Where Romance and History Meet - www.heartsthroughhistory.com/

Friday, September 18, 2009

Settings that Inspire Stories

By Michelle Willingham

When I was growing up, some of my favorite historical romances were medievals. I devoured books by Jude Deveraux, Johanna Lindsey, and Julie Garwood. I loved writing and the first romance I ever attempted was set in medieval Scotland. The wild landscape, Celtic mysticism, and legendary heroes were all irresistible. But when I visited Ireland on a trip in 1993, I sensed an unexpected connection to the country. The moment I set foot upon the green fields, I felt like I was coming home. And when I stood on the parapets of a castle, I knew that I had to set a book in medieval Ireland.

I could visualize the fierce warriors, fighting for their land and their women. Their stories called to me, and just before I sold my first book, I went back to Ireland for additional research. One of the most memorable castles was Trim Castle. Instead of the government renovating it, they chose to leave it in its natural ruins. Ironically, I later learned that Trim Castle was one of the settings used in the movie "Braveheart." Apparently the producers decided that Trim was a more visually compelling location than Scotland.

But it was there that my Irish warriors truly came to life. As I walked through the different stone chambers, I could imagine the men training, their swords echoing within the inner bailey. I took endless photographs of artifacts and architecture, and sometimes a detail would come into the story when I least expected it.

One of the rooms within Trim Castle was a tiny family chapel. The whitewashed limestone walls still held traceItalics of the original coating, though it was covered in green. The small stone chapel became a setting in my newest book, Taming Her Irish Warrior, though not in the way I anticipated. My heroine, Honora St. Leger, learned to train with a sword alongside her childhood friend Ewan MacEgan when they were fostered together. The book opens inside the chapel when Honora is wielding her sword against a thief who's been stealing religious artifacts.

After standing inside the chapel, I could visualize that scene in vivid detail, and it was great fun to write.

Other castle details also surprised me, like how narrow the spiral stone staircases truly were. No hero could possibly carry a heroine up the stairs; he'd knock her unconscious rounding the corner. But my favorite architectural element was the battlements of a castle. There was something incredibly romantic about the visual atmosphere, overlooking the rest of the castle grounds. Although they were primarily for a military use, I knew I wanted to set another story against that backdrop.

My connected novella "The Warrior's Forbidden Virgin" is about Honora's sister, Katherine of Ardennes, and her unexpected romance with Sir Ademar, a hero who rarely speaks. I used the battlements as the opening setting for a scene about two people betrayed by those they loved. The danger of the narrow parapet walkway, coupled with a fierce rain, gave it exactly the tone I wanted.

Have you ever been to a location, historical or natural, that spoke to you? Did you ever sense the ghosts of the past? Or if not, where have you always wanted to visit? Post a comment, and I'll offer up a signed copy of Taming Her Irish Warrior and a free download of "The Warrior's Forbidden Virgin" to two lucky winners! Visit my website at www.michellewillingham.com for excerpts, behind-the-scenes information, and more photographs of Ireland.

Michelle Willingham


Unknown said...

Hi Michelle! I visited Trim Castle myself about 2 months ago. It was amazing! Ireland as a whole was so inspiring and made me want to write the whole time I was there.

Anonymous said...

The only historical place I've ever been outside of the US was to a Mayan pyramid in Mexico. That was very cool, but I'd love to go visit the old castles of Ireland and Scotland.

Anonymous said...

Living in York gives me the opportunity to visit lots of great, historical places but I would love to visit Mary Kings Close in Edinburgh. The plethora of stories surrounding this place are compelling. A fantastic study of Social History and perhaps even ghosts from the past.

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Hi, Michelle. Great post. I would love to visit England for longer than the two and half days I got to a while back. I live near the San Jacinto Battleground, the place where Houston defeated Santa Ana for Texas independence and I've visited often. I haven't written about it yet, but I'd like to one day.

michellewillingham said...

