We’ve all experienced the odd synchronicity that comes with being a writer. We choose a name for a character only to have it show up next time we watch movie credits roll. We use some obscure mannerism in our books and it’s mentioned in the magazine we pick up at the dentist’s office. We create a disaster for our characters and a similar disaster flashes on the news. How these things happens no one knows, but they do, again and again. Understanding this, I should not have been so surprised at what took place after I was asked to write a medieval trilogy.
Genealogy is a hobby I’ve pursued in a casual way since I was a teenager: I asked for full names, birth and death dates from parents, grandparents and great aunts at the time and later begged for copies of family trees compiled by distant cousins. When genealogy software came out, I entered all the information I’d gathered over the years, but could never find time in my writing schedule to search for more. Then my computer crashed not long after I’d agreed to change from writing Victorian-era New Orleans novels to the medieval time period. I lost the genealogy software I’d been using, so had to buy an updated version and then reload my saved data. Part of the upgrade was several months of free access to the improved online database for Ancestry.com.
Oh. Wow. Because I had such detailed records in place already, I was able to tap into literally thousands of family trees. My ancestors connected at once to English and Norman-French lines going back more than 50 generations, to King Alfred the Great, to William the Conqueror and, through him, to Charlemagne and even a Roman emperor. Here was an ancestor who was born in a castle; there was one who had died in a priory, in battle or on crusade. I clicked and clicked, mesmerized by the small trembling leaves on Ancestry’s world version. Good grief, a tie to Wales with a Tudor in the female line! And just look at the famous names from English history, the Spencers, de Montforts, Montagues, Nevilles, de Clares and, especially, the Plantagenets. Was I really descended from Henry Beauclerc, from Henry the II, John Lackland Plantagenet, Henry III and Edward I? Was I truly the 24th great granddaughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine? I mean, these were people I’d been researching for months, the direct ancestors of both the York and Lancaster lines in the trilogy I was writing. How could this be? Why had it appeared now of all times? Was it real or too good to be true?
Some 11,000+ ancestors later, I’m still not sure of the answer. And I really don’t want to investigate too closely. If it’s all a mistake, let me keep the illusion now that I’ve finished the last book of my medieval trilogy set at the time of Henry VII. It tickles me to think that some form of atavistic memory may have been at work as I wrote BY HIS MAJESTY’S GRACE, BY GRACE POSSESSED and SEDUCED BY GRACE, that there’s a reason I saw so clearly in my mind the roads of 15th century England and the great halls of ancient castles.
Writers are like that, you know. We do enjoy our fantasies.