Sunday, January 16, 2022

What We're Writing: Jenn Plunders History

I am a plunderer of history. Sorry. Not sorry.

I say this because most of my settings are fictional or a mashup of fact and fiction as I don't want those pesky facts to get in the way of my story. This is one of the many reasons I admire historical novelists (looking at you, Rhys) who just intuitively know how to weave historical facts into their work, making you feel as if you're right there in that moment in time. 

As I sit at my desk in my office, looking at the clownish lovebirds on the birdfeeder outside my window... pause to admire birdies...


...I am debating how to use Arundel Castle in West Sussex as a setting for my mystery solving hat shop duo without actually using the castle itself -- just its history or the bits I want, thank you very much. After much internal debate, I decided to create an adjacent castle, called Waverly Castle but I stuck it in East Sussex and there you go. The original Arundel Castle was founded by the Earl of Arundel, Roger de Montgomery, during the reign of Edward the Confessor so I had Waverly Castle established around the1060's as well, specifically, 1060-ish. I really like to use the "ish" factor in my novels which, again, keeps the annoying details at bay. 

Since I can't book a trip to England and tour Arundel myself for inspiration right now (thanks, pandemic), I have to stick to studying other people's travelogues. If you're a a castle lover, this one is fabulous: https://handluggageonly.co.uk/2018/05/21/the-magnificent-arundel-castle-in-west-sussex-england/


Arundel Castle

I've enjoyed reading up on the history of castles in England -- there are said to be over 4,000. Fascinating and another factoid to work into the manuscript -- yes, of course, I did. 

Here's a snippet of Fatal Fascinator, from its infancy of a first draft -- which feels much like plowing a rocky field in the pouring rain with a horse with an attitude.

Back story: My sleuths are attending a wedding at the castle, that is, until the groom is found murdered. Don't worry. We don't like him. But here my American heroine, Scarlett Parker, learns a little bit about Waverly Castle. I find I like to throw information into dialogue because it's less boring (to me) that way.  

     “Did you know that Waverly Castle was built during the time of Edward the Confessor?” I asked Viv as I re-entered the sitting room.

     “It was established then,” Viv said. “But was nothing like the building we're in now. It was a motte and bailey castle to start with.”

     I thought about pretending to know what she was talking about and just look it up later, but I knew Viv wouldn’t judge me for not knowing the intricacies of castles since, as I mentioned to Harry, we don’t really have that many of them in America. McMansions, sure, but castles not so much.

     “Explain,” I said. 

     “A motte is a raised piece of earth where a wooden keep is built,” Andre said. He entered the sitting room from the opposite bedroom. He had his camera in his hand and was fussing with a lens. “And a bailey is an enclosed courtyard that sits at the base of the motte, also constructed out of wood.”

     I thought about the hill where Harry and I had found the door and realized it must have been the original motte. I wondered if the secret tunnel had been built then, too. “Not exactly a fortress then,” I said.  

     “No, thus making for a lot of raiding and pillaging,” Viv said. “Small wonder our ancestors were always at war. It can’t have been that hard to knock over a wooden fence.”


Arundel Castle - originally a motte and bailey castle

The scene goes on and I weave in more historical facts while twisting the setting to suit my purposes, naturally. I will say this, I am DEFINITELY going to visit Arundel Castle one day, you know, if we're ever allowed to do anything ever again. Sorry, I have the Covid grumpies.


So, how about it Reds and Readers, do you mind if an author plunders history for their own purposes? What line should they not cross? 

62 comments:

  1. Covid Grumpies are definitely a thing, and I believe we all have them to one degree or another . . . .

    As for the history plundering . . . as long as it’s not too outrageous, I think authors should go for it. The only line not to cross is to change so much that the scene pulls the reader out of the telling of the tale because it’s too out of line with the actual facts . . . .

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    1. It's a fine line, for sure. I"m much more leery of using actual people from history - wouldn't want to misrepresent.

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  2. I'm fine with it as long as the author doesn't go so overboard that the facts are just completely wrong regarding the place or event. Creating an "inspired-by" locale is a great way to handle it, Jenn. An author that I think does this really well is Steve Berry. He will always tell you in his notes that "This, this and this are real places or historical events and this detail is imagined for a plot point."
    Jenn, I hope you and the fam are doing well.

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  3. A great way to sneak in factoids, Jenn!

    One thing I'm careful not to do is use the POV of a real historical character. It's fine for my Quaker midwife to pay a call on John Greenleaf Whittier and for me to write his dialog, but I would never put myself into his thoughts directly. Are there authors who do that and pull it off?

    You are not alone in feeling the COVID grumpies. Not at all.

