Fiona McIntosh

The inspiration for Tapestry – an historical timeslip

The idea for this novel came from reading an account of one of only two escapes from the history of the Tower of London, beautifully written like a wonderful series of vignettes by Nigel Jones in his book called Tower. Do read it for all of its grisly, brilliant, historical tales.

Anyway, I was so enchanted by the tale of courageous Lady Nithsdale, who by all accounts, was fragile of health and yet she undertook the most audacious and inspired escape on behalf of her husband that was so daring it was comical in its simplicity. How she ever found the nerve to pull it off is extraordinary and I can only imagine how terrified she was that night, on the eve of her husband’s beheading, and the willpower it took to keep a straight face, an iron nerve and achieve the ‘misdirection’ to get her husband out of Britain’s most feared fortress. There was no match for the Tower of London in Europe but a tiny Welsh woman, married to a Scottish earl and driven by her love for him, made mockery of the British Crown.

I had to use this story. I knew as soon as I finished reading about her daring that I wanted to wrap fiction around it and I remember telling my agent that I could feel some magical fiction of a timeslip novel working really well. At first he was horrified that I was about to tamper with British history with fantasy but hopefully no one can be offended by the story that began to wrap itself around the Earl and Countess that clashes modern Britain with early Georgian Britain in a timeslip that felt so right as I crafted it.

The first place I went researching was London and I was so lucky that my agent knew the Chief Constable of the Tower, Sir Richard Dannatt, who together with his wife, made me feel so welcome in the Queen’s House – their home in the Tower. I had to keep pinching myself that I was seated in the house built in the reign of Henry VIII that was custodian to many famous prisoners including Guy Fawkes, Lady Jane Grey, Sir Thomas More and the Earl of Nithsdale of course.

I walked along the rooftop that Elizabeth I strolled, I sat in the window overlooking Traitor’s Gate that William ‘Braveheart’ Wallace and many other prisoners accused of treachery were brought through, I stood in the hallway and stared out over Tower Green, I sat in the council chamber where Guy Fawkes refused to name his accomplices before being taken for several days of torture and I walked down into the dungeon of the building to see where Thomas More was imprisoned before he was executed. Finally I got to walk through today’s cosy guest bedroom that once served as a gaol cell for William Maxwell, Earl of Nithsdale and from where his courageous wife first hatched her mad, wonderful, comical plan.

It was the most extraordinary experience that any writer of historical fiction could be given especially being able to immerse myself in the very rooms that my story took place some three hundred years earlier. And if that wasn’t quite enough I had a private showing of the Crown Jewels – gobsmackingly beautiful – and was a VIP standing right next to the Constable as he took the salute during the fabulous nightly Ceremony of the Keys.

An unforgettable day and I attribute much of the story’s atmosphere to that marvellous afternoon and evening in the Tower of London with the Dannatts when the tale of Lady Nithsdale and my own Tapestry came alive in my imagination.