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? 

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