I am one of those people who cannot easily fall asleep. Short of medicating myself, I’ve tried everything but to no avail. I remain awake while my mind continues to toil, sifting through the endless minutiae of the day. Years ago, I discovered that if I created stories in my head, reworking them over and over, directing the players and fine-tuning the dialog, I would eventually drift off to sleep. The characters would be waiting for me each night, and I would replay their stories, always starting from the beginning. The repetition provided me with a comforting backdrop for my brain. Think: white noise. One morning, I came to realize that my stories were only unfinished chapters, and that my characters never realized their potentials. That was the day that I sat down and started writing Wild Lavender.
It was amazing. Over the next eight months, I was able to watch Anna and Roger and Larkin grow into their roles alongside a slew of supporting cast members. Instead of rewinding the tape each night, the stories would continue where I had left off writing. Oddly enough, I started sleeping better, often waking up in the morning with the next chapter in my head. Before I knew it, I had written 304,000 words—Wild Lavender is much shorter now, but that’s a tale for another day.
From the beginning, I knew that Wild Lavender would take place around the 12th century. I had been helping out with my kids’ school’s Medieval Day, so the time period was already on my mind. Now, I am not a historian, nor an expert in all things medieval, and I realized early on that the research involved in setting up the novel’s background in “real” history was not in my wheelhouse—there wasn’t enough time in the day, not with twin boys running amok. Still, I was resistant to the idea of writing fantasy. When my freelance work starting picking up, time became scarce, and writing was limited to after their bedtime. Something in my life had to give.
Looking back, I can pinpoint the exact moment when I opted to create the fantastical realm of Aurelia. I like to refer to it as “The Bogbur Incident.”
It began during the writing of Chapter 29, “Trouble in the Stable.” I needed some vehicle to bring the heroine and hero together, allowing them to have an intimate moment, albeit, an innocent one. Enter the cocklebur. I fell in love with the word. Cocklebur. It’s so fun to say. This little word fit perfectly with the time period. Further research revealed that it is poisonous to livestock. Cows, sheep, pigs, and yes, horses. Deadly toxic, I needed this burr to not only infect the hero’s horse—a destrier that the heroine herself had trained—but the hero as well. Doing so created the initial conflict between the characters that would later turn to passion. Cocklebur!
So simple, I had thought, until I read that the plant is native to North America. Though it is today an invasive species worldwide, it would not have been in Medieval Europe.
Not a problem for a determined writer: I have the internet! I was positive that I could find a similar plant, one native to Europe. Only, I didn’t. This is the part where I reveal the hero of this little post. Introducing: The BSBI (Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland).
One of the greatest conveniences of the internet is that a person is able to contact virtually anyone anywhere in the world. Most websites have this fabulous contact us button. If your search engines yield nada, you are only one click away from contacting an expert. My email was succinct, polite and appreciative of any information that they could provide regarding possible cocklebur copies in the UK. I was elated to discover a response in my inbox the very next morning.[Spoiler: My heroic expert is actually the villain.]
Dear Ms. Kelleher,
There are no such dangerous plants in the United Kingdom.
Cocklebur! I have to admit that I saved the email for years and read it whenever I needed to ground myself with a good laugh. More importantly, it was the kick in the pants that I required to make the decision to create the realm of Aurelia. I quit fighting against writing a fantasy romance. Pulling that stile opened the flood gates once and for all, and I am glad for it. I still strive to maintain the veracity of the time period in my writing—cheese between toasted slices of bread is not a sandwich; the 4th Earl of Sandwich had yet to be born—however, being able to fabricate names and places to my heart’s content is liberating.
I wish that I could find the BSBI email as I should dearly like to thank them for setting me on the correct path. For unlike the UK, there are many dangerous plants in Aurelia. One such bane is the bogbur, and its description is not-so-suspiciously similar to the cocklebur.