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!

Posted by Stephanie Renee dos Santos


  1. Jude Johnson
    September 8, 2013

    Thank you for a wonderful post. I, too, have observed how synchronicity plays into the creation of historical fiction. Perhaps we are simply more intuitively open to what’s already out there in “the universal soup” when we have ideas later proven to have existed or happened. Whatever it is, keep playing along!

    • Stephanie Renee dos Santos
      September 8, 2013


  2. Shelley Schanfield
    September 8, 2013

    Very interesting instances of synchronicity for both of you. The way Essie heard those voices or whispers reminds me of what the astrophysicist say, that what we see is only maybe 5% of the universe; the rest is dark matter. Who knows what exists right next to each of us, unseen?

    • Stephanie Renee dos Santos
      September 8, 2013

      Yes Shelley…who knows? One must hone one’s senses or somehow open or avail oneself to have a glimmer of a chance to experience the other 95%. Eternal Aum…

  3. Danielle Huffman-Hanni
    September 8, 2013

    Another fascinating article. I really like the idea for this series and have enjoyed both author accounts. So amazing to see how much a writer imagines can line up so perfectly with real life.

    • Stephanie Renee dos Santos
      September 8, 2013

      Danielle- I am pleased you are liking the series and there are six more titillating stories yet to read! See you back here next week…

  4. Alana White
    September 8, 2013

    Another interesting–and chilling!–addition to this lovely series…!

  5. Erika Mailman
    September 9, 2013

    what a great (and unnerving) post! Essie, your new cover is so glorious.

  6. Mark Hughes
    September 16, 2013

    For my 1930’s novel, I decided to devise a small southern town that ends up collapsing due to prejudicial and discriminatory practices – and then discovered a real town that had failed (though for different reasons) – and had been the capital of Alabama at one time. I now have no memory of how I stumbled across this town (Cahaba), but it made for a wonderfully serendipitous piece, as I used the town’s street names, buildings, etc. in the novel.

  7. Beduwen
    September 16, 2013

    Wow, such interesting stories so far! I love the idea of serendipity, as well as a Universal consciousness. Along the same lines, there is a school of thought (Anthroposophy) that proposes that our thoughts are not, in fact, our own….they are “given” to us. We only have to be open to hearing.

  8. Stephanie Sylverne
    September 18, 2013

    Wonderful story!