Susan here, with some adventures in research. Many of my books–-historical romance and mainstream historical fiction too—are based on actual historical events, real people and real places interwoven with fiction. I’m grateful to have had some great research luck over the years—deep research, luck, and synchronicity can help bring various elements together to strengthen a story.
My latest release is The Hawk Laird—now available for preorder in a gorgeous new edition from Dragonblade Publishing. It’s the newly revised and updated edition of my award-winning, USAToday-bestselling Laird of the Wind (originally published by Penguin). In revising the book, I made no changes to the story, but it is way less wordy (truly) and has lots more punch. I like this update very much, and I hope you will too.
In 14th century Scotland, a Scottish outlaw and falconer must undo the grim destiny foretold by a beautiful prophetess–while dealing with that stubborn lady and a bratty goshawk . . . James Lindsay was wrongly accused of betraying his friend, William Wallace. Then he discovers that Lady Isobel Seton, a beautiful young prophetess, made a dire prediction that implicated him, and he must act to prevent that. James has a secret to protect, and so does Isobel. The story grows from there …
“A complex, mesmerizing story of betrayal, retribution, and healing . . . a lyrical, compelling love story.” – Library Journal
As I wrote the novel, I didn’t quite know what their secrets might be, but I was sure something would turn up in the research and brainstorming to solve that. Yet as the months of writing went on, I still had not uncovered something intriguing enough to qualify. I needed some research luck, and fast. My husband and I had planned a trip to Scotland, timed in the middle of writing the book, so I had hope of finding that missing piece that had so far eluded me.
One of the places we visited that week was Dunfermline in Fife, where the abbey was once the center of the Scottish Church; King Malcolm Canmore and his Saxon queen, Margaret (I wrote a novel about her after that trip!) built a tower residence there; both are entombed in the abbey. Robert the Bruce is buried there too, and Dunfermline was a hub of royal and religious activity during the time of Bruce and Wallace. Tradition also holds that Wallace hid from the English in the dense forested tracts of Pittencrieff Park below the abbey.
That rainy afternoon, my husband and I were the only visitors, and I was able to chat for a while with both the curator and the historian, who also ran the gift shop. As we toured the abbey ruins, they took us around discussing the history, and were lovely enough to discuss my research and story ideas too, along with the fictional aspects I invented to fit both the history and the fiction.
They showed us a small graveyard beside the Abbey, where a hawthorn tree was just budding that spring. An old tradition claims that William Wallace’s mother is secretly buried under the tree, the historian explained. That I already knew, and thought it might be a good secret for the hero to protect. But then he explained a little-known local legend that claimed Wallace himself was buried beside his mother. Friends of Wallace, tradition claimed, collected the “bits o’ Wallace,” as he described them, the rebel leader’s remains after his death, and placed them in a secret grave—possibly beneath the very thorn tree where we stood.
Whether or not the legend is true, it was the research nugget I needed. This, I knew, would make the story unique and give it a deeper historical and character-driven purpose. This obscure little bit of history added greater depth to the hero and his personal quest, and would enhance Lady Isobel’s role as a prophetess and her purpose as the one who loves and supports James in what he must do. That afternoon was a gift from the research angels that made a true difference to this story.
I had another bit of research luck and a true adventure for that book in the form of a beautiful goshawk. I had intended the forest outlaw hero to be a falconer—not just any falconer, but one with a problem that challenged him. I researched falconry and hawking techniques and read medieval treatises on hawking, but the basic research wasn’t producing quite what I needed. Then a friend introduced me to a hawk expert he knew who lived just a few miles away. What a delight to visit this gentleman and meet his remarkable tiercel goshawk, who was high-strung, beautiful, and not very well behaved. That little goshawk inspired the feisty, temperamental goshawk that challenges all James Lindsay ever knew about hawks, and tests his patience too. To spend an afternoon observing that amazing hawk was truly a gift to me, to my research, and to the book.
The hero and heroine and the story of what is now The Hawk Laird were created within the stream of historical truth, shaped and defined by what happened, as well as by what could have happened, long ago. That’s part of the fun of writing a historical novel—and part of the adventure of researching, writing, and enjoying historical fiction.
Here’s a bit of luck! The Hawk Laird is currently priced at 99 cents for preorder on Amazon!
What do you love most about historical fiction — the history or the fiction? Does it make a difference in the story if the author goes out on a limb to research and comes up with something different — all part of a good juicy fictional experience?