Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The story behind The Heart Remembers, a guest post by Margaret Redfern

Margaret Redfern, author of the medieval-set novels Flint and The Storyteller's Granddaughter, has a new post today about the writing and research behind The Heart Remembers, last in her trilogy.  Some beautiful photos from her wide-ranging travels are included below. The Heart Remembers is published by Honno on October 15th in paperback (£8.99, 352pp).


The Story Behind The Heart Remembers
Margaret Redfern

My niece is appalled. 'You killed him!' Well yes, I did. Not my choice, you understand, but inevitable and, as I am writing this in September and The Heart Remembers is not published until October, the 'he' must be nameless. That's the problem with writing. The characters take over and dictate events and so ‘his’ death was inevitable.

The Heart Remembers was originally a continuation of Storyteller's Granddaughter but the whole story 'just grew and grew', and so it was decided to split the MS. The third of the 'Flint' stories had taken on a life on its own. In this book, the group is separated but all eventually head for Ypres and Lincolnshire and reunion. The secondary characters had their chance to take centre stage, and the Lincolnshire background in particular became a character in its own right. A chance, as well, for 'East meets West', writers’ licence creating probably the only known instance of hot, piped water in the whole of 1330s Britain. And hot tubs.

Flat land, because this is farming land reclaimed from the Fens.

But first there was the arrival in Venice and subsequent dramatic events. My intention was to revisit this extraordinary city, last seen in 1973, but funds, as they say, did not permit, and a few domestic crises intervened. But – well – what was there for me to see? The catastrophic 14thC fire had destroyed much of ‘my’ Venice. Instead, I made a virtual tour – thank you Google – and read a hoard of books – thank you Lincoln Oxfam and Central Library - identifying the buildings of the 1330s city – and watched the DVD of the beguiling Francesco Da Mosta’s ‘Venice’. A real breakthrough was the on-line discovery of Professor Guido Ruggeiro’s gritty book, Violence in Early Renaissance Venice (UP 1980), tracked down to a real, paper copy by the staff of Lincoln Central Library. The book was a revelation. Venice was not a nice place to be in the 14th century.

Ypres presented similar problems. So much information on WW1 but so little about its medieval past. Chatham Library, Ontario provided the excellent book full of ‘useful stuff’ noted in my last essay for Sarah’s site. The cat-throwing ceremony, however, I discovered via the internet and wondered, at first, if it was a joke. I double checked. Nope. For real.

I couldn’t resist another ‘walk-on’ part, this time Giotto di Bondone, the first great artist of the Renaissance, though he doesn’t make an actual appearance. I was fascinated by his inclusion of Halley’s Comet, painted in place of the Star of Bethlehem, in his Adoration of the Magi in the Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, and also by the brown-curly-haired young man who appears in a number of Giotto’s frescoes. This had to be the young Will.

The horizon.

By this time I was realising that this book was very much about female power. The men are mentally, emotionally and, in one instance, physically vulnerable. Only Twm has a new inner certainty. The women are strong-minded, including the new characters, and those not always in a good way. I honestly didn't set out with ‘female power’ as a theme. The story and the characters created their own truth.

The lore of the 'wise women' – Ellen and Hilda – was learnt from Debbie of Lincoln who I first met at Chambers Farm Wood when she took a group of us round the woodland in spring, showing us the plants and herbs that were collected for medicine and well-being. I have shamelessly drawn on her knowledge. Later in the year we met again to make a useful winter salve, and a compote of blackberries, elderberries and wild apples flavoured with spices and sweetened with honey, and which I still make as a safeguard against winter ailments. As well, she gave us a recipe for fabulous Hawthorn Brandy. Medicinal use, of course. The 800 year old coppiced lime tree exists. And yes, I wept, hugging one of its trunks.

Chambers Farm Wood - moving into the Long Wood. Deep ponds here.

I cannot reveal the site of the deserted medieval village that became Bradwell. I didn't ask permission. It is one of many in Lincolnshire. Equally, the Norman manor that I ‘transplanted’ to the site of the village must remain unnamed though it is easily identified by anyone interested in ancient buildings. Much of 'Lost Lincoln' is still there, if hidden: the foundations of Gilbertine St Catherine's can be seen under glass flooring in what is now the community centre of a much later St Catherine's Church. Keep walking along the High Street and you pass 'Bargate', though it’s a street name only. No sign now of the original gatehouse. The Franciscan friary of Lincoln is gone, the 19thC St Swithin's church on the site of the original buildings, but there is one ancient building remaining between the church and library. One spring afternoon I trailed in behind a group of students whose seminar was to be held in the building. The tutor gave me permission to descend to its vaulted undercroft. Wow!

 The under croft of Bradwell manor.

And there are those Lincolnshire skyscapes, the extraordinary sunsets, dramatic thunderous clouds… late one January day, the sunset was exactly what I wanted for the beginning of Chapter 8 so I drove out to Bloxholme Wood for a closer view.

Bloxholme Wood and that sunset (chapter 8). Squint to miss the telegraph wires.

The wonderfully named Wasp's Nest hamlet alongside the Roma Carr Dyke.
And those skies!

My modest digital camera came in handy yet again, as it did on numerous ‘trottings’ around Lincolnshire. And Wales. The phenomenon of rainbow-lit clouds I really did see one rainy day when travelling along the ‘old road’ over the mountain from Dinas Mawddwy to Bala. And those indeterminate watery-landscapes of the Lincolnshire coast are still there.

Winter sunset along the Witham. It's canalised now - 1330s, spreading over a wide area but still with its stunning view of Lincoln Cathedral seen for miles dead-ahead.

I wanted this last book to come full circle and so in places I have repeated text from Flint and Storyteller’s Granddaughter. I’ve no idea if this will be obvious to the reader.

As always in all three books there is a sub-text of the need for love and tolerance of ‘same but different’. Right now, that need is more crucial and urgent than ever.

Blue skies - I'm the shadow. Better than selfies.

Margaret Redfern
September 2015

1 comment:

  1. Great post, and lovely images! Nothing is so serendipitous for a writer as finding the perfect image—landscape or under croft—for something dreamed up in your own imagination!