Friday, February 10, 2012

This Day in History -- Catherine Howard

Four hundred seventy years ago today, young Catherine Howard was taken to the Tower of London.  She was no longer queen, as her titles and possessions had been stripped by an Act of Attainder earlier in the month.  She was just a girl, convicted of treason, taken to the Tower to die.  We don't know exactly how old she was, because her birthdate was never recorded.  She was somewhere between seventeen and twenty-two.

The stories say that Catherine was moved from Syon to the Tower by a barge that "shot the waters" that rushed under London Bridge.  When she saw the water gate (now called Traitors' Gate), she began to cry, and had to be hauled from the boat and into her lodgings.

Catherine wasn't the first queen in English history to enter the Tower through Traitors' Gate.  And she wasn't the last.

Before I started writing GILT -- back when this novel was just an idea -- I wandered alone through the Tower to get a sense of it.  To try to see it as it might have looked in 1542.  The Tower is probably as crowded now as it was then -- only these days with people carrying cell phones and long-lens cameras, and speaking languages from all over the planet.  But I don't think it's as forbidding.  Today, the Tower feels like history.  Back then, it must have felt like obliteration.

Traitors' Gate brought this side history home for me.  The sharp points at the bottom of the portcullis.  The slick stairs leading up from the river.  No wonder Catherine cried.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Horrible Histories

Still revising (yes, I will be for a while) and it's making me a little slap-happy.  Luckily, the BBC has just the tonic....

Monday, February 6, 2012

At Heart, I'm Just a Gossip Girl

Today, I'm chin-deep in revisions for Book 2, so I wanted to share a post I did months ago for the YA Muses.  It explains a little of why I do what I do...

History.  You either love it, or you hate it, right?

Who doesn’t remember sitting in 8th grade history of civilization class, listening to the teacher drone on and on about Aristotle or the Renaissance or the Industrial Revolution?  My class never quite reached the 20th Century before the school year ended and suddenly a new batch of high school students was unleashed on the world, knowing nothing of World War I or II, and little more about Western Civ because no one had actually listened or cared.  Not even me.

But today, I can tell you more about Henry VIII and his social reforms and international policies than I can about the current government of my own country.  I can gossip about his family and courtiers as if I watched “The Real Housewives of the Tudor Court” on Bravo every week.

Write what you know.  When I decided to kick-start my writing career, I figured this was pretty good advice.  At the time, I was a preschool teacher, surrounded by picture books.  And I figured what the world needed was some really good, interesting picture books about the Tudors.


I can’t write picture books.  I learned that in about fifteen minutes.  And I view picture book writers with utter respect and deep-seated awe because they can.  So I wrote a middle-grade time-travel adventure.  In the meantime, I attended a workshop on voice at a conference.  We did a writing exercise and shared our work, and at the end of it, Sydney Salter, author of My Big Nose and Other Natural Disasters and Swoon at Your Own Risk approached me and said, “You know, you have a really good YA voice.  Have you ever considered writing it?”  And that’s all it took.

So I write historical fiction for young adults.  I love to imagine these historical figures as real people.  I like to look at the way history has viewed them and ask the big question:  “What if?”  What if Richard III wasn’t really the ambitious megalomaniacal killer Shakespeare portrayed him to be?  What if Catherine Howard wasn’t an ignorant, airheaded bimbo? What if Henry VIII really was just looking for love in all the wrong places?

Because I think most readers of YA novels can understand being misunderstood.

And, ultimately, it gives me a chance to let out some really juicy gossip.  It’s just 450 years old.