Tuesday 14 June 2016

What Samantha Wilcoxson Learnt when Writing about Historical Figures

Next in the "What you learnt..." series of blog posts comes from historical fiction author, Samantha Wilcoxson. Samantha released the first in her Tudor England trilogy, Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen, in 2015 and this week sees the publication of Faithful Traitor, which continues the story of the Plantagenet remnant in Tudor times with Margaret Pole.

I was lucky enough to meet Samantha and her husband when they were visiting the UK last year and I gave them a whirlwind tour of Bath. It's always a bit of a worry when you meet someone in real life that previously you had only "met" online. But luckily, I needn't have worried, Samantha was as nice as she is talented. So I know you are in safe hands as she takes the reins of my blog today. Enjoy!

Samantha Wilcoxson with me in Bath, UK

What Samantha Wilcoxson Learnt when Writing about Historical Figures

People seem to have two states of mind when it comes to historical fiction. One wonders how we can read and write so many different books about the same people and events. The other loves the idea of bringing the past to life and is in awe of how it is done. I have read historical fiction since I was able to string words together and feel blessed to be able to write it. Along the way, I have learned a few things.

Some things are not as clear as they seem. Those who are not students of history assume that the past is known and easy to define. The truth is a much different animal, varying with the time period and setting one is researching. The Wars of the Roses and the beginning of the Tudor dynasty is a fairly well documented era, however, I was still forced to make some decisions when it came to writing about it. For example, Margaret Pole was born to the heir apparent of England and her birth and death take place on known dates. The same is not true of her children. Dates given for Ursula Pole’s birth vary by years, so I had to choose the one that seemed most likely. Then there is the famous mystery of Margaret’s cousins, the Princes in the Tower. Regardless of what an author does with this historical tidbit, there is going to be a backlash. Which brings me to my next topic . . .

People can be very touchy about their favorite historical figures. These historical unknowns mean that people form widely ranging opinions of people and events. My Elizabeth of York was quite well received for she is not too controversial. However, readers can be touchy about whether or not she was in love with her husband, Henry, or had an affair with her uncle, Richard. Reviewers either love or hate my depiction of Richard III, who may be one of the most divisive historical figures to date! Do you believe he is the romantic prince of Sharon Kay Penman’s Sunne in Splendour or the villain of Shakespeare?

I have also learned that people are rarely saints or sinners, but made up of a complex combination of personality and ambitions. While many people are written as better or worse than they truly were, I try to portray each person as realistically as possible. This seems to have been best demonstrated in my Henry Tudor. He is often characterized as cold and cruel, and one author has even written him as a rapist. I chose to create a Henry who was certain of his fate but not always sure how to carry it out or who he could trust to help him. He was a faithful and loving husband, who may have given his mother too much power over his decisions and household. He was not a glorious soldier, but he was a wise manager of assets. In short, he was a real person made up of flaws and gifts, just like the rest of us.

There are advantages to writing about real people. Not all historical fiction writers choose to write about real people. A story can be just as compelling when it is written about a nameless knight rather than a famous king. At times, I feel that I have taken the easy way out by selecting real people to write about. My outline is already prepared for me in the form of their life’s timeline.

However, I have also learned that there are disadvantages to writing about real people. Besides the preconceived notions and expectations that readers have, I do not have freedom to have these people say and do whatever I would like. As much as I may have enjoyed having Elizabeth of York force her mother-in-law to move from the Queen’s quarters next to her husband’s, it is simply not what she did.

All those writers who wish that Richard had survived Bosworth know exactly what I mean. I cannot place one of my characters somewhere they weren’t, which at times makes it difficult to include historical details without ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing.’ In Faithful Traitor, Margaret gets her news in various ways to suit her situation and the storytelling. Whether it is a secret messenger or a clandestine night ride, she has her ways.

About the Author

Samantha Wilcoxson is an American writer and history enthusiast. Her 2015 novel, Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen, features Elizabeth of York and was selected as an Editors’ Choice by the Historical Novel Society. This novel is followed by the recent release of Faithful Traitor, which carries on the story of the Plantagenet remnant in Tudor times with Margaret Pole. The Tudor England trilogy will be completed with the story of Queen Mary. Samantha has also published two middle grade novels, Over the Deep: A Titanic Adventure and No Such Thing as Perfect. Each of these are available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle format.

Samantha lives on a small lake in Michigan with her husband, three children, two dogs, and two cats. This crew provides plenty of good times and writing inspiration. When she is not reading or writing, Samantha enjoys traveling and learning about new places.

Connect with Samantha:
Blog: http://samanthawilcoxson.blogspot.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/carpe_librum

Buy Samantha Wilcoxson's books:
Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen: (US) http://www.amazon.com/dp/B013J4PX28
(UK) http://www.amazon.co.uk/Plantagenet-Princess-Tudor-Queen-Elizabeth-ebook/dp/B013J4PX28
Faithful Traitor: (US) http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01D04CTX8
(UK) http://www.amazon.co.uk/Faithful-Traitor-Story-Margaret-Pole-ebook/dp/B01D04CTX8


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, Stephanie. :-) It's always interesting to see the challenges other writers have faced.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Thank you so much for inviting me to your blog for book release day, Matthew! And for the amazing tour of Bath! ;-)

    1. You are very welcome! Hope the book is selling like hot cakes!

  3. Fantastic post, thanks to both Samantha for her insights and Matthew for hosting!

  4. I wish I had known you were in Bath. I would have come to say hello :-)

    1. I didn't know you were in that area! I would have loved to meet you too. :-)

  5. I'm in Bath every day and you've never offered to come and say hello to me! :-)

  6. Great post Matthew, I quite enjoyed reading about Samantha's experiences in writing Historical Fiction. It gives me inspiration to seek out authors and obtain their perspectives on genres/topics of interest.