My guest today is Mary Findley, author of several historical fiction titles, of note is: Hope and the Knight of the Black Lion.
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Hope and the Knight of the Black Lion
For the “I Want to Write Historical Fiction but I Don’t Want to Research” Writer
I write historical fiction, but I do not like a whole lot of detail in the books I read, nor do I really like to write it. Hope and the Knight of the Black Lion is set in England, originally just sometime vaguely during the Crusades. Actually, I toyed with the idea of the character who returns after an absence going to Turkey under Suleiman the Magnificent. I thought I might be able to tie the story in with the Reformation and even Martin Luther, rather than the Crusades. I spent a year learning about Suleiman and his time, but also discovered how many conflicts an Englishman could have gotten himself involved in and eventually went back to the Crusades. (Fortunately I worked at a state university library at the time.)
I discovered Crusader Songs appropriate to the time period and was able to include them, and they even advanced the plot by showing the changing attitudes of the Crusaders on their sea voyage. I finally found a letter from “Guy, a Knight” describing the battle of Damietta, a port-controlling city in Egypt. Circumstances surrounding this battle included an armada of ships that set out for Alexandria and mistakenly arrived in Damietta after a huge storm. Many ships were also lost in this storm. Since my knight was supposed to disappear in his Holy Land quest, I had found my opportunity. This battle had a specific date, and better yet, a specific historical man, under suspicion of disloyalty to the French crown, who fought there. Providentially I found my time period and my villain, Hugo Brun de March, together. April 2, 1249 was the date of the battle and it took place as part of Louis IX of France’s first Crusade.
This battle is also important to the story because of an orphaned Arab, Sadaquah, who lives in Damietta but is forcibly removed very shortly before the battle, thus saving his life. He is brought to teach Arabic to, and becomes friends with, my main male character, known simply as the Christian Dog to the Arabs. Later Sadaquah refers to this incident that brought them together as both destroying any ties he might have had with his home and says his friend saved his life simply by being where he was when he was.
The names in my story are either local to the part of England where the people live, like Cloyes, or significant in their meaning. Hope’s name has obvious significance to a story of hardship, loss and desperate danger. Hope in Arabic is Raja, and Sadaquah points out that his English comrade said that word many times a day while trying to get back home, hardly understanding fully all the hopes that would and could be realized. Sadaquah refers to the alms Muslims give to the poor, and also means Righteousness. Rasoul, another Arab character in the story, is a messenger of sorts, reuniting friends, providing safety and help, and that is the meaning of his name. Tahira means purity, and the Arab woman in the story learns that God is the judge and restorer of purity.
I had to find an abandoned castle for some of the story to take place. Fortunately, there is Colchester Castle, a well-known and well-documented location. I was able to find industries appropriate to the time period, places of worship, even an oyster festival to help establish Hope’s character at the beginning of the story. Building the setting around Colchester, I was able to create a manor house for my minor nobleman, and learn about how life ran in such a place. I even got to study earlier English government and how common people involved themselves in the affairs of the nobility. One reviewer commented on how much he learned about medieval life, a whole new vocabulary in the clothing and customs of the day. Robin Hood, for example, may not have worn Lincoln Green but Lincoln Grayne, a finely woven linen fabric that could be any color but was often dyed red.
Nobility bedding down in the hallways of a castle and every available fireplace being commandeered to cook meals for a horde of retainers and guests was another “fun fact” I picked up along the way. I made a decision to use modern speech with a somewhat archaic flavor and the insertion of vocabulary important to the occupations, government and activities of the time. Realistically, if I had written in Chaucerian English, few would have understood it. I have a few Arabic words and phrases as well. This story came after more than twenty years of research and reading, checking sources, confirming most of the facts in many different references, online and in libraries, and though it may not be as detailed as some historical fiction, I am comfortable with the idea that it will give the reader at least of taste of a real time and place.
One sidelight is that this book also has an illustrated version. I tried to capture some of the feel of a Medieval manuscript with gilded leaves, jeweled page corners and elaborate designs, though mine are created with shapes and textures from my graphic design program, Photo Impact, and reproduced throughout, instead of painstakingly hand-drawn page by page.