Since it’s Memorial Day in America, and we have been talking about research and historical fiction all month, I thought writing a tribute about a loved one who has passed away would be appropriate.
The house of my maternal grandparents was one of my favorite places growing up. No matter when we dropped by their home out in the country on an acre of hillside, they were always glad to see me and my sisters. We had pizza suppers on the weekend and watched old Tarzan movies or the Wonderful World of Disney. Grandma canned throughout the summer in the large, cool basement. In the winter, we had many family dinners down there, sitting around a long table, or if we were young enough, at the smaller, children’s table. Grandpa would work puzzles in the basement, and the wood burning stove smelled of comfort.
When they had to move next door to my parents, I thought I would desperately miss the house I knew as a child. But as soon as I stepped through the door of their new home, it felt exactly like their old one. The house wasn’t special. It was my grandparents.
I come from a family of storytellers. One way we get to know people is to swap stories. I am fortunate to have been told stories about my great-great grandparents. Such as I have a great-great grandfather who died in the notorious Civil War prisoner of war camp at Andersonville.
So if you are blessed with older family members with long memories and great stories, interview them. Besides preserving family history, you may find literary inspiration.
What inspiration from family stories have you gained?
Victorian era — Especially Europe, but any location during this time period in which Sherlock Holmes could plausibly appear.
Golden Age of Hollywood — Since I love movies from the 1930’s, ’40’s and ’50’s, I’ve already read a lot about the people working in the Hollywood studio system. A mystery set then would be fun to write.
As a fan of mysteries, I had come across The Daughter of Time by Josephine Teyon lists of the best mysteries ever written. When I finally settled down to read it, I found it to be one of the most engrossing stories I’ve ever had the pleasure to discover. It expertly combines two of my passions: history and mystery.
Written in England in the 1950’s, the novel features Inspector Alan Grant, laid up in the hospital with a broken leg and bored out of his mind. His actress girlfriend knows his fascination with faces and brings him copies of photos and portraits to study. When he find the portrait of Richard III, he can’t reconcile the face with the man’s reputation as the murderer of his tween age nephews. The girlfriend contacts Brent Carradine, young man doing historical research, and he and Grant begin to believe that the story handed down for 500 years about Richard III being a merrily murdering monster is false.
Although the characters and setting are fictitious, the mystery is not. Edward V and his younger brother Richard did disappear sometime after June 1483. Their uncle Richard, who became king when the boys were declared illegitimate, is the most likely culprit. But Henry Tudor, who killed Richard III in battle and took the throne, also had a motive.
Even more involving than this mystery is the one of how people interpret history. In the novel, Grant and Carradine stick to contemporary sources and must examine the motives of the authors. Was he a sympathizer of the York family, the branch of the royal house Richard III belonged to? Or did the author favor the Lancaster side, of which Henry Tudor was a member?
The two characters also discuss how people lie about events to further their own agenda. I found all this analysis of history so inspiring that I want to use the novel in my own murder mystery. My main character use the techniques of research outlined in the book to investigate a 70-year-old mystery in his rural West Virginia county.
If you want to learn more about Richard III and his nephews, click here for the Wikipedia article. Many books have been written about the mystery, and it’s difficult to find ones that are biased. As I stated in one of my earliest blog posts, the authors tend to be either ardent Richard III supporters or detractors. Very much like the people who wrote about Richard in 1483.
What other novels have you read that blend unsolved real-life mysteries with fiction?
I am dedicating my blog this May to historical fiction. With that in mind, today’s prompt is about delving into personal history, in the hopes your nonfiction experience might provide fictional inspiration. What is your earliest memory? I find early memories misleading because I imagine events my parents and grandparents told me about and think they are memories.
One memory I am sure of: I was not quiet four year old when my mom had my sister. I remember my parents coming home from the hospital and laying my new sister on the double bed in the front bedroom of our house. I jumped up on the bed and sat beside her to get a look at her. That’s as far as the memory goes, but I know it’s a true memory.