"An English civil war flag, captured by royalist Bernard Brocas to prove that his love for the daughter of parliamentarian Lord Sandys had not altered his loyalty to the king, is to be auctioned in April (2005). Taunted by the loyalist faction, Brocas swore an oath that he would give proof of his allegiance by winning a standard in the field. His chance came at the first battle of Newbury in September 1643. He captured a green silk damask banner with the motto "Constanter et Fiderliter" (Steadily and faithfully), but was later found dead beside the banner. Bonhams, which is handling the sale on behalf of a family descendant, expects the flag to fetch up to £5,000."
|image - the telegraph|
Well, there was a story waiting to be written - a tragic love story set against the backdrop of the civil war. I kept the cutting, intending to write the book, but I got distracted by other tales, other characters who clamoured for my attention.
Years ago, as an undergraduate with more summer holiday than ideas to occupy my time, I watched a documentary about the Ashburnham estate in Sussex. It wasn't a particularly inspiring story and I can't remember the main thread of the examination, but when the narrator told how one of the family commissioned the family crypt to be built, and that the last of the family line took the last available space in that crypt, my interested was ignited. I scribbled notes, I was going to write a book ...
|A drawing by John Preston Neale of Ashburnham Place in 1828 showing the lake in front|
... I didn't. I got a job, got married, had three children and changed career path.
But then one day I found the time to write. And it was another one-liner that came back to me. My wonderful tutor, Ann Williams, was talking about the background to the module for that term, which was 10th century Wessex. She talked about the preceding years, explaining what had led to the supremacy of Wessex and she spoke about Ethelred of Mercia. "No-one knows where he came from," she said. And I was captivated. I was going to write a book ...
... And I did. Although it turned out to be not the story of Ethelred so much as that of his wife, Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians.
Still I can't resist filing away little snippets; press cuttings, single sentences, anything that might one day make a fine story or novel.
Recently I was reading a book about myths and legends, and all things ghostly, and discovered that in 1820 the skeletal remains of a lady were found bricked up within one of the walls of the Captain's Tower of Carlisle Castle. "Three valuable rings remained on her fingers and she was still partially clothed in scraps of a tartan dress. It is unknown who she is, but evidence indicated that when she was walled up, she was still alive."
Even a friend of a friend's facebook lament:
"I apologise for last night. The lady you spoke to had one too many Calpols and was feeling ill at ease. I would text you but she felt the need to delete everything on my phone." Although in this case, I wonder if we don't already have the story in those 36 words.
Sometimes novels start with a plot, a situation, a story to be told. At other times, they begin with a brief revelation, a tiny snapshot of another life that draws the novelist, particularly the historical novelist, down a path of discovery, collecting more and more pictures and vignettes until the whole album is ready to be laid open for other people to look at.
I'd love to hear from people who've been similarly pricked, provoked, or persuaded to write, from a single episode, sentence or fact. Please leave comments below: