Sunday, 3 December 2017

What Sharon Bennett Connolly learnt when writing Heroines of the Medieval World

It is my pleasure to welcome to my blog, Sharon Bennett Connolly, author of Heroines of the Medieval World and blogger extraordinaire!

Sharon has been fascinated by history for over thirty years and before embarking on her writing career she had many jobs including being a tour guide at historical sites, including Conisbrough Castle.


She is now having great fun, passing on her love of the past to her son, hunting dragons through Medieval castles or exploring the hidden alcoves of Tudor Manor Houses.

She runs the fabulous blog, History…the Interesting Bits, where she writes about the lesser-known stories and people from European history. Her first non-fiction book, Heroines of the Medieval World, was published by Amberley in September 2017. Sharon is now working on her second non-fiction book, Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest, which will be published in late 2018.

What Sharon Bennett Connolly learnt when writing Heroines of the Medieval World


Getting the opportunity to write Heroines of the Medieval World was a dream come true – I have always wanted to write a book. It came about after I entered a competition run jointly by Amberley and the Historical Writers Association, where I had to send in a synopsis of the book, chapter plan, 2,000 word introduction and a short bio of myself. I got the best rejection letter ever – and email from Amberley saying I didn’t win the competition, but they liked my idea so much they would like to publish it anyway. Writing your first book is a huge learning curve. Heroines of the Medieval World is a non-fiction book, so it took a huge amount of research, checking and double-checking facts and sifting the fact from the fiction.



The first task was picking my Heroines. I had to decide who to include, who to leave out. I wanted a wide-ranging assortment, with a combination of the famous, not-so-famous and even the obscure. Some heroines more-or-less refused to be left out – such as Eleanor of Aquitaine and Joan of Arc. You can’t have a book about medieval heroines and leave out the two everyone knows about. They were also two of the easiest to find information on, because there has been so much written about them over the years. Although, the fun part with each of these women was that some of the sources were in French. I have ‘A’ Level French and have worked in Paris and at Eurostar, so I’m not ‘scared’ of French. Although medieval French is a different level! It was challenging and time consuming, but it was good to get the old brain cells working overtime.

With the more obscure Heroines, however, it can prove difficult to find enough information in order to write their stories. I like to use as many sources as possible, preferably primary sources, to make sure I get a full picture of the lady in question. Some of my Heroines were very local to where I grew up, in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, such as Nicholaa de la Haye; luckily, although Nicholaa is practically unknown on the national and international stage, as Castellan of Lincoln Castle, she is a local celebrity and as a result there was a lot of information in and around Lincoln itself, including the church in which Nicholaa is buried. It also meant I could visit the locations associated with them, explore Lincoln Castle and chat with the guides there, to get a more personal view of Nicholaa. It also helps that Nicholaa has been in the news in 2017; this year is the 800th anniversary of the Lincoln siege in which Nicholaa held the French at bay until William Marshall could get to her with his army.

These days there are some very useful sources available at your fingertips, including some of the greatest chronicles of the medieval era, such as Froissart and Orderic Vitalis. British History Online provides historic documents such as wills, pipe rolls, court proceedings etc. A fabulous resource came from Columbia University, who have a project known as Epistolae, in which you can find the Latin letters – and their translations - of some amazing medieval women, such as Heloise, Hildegard of Bingen and Adela of Normandy. These are the letters written, or dictated, by the women themselves and provide the best insight into what these women thought and what they were concerned about, not just in their everyday lives, but in their wider influence on the world. The problem with this, of course, was having to try to stay focused and avoid getting side-tracked with so many fascinating letters to read.

The research itself helped me to define the structure of the book. It made me realise that the best way to organise the chapters was to use the reasons the women were heroines – such as the warrior women, the writers, the rulers and the survivors. Divided into twelve chapters, this meant the book can be read from cover to cover, or by dipping into each individual chapter, depending on which type of Heroine you would like to read about.

I hope it works.

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Useful links:

Blog: https://historytheinterestingbits.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Thehistorybits/
Twitter: @Thehistorybits

Buy Heroines of the Medieval World:
Amazon UK
Amazon US