CheekyGirl--Trim was just breathtaking. Did you see the window used in Braveheart, where the prince's lover was tossed out?

Fangstories--Ooh, Mexico sounds like fun. A Mayan pyramid makes me think of ancient mysteries. Wow.

Coffeewithkate--Edinburgh is on my wish list, too! My husband and I are planning another trip to the UK next year, and I'm already realizing that I need more time for exploring. Can't wait. :)

Victoria Gray said...

Wonderful pictures and information, Michelle. I've never had a chance to visit historical sites in Europe, though I long to go to London and Italy and will some day. I'm drawn to historic places in America...living in Virginia, the battlefields of the Civil War and American Revolution are all around me, and Washington's historic buildings always fill me with a sense of awe as I think of the events that took place within those walls.

Thanks for sharing your terrific pictures and the way the castles inspired your stories.


Wicked Walker said...

I have been to Mexico and seen their ruins but I would love to go to England/Ireland/France to see their historical sites. It is on my bucket list :)

michellewillingham said...

Anna--that really does sound like a great setting. Texas history definitely has some wild roots that are great fodder for stories.

Victoria--I live not too far from Williamsburg, and some day I might set a story there. It's fun to see all the Colonial history. :)

Stacy--Connemara was another of my favorite places in Ireland, because of the untamed wildness. It was stunning.

Armenia said...

I've been drawn to forests, namely the Redwoods and Sequoias in Northern California. I can imagine how early settlers and native Americans were awestruck with the majectic feel of these wonderful ancient trees. There seemed to be a calm magic about the rich earthy smell and overwhelming security they provide.

One place I would love to travel is Scotland. Because I enjoy Highland romance, just seeing the wild landscape, castles, and hearing the lilting brogue would add a dimension to all the books I love.

Och, aye, someday this lassie will travel the moors, and mayhap, find a warrior in a kilt.*g*

Nicole's Book Musings said...

I've always wanted to go to Ireland, the way authors describe it in books and the pictures I've seen it sounds like a place I would go to visit. I just picture cute cottages and beautiful lands. I really hope someday I can get over there.

michellewillingham said...

Armenia--I just love Highland romances with really sexy warriors. :) Although I've never been to the Redwood forest, someday I hope to visit.

Nicolerko--Ireland is really varied. You can see many of the thatched cottages, but the landscape is really quite different from the east coast to the west. The west is my favorite.

Charlotte D. Margolis said...

I WILL visit Ireland someday but as of yet I haven't been anywhere outside the US.

I do, however, know the feeling of "being home". This is strange, I guess, but I walked into a used bookstore a few months ago and from the second I crossed the threshold I got this heavy feeling in my chest and I felt tears spring to my eyes. There were first editions of the Holy Bible as well as Jane Eyre and A Christmas Carol. Not to mention the newer books for sale. Apparently I'm a serious book fiend. :-)

Gwynlyn said...

It is my dream to go to Ireland and live there for at least a year. I have always felt an attachment for it although I've never been there. My eldest daughter, however, remarked that she felt like she'd come home when she went there.

I'm convinced magic still lives on that island. I'd love to experience it.

William and Anna Patterson said...

I really have never travelled, but I like the travel channel. One of the things I love about historical novels, is it offers romance (1) and a chance to learn about historical places of the world (2). thank you for this.

kimmyl said...

Hi Michelle! I cannot wait to read Taming her Irish Warrior. Loved the book cover and blurb. I have not been to too many places. So jealous of all of you that have. I am so fascinated by history.

Anonymous said...

I laughed at your comment about the stairs and banging the heroine's head into the wall if the hero carried her. You are SO right. I've walked up those narrow stairs and thought the same thing. But then, romance sometimes has to "adapt" the setting.

Anonymous said...

I've always wanted to visit Scotland & Ireland :)

michellewillingham said...

My Writer's Attic--I think there's a magnetic force surrounding bookstores. ;)

Gwynlyn and Bonnie--I do hope you get to visit!

