Why Medieval? with Patricia Bracewell

My transformation into a medievalist was like falling in love with an old friend. I’ve always been a great reader, and in high school I used to curl up with books by Rosemary Sutcliff, Jean Plaidy, and J.R.R. Tolkien although I gave little conscious thought to the history that infused them. For me the books were all about plot. In college I majored in English Lit, so when I was completely beguiled by a course in early British history I still considered it no more than a sidebar. When I took my first trip to Europe, the medieval streets enchanted me, but my gaze was still focused on a more literary landscape.

Fast forward through graduate school, a teaching career, marriage and children, many more adventures through Europe’s medieval byways, and an increasing admiration for the historical fiction of writers like Dorothy Dunnett, Jack Whyte and Bernard Cornwell. I realized that I wanted to do what they had done. I wanted to write about men and women who lived in another time, to imagine the past and bring it to life. But that would mean research, study, immersing myself in a mass of detail that seemed mountainous and overwhelming. I resisted, filled with desire but doubtful of my abilities. One day, perusing a website that has long since evaporated, I spotted a reference to Emma of Normandy, a queen of England completely unknown to me. Who was she? When was she? I started to research and, smitten, I started to write.

My research took me deep into the library stacks of Berkeley and Stanford, then on pilgrimage to Rouen, Fecamp, Canterbury and Winchester as I followed in the footsteps of a woman who lived a thousand years ago. I took a summer course in Anglo Saxon History at Cambridge taught by a brilliant and engaging professor. I attended my first International Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo where I discovered a world of scholarship that I never dreamed existed. I emerged from these experiences a full blown medievalist with my gaze tightly focused on 11th century England.

As for my book, it is in the hands of an enthusiastic agent. Will it ever see publication? Well, I’m optimistic enough that I’ve started writing the sequel. So, like so many others I’m journeying forward into the medieval past. It began with a spark that smoldered for years until an all-but-forgotten English queen breathed the spark into a flame.

Patricia Bracewell

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