By Wendy Laharnar (Guest Blogger)

The one subject I
failed at school was History. This proved to be a huge mistake
because now I am obsessed with it. I can’t get enough historical
novels and research to fill that void. Novels by Antonia Fraser and
Sharon Penman, for example, easily transport me to the time periods
they write about. Imagining the people who went before makes me
wonder how future historical novelists will portray us and how our
history will impact on readers in the future.

‘studying’ the French Revolution at school, I wish I’d
discovered Charles Dickens’ A Tale
of Two Cities
set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution, or
Baroness Orczy’s The
Scarlet Pimpernel
(1905) set
during the Reign of Terror following the start of the French
I would have been more able to
understand the animosity of the populous against the nobility and
form sympathies with parties on both sides. Maybe I wouldn’t have
mixed up the National Convention and the National Assembly in the
exam which, in spite of my ‘brilliant’ essay on the wrong one,
earned me 0/20.

Historical novels
and Shakespeare’s plays breathe life into History. There is a
framework of circumstances already in place, but with the fictional
characters and situations the author invents inside a community,
relative to the times, the past is visible and has meaning. These
novels educate and entertain me in a way history texts couldn’t do.

This obsession is
probably why I write Historical Fiction, now. I haven’t tackled the
French Revolution period yet. I prefer to stay in the Middle Ages for
a while because I want to experience this era for myself. I never
could grasp all those dates and battles and why they made homework
assignments such a misery.

Since I can’t
write realistic Romance, and I didn’t have the historical knowledge
needed to be a person born into the medieval scene when I began
writing The Unhewn Stone,
I decided to turn the tables on history. I’d take my modern
Stefan, a disfigured innkeeper’s
son, on a swashbuckling adventure by placing him inside the Wilhelm
Tell Legend (Switzerland, 1307AD) and confine us to a small space in
history, so I thought. Stefan would have ancestors who belonged to
the wrong side, the tyrant’s side, the one Wilhelm Tell killed. As
his main goal, I sent Stefan to prevent that legend from happening
and save his ancestor’s life. That way, together, my hero and I
could discover what life was really like back then, especially for an
outsider, or tourist, in a time where Hospitality was paramount to an
honourable man and peasants needed a Cause.

Researching the
Tell Legend wasn’t difficult. There’s plenty of information about
the hero Tell, and I read Schiller’s famous play. I gathered as
much information as possible, not only from books but also from the
Tell Museum in Bürglen, Switzerland, the birth place of Wilhelm
Tell. While there, surrounded by the magnificent Swiss Alps, with my
husband and granddaughters -- on two separate occasions -- I visited
the relevant places around Lake Luzern, talking to the people, taking
photos and soaking up the scenery for my setting.

The real
research, however, began in earnest when my medieval characters
appeared in my manuscript. There were peasants loyal to Tell, and
yeomen who revered their lord, Stefan’s ‘uncle’. There were the
nobles, Stefan’s ancestors, who distrusted him; some were charmed,
but others considered him a fool. There were monks with strange
attitudes about religion, and the alchemist’s science clashed with
his catholic brother’s spirituality. An innkeeper did his best to
keep the peace with a corrupt soldier and an ancient sibyl mistook
Stefan for the alchemist. Stefan’s encounters challenged his (and
my) concept of friendship, mercy, honour, faith, courage, pride and

If I’d known
how tough the times would be for Stefan, caught in the middle of this
legend, messing everything up with his superior knowledge, I would
have let him join Tell’s Cause instead. But how could I, when my
purpose was to show there’s a thin line between Freedom Fighters
and Terrorists in any age?

Anyway, I had no
choice. I had to turn to the internet and the historical textbooks I
once scorned. I collected information about the medieval people:
their daily lives and attitudes, costumes, weaponry, castles,
monasteries, taverns, forests and herbs, everything, even their
horses. The monastery and town square were different to the ones on
Stefan's side of time. Months of research turned into years.
Medieval science led me to alchemy, the alchemist’s lab and the
idea of changing base metal into gold. I researched the deeper
philosophic layers trying to decide what I believed in. Was there
really any difference between alchemy, religion, science, myth and
magic? The more Stefan discovered about himself and his identity, the
more I learnt about me and I came to the conclusion that Stefan and I
now think pretty much alike.

If I could, I would write a modern day
novel in which my contemporaries lived out their lives and
loves and chased their goals. Then I would be providing a historical
record of the early 21st century for those who come after.
Fortunately, skilled writers are already doing this while I remain
back in time, swamped in books and files of historical research.
While I scan the pages of ‘Medicine in the Middle Ages’ I have to
wonder, did I turn the tables on History or did History turn the
tables on me?

Thank goodness I didn’t fail Maths.

Bio: An Australian, born in the city and
raised in the country, Wendy worked in hospitals as a registered
nurse and later raised beef cattle on her property in the Southern
Highlands, NSW. She graduated from the University of New England with
a BA in English Literature and Classical Literature in translation.

A mother of two, Wendy lives by the sea with her
husband, Teobald, and enjoys long walks on the beach with Spitzli,
their Mini Schnauzer. When she's not writing, Wendy likes reading,
dressmaking and travel. Her trips to Wilhem Tell's birthplace in
Switzerland sparked her interest in the legend.

If you want to know more about Wendy
and her obsession with history, visit her website

You can buy The Unhewn Stone directly
from Muse
It Up Publishing
, from Amazon,
or almost any other online book purveyor!

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Published on June 25, 2012 01:00 • 131 views

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