Stories of Serendipity: Writing Historical Fiction Series Featuring author Essie Fox

Stephanie Renee dos Santos

Welcome to the second installment of “Stories of Serendipity: Writing Historical Fiction,” where each Sunday for eight weeks I share a writer’s experiences of serendipity and synchronicity while writing, researching and publishing historical fiction, and their musings about possible reasons behind such phenomena.


Princess Maria I circa 1753

For starters, here is a personal account while writing my current novel, Cut From the Earth (working title), a story that begins in 1755 Lisbon, Portugal. After writing a scene for my manuscript in a stream-of- consciousness fashion, creating a new character, a princess, naming her Maria (yes, a safe bet as there are many Maria princesses and queens about the Iberian Peninsula) and putting her aboard a ship sailing to the colony of Brazil, unbeknownst to me at the time of writing, I discovered it was a real voyage she did take. I became privy to this truth later when I researched to make sure what I wrote was probable for my story’s time period and a possible fit with the Portuguese royal family in power during this time. What I found was that I had written a plausible scene for the actual Princess Maria I, King José I of Portugal’s eldest daughter, who went on to become the first undisputed Queen Regnant of Portugal, the Algraves, and Brazil. I’d also uncannily given her character attributes she was known to possess, like her love of the natural world and devoted piety, along with her white porcelain-like face.

Now I’d like to introduce author Essie Fox and her wondrous story of serendipity while writing her soon-to-be-released (early December 2013) The Goddess and the Thief

450 Essie Fox for Telegraph b&W“I am currently writing a novel which is set in the mid-Victorian era, and as the story takes place in Windsor, which happens to be where I live, I decided to use my Victorian house as one of the novel’s main settings. In that house lives a fictional woman called Mercy, who is a spiritualist medium, whose mother died many years before in a bedroom that is now closed off, almost as if it is a shrine. Another character, Mercy’s niece, has come to live with her in England, having been born and raised till then with her father in India. Yesterday morning, I was doing a Google search, regarding a mundane neighbourhood issue. But, when I typed in my address, the first thing to appear on the screen was a question from a local History forum in which someone was asking about my house with regard to their historical research about a lady, once considered to be something of a local saint – even being known to Gladstone for establishing a refuge for homeless and unmarried mothers, She was also aided in that work by a group of nuns who also spent a great deal of time doing missionary work in India; who were known as the Sisters of the Raj.

A house in my road

Typical Victorian Windsor Home

But here is where it gets really interesting because, at some point, at the end of her life, that lady was brought to live in my house (I will do more research here, but the house is opposite a church and although not a vicarage, I think that some clergymen lived here, and I also think that woman was the widow of a clergyman). She died in the year of 1860, in one of my very own bedrooms – and also in a bedroom that belongs in my fictional Mercy’s house – in which my fictional Mercy spends much of her time claiming to protect her orphaned niece from the dangers of being homeless, or being an unmarried mother.

And what was the Windsor refuge called? Well, it was The House of Mercy.

In my own ‘House of Mercy’, I have sometimes heard ‘voices’ in one of the bedrooms. I can’t make out what they say. It is like hearing a radio turned down low. But since coming to discover this story – when my novel’s first draft was already written – I no longer seem to hear those sounds.

How to explain such things? Essie book jacketCoincidence? Who knows. I can’t really explain such things as the ‘voices’ – although I do fear people might think me mad! It’s almost as if writing about spiritualist mediums, I became something of a medium myself. Then again, regarding the story of the House of Mercy, well, perhaps I heard something years ago without really noticing or consciously ‘remembering.’ But I don’t think so, because, with the story being so directly related to my own home I’m sure I would have been fascinated…as I am now. And I hope to find some time soon to research much further into the life of the woman who formed her own House of Mercy – who so selflessly worked to help those who were less fortunate.”

For more about Essie’s work visit: & blog

See you back here next Sunday September 15th for author Erika Mailman’s bewitching story of serendipity — not to be missed! Leave a comment and your story of serendipity!

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