Friday, January 13, 2012

How much of you is reflected in your characters?

Do you ever find your personal struggles mirroring those of your characters? This is a first for me as I prepare my next title, The Burning Candle, for a spring debut. I'm one chapter / long weekend away from finishing the story of Isabel de Vermandois, who was the wife of two powerful Anglo-Norman earls in the twelfth century, Robert de Beaumont and William de Warenne.  As I've written her, Isabel is a young woman struggling to find her voice and a sense of her true self against society’s expectations, against the backdrop of King Henry I's scandal-ridden court in EnglandShe's also lucky enough in her journey of self-discovery to find love on her own terms. Writing this book has become cathartic for me in an unexpected way, where many of the frustrations the character experiences seemed very familiar. Still, Isabel and I couldn't be any more different, beyond the almost nine centuries that separate us

Adultery and bastards in
medieval times? Shocking!
First off, her lineage included generations of French kings. She married as her parents dictated to a hero of the Norman Conquest, a man several decades older that her. Robert de Beaumont might have been 16 or 18 when he fought at Hastings in 1066. He and Isabel married by 1096, when she was between the ages of 11 and 15. She later gave birth to least three sons and five daughters. At some point, she might have had her fill of all that dutifulness to her "old man", because she had an affair with a younger William de Warenne that might have produced a daughter named Ada or Gundred. A year after Robert died, Isabel sealed the deal for real with William and had more children. The sons of Robert and William became good friends, except for the Anarchy period when Henry's daughter Matilda and nephew Stephen fought for the crown. Isabel had died by then, but I'm sure she would have proud to know both sets of her kids put aside their fathers' individual resentment and jealousy, the affair and bastard children issues, and focused on what was really important - carving up as much of England for themselves as they could. 

Just as an aside, I wouldn't really mind the living in a castle bit. While I do adore kids, there is nothing on God's green earth that could make me push out THIRTEEN of them like Isabel did. So, all the other stuff in her life, I could do without.

Why does Isabel's perceived struggle appeal so much? In medieval times, there were great consequences for flouting conventions or disobedience, things like disinheritance and excommunication. Even if Isabel did as her parents and society dictated when she married Robert, she obviously chose a life beyond those expectations when she embarked on an affair with William. It's the only example I have of a moment in her life where she did as she pleased, without caring about the consequences. Where did she find the strength or was it always inside her? Read The Burning Candle for my take. 

I can understand some of the sentiment behind Isabel's choice, having known moments where I want to abandon concerns about family and my job and just do only what I want to do, whether that's writing or absolutely nothing at all. Interestingly, the more I've written about Isabel finding her voice, discovering love instead of duty and defining herself as a woman, the more I'm focused on my priorities. In writing about this one person's possible struggles, seems like I'm finding ways of dealing with my own. 


Michelle Gregory said...

amazing how writing can do that.

Lisa Yarde said...

Scary too, Michelle, when life mirrors the conflicts on the page.

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