Writer found a gate­way to the me­dieval world close to home

Cas­san­dra Clark tells Sarah Free­man how grow­ing up in East York­shire in­spired her ac­claimed se­ries of me­dieval mys­ter­ies.

Yorkshire Post - Culture & The Guide - - BOOKS -

CAS­SAN­DRA Clark is on some­thing of a mis­sion. While Bri­tain of the me­dieval age is of­ten painted as a pretty law­less, dis­ease-rid­den place to live, the au­thor of the pop­u­lar Hilde­gard se­ries is hop­ing that along with selling a few copies of her books, she will also bust a few myths.

“Gen­er­ally when you read any­thing about that pe­riod it is al­ways about the de­press­ing do­mes­tic squalor and dis­ease,” says Cas­san­dra, whose third book in the se­ries, The Law of An­gels is out later this month. “How­ever, the truth is rather dif­fer­ent, they were ac­tu­ally a pretty civilised bunch. They lis­tened to mu­sic, of­ten wore won­der­ful clothes and the towns were very or­derly places. Dare I say it, but it wasn’t that much dif­fer­ent to to­day.”

Cas­san­dra, who grew up in Cot­ting­ham, was in­spired to write the first book in the se­ries, Hang­man Blind, after a long pe­riod of look­ing after her el­derly par­ents. Previously, she’d writ­ten plays and the li­bretti for sev­eral cham­ber op­eras, but look­ing around for a new project she kept coming back to the places she knew as a child.

“You re­ally can’t es­cape the con­nec­tions to the me­dieval pe­riod and I’d grown up hear­ing sto­ries about Meaux Abbey just a few miles down the road near Bev­er­ley. Noth­ing of the struc­ture sur­vives, but when it was founded in the 12th cen­tury it ri­valled the likes of Rievaulx.

“Just when I had nearly fin­ished the first book, in a tiny dusty Vic­to­rian li­brary I dis­cov­ered the Chron­i­cles of Meaux which had been writ­ten in 1395 and I keep find­ing out new lit­tle snip­pets of in­for­ma­tion about it all the time.

“There is some­thing about these places and what went on in­side them that re­ally fas­ci­nates me, although I never ac­tu­ally in­tended to write a se­ries. In fact, if I had known the first book was go­ing to lead to more, I would prob­a­bly have toned down the joc­u­lar el­e­ments.

“The books have def­i­nitely got darker as they have gone along and the sense of in­trigue, I hope, has got deeper.” The se­ries cen­tres around Hilde­gard of Meaux, who is part abbess of the Cis­ter­cian or­der, part sleuth, and its his­tor­i­cal back­drop has in­vited com­par­isons with CJ San­som’s Shard­lake nov­els.“The other thing about the Me­dieval age is that peo­ple tend to think women were these sub­servient crea­tures, when in fact in many spheres they were seen as equals to men.

“Although CJ San­som is writ­ing a few hun­dred years after Hilde­gard, I can see why peo­ple link the two. I have to say he was pretty hard on north­ern­ers in Sov­er­eign, but don’t worry I’m al­ready plot­ting a me­dieval re­venge in the fourth book of the se­ries which moves to Lon­don and the Houses of Par­lia­ment.”

CAS­SAN­DRA CLARK: The writer, from Cot­ting­ham, was in­spired by sto­ries of the van­ished Meaux Abbey near Bev­er­ley.

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