Have passport – will do research

Kathryn Brewster Haueisen combines a degree in journalism and a career as a pastor to write about “good people doing great things for our global village.” [Love that sentiment.] She’s a descendant of two of the Mayflower passengers and a grandmother to three young people with Native American heritage. When I learned that she’d written about the Mayflower journey and what happened when the English met the Pokanoket people, I just had to invite her onto the blog. Over to you, Kathryn.

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Since Mayflower Chronicles: The Tale of Two Cultures was my first attempt at writing historical fiction, I attended a few workshops to hone my skills. One presenter emphasized repeatedly how crucial it is to visit the places we write about. I was researching the background of the story before COVID-19 became a dreaded reality. I love to travel, especially to England, where the Mayflower journey began for the English culture. As I learned along the way, the Pokanoket people were the other culture.

In 2017 I visited many of the popular London tourist sites and then inserted a bit of tour guide trivia into a scene set in London. I also ventured north to the village of Scrooby, located about 50 miles south of York, along the old North Road that connected London and Edinburgh. This is where the Mayflower story had its roots. At least that is where the story started for William and Mary Brewster, two of the central figures in my retelling of the religious and political events that serve as backdrop for the famous voyage.

I am twelve generations removed from this couple. Before becoming the spiritual leader of the Pilgrims, Elder Brewster served as bailiff at Scrooby Manor. Not much of the grand old manor remains today, but in the 1500s, it was a thriving stop over for royal messengers and high-ranking officials traveling between London and Edinburgh. The Bishop of York, who owned the estate, played a role in the Mayflower story. 

There is little to see in Scrooby today, but the church where William and Mary married in 1591 is in good condition, still in use, and only a few yards across the lawn from the remnant of the manor. Walking around the church yard and village gave me a sense of what it might have been like for my ancestors to take their afternoon strolls.

I didn’t expect to ever get to Leiden, where the Brewster’s and several dozen other Separatists lived as refugees from 1608 until they sailed in 1620. They left England to escape almost certain imprisonment and perhaps execution as religious heretics. They joined other English refugees in Amsterdam for a year; then moved down the road to Leiden in 1608. However, in 2018 my husband wanted to sail on a genealogy research cruise from England to New York. I eagerly agreed, as long as we built in time to also see Cambridge and Leiden. 

William studied briefly at Peterhouse, part of Cambridge University. Though I couldn’t go inside Peterhouse where he lived and studied, I wandered around the grounds and took a tour of the Cambridge University system. What I learned on that tour helped immensely in writing about that part of William’s life.  

I fell in love with Leiden. Many details in the completed manuscript are the result of an afternoon I spent at the American Pilgrim Museum, run by renowned historian and Pilgrim expert, Dr. Jeremy Bangs. I walked the same places the Pilgrims did. I was astonished to discover a plaque over an archway of an alley named after William Brewster. The plaque states this was the site of the Brewster home and William’s printing business. He got in trouble with the authorities for publishing anti-Established Church of England documents and smuggling them back into England. Strolling around the University of Leiden, I envisioned William, and his dear friend Pastor John Robinson, walking there and perhaps discussing their plans to establish a new religious colony. 

My goal in writing this book was to include the perspective of the Natives who encountered the new English settlers wandering around the shore of Cape Cod after they arrived in November. To research that part of the story I visited Plimouth Plantation in Massachusetts. The living museum recently changed its to Plimouth * Patuxet, to honor the Native name for the place we know today as Plymouth. After spending a day wandering through the museum and both the English and Wampanoag villages, I had an eye-opening interview with the head of the Native village. 

Before I signed off on the final manuscript, I told Green Writers Press Publisher Dede Cummings we needed another Native to review it. I’d already spoken with several Natives, and paid a Native sensitivity editor to review portions of the book; but no one from the Native community had actually seen the entire manuscript. 

A friend in Rhode Island put me in touch with three generations of descendants from the great Pokanoket leader – Massasoit Ousa Mequin. They corrected some of my misinformation and filled in gaps in my research. They then wrote the forward to the book. Of all the places I visited, and all the backstory I learned along the way, meeting this family remains the highlight of the entire endeavor. We are convinced our ancestors knew one another and worked together to ensure the safety and wellbeing of both cultures

Today, we, their descendants, share this same philosophy. In the forward they wrote, “We truly believe that this book has been written in good faith and in holding to the renewing a dream that our ancestors aspired to, that both our people can prosper in this land in peace and fellowship.” Aquene (Peace), Sagamore Po Wauipi Neimpaug, Sachem Po Pummukoank Anogqs, and Tribal Historian Po Menuhkesu Menenok.

