posted on 19/12/18
I’ve always been interested in history – as a boy growing up in Kent my parents regularly took me to visit the huge collection of local castles and historic sites. I was attracted to history as an academic subject because you can argue and prove your case based on evidence, rather than just your opinion.
As a writer I spend most of my time at home, so it’s a welcome opportunity to get out of my garret and revisit places that I find fascinating, without all the bother of hiring cars and making hotel bookings. I’m free to focus on the history and enthuse about the things that interest me – it’s work, but also a genuine pleasure!
It offers good balance between churches, castles and other historic sites, but we’re not rushing around to cram in places just for the sake of it. Everything fits into the overall story and is worthy of inclusion, but it’s also organised so there’s time for a proper lunch and there’s no unnecessary travelling.
The Bayeux Tapestry is great, not least because it’s very well presented in a splendid museum with some terrific models and other exhibits. I’m also delighted we’ve included Falaise Castle – as the birthplace of William the Conqueror, the trip would have been incomplete without it. Recently the custodians there have introduced a brilliant ‘augmented reality’ feature, where every visitor is issued with an iPad, which shows you how the interior of the keep would have looked in the late twelfth century. Everybody was like a little kid with these devices and absolutely loved it!
I’m interested in buildings and places, but not just from an architectural standpoint. I want to know who built it, why they built it, what were the consequences of events that unfolded here and what led up to this point. I’m interested in trying to understand how the characters, as well as the political, social and economic circumstances all contributed to the story.
On the trip I interweave various themes and characters so there’s narrative continuity rather than simply “here’s another interesting anecdote” about this building. What’s more, I want to get to the real story. Over the years myths and legends have built up around certain events and characters thanks to people in later centuries who created a romanticised version with storytelling tricks like “it is said that…”. I like to go back to the original evidence, and to what people actually did and said at the time.
Image: Section of the Bayeux tapestry, ©Ville de Bayeux – Normandy Tourist Board.