“Can you remember the first story you ever wrote?” This question pops up every now and then, and it’s either very easy or completely impossible to answer. If the emphasis is on story, then the answer would be no. Like most children, I’ve invented fantastic tales long before I could write. If the emphasis of the question were on wrote, it’s a different matter. I do remember the first piece of fiction I ever committed to paper. To several exercise books, actually, one of which I had confiscated by my English teacher for writing in class.
My first written bit of fiction was a Norman Conquest story, which didn’t surprise anyone who knew me back then. I’ve had a thing about England and English history ever since I understood the concept of different countries and the Norman Conquest, and the impact it had on one of the most prosperous and advanced societies at the time, has always fascinated me.
In those first stories, I blithely re-wrote history. The Anglo-Saxons ended the war victorious through any number of means. Dissent in William’s army, a plague that wiped out the Normans before they could land on England’s south coast, a storm or two. A master assassin, working for King Harold, who took out the Norse King Hardrada so he couldn’t invade England and distract Harold from keeping watch on the South Downs. Then I read about the actual battle between William and Harold and imagined that the Anglo-Saxon shield wall held, that William’s ruse failed to draw his opponents down the hill, that Harold won the fight.
Later, my stories went the way of rebellion. Successful ones, of course.
Much much later, I considered William’s efforts and reasons. The imagination and vision that man must have possessed to pull off an invasion like this. And to hold onto what he had won by force.
None of my conquest stories have ever seen the light of day. Nor will they. They were fun, bristling with as much historical detail as I could dig up in an age when research meant many blissful hours spent in a library. These days I know what the real battle site looked like, and it’s nothing like those sketches in textbooks I pored over. Half of the armor my characters wear in the stories is 13th century rather than 11th and, since I’ve never been one for the latest clothes, I’ve probably ignored Norman and Anglo-Saxon fashions as it suited me.
Those stories, flawed as they were in content and execution, left me with an abiding love for playing with historical events, for considering the endless what ifs that history provides. They gave me a love for exploring why characters do things and not just how. They kept me amused and out of mischief for hours.
And after the conquest? I fell under the spell of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II, of Richard the Lionheart, the crusades and, of course, dastardly John Lackland. That’s still my favourite historical period to read and to write. And a story for another day.
This all started with a question, so let me turn it back: What about you? Can you remember your very first story? Or the very first story you wrote down? Was it about something you still love today? Enquiring minds would like to know.