We’re delighted to welcome Zoe Brooks to the blog today. Zoe is the author of Girl in the Glass and Mother of Wolves and is here to share a great guest post.
A Historical Perspective – Zoe Brooks
Where do stories come from? I’m sure every author will have a different answer. My stories come from the past. I am a historian by training (I studied it at Oxford University) and by inclination. I was lucky to grow up in the small Cotswold town of Winchcombe, a town which had its heyday in the Middle Ages. It was a place that grew rich on the back of a story – the legend of the murder of the local Anglo-Saxon prince by his wicked sister and her comeuppance. So I learned as a child how history and fiction feed off each other.
My latest book was triggered by a visit to a Czech castle a few years ago. The tour guide was boring even the Czechs in the party, I speak very little Czech and so found myself dawdling at the back of the group examining the pictures on the wall. Three in particular caught my eye, they were folk art paintings and strange objects to find in a castle. The subject matter was disturbing. In one a woman sits with a baby at her breast, while in the background a man is hanging from a gallows. Looking closer I could see that blood was pouring from where the woman’s ear had been. I realised that this was a portrayal of the persecution of the gypsies, which was widespread across Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries. I went home and did more research. The more I read, the more inspiration I found. The result is Mother of Wolves which draws not only on the history of the gypsies but also on famous women leaders (such as Boudica, Elizabeth I and Joan of Arc) on whom my central character is based.
I think I should at this point make it clear that I do not write historical fiction. Academic training can be a problem. I doubt I will ever feel confident that I have done enough research to write a work of historical fiction. Instead I write magic realism/historical fantasy. Despite this I still do a lot of historical research for my books, and then I have fun weaving what I have found into a story. In fantasy writing world creation is an important skill, the study of history supplies me with countless worlds. I pick elements from different places and different times to create new, but realistic worlds. Because the settings I create have a foothold in reality, a number of my readers have commented about how they feel they know the cities and countries in my stories. History also supplies me with themes, for example my current work in progress Love of Shadows (a follow up to my first book Girl in the Glass) is inspired by the suppression and persecution of women healers.
I will always be grateful to my creative English teacher who advised me to study history and not English at university. She understood where my stories come from.
There are lots of historical sources for writers on the internet. I recommend Medievalists.net which gives you access to a constant stream of academic articles, plus the opportunity to search its archives. The same people are behind History of the Ancient World Both websites have excellent Facebook pages.