Stories of Serendipity Series Featuring authors Julie Rose, Margaret Skea, Rachael Pruitt
Stephanie Renee dos Santos
With this set of stories we conclude our “Stories of Serendipity: Writing Historical Fiction Series”. Thank you to all the authors who’ve shared their tales, and thank you to the readers who’ve stopped by week-after-week reading the stories and left comments. What I hope people can take away from the series is a better understanding that these serendipitous moments are not isolated incidents amongst historical novelists, that they are quite common. And that the stories demonstrate that we live in an intrinsically connected universe. I believe often writers are given and somehow linked to material to transcribe into books and that certain writers are chosen to tell certain tales.
It is my pleasure to introduce author Julie Rose and her magical moments while writing and researching for her novel Oleanna…
“My novel Oleanna is set during the separation of Norway from Sweden in 1905, and was inspired by the lives of my great-grandfather John and his sisters Elisabeth and Oleanna. Most of Elisabeth and Oleanna’s family (including John) left for America in the early 20th century, and I always wondered about what it was like to be left behind; and so, Oleanna was born
It’s a story blessed with many serendipitous moments.
I have always been fascinated by genealogy and family history. No one else in my family, sadly, seemed to have the same interest, and so I had the opportunity to start almost from scratch, which was both daunting and exciting. I was hooked early on and still feed my addiction regularly.
After Oleanna came out in 2012, I was contacted by a reader who lives in the same region as Oleanna had (Sunnfjord). She did a bit of research in the local parish history book, and discovered that Oleanna, the inspiration for my book, the woman who came to me in a waking dream, my great-grandfather’s sister, was well-known in the area as a family historian and genealogy expert.
Immigrants from Norway decorated their traveling cases with their names, and sometimes with rosemaling, the beautiful flower and acanthus leaf design typical of Norwegian folk art. In Oleanna, a pivotal moment in the burgeoning relationship between Anders and Oleanna is the presentation of a case for John.
Recently, I received a note on Facebook, out of the blue, from the wife of one of my mother’s cousins. I’ve had no contact with this part of my family at all; the last link was my grandmother, who died in 1999.
As I was perusing my newly found cousin’s Facebook photos (as you do), I discovered one that took my breath away: a photo of John’s actual traveling trunk. While it didn’t have the rosemaling I’d imagined, it was indeed the most beautiful blue you could imagine, with his name in curling script on the trunk. I had never seen this case in my life, and yet there it was, so much as I’d imagined it when I was writing Oleanna.
My mother visited Elisabeth and Oleanna in 1964, making the trip with her grandfather John. They were close, and corresponded quite a bit before and after the trip.
Months after I’d finished polishing the final draft of Oleanna, I was digging through old photo albums, and ran across a letter I’d never seen before, which he’d sent mom after the death of his beloved wife Ingeborg. The letter was so touching, such a wonderful illumination of his love of nature and kind heart, I had to include it in the Author’s Note of the book.
It turns out that my newly found cousin had purchased a copy of Oleanna, and she shared the book, and the letter, with her father-in-law—John’s son, who is in his 90s. He was able to read this beautiful letter written by his father about his mother, and have a meaningful connection 40 years after John died. What a blessing, what a beautiful piece of serendipity, that I happened to find this letter and include it in my book about his father and his aunts!
How would I explain these serendipities, and so many others? A friend of mine would say genetic memory, and maybe there’s something to that. I like to think that Oleanna had a hand in guiding some of this book, and that the universe directed me over and over to the places where I could make connections and provide closure and healing—for myself, and others.”
And now for author Margaret Skea’s tale of walking the corridors of the past and finding connections to the present as she wrote her novel Turn of the Tide…
“Patrick Maxwell – villainous indeed.
Every good story, particularly an historical one, needs a hero and at least one villain. In my debut novel Turn of the Tide, the story of a fictional family trapped in a real-life clan feud, there was plenty of room for villains.
As in any of Scotland’s clan feuds, neither side was exactly blameless, so how did I choose my villains?
Well as this book is the first in a proposed series which will follow Hugh Montgomerie into Ulster, as an ‘undertaker’ (lovely word meaning those who claimed lands and peopled them with settlers loyal to the King – in this case James VI and I), the Montgomerie family became the ‘goodies’ and their enemies, the Cunninghames, the ‘baddies’.
Enter Patrick Maxwell, a Cunninghame cousin. It is known that he quarreled with Hugh Montgomerie, and that they were prevented from killing each other by the intervention of a mutual acquaintance. But no mention is made of the reason for the quarrel or who intervened. – Perfect!
In my novel Patrick Maxwell is a proud and particularly nasty character, who publicly claims (falsely) carnal knowledge of Hugh Montgomerie’s wife, thus causing the quarrel. My ‘hero’ Munro, becomes the person who intervenes (ultimately with tragic consequences). So far so good.
