I have written three trilogies, and each time I wrote the third book in the set, I thought: okay, tie up all the loose ends, make sure everything you need or want to say about the ‘bigger picture’ has come to a satisfactory end, the main characters are happy and the secondary characters have all served their purpose, some with their own happy endings, some whose endings have prompted laughter, or in some instances, tears. Worthy tears, serve a purpose. In stories about war and battles, a heroic death on the field, as in The Blood of Roses where the reader had to feel the tragedy of what was lost on the field at Culloden, involves all of the emotions. Or in The Last Arrow, where one of my absolute favorite characters came to an end that undoubtedly shocked the readers as much as it shocked me when I decided to write it. Once before, in an earlier book, Bound by the Heart, I wrote a magnificent death scene for one of the main secondary characters, but in the final version, I just couldn’t do it. It was only my second published book and I didn’t want to upset any apple carts. Several years later, when writing the Scotland trilogy, I realized some deaths were important to the story, important to engage the readers’ emotions, important to being true to the voice inside my head that said: this is the way it would have happened.
In the past, some editors have criticized me for my graphic battle scenes and suggested I ‘soften’ them or remove them altogether. But honestly, I’ve yet to read a battle that was pretty or soft or where everyone survived to fight again.
Those who know me know my love for knights and castles and forest outlaws. I had a wonderful time creating my version of the Robin Hood legend, drawing on facts as well as fiction on which to base my story. The Last Arrow brought together all the hints and whispers set down in the first two books and, because of the deliberate thought that went into the title, I knew it would be the book where everything came to a dazzling end.
Or did it?
Flash forward twenty years. For most of those two decades, a story had been nagging at the back of my mind, a story involving a castle inhabited by the ghost of a character I had reluctantly killed off in The Last Arrow. I used to dream about scenarios where an inquisitive heroine was exploring castle ruins, finding a hidden door, going inside by herself as all irrational, good spooky tropes demand, and finding the little ghostly sprite sitting in the cobwebs. His task, after being locked away for seven hundred years, was to reveal a secret he must tell someone before he can carry on to the netherworld. I had variations of that dream many, many times over the twenty years and each time the nagging grew louder, to the point where I started jotting down scenes, thinking of plotlines, wondering… should I? Could I? The latter doubts came from the fact I have only ever written historical novels… with one ill-fated contemporary that permanently scarred my ego. Knights, pirates, Highlanders, highwaymen, outlaws let my imagination run amok and I feel most comfortable writing about them. I much prefer immersing myself in researching how to fire a crossbow than I do looking up the calibre of bullet for a Glock 17.
I suppose it is only fitting that a nagging dream should prompt me to write The Mark of the Rose because it was a recurring dream that I’d had since my teenage years that inspired Through A Dark Mist. The opening prologue of that book was, in every detail, the dream I’d had dozens of times. I only stopped having it after I wrote it down. With that thought prodding me on, it was only a matter of time before I gave in to the urge to write a fourth book in the Medieval trilogy, a book which does not bring my Sparrow back to ghostly life—although he is in there in a way that I hope makes readers smile—but which does involve two young women born seven centuries apart, one of whom has a story to tell of a lost princess and a royal bloodline that could have changed the course of history.
It was written as a stand-alone book and it is not necessary to read the first three. But as my editor said, when she was reading it over, she had a few tingles down her spine as she reacted to the revelations that the characters discovered on their parallel journeys to the truth.
Sparrow, I think, would be happy.