Today we are pleased to welcome back author Susan Higginbotham whose latest book, The Queen of Last Hopes has recently been released.
But the world has evolved, and so I have I. Now I love researching my novels—and the deeper I delve, the happier I am.
Why is research so fun? Let me count the ways. First, when a novelist uses primary sources in doing research—such as wills and letters—she can “meet” a character in a way that’s not possible just through reading a biography. In researching my newest novel, The Queen of Last Hopes, I came across William de la Pole’s heartbreaking last letter to his little son, Margaret of Anjou’s starkly simple will, and René of Anjou’s lovely romance, The Book of the Love-Smitten Heart. All of these documents played their part in my conception of my characters.
Research also allows a novelist to separate historical myth from historical fact. In researching The Stolen Crown, my last novel, I found that a number of stories about the Woodville family—for instance, that Katherine Woodville was twice the age of her husband Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham—were myths, unsupported by contemporary sources and often created by modern-day admirers of Richard III. Likewise, in researching The Queen of Last Hopes, I realized that stories about Margaret’s vengeance-crazed nature and sexual promiscuity were largely the product of Yorkist propaganda, brought to dramatic life by Shakespeare and mindlessly recycled by modern novelists. True, it’s disheartening to realize how many myths, half-truths, and assumptions unsupported by fact have collected around historical figures—but it’s also exhilarating to sort out the truth for oneself and to present maligned historical figures in a fresh light.
Doing research can also lead to fascinating surprises. For instance, in a notorious letter, Louis XI demanded that Margaret of Anjou’s dogs—the only possessions she owned that he considered to be of any interest to him—be brought to him. Historians writing in English have reported that this letter was written after Margaret’s death, but when I looked up the letter in the French source in which it appears, I learned that it was dated before Margaret’s death. Similarly, in Googling through French sources, I found a description of Margaret’s funeral and a listing of her goods—relics and cloth—that went to the Church after her death. Only one English historian whom I know of mentions the funeral, and only in passing, while none whom I have found mentions the list of goods. The relics in particular confirmed my belief that Margaret was a religious woman, who may have found comfort in her faith in her last years.
And finally, historical research allows me to buy books about my favorite historical subjects and write them off on my income taxes as business expenses. For a reader, that’s heaven.
So what’s not to love about doing historical research?
Susan's latest book The Queen of Last Hopes was released by Sourcebooks in January 2011. To find out more about this book, about Susan, or her previous books, explore Susan's website, read her blog, find her on Facebook and Twitter.
Stay tuned for our next post which is a review of Hugh and Bess, one of Susan's earlier books!