I’m very pleased to have visiting here Nancy Jardine, a fellow author at The Wild Rose Press. Nancy lives in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, where she taught 11-12year olds for many years but now writes full-time. Aside from her romantic fiction, she has completed the first in a series of YA time travel books and is currently working on a family saga. As you’ll no doubt gather, this has entailed a bit of sleuthing into her family tree. Welcome, Nancy!
I’m delighted to be with you, Andrea, and thank you very much for this opportunity. I’d like to share with your readers how history, and ancestry in particular, can influence plots in contemporary novels.
Hold on! Was that word contemporary? Wouldn’t ferreting out historical details regarding family trees be more appropriate to constructing a historical novel…or a family saga? The answer is a resounding yes, but I’ve found that historical and ancestry research can also be deftly employed in contemporary history mysteries. It can be more versatile than might, at first, be imagined!
My debut romance novel, MONOGAMY TWIST (published Aug 2011), required me to draw up a fictitious family tree, the plot having evolved while I was engaged in ancestry research, and simultaneously re-reading the work of Charles Dickens. MONOGAMY TWIST took shape as my own light-hearted version of a Dickensian bequest, with weird conditions. Luke Salieri is principal beneficiary in the will of a woman he’s never heard of. To inherit the substantial English estate Luke must reside in the property, for one year, with a spouse he doesn’t have. He needs a woman immediately! Rhia Ashton’s the perfect answer: a professional ancestry consultant, she’s unmarried…and gorgeous. Rhia gradually uncovers the mystery name of his benefactor; catalogues the house contents; and helps with the restoration of the old house. How convenient for Luke! Fierce initial desire blossoms into love over the year…though the path takes many twists and turns!
So what spurred that premise for a contemporary novel? In August 2010 I got some startling news-I’ve a cousin, living in Canada, that I’d never known about! My family is in no way unique since war, and emigration, added greatly to estrangement among British families during the 19th and early 20th centuries. On hearing the news I launched in, joined an on-line ancestry program, and now have huge binders of printed details to back up the on-line information. Some of those initial research skills were used to plan MONOGAMY TWIST during late 2010. I enjoyed weaving the twists and turns of that first history mystery so much that I wrote a second contemporary history mystery with a more complicated plot. TOPAZ EYES (currently seeking a publisher) required the creation of a complex family tree-the novel centering on a world-wide search for a fabulous missing jewellery collection. Distant relatives, all unknown to each other before the quest starts are brought together to uncover the jewels. Danger, death and intrigue make the quest a perilous search-yet love blossoms between two of the protagonists (not blood related). Another theme of the novel is the family bonding, and loyalty, that is created along the way.
Ancestry research brings to light such exciting anomalies! Some of what I’ve uncovered is downright sad; some amusing; and lots of it would have been hidden behind locked cupboard doors as late as a generation ago. I believe nowadays, though, with such fantastic internet access that nothing will remain a secret for long (some people might call this an intrusion of privacy). So far in my ancestry researches I’m glad I haven’t found a murderer- that wouldn’t fit my current writing plans-but who knows? If I turn up one of those I might have to get into penning the heaviest suspense genre instead of mysteries!
All those pieces of ‘well that’s amazing’ research have given me fodder for ‘what if’…stories. Have a try yourself and see how quickly you may find plenty of intriguing details to get you started on a family saga, or a historical novel. The handling of real documentation, and accurate historical data, can afford you the freedom to dream and write a fictionalized piece of writing.
How might ancestry research help unlock the imagination of a writer who might be temporarily out of ideas? Getting a multitude of accurate, down and dirty, details from many sources is now much easier: internet access to records fantastic. Back up with general and social historical facts of the era gives plenty of scope for writing fiction.
Sometimes researching records is easy. At others it leads to a frustrating pile of loose ends-with many unexplained connections, and details that don’t seem to fit. My homeland, Scotland, initiated a compulsory recording of births, deaths and marriages in 1855/ revised 1856. Those records include names, and occupations, of mother and father. From an occupation you can worm out details of likeliest workplaces. Perhaps even how the parents met? Coupled with Census data, that can lead you to find out how permanent, or transitory, the work was more than a century ago. For instance, being a hand-loom weaver in north-east Scotland, during the 1840s, could be a precarious occupation. The vagaries caused by supply and demand often resulted in a hasty removal to find new work, and a new place to reside, the whole family uprooted at regular intervals. Finding answers to a scenario like that might lead to a bit of research on the most likely-and plausible-locations to use in a novel. Inaccurate, or anachronistic detail, is not recommended in historical writing-someone is bound to notice!
Scottish marriage certificates, post 1856, I’ve found even more useful. Names; ages and occupations of the marriage couple; and their addresses before marriage, means you can improvise/ invent how, and where, they met. Given names for all four parents-and their occupations-sets home backgrounds. Which church the marriage banns were read from? How important can that be to the novelist? It can avoid inaccurate details depending on the locations involved…and can allow the author flexibility to home in on the church practices of the time. How large a church? How small a meeting hall?
Names, and addresses, for the two witnesses give scope for developing friendships in your novel, perhaps even setting up secondary characters to lead on to a series of novels. Get the research books out and pad out the daily lifestyle, the poverty of the era…or alternatively the richness of the employers. Poor versus rich has a definite place in the historical novel, or saga, it being a huge factor in the lives of the protagonists. Gleaning all those details from one marriage document can be fabulous information to get you started. That history mystery, historical, or whole family saga is laid before you…
For a future novel (already in my queue as a result of an ancestor who emigrated to the New World) I can envisage my need to investigate records available in America, Canada, and perhaps Australia for sibling information. What might I find there that I can use in future novels? I don’t know, yet, but I hope the research will furnish me with lots of ideas. The keen genealogist will not be thwarted by limited records anywhere…they will ferret out other sources!
Before that? I’ve got to get my already started family saga out of the way first!
I wish you all happy sleuthing (aka ancestry research) and happy writing…Slainthe!
Thanks for visiting, Nancy–and thanks for the offer of those gift cards and gift tags depicting Scottish Castles, for one lucky person who leaves a comment. Nancy will make her selection on May 12th and I’ll announce it here.
Luke Salieri thought he’d seen everything. But when he inherits a dilapidated English estate from a woman he’s never heard of—and with quirky conditions besides—it’s a mystery he wants resolved immediately. There must be a woman out there who can meet his needs. But how far will he have to go to persuade her? Lucrative employment for a whole year? The job of researching the old house and its fantastic contents is enticing – but Rhia Ashton can’t see herself living with gorgeous Luke Salieri and not wanting his body as well. Can she live and sleep with him for a whole year and then walk away? Rhia has her own ideas about what will make it worth her while.
MONOGAMY TWIST is available from:
The Wild Rose Press :