That workshop presenter was right. The best way to write authentically about history is to first visit places where it happened and speak with people who live there today.  

Many thanks, Kathryn. I’m sure many readers will be fascinated with your novel.

Mayflower Chronicles: The Tale of Two Cultures by Kathryn Brewster Haueisen ~~ For thousands of years two distinct cultures evolved unaware of one another’s existence. Separated by what one culture called the Great Sea and known to the other as the Atlantic Ocean, the course of each culture’s future changed irreversibly four hundred years ago. In 1620 the Mayflower delivered 102 refugees and fortune seekers from England to Cape Cod, where these two cultures first encountered one another.  The English sought religious freedom and fresh financial opportunities. The Natives were recovering from the Great Dying of the past several years that left over two-thirds of their people in graves. How would they react to one another? How might their experience shape modern cross-cultural encounters?

The book is available now wherever books are sold, including www.bookshop.orgwww.amazon.com, and the distributor, http://www.ipgbook.com  .

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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

Character – the Catherine Yale example

As part of my ongoing series on the 7 elements of historical fiction, I recently challenged author David Ebsworth – aka David McCall – to do a guest post featuring Catherine Yale and how he developed her character for his trilogy. David responded to the challenge with gusto.

Character, the Catherine Yale Example

I didn’t even want to write it! A novel about Elihu Yale? The man is a historical celebrity here in Wrexham, North Wales, where he’s buried. Perhaps the first real nabob, a hundred years before Clive of India, carving the foundations for what would become – with all its contradictions – British India. A famous philanthropist – who would later gift his name to one of the world’s finest educational establishments. But one who, as the Governor of Fort St. George in old Madras, oversaw the East India Company’s despicable trade in Hindu and Muslim slaves throughout the 1680s.

Elihu Yale involved with slavery

Friends had put the suggestion to me, all the same. There has, after all, never been a novel about Yale. But I dismissed the suggestion, until I came across a copy of his will. And this wonderful line: To my wicked wife… Then, nothing. No bequest. Not even a name.

In a moment of epiphany, I knew that here was the story I might want to write – Elihu Yale’s story, but told entirely through the eyes of this woman, damned for all eternity by her husband’s own hand.

But who was she? Would I be able to find enough to at least begin to fill out an Elizabeth George-style character sheet or, in my usual way, to try and pursue Ian Irvine’s 55 Ways to Create Compelling Characters.

I started with Yale’s biographies – most notably, Hiram Bingham’s seminal 1939 study – and found no more than a few references. To Catherine. To her previous marriage with a man called Joseph Hynmers, another official of the English East India Company. But as I checked for records of her birth, her wedding, her family, I realised that almost everything else written about her was simply wrong. Most notably, she was not half-Indian, for example – which seemed to be the most common reason, apart from her gender, for earlier writers to dismiss her significance.

So, here was the first thing. If I was going to write a credible account of this person, I’d have to dig deeper. I’d have to explore Yale himself much further too. Serendipity. An obscure reference to letters in Yale University’s archives. Fifty-seven letters to be precise. Written by Elihu, after his return to London in 1700, to the mistress he’d left behind in Madras, a woman called Katherine Nicks. Lots of references to yet another mistress, Hieronima da Paiva. But almost no mention of Catherine. Except this one: I have got my old affliction by my side, a hair-brain’d, craz’d, ill-natur’d toad that loves nothing so well as her bottle. God ridd me of her, for she makes me so very uneasy. Oh, dear. References to laudanum. Conflict between Catherine and her seven surviving children – four sons to Joseph Hynmers, three daughters to Yale.

