Recently, you heard us wax all poetic about historical fiction author Elizabeth Chadwick's novel, The Time of Singing (go here if you missed it). We just love a well-researched historical fiction novel and Elizabeth Chadwick ranks right up there with the best of them. She has kindly agreed to let all of us in on one of the more interesting aspects of her research.
Trust us, you'll want to read on. Take it away, Elizabeth!
Many thanks to Michele at A Reader’s Respite for inviting me to guest blog.
I regard myself as an ordinary grounded individual with an open mind and a healthy degree of scepticism. I enjoy ghost stories or tales of the unexplained, but I don’t dwell on them, so it may seem a bit odd when I say I use psychic research when writing my historical fiction.
I came to it by accident; it wasn’t something I deliberately sought out. My research has always been inter-disciplinary. As well as reading reference material, I visit locations and use living history and re-enactment to get a feel for medieval life and times. The psychic is just another part of that mix.
It all started 20 years ago when I met my now best friend Alison at a social group for mothers taking career breaks to look after their children. We got on very well and began meeting once a week to gossip over coffee while the children played. At the time I was a hopeful but unpublished writer and Alison was teaching part-time. I knew she was psychic in that she could sense energies in people and objects and see auras, but she never made a big thing of it; it was just part of who she was.
While I was being accepted for publication and pursuing my writing career, Alison began to develop her ability to work with energies and took qualifications in Reiki and Neuro Linguistic Programming. She found during the course of her work that she could take people to past lives and access the energies of those who had once lived. She calls it reading the Akashic Records – it’s like a kind of vast etheric library that’s out there for those with ability to access it.
She didn’t mention this particular skill to me until one afternoon when I was about three quarters of the way through writing the first draft of The Greatest Knight. We were chatting over our usual coffee and she asked me how the novel was going. I said fine, but I couldn’t find anything about the mistress of William Marshal’s older brother. Nothing was known about her beyond her name and who she eventually married. Alison looked thoughtful and said ‘Do you want me to see if I can find her?’ I was a bit taken aback, but said ‘Okay.’ What was there to lose? I gave Alison Alais’ name and a likely date and location from the scant details I knew. Alison took a few deep breaths, and just sitting there on the sofa, ‘travelled’ to find Alais. What came through was so amazing that I knew immediately I had to use this resource as part of my research.
We talked about it afterwards and decided to do a proper session the next week (with this first one we hadn’t taken notes because it was just so spontaneous and off the cuff) and see if Alison could connect with William Marshal. Here is a short piece of the transcript from that first ever sitting. I’d asked Alison to go to William in Poitou in 1168
Alison: He has incredible courage. He’s like a bouncy castle; very buoyant. He’s riding with a lot of highborn people. He’s awed by them but not overawed. He feels as if he’s in the right place. He has a good sense of his own worth. He’s very flexible and alert, responds not just in a chit-chat way but deeply and appropriately. He knows how to say the right thing at the right time and it comes easily to him. He’s alert and all his senses are awakened. He has dark hair, long cheeks, a strong nose. His clothes are intricate. His eyes look dark but inside they feel light. I am seeing the youth and the older man mingled. It is difficult for others to gauge what he’s thinking. He has very dark eyes; might be brown, might be blue.
There is a woman laughing and William is making her laugh by telling her jokes about the English being loutish and stupid. It’s probably Poitiers they are going to. The woman is Eleanor of Aquitaine.
I compared this assessment with one by Professor David Crouch, leading authority on William Marshal, and there are remarkable similarities in his description and Alison’s with reference to William’s personality. Crouch also comments on French chroniclers making fun of the English whom they saw as foolish, boastful drunkards.
When Alison accesses people who have gone before, her experience is a bit like watching a movie, except she gets the internal thoughts, the feelings, the emotions, the sight, sound, smell, touch, taste – the lot. Needless to say, going to scenes of childbirth, illness and battle can be fraught, but there are moments full of love and laughter too. The scene in The Greatest Knight where Isabelle is preparing for her wedding draws heavily on Alison’s reportage of the event.
Since those first moments in 2004, when we were very much feeling our way, we have accumulated around 150 hours of digital recordings and probably about 300,000 words in notes, and the sheer body of evidence is compelling in itself.
Once a fortnight I arrive at Alison’s armed with my digital recorder, a notebook and my questions. Alison never knows what the questions are going to be, or who she will be accessing. There may be moments when Alison’s subconscious impinges on the material (although she does her utmost to avoid this) and sometimes her tuning my go awry if she is tired or unwell, so a margin for error has to be factored in. Once written up, I send the notes to someone with a doctorate in medieval cultural studies for comment. I am told that what is coming through is genuine medieval mindset and attitude. I don’t pretend to know how it works – that’s not in my field, but I do know that the results are astounding – for me they are a hot wire to the past. I have come to know some people of the medieval world so well that they are almost family, and with that knowledge, comes respect. It’s a reminder that I am dealing with people who once lived and who are owed integrity and honesty.
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Okay, so how cool is that? If a post like that doesn't make you want to delve into one of her novels, then we just don't know what will.
A Reader's Respite is pleased to see a man's head half chopped off rather than a woman for a change.
Elizabeth's novel The Greatest Knight tackles one of history's most fascinating men, William Marshal, knight extraordinaire of the Middle Ages. And lucky you, you get a chance to win one of TWO copies up for grabs!
Leave a comment here and on September 10th we'll draw two random winners who will receive a copy of The Greatest Knight. Now normally you know that A Reader's Respite loves to send books international, but the publisher is requesting U.S. and Canadian entrants only this time.