(a “guest post” from Kate Emerson, Kaitlyn Dunnett’s “evil twin”)
One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that research is never-ending. Another is that historical “facts” are not set in stone. This was recently brought home to me when I borrowed an obscure biography of a sixteenth-century nobleman via Inter-library Loan. I’d seen it listed in a bibliography in another book and was curious to find out if it contained any additional information on a bit of background I was looking into for my current historical mystery project. And, as always, I was on the lookout for more material for my A Who’s Who of Tudor Women (currently at 1,879 entries)http://www.KateEmersonHistoricals.com/TudorWomenIndex.htm, the collection of mini-biographies I maintain online. David McKeen’s A Memory of Honour: the life of William Brooke, Lord Cobham (1986) delivered all that . . . and more.
Boy, do I wish I’d heard of this book before I wrote my third “Secrets of the Tudor Court” historical novel, By Royal Decree. The heroine of By Royal Decree is Elizabeth Brooke, William Brooke’s sister, a major player in court politics from about 1543 until her death in 1565. The novel covers the years 1542-1558. I did a great deal of research before I started to write, but as far as I know I never came across a reference to McKeen’s book back then. I assumed, as I set up my plot, that I could make up the events during certain periods because there didn’t seem to be any records of what the real people who are characters in the novel were doing.
Hah! It’s a good thing By Royal Decree is a novel and is therefore allowed a certain amount of poetic license. I suppose I didn’t get anything horribly wrong, but now that I’ve read the McKeen book (two volumes, 762 pages), I know I had Bess Brooke’s parents in the wrong place (heck, the wrong country) at least once, may have misinterpreted their reactions to the rumors that she was involved with the married man she later wed, and totally messed up the ages of her sisters and younger brothers because I wrongly assumed that no one knew how old they were.
Firm rule of writing fiction: never assume anything! It’s always the things you don’t bother checking because you’re sure they’re right that get you into trouble. Almost everyone who’s ever written a novel can come up with a example from their own work. Bloopers abound, but if we’re lucky, most readers don’t catch them. After all, it’s a pretty good bet that if I didn’t find this book until years after the fact, not too many other people will, either. In one way that’s a shame, because it’s an interesting read. But in another, all I can say is “whew!”
As for my online opus, the Who’s Who, I made a decision early on that it’s never going to be published as a print book. This way, any time I find more information, I can add it. I can add as many new Tudor women as I like, whenever I like. And if, in hindsight, I discover that I’ve gotten some historical fact wrong, I can correct it.
Kate Emerson and Kaitlyn Dunnett are both pseudonyms used by Kathy Lynn Emerson. Kate writes historical fiction based on the lives of little known Tudor women. The next one to be published under the “Secrets of the Tudor Court” banner will be Royal Inheritance, due in stores and as an ebook on September 24. You can find out more at http://www.KateEmersonHistoricals.com