Authors often use part of their life experiences in creating their novels. What elements from my life are woven into The Stonemason’s Secret? Quite a lot!
This post is an answer to the question posed for the Open Book Blog Hop – what elements from your life are woven into your latest book? All posts from the blog hop can be read here.
There are some spoilers below. I am also doing revisions for this novel, so some of the things I mention may change or be taken out of the published version.
The Novel’s Beginning Idea
In 1988-89, I lived in the village of Hutton Cranswick in East Yorkshire. The town of Beverley was 10 miles down the road. I wanted to find the topic for my Master’s degree research, and with an interest in Medieval churches, the first place I visited was Beverley Minster.
What I discovered were the series of carvings of medieval minstrels in the Minster’s nave. Though my academic career ended after graduation, the carvings remained on my mind. I had always wondered why they were in Beverley Minster, what the story was behind them. In February 2018, while walking on the beach, I had the idea to write a historical fiction novel and answer my own questions.
Then I realized I don’t read much historical fiction, so I changed it to what I did read – an action thriller. The protagonist is an art historian researching the carvings to complete her doctorate degree. She is fascinated with how the carvings came to be there, so she chooses them for her research. While those parts reflect my life, unlike me, she discovers secret clues on the back of some of the carvings and learns what ancient treasure it leads to.
Yorkshire Settings for The Stonemason’s Secret
Once I had those ideas in place, I knew that the book would be set in Beverley, York, and the East Yorkshire villages I lived around. The area is not well known to many in the United States and I wanted to share this part of the world with others.
I have scenes in Beverley Minster, of course, and also throughout the town, having characters visit the Friary, St. Mary’s, and get chased through part of town. They also visit York, explore the Minster there, and, again, get chased through the medieval streets nearby. These were all areas I knew well from my own exploration of them.
Several East Yorkshire villages are visited by the main characters in their search for clues and what they lead to. I wanted to connect the storyline with Cranswick, the village I lived in. I needed a medieval church or monument to tie in with the story, but there is none. Instead, I made Cranswick the home of one of my characters, and describe it as he drives through the town.
The Main Character
When it came to creating my main character, much of her is based on my interests and life experiences. Sarah Walker is female, divorced, and starting her life over in her early 40s. Her academic interest is medieval art history with the Renaissance a close second, reflecting the areas I focused on in my studies. She even chose the minstrel carvings to research for the same reason I did – they were unique and not well researched. While I ended my academic career with my Master’s degree, she is doing the research to complete her doctorate and go on to teaching at a university or museum.
On a more personal level, her feelings of awe and wonder when she walks into Beverley Minster are very much my memories of walking into medieval cathedrals in England and France.
The rib of the vaults met in the center of each bay and were decorated with a brightly painted boss. Turning her gaze down past the white purbeck marble walls she saw the large piers that ran the length of the nave and helped hold everything up.
“I remember the first time I came here. I walked in and just stood and stared.” She looked at Thaddeus. “I’ve always felt such awe knowing how buildings were built in the middle ages. To be able to create this without the technology we have now is amazing.” She started down the north aisle again. “It may sound silly, but I’ve always felt I belonged here.”
Sarah’s general description is based on what I see in the mirror. She too has long, brown, curly hair, and often tucks a stray curl behind her ear as I do. I see her as about my height and weight, although she is more athletic than I am. She takes kickboxing classes, both for fitness and for self-defense reasons. I work out regularly and will happily walk for hours, but Sarah is fit enough to run through Beverley and York and avoid capture by the bad guys. I suppose if I was chased I would run too, but I’m not sure I could manage it as well as she does!
During the first draft, I wrote her too much like me. I realized for an adventure thriller she needed to be stronger and possess more self-confidence that I do, so revisions have focused on giving her these qualities.
Sarah is also divorced with no children. A bad decision while her marriage fell apart led her to leave school for a few years. When she talks about needing to start over, to finish her degree and get a job to pay the bills, that is very much how I felt when I my first marriage ended. I think it is those small details that can help readers develop a connection with the characters.
Yes, there is a lot of my life woven into The Stonemason’s Secret, and part of the balancing act of writing is putting in things you know and love but not letting the book turn into a sort of memoir or bogging down the story with characters who don’t fit the genre.
If you enjoyed this post, please take a look at the other blogs that are participating in this Open Book Blog Hop. Each author has unique things from their life that work into their books.