In the first instance, I credit my love of history to my mother. When I was growing up, she used to read a lot of historical fiction (and still does), and she especially loved authors like Jean Plaidy, who wrote about the life and times of the European nobility. Plaidy is the reason I spent hours memorizing the dates of the reigns of English Kings and Queens (and yes, I can still remember most of them), and to a certain extent I continue to retain a fascination with the medieval English nobility.
We both read a lot of historical romance, because this was the only historical fiction marketed at women. The infamous “bodice rippers” were fun to read, and although critics have always poured scorn on historical romance, the authors of the genre usually carry out detailed research, and relationships are portrayed against a vivid historical panorama. Longer novels like Kathleen Winsor’s Forever Amber (about 17th English society) and Anya Seton’s Katherine (about Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt) were my favourites.
I was thirteen or fourteen when I read this book, and so began my fascination with military history. I spent many evenings making notecards of the battles of the Wars of the Roses, copying out battle formations, writing up accounts, and studying the complicated family trees of the York and Lancaster lines. Indeed, I won over my husband, Tony, by talking about how the Battle of Towton was fought in a snowstorm – the poor guy didn’t stand a chance!
When I graduated, I continued to consider teaching as a career, but by this time I was writing practically non-stop, and to this day, the urge to bring the people in my head into reality has remained the main reason I haven’t ventured into the teaching profession (although I did teach archaeology to adults for two years). I branched out into reading fantasy fiction, my interest for this genre born from a lifelong love of fantasy and sci-fi created by my father’s insistence that I watch such quality TV shows as Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and Blake’s Seven in my formative years. Strangely, I began to realize how the historical and fantasy genres were often closely related, due no doubt to Tolkien’s influence. Books and their related movies like The Lord of the Rings sometimes discuss military strategy in detail, and I loved Peter Jackson’s portrayal of the attack on Helm’s Deep, for example. Episode 9 of Game of Thrones Season 4, The Watchers on the Wall, is a classic example of military history-meets-fantasy, and the siege by the Wildlings on the Wall was my favourite episode so far.
It was my interest in medieval fortification, in Templar Knights, and in monasticism, that forged the idea for Heartwood, a fantasy based around a group of holy knights who both worship and defend the world’s holy tree. The last third of the book focuses on the siege of the fortified temple, the culmination of years of fascination with medieval castles, weaponry, and sieges, as well as with fantasy.
As a member of the female sex, my main disappointment with the genre is the almost non-presence of women in the majority of military historical books and movies. Obviously, this is a direct reflection of history, and I’m certainly not advocating the interjection of female characters where none would have been present. However, I have to say that it is becoming acceptable to cast people of colour in roles normally reserved for white actors, like Hamlet, because the assumption is that the actor is playing a role—in this sense, maybe in the future could we see female actors playing male historical roles? I’d certainly be up for some swinging of the sword!
It has been nice recently to get more involved with the factual side of things, and writing historical articles has been hugely enjoyable. It’s also brought me in touch with many other historians, and ultimately that’s the great thing, being able to share one’s love of a subject with others.