Today I’m delighted to welcome Andrea Matthews to the blog to answer my questions about her historical research for Thunder on the Moor.
Thunder on the Moor takes the main character to sixteenth century Scotland. Can you explain your research process to me, and give an idea of the resources that you rely on the most (other than your imagination, of course) to bring the historical landscape and people of the period to life?
First, to explain how all this came about, I need to mention that Matthews is my pen name. My legal surname is Foster. Up to the early 1990s I had no idea who the Border Reivers were, but around that time, a friend handed me a book entitled The Steel Bonnets by George MacDonald Fraser. They thought I might be interested since my husband was from the north of England and Foster/Forster was a fairly notorious Border surname.
The story intrigued me. Visions of my husband’s ancestors riding across the moors sparked my imagination. I had to know more about these rugged rogues who placed such value on a sense of honor and loyalty to their families, in spite of their nefarious preoccupation with cattle rustling and blackmail. I started formulating a story in my head, a tale of thunder across the moors and forbidden love.
That book became the basis for my research, my starting point as it were. I eagerly devoured it and anything else I could find about the Border Reivers. Materials were scarce at that time, so I ended up contacting a book seller in Scotland and ordering everything he had on the Border Reivers, including a small booklet of court records. Those records not only gave me an insight into the types of crimes the reivers committed, but also provided a peek at border nicknames. Names like Nebless Clem, Lang Sandy, and Kinmont Willie inspired me to choose nicknames of my own for a few of the characters, and so Bonnie Will Foster was born. All the while, the tale of blood feuds and forbidden love was taking form in my head.
As a librarian, I was able to locate other books from time to time and started to expand my research, and my book collection, to life in the sixteenth century, including food, clothing, and the infamous March Laws, which would ultimately cause a great deal of trouble for my characters.
After completing the basic outline, it was time to fill in specifics, including little customs and traditions that might influence the characters’ lives, as well as more significant events. Gradually, my sixteenth century border world began to emerge.
As I began to flesh out the characters, I realized I needed a way to keep the families straight. Being a genealogist, the easiest way for me to do that was with family trees, so I started building lineages around the main characters, including parents, siblings, nephews, nieces etc. generally covering three generations. Some characters grew in importance as the story progressed, while others stayed in the background, at least for now, but at least I could keep track of who was who.
During these early days, I was able to travel to the north of England a few times, but as it was to visit my husband’s relatives, I didn’t have nearly enough time to explore the way I would have liked. Still, I was able to get a sense of the place and transport myself back to earlier days, until my sons got bored and pulled me back to the twentieth century, that is. Nevertheless, the experience added to my narrative and description, painting Will and Maggie’s world in my mind.
I also wanted to include a hint of the Scottish accent. Listening to my English husband speak over the years had given me a sense of word usage and syntax, but I wanted to make sure certain words would have been used in the sixteenth century. To do this, I added a Scots dictionary and thesaurus to my collection. After Fraser’s book, these were probably the two books I referred to the most.
At this point, I had a shelf full of books and binders full of notes. Organizing them into categories became an important part of the process. As I wrote and questions arose, I wanted to have the answers at the tip of my fingers. There was conflicting information here and then, but I did my best to stay true to the history and try to build my characters’ worldview, so that I would have a general idea of how they would react in any given situation. That required character profile sheets or at least notes on their appearance and personalities.
Now, into the midst of all this came the Internet and instant access to records and papers hitherto difficult to attain. Fortunately, part of my education required I learn how to distinguish reliable websites and databases from those less dependable. One book I came across was The Lord Wardens of the Marches of England and Scotland by Howard Pease, which helped me understand the political and legal situation that existed at the time. Sites like Project Gutenberg offered access to older out of print books such as Border Raids and Reivers by Robert Borland, which was printed in 1898 and made for some interesting reading.
Am I done researching the Border Reivers? Not likely, as I can’t seem to pass by a book on the subject without picking it up. I hope Will, Maggie and company still have a lot of adventures ahead of them. Who knows what tidbit might add just that extra little bit of authenticity to the narrative? Did I romanticize it a bit here and there? Of course. After all, it is a historical romance, and I would have been remiss in my research if I didn’t read the poems of Sir Walter Scott on the subject. However, I did try to stay true to the period as much as possible. My hope is that it may even peak the reader’s interest enough for them to do some non-fiction reading on the subject.
The blood feud, however, was a deadly affair, and an affront to any member of your surname or allied family would be an affront to the whole surname.
And so my plot was taking form. These feuds could go on for years and be sparked by anything from a small slight to a full-blown disagreement. I turned back to my research. And as I learned more riding names, I realized how many famous and infamous people carried border names. Men like Lyndon Johnson and Neil Armstrong and Walter Scott. Which of course led me to the latter’s poetry. I admit, he may have romanticized the period a bit, but then I suppose I did as well. Time and distance gives us that luxury. And there was the final piece to my novel —Time.
Alas, I still haven’t traced the family back far enough to make a direct connection to a specific person, but they were from the North of England, and still today have that strong sense of honor and familial loyalty, so I know it’s there. And so, my quest continues. Who knows there may even be a Will Foster back there somewhere?
Thank you so much for sharing your research, and important books and resources with me. I love hearing how authors discover ‘their’ stories.
Here’s the blurb;
Maggie Armstrong grew up enchanted by her father’s tales of blood feuds and border raids. In fact, she could have easily fallen for the man portrayed in one particular image in his portrait collection. Yet when her father reveals he was himself an infamous Border reiver, she finds it a bit far-fetched—to say the least—especially when he announces his plans to return to his sixteenth century Scottish home with her in tow.
Suspecting it’s just his way of getting her to accompany him on yet another archaeological dig, Maggie agrees to the expedition, only to find herself transported four hundred and fifty years into the past. Though a bit disoriented at first, she discovers her father’s world to be every bit as exciting as his stories, particularly when she’s introduced to Ian Rutherford, the charming son of a neighboring laird. However, when her uncle announces her betrothal to Ian, Maggie’s twentieth-century sensibilities are outraged. She hardly even knows the man. But a refusal of his affections could ignite a blood feud.
Maggie’s worlds are colliding. Though she’s found the family she always wanted, the sixteenth century is a dangerous place. Betrayal, treachery, and a tragic murder have her questioning whether she should remain or try to make her way back to her own time.
To make matters worse, tensions escalate when she stumbles across Bonnie Will Foster, the dashing young man in her father’s portrait collection, only to learn he is a dreaded Englishman. But could he be the hero she’s always dreamed him to be? Or will his need for revenge against Ian shatter more than her heart?
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Meet the author
Andrea Matthews is the pseudonym for Inez Foster, a historian and librarian who loves to read and write and search around for her roots, genealogical speaking. In fact, it was while doing some genealogical research that she stumbled across the history of the Border reivers. The idea for her first novel came to mind almost at once, gradually growing into the Thunder on the Moor series. And the rest, as they say, is history…