my formidable years learning the English/American language were heavily influenced by people of that heritage.

    And give me Alan Rickman reading the phone book and I’ll be in heaven. Could listen to that accent all day long.

    I think Joanna would get such a kick out of knowing that over 750 years after hear death, people are still fascinated by her life.

    Regarding literary topic questions: Once one has the book all written, how does one go about getting it published/find an agent/etc. etc.?

  151. Emilie Says:

    I found it very difficult to read the part of Joanna’s death in Falls the Shadow, specifically the effect of her passing on the people she loved. I cried a lot throughout that book…so many deaths of so many beloved individuals. Thanks for the reminder Sharon!!!

    Beth, I just listened to the link you recommended about the accents. It was a lot of fun!

  152. Koby Says:

    Thanks, Sharon. I forgot about that, what with tests and lessons.
    In any case, today John of Gaunt died.

  153. Sharon K Penman Says:

    Very interesting comments about language and accents; we do go off on fascinating tangents here, don’t we? As an odd aside, I’ve been told that I speak French with a Spanish accent.

    Thanks, Koby, for the reminder; you realize that I’ve become totally dependent upon you to provide us with these medieval calendar updates? Today is also the anniversary of the battle of Mortimer’s Cross, a big step on Edward IV’s march to the throne.

  154. Beth Says:

    How odd. I’ve been told that I speak French with an Italian accent! I went to Monte Carlo last year, and since I speak French I used it when I was there, but I got mistaken for an Italian from just over the other side of the border! They were quite surprised when I revealed that I was English.

  155. Koby Says:

    Um, I’m pretty sure my calendar wrote that was yesterday, Sharon. I even posted a comment to that effect yesterday.

  156. Danny Adams Says:

    I’m currently writing an historical novel about Alaric the Goth, and struggling with a disconnect between 4th/5th and 21st centuries in that Alaric is a heroic sort who also happens to be ravaging Greece. In his case, for purposes of the story, he sees it as a necessary evil: materially supporting his people and gathering money for the ultimate goal of a new Gothic homeland after their generations of wandering.

  157. Sharon K Penman Says:

    On this date in 1194, Richard I of England was finally released from his imprisonment by the Holy Roman Emperor, Heinrich. And Koby is right; I had a brief brain glitch and Mortimer’s Cross was fought on February 2nd, not the 3rd.
    You novel sounds very interesting, Danny; most of us know little about that time period–I surely don’t. Based on what I know of medieval attitudes toward warfare, I would imagine that Alaric would have no conscience qualms about how he waged war. Our challenge as novelists is not stay true to the mores of the time without putting off our readers, not always an easy task!

  158. John Phillips Says:

    The more I think about History vs Fiction, the more I have come to realise that it is a false dichotomy at least in the middle. Let me explain. If it is true that there is a deep divide between serious academic texts which are reluctant to speculate where little or no evidence exists, and historical romances where the central figures are invented and the historical figures are based more on the desires of the writer than on evidence, then it is equally evident that in the in the centre between modern popular History and good historical Novels there differences are more in presentation. Both tend to be narrative and firmly based on the generally accepted facts. However the novels such as Sharon’s are rather like a screenplay based on the history. Much of the description is replaced by dialogue, and instead of interpretation as text, it is more revealed by the perspective given to the much more rounded and developed personalities. Both have a real validity. The freedom of the novel allows the writer to build a coherent personality from the facts and bring more of the insights into our dilemmas , foibles, and failures, or at least highlights them more than a History does. e.g Harry Hotspur in Shakespeare tends to come across more vividly than in most histories. Thats as I see it ,what do you think.

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