26 September 2013

Excerpt Thursday:CASTLES, CUSTOMS & KINGS, Volume I - True Tales of English Historical Fiction Authors

This week as a special feature, we're offering insight on Castles, Customs, and Kings: True Tales of English Historical Fiction Authors, which made its debut this month. The work of more than fifty authors are included. NOTE: There is no giveaway of this title scheduled. Here's the blurb:

compilation of essays from the English Historical Fiction Authors blog, this book provides a wealth of historical information from Roman Britain to early twentieth century England. Over fifty different authors share hundreds of real life stories and tantalizing tidbits discovered while doing research for their own historical novels. From Queen Boadicea’s revolt to Tudor ladies-in-waiting, from Regency dining and dress to Victorian crime and technology, immerse yourself in the lore of Great Britain. Read the history behind the fiction and discover the true tales surrounding England’s castles, customs, and kings.

**An Excerpt from Castles, Customs, and Kings: 
True Tales of English Historical Fiction Authors**

By Stephanie Cowell

It began when I was very young; I felt I did not belong in New York City where I was born but somewhere across the sea in that land called England. But what was England to me? Any place for which we long is formed from fragments which mysteriously arrive and become part of us.

My first sense of England was literature, of course: Sara Crewe in A Little Princess and Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden in beautifully illustrated editions. I read them until the words almost wore away. I was Sara coming from her attic to be discovered at last as the little girl everyone had been looking for. I was Mary exploring the deserted rooms of the manor house on the moors. In my early teens it was the poetry (all of Shakespeare) and the great Victorian novels. I told myself, “That is where I belong; that is where I must be.” England had formed in my mind as the place where I could find my true self.

I painted a picture of “this earth, this realm, this England,” as Shakespeare calls it. It was a mixture of lovers running over the moors, a beautiful young queen, London attics, hot milky tea and servants always on hand to make it, and a great mysterious line of kings described as “the Unready” or “the Confessor” and queens who always looked ready to have their portraits painted and who each possessed a far more glamorous wardrobe than that within my schoolgirl closet; tombstones, ancient churches, an orderly way of being and doing things. (I was looking for the orderly; I passed by Henry VIII and his disorderly coterie of marriages. I am glad others felt differently! What would we do without Anne Boleyn?)

And so I saved and saved and finally went to England, and the England I expected was waiting for me. I walked all over London. I visited the Tower on an overcast day when it was not crowded and was properly awed by the tiny rooms and thick walls. Still, the heart of my England was literature not royalty even though I love the stability and ceremony of a monarch, a world in which everyone had their place.

I looked for writers—the new Globe had not been built, but I walked where Shakespeare had walked and found the old streets he had known: Cheapside, Love Lane. I visited Dickens’ House. I found and touched what was left of the London City Walls.

I went to Haworth and walked in the parlor where Charlotte Bronte had walked with her sisters. I climbed about the moors and heard the wind wuthering. I went to Oxford where my great heroes had studied and heard the choirboys sing in the little cathedral as they had done for hundreds of years. I longed for medieval houses, for London fog, for wonderful names of villages. (I shall not forget my first bus ride to Yorkshire and passing the signs for the town of Giggleswick.) I was looking for something that I felt had been waiting for me. I believe it was.

My husband came with me as I visited the places I love. When we stood in the old city, though, he saw the tall financial buildings and I saw the long-gone, half-timbered houses. Upon taking a tour bus, I became increasingly emotional at every sight, and when we finally passed Temple Bar where Fleet Street, City of London, becomes the Strand, Westminster, and where the City of London traditionally erected a barrier to regulate trade into the city (and traditionally the Lord Mayor of London must meet and allow entry to the monarch), I burst into a flood of tears. My husband was patient, comforting, and bewildered; he has often repeated this story to friends of how his wife could cry because someone walked a street in London three hundred years ago.

All of us who write on this blog or read it are English or have longed for England so intensely that we have made it a major part of our creative and emotional lives. Its present and past are rooted in us in a way we cannot fully explain; it calls to each of us in a slightly different way. How has it called you and for what reasons?

“This royal throne of kings, this sceptered isle…
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea…
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.”

Richard II (Shakespeare)

Castles, Customs, and Kings: True Tales of English Historical Fiction Authors - Available Now for Kindle and in paperback! 


Debra Brown said...

Lisa, many thanks for posting this excerpt!

I find Stephanie's essay to be absolutely heartwarming. The publishers had the right idea when they used this article to begin the book!

Again, thanks, and I hope your readers enjoy the excerpt.

Cassandra Grafton said...

Great excerpt and very moving!!

Haley Whitehall said...

What a fun idea for a book! I love unusual historical tidbits. I'll add this to my TBR list.