From Fact to Fairytale to Fiction

Queen hereafter_bookmark_cropWhen an author sets out to write a book, often precious little writing gets done at first. With the first surge of creative ideas, I can get a few chapters down, but before the rest of the book can be drafted (let alone finished!) there are ideas to brainstorm, research to do, outlines to scribble, endless pages to fill, a keyboard about to take a beating, and tons of thinking to do. And none of it gets going without an initial idea and concept.

(left: The Word Wenches official Queen Hereafter bookmark, designed by Wench Andrea Pickens/Cara Elliott, and available to download–see the sidebar!)

That’s pretty much the way I went about writing Queen Hereafter: A Novel of Margaret of Scotland. I had lots of historical facts about the medieval queen, and those facts needed to be spun into fiction. Margaret—princess, refugee, queen and later saint—is that rare medieval figure with an actual (factual!) contemporary biography, written by her personal confessor, Bishop Turgot, a man who clearly admired and loved her. This sort of thing can be a gold mine for a historian or a writer. Turgot idealized his beloved friend as well, giving us the basis of our best knowledge of this fascinating medieval queen, and the basis of the mythology that has grown around her.

Yet to write the novel, I had to work forward and backward at the same time—piecing together facts to create fiction, and unraveling the idealized version of Margaret to try to find the real person within. The challenge was to make her a real young woman, rather than just saintly and perfect.

Margaret_malcolm Sometimes, though, the romantic, idealized version is lovely in and of itself, especially when we know the story has a basis in solid historical facts. Aside from her political, social and historical significance, the life of Queen Margaret of Scotland, who married Malcolm Canmore in 1069, proves that true love does indeed exist—and that not all royal marriages were simply convenient.  

Here’s an excerpt from the author’s note in Queen Hereafter – it seems nicer, in a way, to introduce the good Queen Margaret of Scotland with her fairytale, rather than just her facts:

 

“There is perhaps no more beautiful character recorded in history.”

  –W. F. Skene, Celtic Scotland, 1895, on Queen Margaret

Margaret_arrival scotland   A medieval fairytale: a princess, eldest child of an exiled prince and an exotic noblewoman and raised in a pious royal court, sails with her family to the land of her father’s birth and the throne promised there. The father dies within a week of arriving, possibly poisoned, and his widow raises their children alone—two princesses and a small prince who is to inherit the throne. When the aging king dies a decade later, his enemies invade and the royal family must flee. Sailing over raging seas, they are shipwrecked along a northern coast belonging to a barbarian people.

    That king, known to be a brute warrior, offers the fugitives sanctuary; he soon falls in love with the eldest princess, requesting her hand in marriage. Devout, educated, a beautiful young creature of a virtuous and charitable character, the princess intends to become a nun. But for the good of all she is persuaded to marry the warrior king.

  St. Margaret_feeding orphans        Their marriage of near opposites produces eight healthy children—six boys and two girls—and the queen works tirelessly to bring charity, genteel culture and religious reform to her adopted nation, earning the love and trust of the people. The king and queen adore one another: she teaches him to read and turns his plain fortress into a palace; he translates for her when she lectures his foreign priests on theology; she feeds orphans with her own golden spoon and establishes a free ferry for pilgrims; she steals the king’s gold to give it to the poor and releases his ransomed prisoners and he affectionately calls her his little thief. He orders a cover of precious metal and gems made for her favorite old book; he adores her, and she loves him, their children and her faith more than life. Their enduring affection for one another is widely respected and admired.

        Twenty-two years later, the king is killed in battle alongside his eldest son, and the queen dies of heartbreak within days. Their royal dynasty lasts generations; the queen is declared a saint by her descendants; the king is immortalized in literature, and their memory is still revered today.

        Fairytales and romance, indeed—yet this is Margaret and Malcolm’s true story in a nutshell, handed along by generations of historians and supported by medieval documents. Historians know a good deal more about them now, but their romantic story remains a solid foundation beneath both new and accumulating facts. The story of Margaret and Malcolm is a tale of a beauty and her beast, two people who changed the course of Scottish, and medieval, history.

QueenHereafter2 Queen Hereafter will be released in hardcover from Crown/Random House on December 7 – less than six weeks away! I'll be giving away a hardcover copy on this blog in December, and there will also be a big giveaway in December with a chance to win a set of Wench books, including Queen Hereafter — more news about that coming soon!

I hope you'll make a note to look for Queen Hereafter–or as it's known around my house, The Margaret Book. And please check out the new look and new features on my website, where you can read the prologue and first chapter.

~Susan  

55 thoughts on “From Fact to Fairytale to Fiction”

  1. I’ve read it and can say it’s well worth buying for Christmas presents for everyone who enjoys historical fiction or loves Scotland. I’m just in utter awe that anyone can dig so deeply into an ancient character and bring her and the era into such rich life!

    Reply
  2. I’ve read it and can say it’s well worth buying for Christmas presents for everyone who enjoys historical fiction or loves Scotland. I’m just in utter awe that anyone can dig so deeply into an ancient character and bring her and the era into such rich life!

    Reply
  3. I’ve read it and can say it’s well worth buying for Christmas presents for everyone who enjoys historical fiction or loves Scotland. I’m just in utter awe that anyone can dig so deeply into an ancient character and bring her and the era into such rich life!

    Reply
  4. I’ve read it and can say it’s well worth buying for Christmas presents for everyone who enjoys historical fiction or loves Scotland. I’m just in utter awe that anyone can dig so deeply into an ancient character and bring her and the era into such rich life!