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    1. Probably. I'm like you. I avoid significant historical figures other than as a passing mention.

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  4. You absolutely deserve to be grumpy Jenn, and therefore, I would not consider challenging how you choose to write this:). That aside, you've come up with a perfect solution!

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    1. LOL, thanks, Lucy. This feels like the plague without end...argh.

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  5. JENN: COVID grumpies are totally ok right now.

    As a reader, I don't have a problem with an author plundering ideas/scenes from historical places. Your solution of creating a nearby castle is a great solution.

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  6. Rosey-faced lovebirds! Don'tcha just love 'em? NOT native to Arizona but Africa. Doing just fine, thank you very much, in Phoenix.

    Jenn, that castle is fabulous. And as long as you pick a place most people won't have gone to, making it believable is where to set the bar. I do this all the time, take places I know and transform them into fiction... so I can ignore the one-way streets etc. It's much easier to start with a real place because the wonderful details are out there for the plucking.

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    1. Exactly! Oh, lord, the one way streets in Boston could give you an aneurysm in the details. LOL. Yes, these lovebirds are the clowns of wild birdlife out here. I just adore them.

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  7. Jenn, hi, Joan is right, we all have the Covid grumpies to some degree. This variant thingy is just outrageous! I do hope your family is feeling better and that you did not get SICK, even with your positive test.

    Your solution is perfect. I love the way you combine actual places with your fictional ones and divulge historical facts in conversations. It all works. The Hat Shop series is my absolute favorite of all your series, so I am very excited that I will be visiting with Scarlet and friends soon.

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    1. Thank you, Judy. Sadly, I did get laid low. I lost my voice - the fam does not seem overly concerned about that - LOL - but I am feeling incrementally better each day. What a butt kicker.
      Thanks for your kind words about the hat shop series. It is so nice to be back with the Notting Hill squad again :)

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    2. What Judy said! I enjoy your books and sense of humor. And I'm so sorry to hear you've been laid low by this awful plague that never seems to end. Sending all good thoughts and virtual hugs to you and the fam for speedy recovery! xo

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  8. Great scene, interesting discussion. I tweak historical details to "fictionalize" an actual setting. Lovebirds in the wild? Delightful! We had a flock of feral parrots in our Santa Monica neighborhood.

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    1. Tweaking - that's the perfect word. Yes, the lovebirds have been in Phoenix since the 80's - someone's pets who got free. I've have up to 14 of them in my yard on my sunflowers at one time. Delightful little squawkers.

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  9. When reading fiction I just assume the details are fictional, too, unless there is reason not to. Of course it's always a nice surprise to find real information, especially about a place I can visit, or have visited.

    I hear you on the Covid grumpies, since I'm down with it too, as of yesterday. Hope your family is starting to feel better, Jenn.

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    1. Down with Covid? Sending healing vibes south, Karen!

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    2. And down I went, into the Arundel Castle rabbit hole! What a glorious place, especially the gardens. (That tulip maze!) I ended up clicking on a link to the garden's special website, and read this gem of advice, so English:

      "Have a few piles of leaves for hedgehogs to hibernate in."

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    3. Thanks, Flora. Luckily, I have a nurse daughter with Covid patients, and she is giving me very good advice.

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    4. So sorry to hear it, Karen. This variant is taking all prisoners. Honestly, it's too much. Hope you feel better soon.
      And, yes, the tulip maze! How could I not steal that? LOL!

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    5. I'm sorry Karen AND Jenn for the COVID invasions. I hope you both feel better soon!

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    6. So sorry you have Covid, too, Karen! I hope it's a light case and that you feel better quickly!

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    7. Sending loving prayers for speedy and complete recovery to both Karen and Jenn and families. (Irwin lost his voice, too, Jenn. Interestingly, that wasn't the biggest problem.) Feel better soon!

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    8. Thanks, all. I had Covid very early, in March 2020, and I was very sick for months, although never to the point of hospitalization, thank goodness. And have never gotten over two mild and non-life-threatening side effects (skin rash and intermittent cough). This time, though, with three shots under my belt, the symptoms, although the same, are weaker and much less debilitating so far.

      I always wear a mask, even in my own home if we have people here, but I suspect I got this from my nephew's wife, who has it now, too. We were together last week, and didn't mask because they had had recent negative tests. But she must have been exposed right after her last one.

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  10. Trying to shake off the Covid Grumpies this morning. It may be cold, but there's SUNSHINE! Woohoo!

    Jenn, pilfer away! Create an imaginary castle, but get the details right (dates-ish, terminology--as in your dialogue, etc.). But please don't grab a piece of factual history and then don't bother to do the research or get careless with the details; it always shows.

