The inspiration for More Precious Than Gold came through several different channels. At first, I planned to write a sequel to my first book in the Hearts of Gold series, The Test of Gold. I wanted to continue the saga of Lindy’s family with her daughter, Kitty.
That put me roughly into the time period of 1918.
I also had several readers comment on the original character of Vera Lindenmayer, Kitty’s grandmother, whom I based on the real-life person of Alva Vanderbilt. The same Alva Vanderbilt who forced her daughter to marry the Duke of Marlborough at age 18. They wanted Vera to get her comeuppance!
When I started researching, I came across so much information about WWI and the Pandemic Flu of 1918 that I started thinking of a way my character could get involved. I spent approximately two years researching the pandemic flu.
Many things have changed in the last 100 years of nursing, but some things never change and it was great fun to write about Kitty’s adventures as a student nurse before things get grim as the pandemic flu hit New York City.
At times the writing was difficult, as I got to the pandemic flu part. Then, as now, we all know someone who had COVID or had it ourselves. But the flu of 1918 disproportionately affected people in the 20 to 40 age range―people in the prime of their lives, as opposed to the elderly and very young whom the flu usually affects. In New York City alone, over 100,000 children were left orphans.
So I had to choose which characters in the story would die of the flu. To be realistic, I couldn’t let them all survive. And I had grown so attached to them that I didn’t want any of them to perish. But it had to be done.
I finished the manuscript for this story in 2017, two years before COVID hit. No one was more surprised than me to find myself in the middle of a modern pandemic.
Wow. Thank you so much for sharing your inspiration. Isn’t it strange how you spent so long researching the book, and then Covid came along? Good luck with your new release.
Here’s the blurb:
A young woman refuses to become a pawn in her grandmother’s revenge scheme and forgoes a life of wealth and royalty to pursue a nursing career as America enters WWI and the Pandemic Flu of 1918 wreaks havoc in New York City.
Renee Yancy is a history and archaeology nut who works as an RN when she isn’t writing historical fiction or traveling the world to see the exotic places her characters have lived.
A voracious reader as a young girl, she now writes the kind of books she loves to read—stories filled with historical and archaeological detail interwoven with strong characters facing big conflicts. Her goal is to take you on a journey into the past so fascinating that you can’t put the story down.
When she isn’t writing, Renee can be found in the wilds of Kentucky with her husband and a rescue mutt named Ellie. She loves flea markets and collecting pottery and glass and most anything mid-century modern.
Today, I’m excited to welcome Anna Belfrage to the blog with a post about her new book The Castilian Pomegranate.
Getting things right – or how a historical fiction writer sorts out her facts
When I set out to write a novel, I usually already have a sequence of real events I want to use as anchors to my story. The reason why The Castilian Pomegranate ended up set in present-day Spain was because I had somewhat fallen in love with medieval Spanish history, and in particular with one rather amazing lady, Maria Alfonso de Meneses, better known as Maria de Molina.
So what did I know about Maria de Molina? Well, I had heard of her since childhood, this wise queen who would somehow rise over the losses that dotted her life to lead Castile through extremely difficult times. She lost her husband young, stood as regent to her very young son, had to deal with the rebellion of her former brother-in-law, somehow managed to raise her son to adulthood only to have him die far too young and leave her—yet again—as regent to a boy king, her grandson.
But to properly flesh her out, I needed to know more, and while I am quite happy to use Wikipedia as a starting point—it always makes me roll my eyes when people dismiss everything on Wiki as being incorrect—I went looking elsewhere. I found a series of talks about medieval Spain on YouTube—and as I speak Spanish the selection was quite large—and spent several happy hours listening my way through them. My conclusion? This was a very complicated time for Castile.
Several years of successful Reconquista had expanded the realm every which way, and to help administer it, the Castilian court used the well-educated Jews, while at the same time tensions between Christians and Jews were slowly growing. Things would explode one day in the late 14th century when the Christian of Sevilla more or less murdered every single Jew they could find, but in the period I am writing about, hostilities were not at that point.
Likewise, with the Reconquista came a growing Muslim population now under Christian control. These Mudéjares were usually accorded the right to practise Islam, but were also viewed with some suspicion by the Christians who were probably more worried about the tide turning and having the Moors reclaim ther recently reconquered land than about the issue of faith as such.