I have got my old affliction …

A decision to be made. Just how “fictional” might this yarn be? Well, I quickly decided that I would actually have very few truly fictional characters in the story. Catherine’s actual background, I now knew, was filled with a mass of ready-made, real-life and well-rounded personalities – each equally neglected by historical fiction. Too many to mention here, but including her father and mother, Walter and Anne Elford, proprietors of one of London’s most famous coffee houses. Or another acquaintance from Fort St. George, Governor Streynsham Master, who would later have some connections to early Jacobite plots. Or her father’s friend, William Penn. Or the first Duke of Devonshire, whose son James would marry Catherine’s daughter, Nan – and who was also a driving force in the Glorious Revolution. All these people helped me shape her.

Second decision. How might I create Catherine’s voice? Perhaps because of those Elihu Yale letters, I began to think of diary entries. I’d been reading Deborah Swift’s Pepys novels, but wondered whether Pepysian-style accounts would answer. After all, she’d have to be a pretty prolific scribbler to cover all the ground I needed. But then a separate batch of research opened up yet another new world. More journal writers of the period, and especially the Puritan Reverend Roger Morrice. There he was, writing copiously about everything under the sun. Impossibly detailed. Lengthy entries. No television, of course, to fill his evenings. And precisely the medium I needed to create Catherine’s inner thoughts, her beliefs, her politics, her conflicts, her choices, her passions, her most treasured possessions, her taste in clothes and her prickly comments about the fashion of others, her intimacies – and maybe just a hint of unreliability. After all, I know from personal experience that diary entries – as honest and first-hand as we’d like to pretend they might be – can sometimes be terrible self-deceptions. And thus the title for the novel, The Doubtful Diaries of Wicked Mistress Yale.

Third decision. One book, or more? By the time I’d filled enough pages for a novel of my normal length – after I’d hacked out the requisite 10% of superfluous stuff – I had still only told Catherine’s story, all of it set in old Madras, from 1672 until 1689, the year she’d finally had enough of Yale’s philandering and came home to London – just in time to become embroiled in the Glorious Revolution. So, a second novel, Mistress Yale’s Diaries, The Glorious Return. That one took me from 1689 until 1699, and Elihu’s own return to England, somewhat in disgrace but determined to bring a now independent Catherine back into marital line. Part Three, Wicked Mistress Yale, The Parting Glass, carries us through to 1721, Elihu’s death, and perhaps – just perhaps – a final twist, an explanation for that reference in the will. To my wicked wife…

Not one novel, therefore, but three. The Yale Trilogy.

Final decision. How to fill the many, many gaps in Catherine’s real-life story. To add my trademark love of intrigue and mayhem. And to do it in a way that would resonate with modern audiences. A woman of her time but still relevant today.

I’d been reading Clare Mulley’s fabulous The Spy Who Loved and other books about contemporary women spies, tracked these back to perhaps the most famous Seventeenth Century example, the playwright Aphra Behn, who spied for Charles the Second. And then there was Catherine’s largely fictional involvement with the Dissenters and Quakers who, even in the 1680s and later, were already declaiming the evils of slavery. Themes of mental and physical abuse in marriage – in an age when, factually, the easiest way to get rid of an unwanted wife was still to auction her to the highest bidder. All of that kneaded together in a batter of England’s terrible divisions, worse than anything we’ve ever seen since – until now.

It wasn’t enough for me that readers should simply recognise Catherine Hynmers Yale as a character, as a person – as Stephen King advocates so well – but that they should actually be Catherine. But only readers will be able to say whether I succeeded or not.

Many thanks for elaborating on the topic of character, David.

David’s works – often with strong female protagonists – cover the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745, the Spanish Civil War, Zululand in 1879, the Napoleonic Hundred Days of 1815, and 6th Century Romano-Celtic Britain. His website has a factual biography of Catherine Hynmers Yale, covering his original research into her fascinating story.

Wicked Mistress Yale, The Parting Glass by David Ebsworth ~~ 

1700 and East India Company Governor Elihu Yale is back in London, seemingly intent on reconciliation with his wife Catherine after ten years of separation. But those ten years have given her a taste of independence that she’s not ready to easily surrender. The ghosts of her previous life continue to haunt her, however – yet another former foe returned with her husband and seemingly still intent on revenge. And a more evil enemy still, in the shape of that Jacobite Colonel John Porter who had caused such damage to her youngest daughter. Drawn back even further into espionage on behalf of her nation, Catherine must battle madness, her desires, the rifts in her family, riot, rebellion and assassination in this tumultuous third and final act of the Yale Trilogy.

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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.