One issue a historical novelist needs to address is whether the protagonist or the history drives the plot. One example of how this tricky issue can be handled is Light in the Labyrinth by Wendy Dunn. Doctor Dunn has a wealth of knowledge of Tudor history tucked into her head, and her depiction of the last days of Anne Boleyn is stunning, but the story remains very much about Catherine Carey and her acceptance of her step-father's love. As heart-rending as Queen Anne's beheading is portrayed, while the story centers around Anne Boleyn, it is not Anne's story. It is Catherine's. . Dr.Dunn's ability to master the distinction sets her book apart from other novels about the execution of the queen.
Applying my observations as a critic and reviewer to my published works, I have revisited each of them and asked the same question. Even my debut novel The First Marie and the Queen of Scots is not a fictionalized biography of Marie Stuart's life. It is about Marie Flemyng, aka 'Mally,' and her struggle to seize control of her own story. Doing so requires her to resolve her relationship with her cousin the Queen of Scots, without rejecting her entirely or becoming her apologist. To that end, the novel is successful. Does it have a tad too much history for some readers? Yes, indeed. I did away with some of it in the second edition, which reads better than the first.
I am going to do something drastic to my second book, perhaps making it into a trilogy. If it has too much history, it is because the protagonist William Kirkcaldy did too much living to cover in anything but a tome, and tomes are out of style.
The Legacy of the Queen of Scots
The Midwife's Secret: The Mystery of the Hidden Princess:
During the latter half of the sixteenth century, rumors persisted claiming the Queen of Scots gave birth to a live daughter just before she escaped from Loch Leven in 1568. According to the queen's secretary Claud Nau, the child was smuggled to a convent in France. Sometime between 1568 -1573, the Abbess Renee d' Guise, the Queen of Scot's aunt, brought a child named Marguerite d' Kircaldie to Saint Pierre les Dames du Rheims. When visitors came to the Abbey, the child was hidden in the cellars. Most residents in the convent believed she was the child of Sir William Kirkcaldy of Grange, the Scottish knight executed in 1573 for holding Edinburgh Castle in the name of the Queen. But Kirkcaldy's only child, Janet, Lady Ferniehirst, died mysteriously in London in 1570-72. Madame Renee's risks her position as abbess and the pressures of her powerful family to thwart those who either seek to destroy or exploit the sequestered child while the resolute young postulate known as La Belle Ecossaise struggles to pursue her destiny, regardless of her origin.
The Other Daughter: Midwife's Secret II:
There is another Marguerite Kirkcaldy. She is indeed the daughter of the Knight of Grange, born posthumously to a laundress in Edinburgh Castle who is a relative of Mariel Fraser, the midwife in the first of the legacy series. Her family and friends know her as Daisy, the Scottish version of the French name Marguerite. Her mother chose it because Kirkcaldy loved the blue variety of the Daisy popular in France, les Marguerites Daisy is a precocious child who ends up well-placed in the entourage of the Countess of Argyll, who takes the laundress Violet Frasier and her bastard infant under her wing. In her adolescence, she hears the tales of the other Marguerite and her curiosity is aroused. Ambitious and adventurous, Kirkcaldy's daughter grows into a young woman who defies convention and makes a name for herself as her step-father Will Cockie's apprentice in the jeweler's trade. On a person note, she struggles between her infatuation with reiver warlord Sir Andrew Ker of Ferniehirst, who happens to be her nephew, and the king's browdinstair Will Hepburn, the bastard son of James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, to Norwegian heiress Anna Tronds.
The two men in Daisy's life have more in common than their pursuit of Daisy. When Andrew was a child, he was taught to think of the wee lass his mother escorted to France in 1572 was a member of his family, the Knight Kirkcaldy's child. But Will Hepburn is convinced the nun La Belle Ecossaise is the fabled daughter of his father James Hepburn and the Queen of Scots. Unfortunately, there are others in Scotland who have heard the rumors of the birth at Loch Leven. One is King James VI, and another is Will Hepburn's first cousin, the present Earl of Bothwell, Wild Frank Stewart, who plans to locate the king's half sister and use her as a pawn, no matter what price La Belle Ecossaiseis forced to pay.
1603: The Queen's Revenge
Elizabeth Tudor is dying, and the King of Scots is tapped to inherit her throne. But Francis Stewart, the Earl of Bothwell, once the king's favorite and a darling of the Protestant Kirk, has become the champion of the Catholic earls of the Scottish North. He brokers a wild plot to the King of Spain and the Pope, seeking support for a plan to capture the nun Marguerite d'Kircaldie and carry her off to Scotland in an evasion force he and the Duke of Alva will command.
But he has not counted on the return from the dead of Will Hepburn of Hailes, who is believed to have been lost at sea, or the ingenuity of his cousin Will's guidwife Daisy Kirkcaldy, Edinburgh's notorious wad wife. In an adventure culminating in the Spanish Netherlands, exiled James Maitland, Madame Renee and La Belle Ecossaise's beloved champion Charles de Guise, Duke of Mayenne, join the little band of Scots to save the Stuart monarchy and protect La Belle Ecossaise from becoming a pawn in a struggle likely to destroy her life.
In The Shadow of the Gallows:
Join Will and Daisy, the Kers and Trotters, and James Maitland of Lethington as they balance their determination to rescue six-year-old Peter Hepburn against their commitment to the King and Queen of Scotland and England and their children. All of my books except In the Shadow of the Gallows are available on Amazon and as Kindle books. The Shadow of the Gallows will be joining them next month.