Notes & Sketchbook

From my husband's Sketchbook...

Andalucia in May:

The Mesquita at Cordoba

Almodovar Gate in Cordoba

Baeza, Street near Cathedral

Walking on the Ridgeway:

Ridgeway Birds
His notes:
'November 2015 walk. Ridgeway birds that probably shared the Ridgeway with King Alfred and his Saxons. The black-headed Stonechat has a call that sounds like two pebbles being tapped together. We saw him with his mate. The Yellowhammers were flitting about in a flock from bush to bush. Allegedly their song sounds like ‘a little bit of bread and no cheese’ but I’ve never heard it!'

The Petits Plaids house in the Place du Chatel Provins, 2013

Provins City walls, 2013

Medieval tile designs, 2013

Chapel of Thibault, Beaugency, France

Church of St Etienne in Beaugency, France

Gatehouse of the medieval ville bastide
(fortified town) of Larressingle in the Gers in France. 

A little about Her Banished Lord

(Blog post May 13th 2010.)
Characters really can dictate novels. Her Banished Lord is the fifth (and final) medieval romance in the Wessex Weddings series and it is one of those novels I didn’t originally plan on writing! It was sparked by a scene in the previous novel, Runaway Lady, Conquering Lord. When Lady Aude de Crevecoeur walks into the Great Hall at Beaumont Castle, she is mourning her first fiancé. She has been betrothed to another lord with indecent haste - she does not dislike her new fiancé, but it is a political alliance and Aude has not been given the time she needs to complete her mourning.

As soon as Aude walked into that hall, she begged me to tell her story. In Runaway Lady, Conquering Lord, Aude doesn’t have much to say - she is all quiet dignity in that novel. She had her secrets though, and she wouldn't let me rest until I had unearthed them. She also had a bone to pick with me, she wanted her own happy ending. Aude was right, of course. It simply wasn't fair to give her so many fiancés and not find the love she wanted.

One reader has remarked that both the hero and heroine of this novel are Norman French – this was yet another thing I didn’t plan when I set out to write this book, but it felt right. The Wessex Weddings novels take place in England and France shortly after the Norman Conquest. The first novel is set in 1066 and each consecutive novel takes us further on in time, until with this book, Her Banished Lord, we reach 1071. By 1071 the Normans had a firm grip on England. What was left of the Anglo-Saxon nobility was being edged (or pushed) to the side. Thus my Norman heroine is able to come to claim her new lands in England, and see if she can make a life for herself there.

On The Novice Bride

Interview on Unusual Historicals, Carol Townend Returns, 2 March 2008:

The heroine of this novel is a novice at the time of the Norman Conquest. How did you find her character?

Since I spent my schooldays in a convent in the wilds of Yorkshire, I suspect that some of the inspiration may have come from there. One of the main themes of the novel is innocence. This story needed a heroine who had very little experience of men and Cecily, having been sent to St Anne’s convent when very young, is a total innocent. That is her weakness, but also it is the source of her strength, and it is one of the things that attracts the hero to her. Cecily is no cipher. In the convent she finds it a struggle to follow the nuns’ Rule to the letter and she is often doing penance for her sins. Convent life was harsh, but then life was harsh for almost everyone in the eleventh century. What makes St Anne’s particularly hard for Cecily as a novice is that she does not have a true vocation. A life ordered by bells is not for her, and when the chance comes for her to leave the convent she seizes it, even though it means alienating the mother superior. I feel I should add that none of the sisters at my school resembled either Cecily or Mother Aethelflaeda – the characters sprang into my head fully formed when I was developing the novel!

The hero of this novel is Breton, not Norman. Did many Bretons come over with Duke William at the time of the conquest?

Yes, footsoldiers and knights came from all over France to offer Duke William their service before he left for England. (Brittany is the neighbouring duchy to Normandy.) The Breton cavalry was feared throughout Europe, it was famous for its wild charges and startling battle tactics – which sometimes included faking a retreat and then swirling round to bear down on the enemy when they were in disarray. The horsemanship of the Breton knights was second to none, and the hero’s name, Wymark – means ‘worthy of a horse’. Sir Adam was not born to his title, he earned it the hard way, by working his way up through the ranks.

Do you spend much time choosing your characters’ names?

