I’ve finally given up the struggle to keep all the information about three kings called Edward, a succession of tournaments and a huge cast of characters in my head. So I decided to drag the turn of the fourteenth century into the turn of the twenty-first century by creating a spreadsheet that gives a glimpse of who was doing what and when.
What’s fascinating about the exercise is that isolated pieces of information suddenly begin to make sense. You see the plots and the scheming and the deals that were being done behind the scenes and historical figures become real people with good reasons for doing what they did. For example Edward II didn’t ban Thomas, Earl of Lancaster from holding tournaments because he was a spoilsport, he did it because he didn’t want him getting together with other earls to hatch a rebellion.
The other good thing about making the spreadsheet is that you can see the gaps. When a character is as well documented as Henry de Lacy, for example, almost all of his whereabouts are recorded and so I can’t suddenly put him somewhere he wasn’t. (Even if I am writing fiction it is based in fact and I don’t believe that historical fiction authors should change facts because it’s surprising how many people actually learn their history from novels.) So, the good thing about gaps is that if a character is not as well known it’s acceptable to use some imagination to create their story. Often it’s a challenge to construct a story that works within the truth and also has a viable and compelling plotline that will keep my readers interested. Sometimes I wish that I could move people around or bend a few facts or change a few dates, but I resist because I believe that if I think about it for long enough I will find a solution and who knows, as long as there is nothing that disproves something I’ve written it could be the truth.