Monday, 8 September 2014

Making History Fun

When I was in school, in the 50s and 60s, subjects like history were largely taught almost by rote. Lists of kings and wars and laws and on and on.

When my children were in school, in the 80s and 90s, history lessons were a bit better, but covered a limited range of topics that didn't make a lot of sense to me. The GCSE course covered medicine in the American West and the Long March in China, amongst other things.

No wonder people think history is boring and irrelevant!

My grandson, who is 9, is reading the Horrible Histories books and watching the TV series. There is a web site too. The facts they give are all true, but they pick out the horrible bits, which kids love. The books are full of cartoons, and the TV series is full of silly songs. The author of the books, Terry Deary, says they are his revenge for boring history lessons when he was a child.

There are lots of things done today to make history more interesting. One of the best is the re-enactors, groups of people who dress up and act out daily life and battles from history. I even went to a history chef presentation where we learned how to make medieval food, and it tasted quite good.

One day, I stood and looked up at ruins of Swansea Castle, which stand in the city centre, and wondered what it was like when it was lived in. My original idea was to write a time-travel fantasy where someone went back in time in the castle. I went home and Googled it, and became fascinated by stories from the medieval lords of Gower.

These were real people with real problems. Some of them were clever, some were hopeless, just like people today. I got drawn in to do more and more research, and as I pieced together the story of William de Breos and his son-in-law John de Mowbray, I discovered their story had not yet been told. Using Alina, William's daughter and John's wife, I was able to tie the story together.

I figured if it fascinated me it may well fascinate others, and turned it into a book, Alina, The White Lady of Oystermouth. The White Lady is her ghost that haunts Oystermouth Castle, where the family lived. The book has so far sold about 350 print copies, mostly to locals and tourists, and a few copies in ebook form.

The success of that book sent me back to my research and resulted in Broken Reed: The Lords of Gower and King John, which tells the story of Alina's ancestor who rose to great heights as a confidant of King John, and then fell to utter ruin.

My aim through these books is to tell a cracking good story in an accessible way, to make the history come alive. I hope I've succeeded.

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