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Branching out into Historical Fiction

April 8, 2014

Having recently started work as an historical properties steward with English Heritage I have branched out into reading historical fiction. My favourite so far is Philippa Gregory’s The Kingmaker’s Daughter (Simon & Schuster UK: 2012) which follows the life and trials of Richard III’s wife Anne Neville.
The story is told from her perspective with chapters structured according to place and date e.g ‘Barnard Castle, County Durham, Autumn 1465’:
‘We are both summoned, Isabel and me, to my father’s private rooms in one of our houses in the north: Barnard castle. This is one of my favourite homes, perched on cliffs over the River Tees, and from my bedroom window I can drop a stone into the foaming water a long, long way below. It is a little high-walled castle, surrounded by a moat and beyond that a grey stone outer wall, and behind that, clustered around the wall for safety, is the little town of Barnard Castle where they fall to their knees when we ride by. Mother says that our family, the Nevilles, are like gods to the people of the North, bound to them by oaths which go back to the very beginning of time when there were devils and sea serpents, and a great worm, …’
Readers of this blog will know that I can trace my own family back to this area which has both inspired much of my poetry and provided me with arts/heritage contracts in recent years.
Due to recent reductions in arts funding and some lateral thinking on my part I have secured a part-time contract with Richmond Castle which is part of a cluster of four properties including Barnard Castle, Middleham Castle and Mount Grace Priory.
The work is both varied and interesting and has had an impact on my reading which at some point in time will no doubt carry through into my writing. I’m not planning on producing a work of historical fiction just yet but I was interested to learn of a short story competition which invites people to write 2,500 words inspired by or set in a real or imagined historical house.
Further details of this free to enter competition are available from http://www/ and are mentioned in Avril Joy’s newsletter (my source of information) available from
As for the Nevilles, oaths, devils, sea serpents and great worms, I’m sure there’s a story in there somewhere involving my paternal ancestors. As I recited in my poem Recording at a well attended poetry evening in Leyburn on Sunday night,
‘The Bowman’s came to conquer,
with William in ’66,
started the search for silver,
copper, iron and zinc,
hushed the Pennines for lead,
struck veins of black gold.’
In Land of my Ancestors, the title poem of the series, I mention how my forefathers transformed the spine of England into ‘a dragon’s glinting backbone.’
These and other poems inspired by research into my family history are available as free downloads from my author page at

  1. judisutherland permalink

    “This is one of my favourite homes”. If only! It seems that I will also be moving to Barnard Castle in the not-too-distant… to a slightly smaller place than the Nevilles’, but with a rather better roof.

    • Hope you move goes smoothly. If you are interested in joining a writers’ in Barnard Castle, ‘Teesdale Words’ meet at The Witham on the last Wednesday of a month from 5.30-7.00p.m. Best regards, Judith.

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