In which Anne takes a turn

For the month of December–with bonus posts on November 30 and January 1!–I am delighted to welcome a wonderful assortment of guest bloggers to take over the helm. Please enjoy their generous contributions to the blog this month. My own bloggery will resume January 2. I wish you and yours happiness and health this holiday season. Please note: comments are disabled until my return.

 

A passion for one’s subject

“Write what you know” was often advised when I plunged into the murky waters of literary endeavor and found myself floundering about in that terrifying first foray. So I did.

What I “knew” centered on a king who died 528 years ago on a boggy field outside of Leicester, smack in the middle of England. A history nut from adolescence, I came upon a book in my early twenties by English mystery writer Josephine Tey called DAUGHTER OF TIME that repudiated everything I had learned at school about one of our “Bad” kings, Richard III. When I had turned the last page, I became a Ricardian fanatic.

What they didn’t tell me about writing was that, along with your knowledge of a subject, a strong dose of passion would lift your book above the ordinary. I learned this when an editor recognized it in my first effort at a novel, “A Rose for the Crown.” She told me my passion for righting the wrong done to Richard shone through every page.

For more than 40 years I devoured everything I could find about Shakespeare’s crookback protagonist, the much-maligned King Richard. Boy, oh boy, must Richard have flipped over in his grave as Will penned his play. (Now that we have found Richard’s bones under a car park in Leicester and know he was squashed, without even a shroud, into a shallow, makeshift spot under the nave of the one-time Greyfriars church, the poor man couldn’t have done much more than wiggle a toe much less turn over.) For 40 years, I would rave passionately about how erroneously Shakespeare and the other Tudor propagandists had chronicled Richard’s story.

But pontificating (read, boring) at parties didn’t fulfill my manic obsession to tell the world how wrong the history books were. Mercifully, I found I was not alone. There is actually a Richard III Society, begun in the 1920s, to attempt to redress his reputation. Today there are several thousand of us all over the world.

To write that first book, I became a self-styled expert on all things Wars of the Roses. Those of you who may have watched the recent TV adaptation of Philippa Gregory’s “The White Queen” know what a complicated internecine period of English history it was. (For those like me who love dates, it began in 1455 and ended properly in 1486 a year after Richard’s death at Bosworth.) After joining in several Facebook discussions on aspects of the show, it was probably good that I don’t get the Starz channel! Some of the liberties taken with “my” characters left me gobsmacked, groaning and gagging!

Even within the fantasy realms of a TV series, I cannot stem my passion for my subject. Thankfully, Simon & Schsuster allowed me to indulge in it for five books about Richard’s family, but I think I have finally gotten them out of my system! I have exhausted my passion for righting this wrong. I’ve done my bit and if I have won even one person over to Richard’s side, I will feel I was a successful advocate. If I have caused one person to dig deeper into the period out of pure joy of learning, I have done my job as a credible writer of historical fiction.

My passion has borne fruit; the flame has been fanned through five rather lengthy books. But I am not regretting that now it is flickering and will gradually go out, because, wonder of wonders, I have found a new obsession!

True, it means immersing myself in a different country and earlier period of history, but it won’t be long before I can begin again to “write what I know”–and with the all-important passion.

Anne Easter Smith is the author of A ROSE FOR THE CROWN, DAUGHTER OF YORK, THE KING’S GRACE (winner of the 2010 Romantic Times Review Best Historical Biography), QUEEN BY RIGHT and ROYAL MISTRESS, all published by Touchstone Books at Simon & Schuster,. She is a native of England but now lives in Newburyport, MA.