Readers often ask where characters come from. For me the answer is that some arise from what I can find out from the records and others are invented. As I’m interested in shadowing real historical events I set my fictional characters in as well-researched a context as I can. A murder mystery is a useful genre to frame the facts. Many writers these days see nothing wrong with changing what we know about some historical figure to fit some fancied notion about their period but for me this is a real sin. We don’t have the right to play fast and loose with the lives of real people. To me that’s the worst kind of lying. We know so little about the past and what we do know comes to us in fragments from documents and records of major and minor events. The exciting thing is to discover what really happened as far as we are able.
Do readers care one way or the other? I like to think that the people who choose my books care about the truth. I want them to trust me not to fob them off with a lot of nonsense. The fictional element, Hildegard’s involvement in a series of murder mysteries, should be obvious, but it takes place against an authentic background when real events impinge on the lives of historical and fictional characters alike.
Example: in The Butcher of Avignon the context is the palace where th anti-pope Clement VII has his court. His character is mentioned in many sources so we can be fairly sure about what he was like. The cardinal, too, who plays a large part in the plot, did in fact exist. I was about to invent someone like him when I came across a footnote about a Cardinal Grizac. What made it such a gift is that the facts fit in so neatly with the story. He really was a Dean at the Song School in York and died, we don’t know how, at the time the story ends. Thomas Woodstock is real, of course, although he will be more familiar under his later title bestowed by his nephew King Richard II. As the Duke of Gloucester he was by no means the ‘hoary duke’ of Shakespeare’s invention. In fact he was only forty when he died at Calais and not at all the benign elder statesman of the play but a virulent enemy of his young nephew, the king.
This mixing of fact and fiction is what to me gives historical fiction its buzz. But only if the facts as far as we can know them are honoured. Hildegard and Hubert are fictional enough for me.