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 getting a job to help occupy my time wasn’t an option.
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. So I began helping out on Wednesday mornings for a couple of hours.
I 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. Originally attached to a local monastery, it is the size of a cathedral, it’s west towers dominating the flat landscape of East Yorkshire a few miles in from the North Sea. A few months later I noticed on a clear, sunny day, I could see the towers from the 2nd-floor guest room.
Most of the structure of the Minster was medieval, giving me several options to research. The east window is made up of all the medieval stained glass left from throughout the Minster, yet it was later than I wanted to study. 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 typical rendering of angels playing instruments and official musicians. 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. I didn’t need to answer that for my Master’s degree so I let it go. I thought I would continue my education, pursue a Ph.D., and continue researching the carvings, but life changed. I moved on to other things. But the question always stayed with me.
And 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 questions 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, then realized 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.
And so 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. I still have a lot of revising to do, scenes I know I need to add in and development of characters and scenery, but my first draft is done. 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.
Subscribe to the monthly newsletter to get notified of the latest essays. https://gladysstrickland.com/newsletter-signup