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(c) 2007 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2007 Christiana Lambert

My reading pace has slowed down because I am—still—reading a fictional history book on Richard III called The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman. Just trying to keep up with the labyrinthine political shifts of the time period is tough business—I know because I’ve tried before to understand what went on during the Wars of the Roses. Even though the author is a historian, I feel compelled to keep checking historical sources as I move through the story, especially since the recent discovery of Richard’s remains adds nuance to what the author understood about Richard’s life and death.

I spent a few years working with a local author who was creating a family history based on family documentation as well as legend. He was looking for an editorial advisor to help tie together a project that would have to include a lot of fictionalization from few facts and yet still sound credible. The stories and people needed to be historically sound enough not to distract the reader. That’s no easy task while writing about a focused historical period but it becomes exponentially harder for such a book as his that eventually spanned a millennium.

The author is an amateur historian, so I worked diligently as his fact-checker to make sure that what he did mention came from verifiable sources. However, I also found that certain time periods, such as the Wars of the Roses, are a quagmire of dissension among experts, let alone amateurs such as he and I are. My advice? When in doubt, focus more on the mood of the times than on the precision of what happened—after all, he only had one chapter to write for each relative whom he considered pivotal in the family’s direction.

By studying the cultures of different eras, we learned to understand quite a bit about how much people are shaped by the times in which they live and thus go on to create appropriate scenarios that suited the period during which each relative lived. Imagine being a knight in Westminster Abbey at the coronation of William the Conqueror or what it was like to live when the Black Plague was stalking the people.

As with many families, his family’s heritage can only be proven from the early 1600s. The mystery of how a young indentured servant appeared in colonial Massachusetts will likely not be solved since the early details of his life appear to be lost to history. The author can show that his DNA strongly suggests that he is related to this boy—and to many other descendants from that boy. Additionally, the family does possess certain artifacts that suggest a connection to the family while in the Old World. Using what he knows of family legend as well as of the time period, the author is able to create a reasonable back story for how this boy might have come to arrive in the New World.

The history of his family is part of the history of western civilization and/or at least of the British Isles as well as of the colonization and expansion across the land that would become the United States of America. Thanks to the historical research needed to finish the project, I especially enjoyed helping him to bring this book to publication.

For me, reading historical fiction is a great way to learn about times that possibly don’t even interest me until I am drawn into the story of what it was like to live while that history was happening. Ultimately, all stories start from real life.

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