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    1. And I'm not suggesting you've ever been one of those careless authors! Hope you and yours are feeling better XXOO

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    2. No worries. I know exactly what you mean. The librarian in me would never allow it! LOL.

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  11. You have every right to the Covid Grumpies! Hope you are feeling better.

    No worries about plundering history. You've created a fictional setting - all's fair as long as you keep the facts you share accurate to the time - at least that's my opinion. If your Waverly castle had Internet access in the 1060 ishes - ok, that's a bridge too far - but if the castle and the keep - or bailey and motte are borrowed and massaged - no worries!

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    1. I couldn't have said it better, so I won't even try!

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    2. Thank you, Kait. Nice to have my imagination supported!

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  12. Jenn, will you tell the readers at some point, maybe in an afterword, that your castle is not real? Otherwise, some readers, like me for instance, will go looking for the castle you described so beautifully. You made it come alive and we will want to look for pictures, etc.

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    1. I will mention in the acknowledgments that it's based on Arundel - because I think everyone should visit that castle. LOL.

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    2. Maybe we'll put that on the "JRW Grand Tour" when we all visit England together!

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  13. How are you feeling Jenn? You are entitled.
    I don't mind new imaginary castles as long I eventually know, like Judi, it's a new castle, created in your imagination for our reading pleasure.

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    1. Thanks, Deana. I do think a footnote is needed. I'm doing all right. Better than I was this time last week at any rate.

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  14. "Don't worry. We don't like him..." Love it. :^)

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  15. Yay, the Hat Shop gang!! I'm so excited to even get a snippet of a new Hat Shop book. They are my faves! And I'm absolutely fine with the mashups, as long as there's an author's note somewhere. Later this morning I will be going down the Arundel rabbit hole! (Might we see a Staffordshire dog in this book, Jenn?) :-)

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    1. I think there has to be a Staffordshire dog in the book! LOL.

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  16. Arundel Castle is impressive, Jenn. And still lived in by the Duke of Norfolk. Maybe you’re wise making up places. I often agonize trying to fit my story to reality!

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    1. Exactly 850 years of the Dukes of Norfolk and I thought...nope!

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  17. The parapets of Arundel Castle look very familiar. I have the feeling that location was used in a movie I've seen in recent years. Any way to know that, Jenn?

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    1. Karen:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arundel_Castle Might help with films listed. So sorry you have the dreaded 'rona yet again. Feel better soon!

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    2. Thanks, Lynn, for the link and for the good wishes!

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    3. It must have been used. It is magnificent, but I haven't seen anything in my research...yet.

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  18. Jenn, I'm with you - I happily make up fake places and stick them near enough to real ones that they pass. Do you really want someone who spent ten years as a docent at Arundel Castle emailing you a critique of how you placed the water closets in the wrong place? No. No, you don't.

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  19. P.S. I am so jealous you have beautiful birds and greenery outside, Jenn. My view from my desk is crusted snow (it's 10F outside) and crows looking for road kill.

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    1. Maybe I need to move there so I can really enjoy hygge and get more writing done. It's been in the 70's here and I am spending way too much time outside - sitting on my butt mostly - but still...

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  20. You can do WHATEVER YOU WANT now and forever. SO there. Ha. It's fiction. But yeah, someone's gonna call you on a "mistake," so make your own darn castle. "Make your own darn castle" might be my new motto.
    Feel better, darling one. xx

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    1. Love the new motto, Hank!

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    2. And my castle will have a massive library with all of the Reds' books, signed, of course!

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  21. Jenn, you may not be a historical fiction writer, but you have me intrigued by the motte and bailey castle. I obviously know nothing about the construction of ancient castles, and you've sent me to Google now.

    I don't mind some history plundering by authors, but I do like to be informed in some "historical notes," like Rhys did in God Rest Ye Royal Gentlemen or some sort of afterword or preface.

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    1. She did that book brilliantly, didn't she? I loved it.

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  22. Sorry to be so late but I evidently offended the internet gods. They kept kicking me off. Plundering history is fun as long as you don't present it as fact.

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    1. Oh, I'd never mostly because I can't retain a fact to save my life.

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  23. If you are making something up like this, I don't mind in the least. What bothers me is if you were using the real castle but changed half the history to suit your purposes.

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    1. Nope. I'm afraid of the Duke of Norfolk yelling "Off with her head!" LOL.

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  24. I read some books where the authors did a ton of research and many more where the writers used fictional towns or castles, etc. I like either as long as they are done well. I love notes telling us what is real or not and what happened to some of the real life people.

    Stay safe and well.

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  25. Wow, this was a pretty cool snippet. It made me want to read the book.

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