I studied history at university. It was only when I started the course that I realised I was studying the wrong history. Why didn’t they tell me that Medieval history would be about quarrels over succession and land grabs, the battle of Tenchebrai or the terms of the treaty of Kingston? I’d assumed it would be about the effects of the Black Death, the development of fairs and markets or the decline in feudalism. Which you find most interesting, or boring, depends on personal taste, but it was only when I’d started at university that I fully appreciated I’d been brought up on economic and social history, rather than political history and the doings of Kings. I know Kings had a huge effect on history – you only have to look at Henry VIII’s decision to take us out of Europe – but I feel far more for the little people at the bottom of the social pile – my ancestors – dealing with the traumas of life in a world governed by others.
So when I write historical fiction, that’s why it’s about those little people and not the headline makers recorded in chronicles, braodsheets or newspapers. The fact that I don’t then have to research the exact details of a well-recorded life might be an added bonus, of course.
The central character in my latest book, Long Shadows, is the same one that occupies centre stage in Shadows, namely the house of Llys y Garn, and it offers a setting for me to disappear into the past without involving monarchs and their kin – though one or two do get a mention. The house and the rooks that haunt it have no notion of kings and queens, but they do take note of the lesser folk who live there, and who leave memories of their sins and tragedies enshrined in its stones.
So I have a story, The Good Servant, set in the late Victorian period, focussing on the unloved and unlovely housekeeper, Nelly Skeel, who fixes her lonely affection on the unwanted nephew of the house, another lost soul – but one determined to stay lost. It's a study of Victorian class and dependency as well as the corruption of desperation
Then I have a story, The Witch, set in the reign of Charles II, focussing on Elizabeth, eldest daughter of Devereux Powell a gentleman who has wealth and ambition but no ancestors of note - unless his mad mother is descended from the Devil. The old woman's accusations against her granddaughter lead Elizabeth to wonder whether the Devil, if not God, will answer her prayers. Never bargain with the Devil.
Lastly, I have The Dragon Slayer, the story of Angharad, set in the early years of the 14th century, in a conquered Wales whose sons are obsessed with petty quarrels and rights and whose daughters must choose whether to face the brutal fate of women with the pious resignation demanded by the church, or with defiance.
At least it gave me a chance to squeeze six hundred years of history into one book.