To get a feeling for what life might have been like I read books about Moorish Spain, I dug out essays about “la Convivencia” –the period after the reconquest when Muslims, Christians and Jews had to somehow rub along. Once again, internet proved my friend, with a lot of interesting stuff available through various sites like Google Scholar or Academia.edu
I’ve also spent some time browsing Real Academia de Historia – an excellent site if you know what you’re looking for!
When writing a book set in a specific period, I like getting a feel for the cultural context: what songs did they sing, what stories did they tell? I am fortunate in that I have an excellent guide into medieval Spain in Ramón Menéndez Pidal, one of those old-school intellectuals that had a keen interest in almost anything. One of the subjects he had a passionate relationship to was the medieval Spanish literature, the so called cantares de gesta and their roots in the legends and songs of Visigoth Spain. Let’s just say it was a sheer joy to sink back into books I have not revisited since I studied Spanish at university. All that reading had a side effect as I just had to write a post about one of those old legends and have another post almost ready to go.
One of the things I always spend a lot of time on is flora and fauna—I will never forget Bernard Cornwell telling a full auditorium at an HNS Conference how a fan had contacted him to tell him there were no snowdrops in the UK in the period he was writing about – except, it turns out there probably was 😊 In The Castilian Pomegranate I had to do some serious editing when I realised that the oranges grown in Spain at that time were bitter oranges, the type you used for essences and oils, the dried peels use as spice, while the fruit itself was much too bitter to eat. There went my scene with my heroine closing her eyes with pleasure as she tasted her first ever orange…
Ultimately, when writing about an era so far back in time, the facts offer little but a skeleton on which to build my story. It is the delicious gaps in between that tickle my imagination, where I have to make assumption based on what little I do know when shaping my characters and their reactions to the world around them. That, dear reader, is where the “fiction” in historical fiction comes into play, while all that research helps ground the narrative in a historical setting that I—like most historical fiction authors—do my best to breathe careful life into.
Thank you so much for sharing your research. Good luck with the new book. (I am always wary of mentioning rabbits as some people say there were brought to the UK by the Romans, and others by the Normans – so, no rabbits in my Saxon England).
Here’s the blurb:
An enraged and grieving queen commands them to retrieve her exquisite jewel and abandon their foundling brat overseas—or never return.
Robert FitzStephan and his wife, Noor, have been temporarily exiled. Officially, they are to travel to the courts of Aragon and Castile as emissaries of Queen Eleanor of England. Unofficially, the queen demands two things: that they abandon Lionel, their foster son, in foreign lands and that they bring back a precious jewel – the Castilian Pomegranate.
Noor would rather chop off a foot than leave Lionel in a foreign land—especially as he’s been entrusted to her by his dead father, the last true prince of Wales. And as to the jewel, stealing it would mean immediate execution. . .
Spain in 1285 is a complicated place. France has launched a crusade against Aragon and soon enough Robert is embroiled in the conflict, standing side by side with their Aragonese hosts.
Once in Castile, it is the fearsome Moors that must be fought, with Robert facing weeks separated from his young wife, a wife who is enthralled by the Castilian court—and a particular Castilian gallant.
Jealousy, betrayal and a thirst for revenge plunge Noor and Robert into life-threatening danger.
Will they emerge unscathed or will savage but beautiful Castile leave them permanently scarred and damaged?
Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a time-traveller. As this was impossible, she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests: history and writing. Anna has authored the acclaimed time travelling series The Graham Saga, set in 17th century Scotland and Maryland, as well as the equally acclaimed medieval series The King’s Greatest Enemy which is set in 14th century England.
Anna has also published The Wanderer, a fast-paced contemporary romantic suspense trilogy with paranormal and time-slip ingredients.
The Castilian Pomegranate is the second in her “Castilian” series, a stand-alone sequel to her September 2020 release, His Castilian Hawk. Set against the complications of Edward I’s invasion of Wales, His Castilian Hawk is a story of loyalty, integrity—and love. In The Castilian Pomegranate, we travel with the protagonists to the complex political world of medieval Spain, a world of intrigue and back-stabbing.
All of Anna’s books have been awarded the IndieBRAG Medallion, she has several Historical Novel Society Editor’s Choices, and one of her books won the HNS Indie Award in 2015. She is also the proud recipient of various Reader’s Favorite medals as well as having won various Gold, Silver and Bronze Coffee Pot Book Club awards.