Bestselling historical novelist SHARON PENMAN writes about the origins of her four-book medieval crime series THE QUEEN’S MAN and explains how her fictional creation has taken on a life of his own...
I’d just finished an 800 page novel, When Christ and His Saints Slept, long even by my standards, and I felt I needed a change of pace. Since I read mysteries for pleasure, it seemed only natural to try my hand at one.
The advantage of writing historical novels about real people and actual events is that I always start out with a road map, the disadvantage is that map often takes me places I’d rather not go; in the Middle Ages, the good guys did not often win and by the end of one of my books, the landscape is likely to be littered with bodies. So it was very liberating to be able to write about a purely fictional character, to know his fate was entirely in my hands.
My creation was Justin de Quincy – I wanted him to be an agent – a ‘Queen’s Man’ – of the legendary Eleanor of Aquitaine. To serve the queen, Justin had to be well educated and a skilled rider who could handle a sword; despite some Hollywood films to the contrary, it took years to master a knight’s craft. Yet I also wanted Justin to have an outsider’s perspective, so I made him the illegitimate son of the Bishop of Chester, who’d seen to his education but was unwilling to acknowledge him. Theirs was a bi-lingual world, French spoken by the upper classes, English by the others, so Justin must be fluent in both languages. Because he grew up in the Marches, he conveniently spoke some Welsh, too. He was young, just twenty, wary and observant as only one raised as an orphan could be. But then he learned the truth about his paternity and his life took a turn he could never have imagined. Coming upon an ambush in a snowy forest, he was entrusted by a dying man with an urgent letter for the queen, a letter that would solve the mystery of England’s missing king and Eleanor’s beloved son, Richard Lionheart.
So far Justin has loyally served Eleanor in four books. He has been at the siege of Windsor Castle. He has become unlikely allies with the young Welsh prince, Llywelyn ab Iorwerth, star of my novel Here Be Dragons. He has prowled the streets of London, raced the incoming tide at Mont St Michel, tracked a killer into Holy Innocent’s Cemetery in Paris, and been thrust into a Breton dungeon. It is not easy being the queen’s man, especially when she wants him to save her wayward son, John, from his own worst impulses.
I’ve missed Justin and I promised his Facebook Fan Club that I would let him infiltrate my new historical, A King’s Ransom, for never had Eleanor needed his services more as she struggled to raise Richard’s ransom. Justin is a modest lad and I am sure he’d be thrilled to learn he has a Facebook Fan Club, assuming, of course, that I could make him understand what Facebook is!
Next for Justin? Another sojourn into Wales, I hope.
Click here to find out more about The Queen's Man series.