I recently asked Erica Lainé, author of the Isabella of Angoulême trilogy about her writing life. Here she shares how she started out writing Isabella of Angoulême, The Tangled Queen part 1.
Have you always written, Erica?
In my professional life I had written text books, classroom teaching materials, government reports, consultancy reports and guided readers – but I had not written ‘creatively’ since my school days. I felt it was time to re-connect with my creative side and so I enrolled on a week-long workshop with Philippa Pride, the Book Doctor. I felt liberated into a world of imagination which seemed so fulfilling that my desire for creative fiction writing really started to develop. I followed on immediately with a six-month on-line course at the University of East Anglia. If L'atelier des ecrivains - The Writer's Workshop, France had been available back then, I would have started my writing journey with them.
Did you have any writing support in these early days?
During the on-line writing course I made good virtual friends who eventually became good ‘real’ friends. We continued writing together for another three years after the course, by which time my fascination with Isabella had begun. Writing her story started to dominate my life. The first piece I wrote about her was a dense factual one-hour lecture for an Aquitaine Historical Society. It was well received and so this became my synopsis and chapter break down. I had some essential feedback for Chapter 1 from a writing group and then it was a question of writing something every day.
Was it easy to stay focussed?
I kept to my daily routine, but my words became unfocussed with Isabella’s daunting and complex history. I almost lost heart until I realised that the anniversary of Magna Carta in 2015 was a perfect year to use as a deadline. I changed my approach a little and decided not to concentrate on the politics of King John, her husband, as I knew he would hijack the book: I just tried to focus on Isabella’s story and life. I mixed what facts I could find with my creative ideas of how she would have matured and developed.
Do you plan, or just write from your head?
I kept a large notebook where I recorded thoughts, descriptions and details that I had researched hoping that these would give vitality to the book. As it is based on historical events it was more research than plotting or planning. I did read other historical fiction set in the 11-13th century so that my mind was completely immersed in that time, and from that Isabella developed and blossomed.
And when Part 1 was finished?
Well, then the self-doubt hit. Before I had completed the book I was too wrapped up in Isabella to doubt the need to get her story out there. But once I had finished I wondered if I had done her justice? Was the fact and the fiction interwoven enough? Would anyone want to read this book? Was it a history lesson or historical fiction? Even now that Part 3 is finished, this will be, for me, an eternal question.
Erica was born in Southampton in 1943 and after training for the theatre at the Arts Educational School in Tring she worked in the Libraries and Arts department of the London Borough of Camden as a library assistant for books delivered to the housebound, requiring that she read and recommend a huge selection of books. In 1977 Erica moved to Hong Kong and worked for the British Council: teaching, writing primary school text books and managing English Language projects for Chinese teachers of English. She was awarded an MBE in 1998 for her work. Erica is now retired and lives in SW France where she is President of a local History Society. She began writing seriously and creatively in 2011 and says it is the most wonderful experience to be liberated into the world of imagination and stories. You can read more about Erica on her website.