gillpolack (gillpolack) wrote,

Women's History Month: Felicity Pulman

Years ago, at a very bleak period in my life, I went to see a clairvoyant, hoping I suppose for a promise of better times to come. What stuck in my mind was her prediction that I would soon enter 'a path of knowledge that would almost overwhelm me.' I didn't know what she meant at the time, but I do now.

My journey out of the darkness began when I started to write Shalott, a time-slip story that takes five teenagers back to the time of Camelot and the court of King Arthur, where they try to rewrite a legend but instead rewrite their own destinies. My first decision was whether I should be writing about a dux bellorum from the dark ages, or a medieval king and his knights. It soon became clear that Arthur, as a legend, didn't really take off until the middle ages, so I decided to write about a medieval king living in a parallel reality to our world. HUGE learning curve: finding out about life in medieval time as well as coming to grips with the various versions of Arthurian legend. I had so much fun that, when I finished what turned out to be a trilogy, I found it impossible to drag myself away from life in medieval time.

For my next project, I decided to combine my love of crime fiction with history in The Janna Mysteries, a series about a young woman whose mother dies in mysterious circumstances and who then sets out to find her unknown father in order to avenge her mother's death, along the way solving crimes and mysteries (and meeting several gorgeous men!)

My first question was: in what period of history should I set my series? When writing the third novel in my Shalott trilogy, I had one of the characters save Guinevere's child from the devastation of Camlann by bringing the baby into our world. In that novel, the baby comes to the attention of Geoffrey of Monmouth, who was the first to write a coherent account of Arthur's life that was supposedly inspired by a 'secret document'. In Shalott: The Final Journey, it is Guinevere's account of Camelot, which she gives to her child before saying goodbye for ever, that gives Monmouth the information he uses.

The first copy of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain was dedicated to Robert, Earl of Gloucester. I discovered that he was the Empress Matilda's bastard half-brother and (later) commanded her army when she waged war against her cousin, King Stephen, in order to regain the crown that was rightfully hers. My research of that time revealed England in chaos, without law or stable leadership. It was a time of great hardship and rife with treachery. I decided it would make a great background for my new series. But I quickly discovered that it's one thing to write about the quasi-medieval world of King Arthur; it's something else to write about real historic figures set in real historic time.

This was another BIG learning curve, but fortunately Gillian came to my rescue with regards to various aspects of medieval life (and also came up with some wonderful plot possibilities!) And so the clairvoyant's prophesy has come true. My journey into medieval time has been overwhelming indeed. I loved researching the historical background of the civil war between Stephen and the Empress Matilda, and weaving around it the story of Janna. I've also come to respect the empress as a role model: a strong woman who, almost for the first time, changed 'history' to 'herstory' after she was gazumped by her cousin, and who waged war against him to claim her rightful inheritance. While she never succeeded (although she came very close) she did ensure the continuation of the Angevin line, securing Stephen's agreement that he would name her son Henry as his heir.

My character, Janna, also has sympathy for Matilda's cause and, several times in the series, puts her life on the line to further the interests of the empress. Janna, too, shows courage in the face of adversity, in her refusal to lie down and take the bad hand she's been dealt. Instead, she becomes proactive and, like the empress, fights for justice, for retribution, and for what she believes in.

To write this series, I also had my own hurdles and challenges to overcome. For example, I quickly learned that to write about real places is virtually impossible unless you've actually been there. And so, for the first time in my (long) married life, I set off alone, for a month, to walk in the footsteps of my character and tell her story. Terrifying, exhilarating, and entirely necessary. And a demon slayed at the same time: my fear of being alone on my own.

Janna is far more courageous than I shall ever be, but writing about her courage and resourcefulness has, in a way, empowered me in my own life. Hopefully Janna will also motivate and inspire teenagers today. Meantime, reluctantly, I have finally emerged from the middle ages to explore, for a new book, our convict past. History might be 'one damn thing after another,' as various people have claimed, but those 'damn things' are endlessly fascinating and I continue to be 'overwhelmed' by the past.

Felicity Pulman.

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