A recent review of Kindred Spirits: York on the Historical Novel Review Blog, Discovering Diamonds noted that almost the whole ‘cast’ of the Kindred Spirits series is dead – oddly, this isn’t something I think of when I’m writing in my little world! But that’s where we are with Kindred Spirits; following the ghosts of historical characters, in contemporary settings, as my elevator pitch has become!
This wasn’t planned, given that I’m the biggest coward I know, but as the second, extended part of that elevator pitch goes, they are stories about ghosts, rather than ghost stories, which I see as an important differentiator; I’m out to entertain, potentially inform, never scare.
One of the key things within a series is the recurrence of key characters or themes. Although there are a couple of characters who have appeared more than once in the books (more on him, um, them, later), the key ‘character’ in each Kindred Spirits tale is the location the tale is set, and I like to think that each location does indeed have a character. Anyone who has visited a historical site will know how certain places have a particular ‘feel’ to them, I’m sure?
Let’s start with the Tower of London, the location of the first book in the series. To me, the place has a foreboding atmosphere, a hint of a brooding sadness. Of all Britain’s historical locations, it probably has the most fearsome reputation, with the number of famous (and infamous) prisoners and victims who have lived, and indeed died, within its walls. Even in glorious sunshine, there’s definitely an ‘atmosphere’ to the place, but then, I’ve often wondered how much of that is us projecting onto a location, given how much we know about it, and the suffering that’s taken place?
Within the Tower, we meet my favourite leading man, Richard III, and his long-standing friend and partner-in-crime, Anne Boleyn. Given the potentially dark topics which could come to light in the tale, we also have some comic light relief, led mainly by the two Georges, Boleyn and Clarence, and plenty of ‘classic’ hauntings, with chain-rattlings, lost heads, and barrels of malmsey…
The Royal Mile to me has a more playful atmosphere to it, given its long history of ghostly goings-on, and active encouragement for people to go and get scared witless down its dark alleys and underground vaults. Here, I thought, the story of Mary, Queen of Scots fitted in perfectly. She’s an interesting character and throwing her together with the father she had never known, and his two wives, was too tempting a plotline to ignore! Adding in some well-established local ghosts, such as Janet Douglas, Lady Glamis, and the Covenanters in Greyfriar’s Kirkyard, not to mention the famous dog who I’m sure would reside there, made it a really interesting mix of eras and characters. Janet was accused of trying to kill Mary’s father, and yet, I thought the two women might have got along, apart from that awkward fact. Let’s face it, after all these years, they would probably have worked out such issues, and now, being women of a similar age and upbringing, becoming good friends made sense.
For the third in the series, things had to be a little more respectful, with a visit to Westminster Abbey. Given its importance in British history, and significance as a place of remembrance and celebration today, I decided that too many ghostly goings-on wouldn’t have been appropriate in the abbey. Instead, any real hauntings happened beyond the boundaries of the religious environment. Hauntings of the living that was. Having Mary, Queen of Scots, Elizabeth I and Mary I under one roof, as it were, was too good an opportunity to miss. As the guidebooks tell us, there are over three thousand burials and memorials within Westminster Abbey, including the final resting places of seventeen monarchs, and plenty of consorts. Having Plantagenets, Tudors and Stuarts in the mix was a great chance to see what would happen if the great and the good all came together, and despite initial fears that the scope was too big, it was actually great fun! Annoyingly, as a Ricardian, when I pulled together my ‘cast list’, it was obvious who the leading man for Westminster had to be: Henry VII. But then, it DID mean there was an equally obvious choice as to who might throw a little bit of conflict his way!
Those two historical troublemakers helped set the scene for the fourth in the series, when we headed north again, to York. For some reason, things got a little darker in York, with trouble brewing between Romans and Vikings, stirred up by a mysterious force behind the scenes. Despite the darkness, there were hints of fun too, with Dick Turpin and Guy Fawkes making appearances, along with the 3rd Duke of York (yes, Richard III’s father), and that wonderful northern hero, Harry Hotspur.
So although the four books, to me at least, have quite different characters, there’s the same thread of getting along together, and resolving problems, which run through them all. And it isn’t just the novels – three shorter pieces have also made their way into the world.
With the Kindred Spirits series, though certain characters have appeared more than once (current record is a certain Plantagenet king, appearing in five out of seven stories!), it’s nice to meet a mostly new cast of characters each time, each connected to the location in question. Of course, there are potentially far more ghosts in each venue than there is space in a book, but they’re the headliners, as it were…
The series has really remotivated me when it comes to visiting historical sites and buildings. I’ve always loved doing it, but now I have the Kindred Spirits world in the back of my head the whole time, constantly thinking through who might be hanging around, as it were, and who they would or wouldn’t get along with from the rest of the place’s history.
With so many fabulous historical sites in Britain alone, not to mention overseas, there’s potentially no end to the Kindred Spirits scope!
Jennifer C. Wilson – Historical Fiction With Spirit!
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