It is a vital part of the research and character development. I love choosing names for my characters, both first and last names. People did not have surnames in the eleventh century as we do today, but they were often given second names to help distinguish them one from another. These last names might be earned as Adam’s was earned, thanks to his skills as a knight. Lady Cecily’s second name Fulford, simply refers to the name of her village, so place names were used too. I guess my own name of Townend must mean that at some time my ancestors must have lived in a house at the end of the town! Sometimes a person’s character might give them a name, such as Eadric the Wild or Alfred the Great. At other times names of occupation might be used, like Eustace the Monk, or Rosamund Miller. Over the centuries, some of our surnames have developed from these names. Proudfoot, Steward, Falco…names are intriguing. Of course the first name is equally important, it must have the right resonance for the character to ‘take’ on the page. As a writer, the novel just doesn’t start to come together properly until the names are right.

On the Cover Blurb it says ‘Wessex Weddings’ is this novel one of a series?

The Novice Bride is a stand-alone novel, but it is the first in a mini-series which looks at the effect of the Norman Conquest on various characters in both England and France. In Anglo-Saxon times Wessex, with the city of Winchester at its centre, was at the heart of England. The action in this novel mainly takes place in and around Winchester. The layout of the centre of Winchester - around the Cathedral - is much the same today as it was in the eleventh century. Of course there have been changes, but a visit to the museum just off the Cathedral Close points up the similarities. There is a scale model of Winchester in 1066 and you can see the street layout, exactly as it would have been in Cecily and Adam’s time. My husband took a picture of the model, which came in most useful when Cecily was running up and down the town, trying to hide from Adam. Here is a picture of another model at the Museum, of later in the eleventh century. You can see the Cathedral in the centre. Again the street layout is much the same, but this second model is useful because it shows the Norman castle that was built soon after the Conquest. (The brownish area at the bottom left.) You won’t be surprised if characters in other Wessex Weddings stories – such as An Honourable Rogue and His Captive Lady - find themselves passing through these streets…


On An Honourable Rogue

Unusual Historicals Guest Blogger Carol Townend, 3 February 2008

What is the novel about?

An Honourable Rogue tells the story of Benedict Silvester and Rozenn Kerber, two friends who have known each other since childhood. It begins in Brittany in France in the summer of 1067 shortly after William of Normandy’s invasion of England. Politically, the duchy of Brittany is in chaos with rival counts jostling for supremacy and allegiances changing like lightning. What if William also attacks neighbouring Brittany? Ben and Rose get drawn into this maelstrom. Ben is a lute-player who carries out secret missions for the Duke of Brittany, one of which involves a journey to turbulent England. Knowing that Rose is ambitious, Ben arranges for her to receive a proposal of marriage from a knight in England and together they set off…

What inspired you to write An Honourable Rogue?

The ideas emerged from a holiday in Brittany. France is full of moated castles; there are towers with marvellous stories attached to them; and gothic cathedrals and tiny churches with magical springs bubbling up beside them. There are deep caverns and dark impenetrable forests and…you get the idea, France is a gift for any storyteller. It is almost impossible to take a step without stumbling over a new story. Here for example is a sketch my husband did of another inspiring place we came across. It is called Elven Towers and is in Brittany. (Fifteenth century).

The day we visited Quimperlé, one of the key locations in An Honourable Rogue, we were only intending a quick visit. I was certainly not looking for another story as I had just had an idea for one about a Breton knight who comes over to England with Duke William at the time of the Norman Conquest. So we were definitely not on a story hunt that morning. We were staying in a small stone-built cottage nearby and needed some groceries for supper. Simple. The thought of a quick cup of coffee by the river seemed like a good idea…

How do you do your research?

It varies, according to the stage of the novel I am working on. In the case of Ben and Rose’s story, the day we arrived at Quimperlé the characters were at first nowhere to be seen. The geography of the town was what intrigued, it lured me in, almost as though it was letting me know that there was a story here if only I could discover it! On the café side of the river, where we were sipping our coffees, the riverbank was low, but on the other side a great cliff reared up, houses were perched right on the edge. A few yards upstream there was a bridge. The air was filled with church bells and the screech of swifts and the chatter of house-martins. Before we knew it, we found ourselves exploring. There is an Abbey church in Quimperlé with an eleventh century crypt, and in the church there is a plan showing Quimperlé as it was thought to be in 1050. In 1050!

