Thursday, 16 March 2017

Ideas from history - characters and events that NEED a story

So as a writer, I float around Pinterest a bit.

*shuffles paper aggressively* Fine: a lot.

But I see things sometimes that really intrigue me. For example, these historical happenings and characters that need a story. NEED. (It doesn’t have to be a novel. A short story could do it.)

(Okay, these characters might not need you to write a story about them. *deep breath* Complete confession: it's me. I'm the one who needs you to write a story about them. I want to read those stories. Without, selfishly, having to write them myself. But they also deserve a story.)

A warning: I have tried to reference these. The references may not always be accurate. These may well be legends (for example, Alwilda). Don’t base historical fiction off my notes without checking first!!

Another warning: history is not always pretty. This is not my fault. I have tried to only put the good stories here, but if you dig deeper you may find they’re ugly further down. Sorry.

Pirate princess Alwilda

5th century AD, Scandanavian princess called Alwilda. Her father tried to marry her to Alf, prince of Denmark. Alwilda didn’t want to so she and some female companions dressed as men, stole a ship, and sailed away. Met some pirates who needed a captain and they elected her to be their leader. Together became so infamous that Prince Alf was sent to stop them. When their ships met he captured her and she was so impressed by Alf’s skill that she revealed herself as the princess, agreed to marry him after all, and eventually became queen of Denmark.

(She's considered semi-legend or even full legend. But you’re writing fiction, so...)

Discovered on Pinterest (Tumblr via Pinterest, really, as happens a lot) and ‘researched’ on Wikipedia (such reputable sources I have!)

Young Caesar kidnapped by pirates

25-year-old Julius Caesar – before he became Caesar like you think of – was kidnapped by Cilician pirates. They said they’d ask a ransom of 20 talents of silver. Insulted, he made them raise it to 50 talents. In the 38 days it took to raise this sum, he joined in the pirates’ games, ordered the pirates around – for example, commanding them to be silent while he slept – and wrote poems and speeches. Any pirates who didn’t listen when he performed these he called ‘illiterate barbarians’.

(Now for the not-so-cute bit: He also promised to crucify them. Sure enough, the first thing he did once the ransom was paid was to raise a fleet, which raided the pirates and burned their stuff. The captured pirates reminded him of the times they played games together on the ship, so Caesar relented. And cut their throats. And then crucified them, because he was a man of his word.)

You can Google this – there seem to be a few references.

Lady Death, sniper

Lyudmila Pavlichenko, ‘Lady Death’. Ukranian/Russian; female sniper. Germans bombed Kiev University, so she joined as a sniper (instead of a nurse), joining a total of 5000 female snipers in the Russian army. She had 309 confirmed kills and rose from private to major. For more details there are facts on Wikipedia, but I preferred the artist’s version that I got from following a Pinterest link- it’s much more personal. Probably more inaccurate, but ‘personal’ - it talks about why she made that first shot (her 'spotter' partner got shot) and about her husband (probably met her as her 'spotter'? and once he got killed she went pretty dark).

Things that were surprisingly around at the same time

This one is copied directly from – well, Tumblr I guess, but I found it on Pinterest.

"Victorian England: 1837-1901
American Old West: 1803-1912
Meiji Restoration: 1868-1912
French pirvateering in the Gulf of Mexico: ended circa 1830"

"Conclusion: an adventuring party consisting of a Victorian gentleman thief, an Old West gunslinger, a disgraced former samurai, and an elderly French pirate is actually 100% historically plausible."

19y/o violinist turned ship surgeon

1838, John Hanchett joined the Henry as surgeon (before that he’d been studying violin in Paris). During the four-month voyage to Launcestion his diary mostly says ‘Very hot’ (and variations on that); but as a surgeon he drew a tooth, bled patients, and challenged the second mate to a duel over an oatmeal poultice.

I don’t know, there’s something about the thought of a nineteen-year-old violinist challenging the second mate on a ship to Van Diemens Land (Tasmania, Australia) to a duel over his duties as a surgeon – specifically, the oatmeal poultice – that just sounds like a story.

References: taken direct from the Maritime Museum in Hobart, Tasmania.

Nancy Bentley, 6y/o Navy mascot

In 1920 six-year-old Nancy Bentley was bitten by a snake while playing outside; she wouldn’t have survived the trip from Port Arthur (Tasmania) to the nearest town with a doctor. So her father rowed her out to the HMAS Sydney docked at Port Arthur Harbour. Unfortunately, King’s Regulations and Admiralty Instructions forbade women on board a naval ship, and officially the surgeon wasn’t there to treat civilians. So Nancy was enlisted in the Royal Australian Navy.

The navy surgeon treated her snake bite. They gave her a uniform. Her injury was listed as occurring “while skirmishing in the bush”. The Sydney took her to Hobart, where she received further medical treatment, then the entire crew took her to the cinema and gave her chocolates.

Her enlistment, if you can read it, says she was engaged “until fed up” and discharged eight days later as “required by her parents”. They had to cross out ‘boy’ to write ‘girl’... and she was only 3 feet 2 inches! (I suppose she was only six.) Her conduct record says she was “exceptional” in her seaman’s duties. It was 21 years before the next female was enlisted in the navy.

Reference here.


These are just a few historical/legend characters or events that made me think of stories (which of course I will not be leaving my Camp novel to investigate, absolutely not). Use as you wish, and tell me in the comments if you do! I'd love to hear.


  1. Wow. These are very intriguing. I can see why you feel they ought to be made into stories. I think I heard of the princess Alwilda one before, but I can't remember where. Fun post, Jem! :D

  2. Thanks! (and it means a lot to me that you are taking the time to read all these; seriously, thank you)


Comment away! I read all comments - no matter how old the post may be! - and I'll try to reply. Just keep your words appropriate so I won't have to delete your comment (I'd hate to have to do that).