History really IS interesting!
A question struck me whilst on holiday, researching my second novel; why did I choose the genre I write about? There are a couple of good reasons, the first being because I absolutely love thinking about how people used to live and imagining the footsteps that they once took long before I was born or even prior to when generations before me were born.
Secondly, when I was at school I was useless at history. In fact, I seem to remember scoring 32% in a history test so, aged fourteen and faced with my GCSE choices, I couldn’t wait to rid my learning agenda of all things historical. Why? – because in my opinion at the time, it was ‘boooooooorrrrrring’. In hindsight, this should have been the most fascinating and enjoyable subject on the curriculum. I was always interested in ghosts and mysteries and when I think about it now, these things can be intrinsically bound to history. The problem is that when I was at school, history wasn’t taught in an interesting way. It was all about remembering dates and names, with all the emotion and passion that, in my opinion is responsible for carving out history, removed.
History is about people and the rawness of human emotion, passion and survival.
A different culture and social boundaries is really interesting to think about. In some ways we were so very much more repressed centuries ago and yet, in other ways, rules were so much more relaxed – especially for men (dare I say it). To learn about and imagine how people dealt with significant events and challenges that life threw at them is fascinating. What we might find unthinkable and macabre now would have been perfectly acceptable and common practice in the past.
When my daughter is old enough, I plan to recount historical events to her in a way that is interesting and captures the truly human side of history. Getting to the heart of the emotions, ambitions and passions that the sometimes ‘boring’ facade of history is wrapped around is key to what makes it so interesting.
Superstition was rife in the old days because people were often motivated by fear. A natural disaster could evoke finger pointing in a way that we may
not entertain in modern Britain (nor many other parts of the world). Innocent women could be sought out as witches and accused of all manner of things that caused the misfortune of others. Equally, the spread of an epidemic could be deemed as the wrath of God punishing people for their sins. Bloody witch hunts and the rise of the flagellants are just two horrifying examples of how people reacted to crisis and events that were beyond their control or understanding.
It was quite by accident that I realised I had a love for history and I found out due to my interest in the paranormal. Supernatural activity and hauntings can be linked to really interesting pieces of history. I started to wonder about the stories that went before the bereft or malicious ghosts. What were these people like when they lived? What drove them to their fate? What was an ordinary day like for them? How had they lived their lives in the lead up to their (so often tragic or noble) death?
My interest in the way women were treated in the middle ages was the beginning thread to my debut novel, ‘The Wishing House’. The more I researched this, the many more interesting facts I learned and it wasn’t just women who were targeted. Handsome, successful and feared, Prince Rupert of the Rhine was, despite his youth, a War General for King Charles I during the civil war. Imagine, this mysterious, dashing nephew of the King returning to England from exile with a different accent and a very brave, bold and brash battle style that earned him his notoriety. From the very first skirmish on Powick Bridge, the parliamentarians were thrown by his methods, madness and arrogance. A flamboyantly dressed man who fought with his white poodle by his side, he stood out. Despite the fact that the Royalists eventually lost the civil war, Prince Rupert earned his reputation as a feared and revered War General who of course, could only be so successful due to his evident links to witchcraft. I thought this was an excellent angle for the plot of ‘The Wishing House’ and I began my research from there. What developed was a much more involved and elaborate idea. How were the towns and villages he and his cavaliers rode through impacted by the Civil War and his presence? What were their lives like before the turn of the war? How did ordinary people react to it? Was there any truth in the rumours, which were clearly the product of propaganda? Prince Rupert has a brief but important role in the novel but it is centred around witchcraft and superstition.
I feel so very lucky to live in a country with such a rich tapestry of history. There is no shortage of ideas for novels and I always welcome hearing about strange and mysterious historic tales or folklore from people because history really IS interesting.