Maybe that title is a little ambiguous. I don’t know how to be a star in writing fiction (I can only wish) but over the last week I’ve been staving off serious work by spending my free time reading far too many historical novels. This has been an on-and-off pastime since I was about twelve, and the source of a truly embarrassing amount of knowledge about the Angevins, Plantagenets, Tudors and other royal, fratricidal families. The Tudors, of course, get a disproportionate amount of attention, which seems a little unfair since the Plantagenets lasted three times as long and had just as many insane, bloodsoaked intrigues as any Tudor could muster. But that’s by the way; what I often wonder, on reading the fortieth variation on “Anne Boleyn First Encounters Henry VIII” is what the actual people beneath the layers of fiction would think if they could read later generations’ ideas of what they were like. Would they like it? Hate it? Laugh like madmen? I think it would be fascinating to see what people made of your life five hundred years from now, and so, in the spirit of not doing any constructive work, here’s a few ways to make sure you get your own historical novel.
1. Be born royal or near-royal. This is the best, if you can manage it, because it means that unless you’re impossibly obscure royalty (electress-presumptive of Holstein-Schwaermerei) all you have to do is wait and *some* desperate author who can’t stomach another Anne Boleyn scene will get around to you and convince herself that today’s audience is sick of Tudors; what they really want to read about is the life of Duke Lionel of Clarence. This is how novels get written about people like Queen Anne.
2. If born royal, try to get yourself attached to some famous monarch or consort. There can be only one Anne Boleyn, but dutiful authors who feel obliged to write their way through all of the six wives will get around to Anne of Cleves and Katherine Parr eventually, and you’ll get your turn in the spotlight.
3. Try to be born in an age with really nice clothes. The Middle Ages/Renaissance wins in this category, hands down. Sure, there are novels about Queen Victoria, but there’d probably be a lot more if her ministers had worn doublets instead of clothes that looked suspciously like … suits. A letter concealed in a doublet is romantic and exotic; a letter concealed in a suit pocket is something you can find in any office on the planet.
4. Try to end your life by being executed, or at the very least dying in a picturesquely violent way. Execution (beheading) is preferable, since that gives your author a chance for a very dramatic prologue along the lines of “In twelve hours, I shall be no more. This last night of my life I shall not sleep – for what needs a dead woman of earthly sleep when she shortly trusts to sleep in Abraham’s bosom? But to you, my unknown confidante, I must make known the truth, for I trust my faithful servant Lucy will be able to smuggle this out of my cell when I am no more.” Of course, it does strain credulity that you could write all 300 pages of The Truth in less than half a day, but that’s why they’re called novels.
5. Try to be mysterious, so novelists will be panting to take advantage of the unknowns in your life to fill in the blanks with their drama of choice. To figure out if you’re mysterious, take a look around you. If you’re Romantically Mysterious, many of your associates will have question marks following the dates of their births. If you’re Controversially Mysterious, they’ll have question marks following the dates of their deaths.
6. Try … oh to hell with it, just try to be Anne Boleyn. Henry may have taken her crown away at the last, but she’ll always be Queen of Historical Fiction.