November 1988 saw me more settled into the house, the village, and England. There were still plenty of new things going on. The first trip to Scotland was a visit to Edinburgh, St. Andrews and Aberdeen. Thanksgiving was the first holiday I celebrated outside the States. It was a bit surreal to realize that for everyone else around me, it was an ordinary Thursday. I didn’t have work permission so I looked for ways to occupy my days.
The town of Beverley was 10 miles south of where I lived. Walking through town one day, I discovered a charity shop (thrift store) with a sign in the window looking for volunteers. Interested, but too shy to go in, I walked past and looked at the sign for weeks. Finally, I worked up the courage to go in and introduce myself. The ladies running the shop were thrilled to have the help and eager to learn about me and my life in America. Soon I was helping out on Wednesday mornings for a couple of hours, learning how to operate the cash register and how to create attractive window displays of donated clothing and household items.
I also visited Beverley looking for a topic for my Master’s degree thesis. Of the two medieval churches in town, the Minster drew my attention the most. I discovered that on clear, sunny days I could see the west towers from the upstairs guest room. Though the size of a cathedral it is not one since it isn’t the seat of a bishop. It’s designation as a Minster comes from the church’s association with a monastery in earlier times.
Beverley Minster Minstrel Carvings
Most of the structure of the Minster was medieval, giving me several options for research. The east window is made up of all the medieval stained glass left from throughout the Minster. There were numerous tombs which offered various possibilities. And then there was the large collection of medieval carvings of figures with instruments. They are unique and not much had been published at the time so they became my topic.
I’d often walk to the local library or the Minter after I finished my work at the charity shop. I read, wrote notes, chased down information as best as I could. But, one question remained elusive. The series of figures in the north aisle were secular minstrels not the more typical rendering of angels playing instruments. Why were they there? Beverley was the headquarters of a guild of minstrels, so they were prominent in town, but did the guild pay for the carvings? Or, did the local carvers look at what was around them and decide to carve that? I never did find any records that helped sort out those questions and since I didn’t need to answer that for my thesis I let it go. I planned to continue my education, pursuing a Ph.D., and continue researching the carvings, but life changed. I moved on to other things. But the question stayed with me.
From Thesis Topic to Fiction Book
In early 2018, while walking on the beach, a thought came to me. What if I wrote a book, a work of historical fiction, and answered that question as I wanted to. I had long thought I’d never write fiction because I didn’t know what to write about, but now I had an idea. I rolled it around in my head a couple of hours, only to realize I didn’t want to write historical fiction. I wanted to write an adventure/mystery/thriller. So the story began shifting in my head, and by the end of the day, I had a rough outline of the story.
Thirty years after selecting the figures as my thesis topic, I began writing my first work of fiction using those same figures in the plot. I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and produced 57000 words toward my book. The carvings I studied 30 years ago have come back to life for me. And I can’t wait to finish the book and share it with the world.