I did not intend to write The King’s Mistress in first person.
It’s confining. I find it more suitable for short pieces with a twist rather than for novels. A first person narrator is to a greater or lesser degree unreliable. She presents only her side of the story. My students in both creative writing and literature classes were challenged by first person narrative, rushing past the clues regarding to whom the story was addressed, forgetting the limitations of one pair of eyes, all of which is part of the story the author is presenting. So I’ve become quite wary of first person narration.
But every time I sat down to write the first draft, no matter in whose voice I began I wound up in Alice’s “I”. We struggled for months. At last, worn down by Alice (or my subconscious), I considered what I might gain by limiting myself to Alice’s voice. More empathy. A focus on what she was experiencing, which was what I’d set out to explore. Giving her a voice at long last—for centuries she’d been silenced by Walsingham’s venom, which went unquestioned. Even in her time, she was forbidden to respond to parliament, to present her own defense.
So I gave Alice her voice.
I’m intrigued (and amused) by the relief I feel as I work now in third person, in a variety of voices. I have a sense of space. I suppose I did experience Alice’s confined world.
Creativity is one of the most profound mysteries.
This is a special day for me. Although the British version of The King’s Mistress went on sale in the UK last summer, my work on the book was not over. For the US and foreign language editions I was to cut roughly 100 pages.
This is not something I could do by simply crossing out sections. I revised extensively—there are some new scenes, revised scenes, embellished scenes, intensified scenes, truncated scenes, and removed scenes. Two names have been changed.
So this feels like the day I truly release The King’s Mistress into the world.
I’m a little breathless….
My work on Alice Perrers, a woman much reviled since the 14th century, has inspired a fascination with reputations—or, more specifically, why we give them such credence. We limit our understanding of the world when we base our opinions on reputations rather than ferreting out the facts for ourselves.
Alice’s reputation was based on the opinion of a monk, Walsingham, who took little trouble distinguishing between his heavily prejudiced and overblown opinions and and the truth, and a parliament looking for a scapegoat. And although historians and antiquarians admitted their dissatisfaction with the theories they set forth regarding her parentage, no one ever seems to have questioned whether or not Perrers was her maiden name. Even worse, their half-baked theories were accepted by those who came after. Nor did they seem to question the incredible power over the king and his household that Walsingham and the Parliament had ascribed to a female commoner. Could they not see that her reputation was exaggerated? Couldn’t I? I admit, I misused Alice in earlier books.
But we were not alone; all of us do this all the time. We accept others’ opinions about people as fact. Shortcuts are useful. Still, at least in one’s profession….
So I’m hooked on this topic. In October I’ll be delivering a lecture at Stanford University on medieval reputations. I’ll have the great honor of sharing the stage with Gary Alan Fine, who wrote Difficult Reputations: Collective Memories of the Evil, Inept, and Controversial. I’m also exploring other medieval people whose reputations strike me as too simplistic.
Needless to say, I’ll be sharing my immersion in medieval reputations on this blog. And I hope to have some guests sharing their thoughts on the topic as well.
According to the OED (confession—I love the Oxford English Dictionary):
The second definition for reputation is: “The common or general estimate of a person with respect to character or other qualities; the relative estimation or esteem in which a person or thing is held.” This isn’t about anyone’s personal experience of the subject, but a vague consensus. Curiouser and curiouser.
But I really like this one, the first definition of “reputation” in the OED, which is labeled “obsolete; rare”: “Opinion, supposition; also, the opinion or view of one about something.” Aha!
I’m having a think….
Meanwhile, medievalist.net has posted a lovely review of THE KING’S MISTRESS and an interview with me that we recorded during the medieval congress at Western Michigan U here:
As it’s just over a month until my novel The King’s Mistress hits the bookstores in the US, I thought it a propitious time to launch a blog. I’ve been inspired by all the promotional pieces I’ve been preparing for the book launch. I hadn’t expected to so enjoy writing about why I wrote the book and why I write what I do (which is really all about what I love about what I do).
So I’ll continue to do so, here.
Stay tuned. I look forward to engaging with you.