    Reply
  5. I’ve read it and can say it’s well worth buying for Christmas presents for everyone who enjoys historical fiction or loves Scotland. I’m just in utter awe that anyone can dig so deeply into an ancient character and bring her and the era into such rich life!

    Reply
  6. Oh this is DEFINITELY going on my Christmas Wish List !! My brothers are smart enough to know that my Amazon wish list is the best place to shop for my gifts!
    What a wonderful romantic story. Bringing history to life is a special gift! Thanks for sharing Margaret’s story with us!

    Reply
  7. Oh this is DEFINITELY going on my Christmas Wish List !! My brothers are smart enough to know that my Amazon wish list is the best place to shop for my gifts!
    What a wonderful romantic story. Bringing history to life is a special gift! Thanks for sharing Margaret’s story with us!

    Reply
  8. Oh this is DEFINITELY going on my Christmas Wish List !! My brothers are smart enough to know that my Amazon wish list is the best place to shop for my gifts!
    What a wonderful romantic story. Bringing history to life is a special gift! Thanks for sharing Margaret’s story with us!

    Reply
  9. Oh this is DEFINITELY going on my Christmas Wish List !! My brothers are smart enough to know that my Amazon wish list is the best place to shop for my gifts!
    What a wonderful romantic story. Bringing history to life is a special gift! Thanks for sharing Margaret’s story with us!

    Reply
  10. Oh this is DEFINITELY going on my Christmas Wish List !! My brothers are smart enough to know that my Amazon wish list is the best place to shop for my gifts!
    What a wonderful romantic story. Bringing history to life is a special gift! Thanks for sharing Margaret’s story with us!

    Reply
  11. Thanks all, hope you enjoy the book when it’s finally out…it will be on the shelves soon! Theo, what a lovely comment, thanks! Pat, your wise advice throughout the writing of the book was invaluable. Louisa, the enthusiasm is much appreciated! Janga, Linda, Kat, Hellion, Anne, I look forward to hearing your comments if/when you get the chance to read the book!
    Susan 🙂

    Reply
  12. Thanks all, hope you enjoy the book when it’s finally out…it will be on the shelves soon! Theo, what a lovely comment, thanks! Pat, your wise advice throughout the writing of the book was invaluable. Louisa, the enthusiasm is much appreciated! Janga, Linda, Kat, Hellion, Anne, I look forward to hearing your comments if/when you get the chance to read the book!
    Susan 🙂

    Reply
  13. Thanks all, hope you enjoy the book when it’s finally out…it will be on the shelves soon! Theo, what a lovely comment, thanks! Pat, your wise advice throughout the writing of the book was invaluable. Louisa, the enthusiasm is much appreciated! Janga, Linda, Kat, Hellion, Anne, I look forward to hearing your comments if/when you get the chance to read the book!
    Susan 🙂

    Reply
  14. Thanks all, hope you enjoy the book when it’s finally out…it will be on the shelves soon! Theo, what a lovely comment, thanks! Pat, your wise advice throughout the writing of the book was invaluable. Louisa, the enthusiasm is much appreciated! Janga, Linda, Kat, Hellion, Anne, I look forward to hearing your comments if/when you get the chance to read the book!
    Susan 🙂

    Reply
  15. Thanks all, hope you enjoy the book when it’s finally out…it will be on the shelves soon! Theo, what a lovely comment, thanks! Pat, your wise advice throughout the writing of the book was invaluable. Louisa, the enthusiasm is much appreciated! Janga, Linda, Kat, Hellion, Anne, I look forward to hearing your comments if/when you get the chance to read the book!
    Susan 🙂

    Reply
  16. Your book sounds like the kind of story that will make you stay up late reading AND sigh at the end wishing there was more to read. I look forward to being tantalized & losing sleep! It has a beautiful cover by the way!

    Reply
  17. Your book sounds like the kind of story that will make you stay up late reading AND sigh at the end wishing there was more to read. I look forward to being tantalized & losing sleep! It has a beautiful cover by the way!

    Reply
  18. Your book sounds like the kind of story that will make you stay up late reading AND sigh at the end wishing there was more to read. I look forward to being tantalized & losing sleep! It has a beautiful cover by the way!

    Reply
  19. Your book sounds like the kind of story that will make you stay up late reading AND sigh at the end wishing there was more to read. I look forward to being tantalized & losing sleep! It has a beautiful cover by the way!

    Reply
  20. Your book sounds like the kind of story that will make you stay up late reading AND sigh at the end wishing there was more to read. I look forward to being tantalized & losing sleep! It has a beautiful cover by the way!

    Reply
  21. Ever since you came out with, and I read, Lady MacBeth, I have looked forward to your novel about Queen Margaret! I really can’t wait to read it.

    Reply
  22. Ever since you came out with, and I read, Lady MacBeth, I have looked forward to your novel about Queen Margaret! I really can’t wait to read it.

    Reply
  23. Ever since you came out with, and I read, Lady MacBeth, I have looked forward to your novel about Queen Margaret! I really can’t wait to read it.

    Reply
  24. Ever since you came out with, and I read, Lady MacBeth, I have looked forward to your novel about Queen Margaret! I really can’t wait to read it.

    Reply
  25. Ever since you came out with, and I read, Lady MacBeth, I have looked forward to your novel about Queen Margaret! I really can’t wait to read it.

    Reply

Leave a Comment