Inspiration and Research

Writers are always on the look out for ideas. I find inspiration from many sources: family memories, history of the places I’ve lived in such as the beautiful English Lake District and Cornwall. I pick up ideas from day time TV, snippets in newspapers and magazines, dinner parties, and even ear-wigging the next table in a restaurant, as all writers do. I’ve dipped into the more interesting parts of my own life, such as when we had a smallholding and tried the ‘good life’. And having fully exploited those, moved on to interviewing people for more fascinating stories.

However, with the current historicals I’m writing, there are no people alive to interview as they take place in sixteenth century France. For these I’ve needed to delve into the archives. I’m one of those oddballs who find such research fascinating, and have hundreds of books and magazines, memoirs and documents of all kinds that I squirrel away in case they come in handy one day.

It was finding an old book on my shelf that set me on the quest of writing about Marguerite de Valois in the first place. It was a biography of her called ‘The Queen of Hearts’. I’d bought it second hand years ago in Hay-on-Wye at the book festival. I was looking for an interesting subject and happened to spot it on my shelves so picked it up to read one night on my way to bed.

I discovered Margot, as she was known, was the daughter of Catherine de Medici and was instantly intrigued by the fascinating life she led, the scandal and intrigue that surrounded her, and the dangers she faced. All grist to the mill for a romantic novelist.

It set me on the trail of finding out more about her, about Catherine, and the French court at that time, collecting or downloading many books. I started reading and researching for what turned out to be a trilogy, starting with ‘Hostage Queen’, then ‘Reluctant Queen’, and finally ‘The Queen and the Courtesan’.

Researching Gabrielle (seen left) was equally fascinating.

It was easy to feel overwhelmed at times by all the information I found, so I learned to constantly ask myself if it was relevant to my heroine. It was how her actions affected history that mattered most, I decided. More, perhaps, than how history affected her. But as we all know history is written by the victors, I needed to read widely to gain other viewpoints too, and to decide what was true and what political propaganda.

In this last of the trilogy, the story is that of Henriette d’Entragues, who wasn’t satisfied with simply being the mistress of Henry IV of France, she wanted a crown too. Before agreeing to surrender her maidenhead, which she artfully claimed was still intact, she insisted upon a written promise. Ever weak where women were concerned, Henry agreed that if she provided him with a son, he would make her his queen. His advisers and ministers, not surprisingly, were very much against the idea, as they had an Italian princess, Marie de Medici, in mind, so consequently began their own plotting to seal the match. France was in sore need of the money she could bring to the marriage. Henriette rather unkindly called her the ‘fat banker’.

Henriette was a fascinating character to write as her greed and ambition didn’t make her particularly likeable, so she was in a way an anti-heroine, if there is such a thing. I wanted the reader to disapprove of her, but not so badly that they switched off and closed the book. She also had to be true to her time and yet appeal to the modern reader. Quite a challenge.

Marie de Medici, was not an easy women either, but then she did have a mistress and an ex-wife to deal with. In this kind of historical you can’t just make your characters or the story up, but I found it fascinating searching for details on what these people were like, how they related to each other, and discovering how Henriette set about her quest for a crown.

The Queen and the Courtesan, published 29 June, can be found as a paperback or ebook here:

Most of my back titles are now available as ebooks on Amazon, Kobo, Smashwords etc. Links to them can be found on my website: http://www.fredalightfoot.co.uk

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