Sunday, April 15, 2018

Michelle Styles: Rediscovering People and voices Airbrushed from History

It is very easy to look at history through monochrome lenses but that would be a mistake. The trouble for a historical novelist is how to portray the world as it might have been, not as how generations of Hollywood movie makers have portrayed. For example, London in the 19th century because of its worldwide empire had an ethnically diverse population. In fact British ports have always teemed with travelers, seamen and the like from  around the world but many of them have not made a lasting impression on the historical record.
For the avoidance of doubt, the written historical record has generally been written and published by men. As such they tend to concentrate on the subjects which interest them and sometimes for self-serving reasons discount or ignore the contributions made by women and ethnic minorities.
For example, take the pinnacle of Regency society – Almacks. It was controlled by the Lady Patronesses. When I last checked, there were no definitive biographies of any of them, despite their huge contributions to the Regency period. Lady Jersey ran Child’s Bank and was one of the highest paid bankers in her day. She literally had a license to print money. She also had the access to the financial information of those who wished to attend. The other Lady Patronesses were similarly well-connected in other areas such as foreign diplomatic circles. Does that sound like  fluffy-headed women who needed to rely on Beau Brummell, a man more famous for being famous than anything, for advice on if someone was suitable or not as his biographer (a well-known chancer himself) claimed? Yet the legend persists and the Lady Patronesses’ lives remain largely  unexplored.
Going further back to the time period I am currently writing in.  nearly all of the primary source documents were written by monks. They tend to have a certain misogynistic bias. But sometimes, you can find out wonderful things about people who have been airbrushed from history. 
On Friday, I happened across a blog which gave details about a Viking raid on Morocco and how the Vikings returned with a large quantity of slaves who were known as the Black men. Even more intriguing the blog highlighted the discovery of 3 Sub-Sahara African women’s graves in England (East Anglia) dating from the late Saxon period. There was no information about their status, but I feel that given that they were properly buried and not just thrown into some pit, they were more than likely high status. What they were doing there, I have no idea and someone needs to write their story (or stories!)  but they were airbrushed from history. Most  historians of the period do not mention the first grave which was discovered in the late 1980’s. The other two graves were discovered in 2013.  
What it means is that the Viking period, indeed the entire Medieval period, is open to multi-cultural storylines as there is hard physical proof that  people from varied ethnic backgrounds live in Britain and it is not some politically-correct fantasy to have them appearing in historical romance novels. I find that tremendously exciting. It is also a challenge for a historical romance writer to  somehow convey the different sort of cultures and peoples who were actually there without puling people out of the story. It is the little facts that are true but seem to be opposite of what standard history teaches that can cause the most difficulty for readers.
Michelle Styles writes warm, witty and intimate historical romance for Harlequin Historical in a wide range of times periods from Roman to Victorian but has lately been writing Viking. Her latest The Warrior’s Viking Bride was published in March 2018 featuring a woman Viking warrior (a creature thought to be a fantasy until archaeologists bothered to do DNA testing of bones)  and she is doing the revisions (due on Wednesday) for the next Viking. You can learn more about Michelle and her books at .

1 comment:

dstoutholcomb said...

It's amazing what a little research will unearth and enable you to be more creative in storylines while being true to historical probabilities.