Unaware that Maxwell’s castle still existed, I set two key scenes there. At final draft stage by chance I came across a reference to Patrick Maxwell and his castle, now looked after by Historic Scotland. Not so good. Heart in mouth I set off to see it for myself. What information would I find on Patrick Maxwell and would I have to rethink some key plot points? Aargh!
This is where serendipity comes in.
My novel Turn of the Tide is set in the years 1586 – 1592. Fortunately for me, Maxwell completely remodeled Newark Castle in the late 1590s and few records remain of the castle it replaced. Important for me on two counts:
1)There is no concrete evidence to disprove my description of the Great Hall, and 2) because of the re-modeling – on a scale considerably above his station – Maxwell became noted for his overweening pride.
But Patrick Maxwell had another claim to fame. Or should I say notoriety: so severely abusing his wife that she sought an injunction from James VI to keep him away from her. Although she did not succeed in gaining the injunction; she was supported in her claim by Maxwell’s own mother, indicating its likely validity. Both his pride and his abusive nature tie in beautifully with his treatment of Elizabeth Montgomerie in my novel.
Intuitive writing? Perhaps, but certainly serendipitous, as this historic character had turned out to be just as unpleasant as I had depicted him, and in similar ways. I now have plenty of scope to develop his character in book 2.”
More about Margaret’s work: http://margaretskea.com/
Closing our series is author Rachael Pruitt’s mystical story of hearing an ancient queen’s voice, cajoling her to write her novel The Dragon’s Harp…
Long before I wrote my Arthurian novel, The Dragon’s Harp, my two- year-old daughter and I discovered a winding coastal path on the southern Oregon Coast. Our small family had just moved from a crowded inner city back East and I had not yet learned to take the stunning natural beauty of the Pacific coastline in stride. As I dawdled, spell-bound, looking over a gentle cliff at the thundering waves and mist that surrounded us, my exuberant daughter toddled ahead, giggling and singing, picking blackberries for us to share. We ran the remainder of the way to our favorite deserted beach, and sat, perched together on a pile of driftwood.
As my daughter wandered off, climbing fog-shrouded rocks in search of her own adventure, I sat, listening to the roar of the waves and the muted eerie cry of the gulls. Suddenly, the mist thickened. Beyond me, a ray of sunlight broke free, shimmering on my little girl. I heard a voice not my own, saying, “Men have called me beautiful. But the gods men worship now have cursed beauty. My name is Gwenhwyfar, born daughter to Cadwallen, Ordovician King of Dinas Emrys in the North. As a young woman, I married Arthur, High King of all the tribes of Albion. I am no stranger to the ways of sovereignty. I know much of pride and stature. Yet I am old now, I see my past and shudder….”
The voice continued. Fortunately, I–like all writers–carried a small notebook and pen! For the next half-hour I transcribed this ringing voice, coming so clearly through the mist and into my heart.
It’s a very good thing I didn’t stop to judge or question what was happening to me. For many years later, when I finally sat down to write my first novel—and begin an entire series of historical fantasy books based on the life of Arthur’s famous queen Gwenhwyfar–it was this voice I transcribed. This mysterious “other-world” voice coming out of the mists of the Pacific Ocean not only formed the basis for my novel, but it introduced me first hand to my main protagonist, the legendary Queen Gwenhwyfar!
There are many instances of synchronicity and serendipitous experience that surround the creation of my first novel—how could it be otherwise when one works with characters such as Merlin, Gwenhwyfar, Arthur, and the ancient Druids and priestesses of Celtic Wales! Yet of all the other magical intuitive surprises I was to encounter, perhaps the most haunting of all goes directly to the heart of my experience that morning on the Oregon Coast.
During a recent conversation I had with the renowned Celtic scholar and mystic Mara Freeman, (founder of the “Avalon Mystery School” and leader of “Celtic Spirit Journey Tours”), I mentioned that I had begun my novel years ago on the southern coast of Oregon, Mara asked where I had lived. I answered and she laughed, saying that she had been very drawn to that same area, so much so that she had almost bought land only twenty miles from where I had sat that morning watching my daughter and listening to the other world voice of a long-ago queen.
We were silent, contemplating this powerful coincidence. I asked, softly, when she had been drawn there, feeling the answer in my bones before Mara said another word.
“The early 80’s,” she said. “1981, I believe.”
If I had ever doubted the power of my own experience on that mysteriously beautiful coast, I now had independent confirmation that the spirit of the ancient Celts had paid us both a visit, calling us both to a place where we could deeply connect with one of the most powerful legends of all time.
Mara with her teaching, I with my writing are both dedicated to honoring the magical heritage of our Celtic forbears—and what a wonderful way to be invited to share the realms of Avalon! I truly am in awe of how such stories begin!”
For more about Rachael’s work: http://www.rachaelpruitt.com
Thank you again for joining us for this two month series, hopefully, it’s been fun, it’s been exciting, and it’s been enlightening!