Vintagefan--I love the travel channel for the places I'm interested in but might never see (e.g. Antarctica, etc.)

Kimmyl--I hope you enjoy Taming! :)

ARCindy--Castle stairs were more of a defense mechanism than I realized!

Anonymous said...

I have been to London, but I did more shopping than sightseeing! However, I did see Le Mis while I was there...that musical was amazing! I fell in love with it and then had to read the book. I loved the book even more! I want to go to Scotland to Culloden. I have heard it is an amazing experience. Other than that I have been to many battle fields from the Civil War and each one speaks when you are there, at least to me. Shiloh was the most powerful for me.

Cathy P said...

I have always loved history: visiting, watching television, or reading about it. I have been to many historical places in the US as a teenager. I have always wanted to visit England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. I have seen and heard about their beauty.

Michelle, I loved the way you described Trim Castle and imagining a hero carrying his heroine up those steps. LOL!

Carolyn H said...

I haven't been much of anywhere but I have seen Newfoundland. Which from what has been told to me close to what Ireland looks like. No castles but lots and lots of scenery.

Kathryn Albright said...

Hi Michelle,
Fun post! I love traveling and get my inspiration from all the places I've visited. I lived in England when very young, and still remember snatches of it--canoing on the Thames River, the tower of London, White Horse Hill, Stone Henge. Would love to go back and visit Ireland and Scotland. Would love to go to a real Irish pub...Thanks for visiting Seduced by History today!

Janette Kenny said...

Great post Michelle! You know I'm dying to visit Ireland. One day. You make it come alive for me with your great descriptions. Love your novels!

JV said...

I, too, was impressed with ancient castles in Germany, Ireland, Scotland, England, and Spain when I visited in the early 1980s. Perhaps I should have been an archaeologist or something because I always try to imagine the people who lived there (as well as the people who carted all that heavy stone up steep hillsides to build it!) and what their lives might have been like.

Another place that inspired me was the forum in Rome. It's mostly just rocks and the occasional broken pillar now, but I was fascinated because Caesar (and others I've studied) walked there and made decisions that affected the entire Roman empire. And I can't forget the Colliseum in Rome. Just seeing where sea games took place and where early Christians were thrown to the lions gave me a tingling sensation -- not to mention the fact that it still stands all these centuries later.

In Germany, one of my favorite places was Heidelberg with the castle looming up on the hillside. One of my father's coworkers was originally from there and was home visiting when I went, so he took me on a personal tour of the castle. It's one of the few places that was pretty much untouched in WWII. If rumor can be believed, it's at least partially due to the Ford Foundation having invested so much money in Heidelberg (for the University, I believe they said) that it was spared by Allied troops.

And, of course, I have a lot of Irish in my heritage, so that land calls to me, too!

michellewillingham said...

Dyockman--Les Miserables is one of my all-time favorite musicals. Lucky you, being able to see it in London!

CathyP--Wales is another place I've always wanted to visit.

Carolyn H--I've never been to Newfoundland. Sounds fascinating!

Kathryn--I never knew you lived in England, too. We lived at RAF Lakenheath when I was a child. :)

Janette--I love your cowboys, too. It was great seeing you at RWA.

JV--I had a chance to see Heidelberg Castle when they lit it on fire a few years ago (they do it once a year, to commemorate the famous fire). It was truly amazing.

The Tome Traveller said...

Ireland is on my list, I would love to visit, especially since I am half Irish.

My husband and I have wandered all over England and into Scotland and Wales visiting cathedrals & the lovely village churches. I always feel the past pressing down upon me when I am in one of those lovely old buildings. It is our favorite type of vacation!

Mari said...

One of the coolest places I have ever visited is Isle of Skye in Scotland. It was so amazing to hear the stories of the Viking raidings that happened every year and the lengths that the monks would go to save their relics and antiquaries.

michellewillingham said...

The Tome Traveller--I love medieval churches, especially the graveyards! Great stuff.

