Details are absolutely crucial for the world-building that authors have to do to make their historical novel credible. You have to know how the birds sound, what the food is like, what the wildflowers and trees look like as well as something about the man-made culture that one’s characters are a part of. So when I decided to set my latest novel in Sicily, I knew I had to travel there because I knew absolutely nothing about it.
Before I traveled, I did a lot of research. I read up on the history of Sicily, becoming familiar with the Greek, Arabic, Norman, Spanish and Italian threads of its heritage. I read various historical novels that dealt with Sicily to get a feel for the kind of issues I would have to deal with on my own. But I still couldn’t start my novel. Because Sicily didn’t feel real to me.
The first thing I did to make it more real was to come up with a list of names for my characters. But it wasn’t until I visited Enna that everything came alive. Enna is a small town perched on a crag that is near to the Madonie Mountains. At one end of the town is the Castello di Lombardia with spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. Opposite the castle is a crag known as La Rocca di Cerere or Cere’s rock (Ceres being another name for Demeter, the mother of Persephone who was snatched away by the God of the Underworld). What a great setting for my novel, I mused as I gazed around. The rock would be perfect for one of my characters who is a not-so-good sorceress. And her sisters would all live in the Lombardy Castle, so conveniently close at hand. And so I wandered around snapping photos of the wildlife, the trees, the flowers, the views and writing notes in my sketch book. And that is how my novel finally came to life.
Cecylee is the apple of her mother’s eye. The seventh daughter, she is the only one left unmarried by 1424, the year she turns nine. In her father’s eyes, however, she is merely a valuable pawn in the game of marriage. The Earl of Westmorland plans to marry his youngest daughter to 13-year-old Richard, Duke of York, who is close to the throne. He wants this splendid match to take place so badly, he locks his daughter up.
The event that fuels the narrative is Cecylee’s encounter with Blaybourne, a handsome archer, when she is twenty-six years old. This love affair produces a child (the “One Seed” of Book II), who becomes King Edward IV. But how does a public figure like Cecylee, whose position depends upon the goodwill of her husband, carry off such an affair? The duke could have locked her up, or disposed of this illegitimate son.
But Richard does neither, keeping her firmly by his side as he tries to make his voice heard in the tumultuous years that encompass the end of the Hundred Years War - during which England loses all of her possessions in France - and the opening phase of the Wars of the Roses. He inherits the political mantle of his mentor Duke Humphrey of Gloucester, and become’s the people’s champion. The rambunctious Londoners are unhappy that their country has become mired in misrule due to the ineptitude of a King prone to fits of madness. Nor are they better pleased by the attempts of the King’s French wife to maneuver herself into power, especially as she was responsible for England’s losses in France. But can Richard and Cecylee prevail? Everywhere, their enemies lurk in the shadows.
This book is filled with many voices, not least those of the Londoners, who forged their political destiny by engaging in public debate with the powerful aristocrats of the time. By their courageous acts, these fifteenth-century Londoners set the stage for American Democracy.
About Cynthia Haggard
Born and raised in Surrey, England, CYNTHIA SALLY HAGGARD has lived in the United States for twenty-nine years. She has had four careers: violinist, cognitive scientist, medical writer and novelist. Yes, she is related to H. Rider Haggard, the author of SHE and KING SOLOMONS’S MINES. (H. Rider Haggard was a younger brother of the author’s great-grandfather.) Cynthia Sally Haggard is a member of the Historical Novel Society. You can visit her website at: http://spunstories.com/