What attracts you to the medieval period?

How does a centipede know which leg to move next? Why do I particularly love bluebells and skylarks? It is a mystery. Of the 12 or so novels I've worked on seriously eight have been set in the 11th and 12th centuries - and they're the ones that have been published. Wherever I go - Winchester, Rochester, Carcasonne, Quimperlé I mentally strip away modern suburbs and factories and visit the medieval world. Life was brutal and short a thousand years ago and maybe that made passion more intense. Today’s world is complex. Home, work, medicine, technology, communication, computing, transport, anything electrical - so much of how it works is beyond any one person's understanding. Our average life expectancy is twice that of medieval people - yet we live in a desperate helter-skelter of a rush. My novels offer readers - and me - imaginary journeys into a simpler world that is closer to nature: where mills grind wheat into flour for bread; where the hands of smiths and saddlers, masons and carpenters made simple tools and equipment and buildings. In that world almost every face was familiar. Most food was locally grown and travel beyond the next hill was exotic. Physical strength in men was at a premium as they battled for power, lands and wealth. Fighting was bloody and face to face. Women could be enslaved, abused, used as pawns - but particularly if well-born, they could also wield power and influence.

How did you find your characters?

Naturally, it is not all about geography, although that was crucial with An Honourable Rogue. Books and libraries are a great resource, as is the internet. When we got back to the UK, I was able to find a document listing the counts of Quimplerlé. It mentioned their connections (and those of the Abbey church) with the Dukes of Brittany. I already knew about Brittany being a maelstrom of political intrigue, and once the ducal connection was discovered, it was a small step to imagine that my hero and heroine would in some way be drawn into it. In the case of An Honourable Rogue you might say that Ben and Rozenn’s characters emerged from a visit to Quimplerlé and some later research done from my desk in London. As mentioned, the hero of An Honourable Rogue is a lute-player. This modern lute is very like Ben’s, except that the pegboard of Ben’s (the bent back part where you tighten the strings) was carved in the shape of a leopard. Animal peg-boards were quite common in medieval times. Ben certainly captured my heart – I hope his music reaches you too!

Medieval lute - drawn by my husband


On His Captive Lady

Guest Post on The Good, the Bad and the Unread
His Captive Lady was not a book I planned to write. I was about to start writing another novel (my current work in progress) when out of the blue the hero of His Captive Lady barged into my mind. Wulf told me in no uncertain terms that his story had to be told next! Wulf is a warrior and at times he is most persistent, this was one of those times. There was no escape for me, just as in the story there was no escape for Lady Erica. These alpha males, it doesn’t seem to matter whether they are living in the eleventh century or the twenty-first, they are pretty determined characters.

And that is one of the things I adore about writing medieval romance. It’s about people, people who are just like us. They have loves and hates and goals and ambitions. There are differences, of course. Eleventh century attitudes to sex were not the same as ours. How could they be? Birth control was practically non-existent, and there were strict ideas about morality and marriage. For a woman to have a child out of wedlock was thought most shocking.

Human beings being what they are - well, human - it did happen! Quite a lot. But it was increasingly frowned upon by the early Norman Church, and the children of unsanctified unions often bore the stigma for the rest of their lives. Illegitimate. Wulf was such a man, born on the wrong side of the blanket, he is set on overcoming his inauspicious background.

His Captive Lady is a stand-alone book, but it is also the third Wessex Wedding, which focuses on the early Anglo-Norman period. It was a turbulent time, with Norman incomers trying to grab as much land as possible, while Anglo-Saxons fought like demons to keep what had been theirs for generations.

All of which goes to explain how, when Seawulf Brader meets Lady Erica, romance is the last thing on his mind…

Here is another snippet about His Captive Lady from the Romance ebooks newsletter:
His Captive Lady opens in the freezing fens of East Anglia. Research is not all about places, objects can inspire too. Below is a picture of a bed taken on a research trip to the Anglo Saxon village that has been recreated at West Stowe. It is built into the corner of a thatched house and is very similar to the type of bed that Lady Erica in His Captive Lady might have slept in. When Erica spent the night at the inn with Wulf guarding her, her box-bed would have been smaller.