Mari--The Isle of Skye sounds like a great place to tour. I may have to add that one to my list, also. :)

By the way, thanks to everyone for joining in today! I'll choose 2 winners tomorrow.

chey said...

Gros Morn (sp?) park in Newfoundland. There is so much to see and do. The lighthouse really connected to the past.

Patricia Barraclough said...

The first time we took our daughters to Fort Ticonderoga, NY. Was memorable. They were having highland games that weekend. That night, a Canadian pipe and drum corps gave a concert. Fort TI was built in the late 1750's with stone walls and a central parade ground entered by a single tunnel. The night of the concert, the parade ground was lit by torches and we were seated around the perimeter. With stars in a clear sky overhead, you could faintly hear the pipes outside the fort. The band marched in through the tunnel. The sound echoed off the walls and you could smell the leather of the bagpipes. It was just incredible. Even after all these years, it gives me chills. You really felt transported back to an earlier time. Later at the campground, we could hear the pipers playing through the trees at their campsites. We took one our daughters and her husband there last year. It had been nearly 30 years since that first experience. The fort is more fully restored. We happened to visit the weekend they were having a Revolutionary war encampment and reenactment. That evening they took us by lantern light out into a field where they held night skirmishes. So dark you could see the flash from the mussel loaders but not much more. Later, we walked through the tent encampment and they had a night time cannon volley. Six cannons firing in sequence over and over and over. Impressive, but nothing will match that first time we took her. It truly felt like we had been transported back 220 years.
We want to go to Ireland, Scotland, and England. Our family roots are there and I can feel it calling.

Fedora said...

How beautiful, Michelle! During a visit to China with my family years ago, we had the chance to see some amazingly gorgeous areas--there were some scenic points on Yellow Mountain that were incredible. And of course, the Great Wall... I think that we couldn't help but be a bit awed by a sense of connectedness with people who'd stood and seen those sights even thousands of years before.

Glad you had such a wonderful trip, and definitely can't wait to read your latest!!


michellewillingham said...

Chey--old lighthouses are fascinating, aren't they?

Patricia--ooh, that gave me chills just to think about it. Thanks for sharing!

Flchen--the Great Wall of China is something I've always wanted to see. Neat!

Okay, I'm going to do the drawing now. Back with some random numbers...

michellewillingham said...

Here are your random numbers:


Timestamp: 2009-09-19 11:20:46 UTC

So the winner of the signed book is Cathy P and the winner of the free download is Mari! Cathy, e-mail me your mailing address and Mari, tell me which e-mail address I should use for sending the download coupon. Contact me via e-mail: michelle AT michellewillingham.com . Thanks to all for entering!

penney said...

Thanks for posting the pictures of the castles I love them and the history on them.
luvhistoricalromance AT gmail DOT com

Lucy said...

To have lived in such a castle at that time, one would have had been Norman settlers in Ireland, not Irish.

The name Ewan M Egan would be Scottish and the Scottish would not have arrived then.The name of the heroine isn't Irish or French either.

michellewillingham said...

Hi Lucy,

Taming Her Irish Warrior and "The Warrior's Forbidden Virgin" are both initially set within a Norman castle in England, not Ireland.

And you're right that the Normans did bring their castle-building skills to Ireland. However, there was also a lot of inter-marriage between the two countries.

Richard de Clare (nicknamed Strongbow) married the King of Leinster (Dermot MacMurrough)'s daughter Aoife. There was so much intermarriage between the two, that I think it would be possible for Irish kings and nobles to be influenced by Norman builders and want to copy the structures. The Irish primarily dwelled in ringforts or cashels, before that. Norman castles were often built on the remains of ringforts.

As for names, I think every culture chooses names that speak to them, not necessarily ones isolated to that country. It's a choice you make, whether or not to stick firmly to that heritage. It's my belief that these could have been names used during that time period in history, based on the Gaelic and Latin heritage.