The quotations below encapsulate many of the reasons I chose the novel form for the Berkeley Series.
There is no doubt that fiction makes a better job of the truth.
Nothing factual that I write or say will be as truthful as my fiction.
Biographies are but the clothes and buttons of the man. The biography of the man himself cannot be written.
Like many rich men, he thought in anecdotes; like many simple women, she thought in terms of biography.
Biography lends to death a new terror.
Discretion is not the better part of biography.
Just how difficult it is to write biography can be reckoned by anybody who sits down and considers just how many people know the real truth about his or her love affairs.
One good anecdote is worth a volume of biography.
William Ellery Channing
People think that because a novel's invented, it isn't true. Exactly the reverse is the case. Biography and memoirs can never be wholly true, since they cannot include every conceivable circumstance of what happened. The novel can do that. Anthony Powell
There is no psychology; there is only biography and autobiography.
There is properly no history, only biography.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Biography is the only true history.
I can find my biography in every fable that I read.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Almost any biographer, if he respects facts, can give us much more than another fact to add to our collection. He can give us the creative fact; the fertile fact; the fact that suggests and engenders.
When THE WOLF AND THE LAMB was a Work in Progress, I described it as a biographical novel, a recognised genre in those days. Several months after publication, the tag was changed to 'novelised biography'. This doesn't fit under a ready-made heading, but more accurately describes what's going on. To me, and it seems to readers, 'biographical novel' is opaque, whereas 'novelised biography' sparks curiosity. Who? When? Where? How? Why?
The subtle shift in emphasis has aroused a more focused interest.
Why not just write a biography? It might have been easier! A novelist, whilst using imagination to reconstruct events and decide what hinges upon what, cannot muse upon an historic timeline. A distinct chronology is demanded and, because the story is about real people, it deserves to be as faithful as can be made.
Firstly, I chose the novel form because this woman's experience begged to live in (almost) 3-D. It needed to be a product of the social, cultural, economic, religious and political conflict of the times. The late Georgian era was one of dynamic change to landscape and livelihood and the beginning of a revolution that is still going on. Then there was Bonaparte, the Corsican Monster, on the doorstep. I wanted to make a psychological journey into Mary Cole's life and try to discover how it was for her, how she forced the locks of the oubliette that was the female universe, whilst keeping the reputation lost to her ambitious sisters. There is no doubt that she identified with many of Mary Wollstonecraft's beliefs, but never resorted to aggressive, or even assertive, feminism.
The second reason, and this is bound up with #1, is because I can tell you what appears to be true, but it may not convey the truth about this remarkable lady. Yes, mine is a personal reconstruction and it's possible that there are places I've joined up the dots wrongly. But from ranging wide and delving deep into research documents, trawling through thousands and thousands of records, checking and cross-referencing, this is the basis on which I believe it happened. It proves nothing if not the old adage that truth is stranger than fiction.
As a young novelist, I rifled through less well-known figures of history in a bid to find a subject that snagged attention but hadn't been tackled. On an arts course based in Bath, a visit to Berkeley Castle brought the quest to an end. There, in the drawing-room, flanking one side of the fireplace wall, was the Hoppner painting above. It brought a tingle to the nape. I knew that woman. In spite of her Jane Austen clothes, Mary Cole struck me as modern, a woman whose strength of character shone through her beauty. There is in her a wistfulness, a touch of injury and a resolve not to be defeated by circumstance. She had plenty of confidence, instilled by a mother who saw status as an accident of birth, and a father who strove to provide an education for his daughters, albeit modest, in a local academy.
They were all women of destiny.
The sisters, Ann and Susan, made themselves available among the aristocracy and eventually married well, emigrating to the New World where they daily played out their roles among prosperous merchant bankers and the founders of the American Constitution. Mary, the youngest, was demure, and from the moment the feckless Lord Berkeley spotted her sitting in a bow window in Gloucester with her needlework, he hounded her from every hiding-place, finally resorting to kidnap.
She consorted with all the movers and shakers of her day, including royalty, some of whom were antagonistic and some who genuinely loved her.
Her story has been with me for more than thirty years. I do hope readers will enjoy it, but whatever they make of it, this is my magnum opus. Into Book Three, the story is still evolving and there are more scintillating dots to join up which cast a trenchant light upon the earlier decades and present a whole new tier of consequences. One thing is certain, old enemies die hard and scandal has a life of its own.
It is a fascinating journey which has enriched my life beyond telling.
A Berkeley Castle window through which Mary might have looked out upon her beloved Vale
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