History, The Favourite, and What Remains Hidden (Lupus, Bisexuality, and other points of history)

Vulture has come out with a pretty good rundown of the historical context of the upcoming movie, The Favourite. The Favourite is about Queen Anne, who is the subject of my just-finished novel, An Unlikely Queen.

I’ve spent over six years doing research on Anne and her historical context. Here are some of my thoughts in response to the article (I’ve not yet seen the movie, as it has not yet opened locally):

Anne Probably Had Lupus, Not Gout

Anne Somerset, in her recent biography of Queen Anne, makes a strong case that Anne did not, in fact, suffer or die from gout, but instead probably had lupus. She died of a stroke that was probably associated with the disease and it also explains why she had so many (14) miscarriages and stillbirths. (She had three living children; two daughters died before the age of 3 of smallpox; her son William, as the article notes, died at the age of 11, probably of pneumonia).

One of the points Somerset makes is that it was pretty unusual for a young woman to suffer from gout, and a lot of her symptoms were inconsistent with gout. Also, she had the telltale rash associated with it.  I think it’s important to note this, because it’s a disease that still affects many people and is often invisible.

What Happened to Prince George (Her Husband)?

They left Prince George out of the movie? That seems not only sad but an opportunity for some good humor missed. (He drank a lot. Maybe that’s why.)

It also speaks to another aspect of Anne that becomes invisible — while she did love women, she also had a very happy marriage with a man. So here again, an opportunity to make visible a group of people often made invisible — people who identify as bisexual.

Anne Wasn’t Simply Sarah’s Puppet

Somerset, and some of her other biographers, also argue that Anne was actually a bit smarter and exerted more power than she’s often given credit for. She went to many Parliamentary sessions and had regular meetings with her Cabinet (every Sunday). If necessary, they happened in her bedchamber. Sarah was expressly not invited.

Anne was not as well-educated as she should have been (nobody thought she’d really ever be queen!). Plus, she was in pain for probably one-third of her lifetime. Yet very few decisions were made without her. Did she rely a lot on advisors? Most likely, yes. But she tried very hard to put the country first – above party politics.

It should also be noted that early biographies based much of their information on Sarah Churchill’s observations, which are suspect, as they were written after Sarah had been dismissed.

Indeed, it was because she *disagreed* with Sarah so much, which annoyed Sarah to no end, that their friendship started to fray. Also, Sarah brought on Abigail not simply out of guilt, but because it eased her own burdens as the First Lady of the Bedchamber (among her other duties – she basically ran the queen’s household).

Sarah had a large family and a lot of commitments; her husband was away much of the time, which left much of the “business” of the family up to her (planning her five daughters’ weddings, hosting parties, seeing to the building of Blenheim Palace, advocating for her family’s security). She also tragically lost both her sons. It’s no wonder she wanted someone there to help with the more menial work!

Anne and Mary and The Glorious Revolution

Most of the politics outlined here seems pretty accurate from all the history I’ve read.

It should be noted, however, that

1) Both Anne and Mary helped conspire to overthrow their father, James, though it was mostly William’s and Churchill’s doing and

2) Sacheverell’s sermon was controversial because he basically implied that Anne did not have legitimate authority to the throne because her position was the result of the Glorious Revolution. The issue of whether or not citizens had a right to drive out their monarch was very much in debate, and gave rise to the theories underpinning the American Revolution.

By the way, if you think politics now is ridiculous, just read a bit about the Glorious Revolution, and how it hinged on the claim that James’ son was not really his and was smuggled into the birthing room in a bedpan.  It’s frankly hilarious. (If you’re a fan of Outlander, this is some of the history behind the Jacobite Rebellion.)

All that said, I’m very anxious to see the film and will share my thoughts once I have!

An Unlikely Queen: The Story of Anne Stuart, a novel,  is currently a finished manuscript at about 420 pages. If you’re an agent or publisher interested in reading my manuscript of An Unlikely Queen, please contact me at alyssabcolton@gmail.com.

Photo credit: Yorgos Lanthimos




The Heroine’s Journey


The success of the latest Wonder Woman film has drawn attention to the role of the strong heroine in storytelling. This article by screenwriter Ken Miyamoto takes on the classic hero structure by Joseph Campbell and discusses how the heroine’s journey is cast a bit differently (but not any less powerful or transformational).

I actually wrote about this topic in graduate school (part of that essay was published in the online mag Women Writers ) and I was largely informed by Ursula K. Le Guin’s writing (which came out in the 1980s!)–check out especially her essay “The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction.” Here, Le Guin posits that the novel resists the classic “hero” story; that, like a medicine bundle, it’s a bundle of words and relationships. Science fiction, like that from Le Guin, Margaret Atwood, Marge Piercy and Joanna Russ, in particular pose challenges to patriarchally-infused storytelling that Campbell laid out.

Film, with its use of multiple modes (language, visual, music) perhaps needs a more streamlined, recognizable structure, but it’s good to see teachers and screenwriters recognizing and discussing that ways that in this day and age, we need to reconceptualize Campbell’s monomyth. Interesting stuff, and I like how Miyamato brings this full circle to talk about how looking at story in this way brings new depth to stories and films–whatever the gender.

A Gem for Writers: Dan Koboldt and the Science of Fiction


As a writer, I never know what I’ll be researching next. In the course of writing my previous novel, I learned about adoption laws, the Vietnam War (and specifically the phenomenon of children fathered by American soldiers) and dogs, not to mention re-learning the geography of New York City. In the past few years, I’ve become fascinated by British history, especially the Restoration period. That had to have been my least favorite class as an English major! For my nonfiction work, I’ve had to research mobile technology trends, child development, and healthy digestion. Yet in putting a story together, you never know what will become interesting to you. Even if you’re not the most “science-y” person, you might find yourself drawn to learning about something related to your writing project that you otherwise might never have been interested in. I think that’s one of the aspects of writing I love the most (besides getting lost in another world)–getting curious and learning deeply about something new. And it’s always helpful when we can find some brief, well-written nuggets to explain a concept, either to help us move us along or to point us in the right direction for further research.

This post started with me wanting to share this post giving advice for using the woods as a setting. In exploring the blog where this appears, though, I found I’d uncovered a treasure.  Dan Koboldt is a research scientist who has also published fantasy and science fiction. He has a  “Science in Sci Fi/Fact in Fantasy” series– the latest post is about linguistics in the film Arrival; other posts cover planet habitability, rogue viruses, schizophrenia, and  closed ecosystems (he calls on other experts to help him out). There are also posts about rock climbing and, as I mentioned above, using the woods as a setting (Koboldt is also a bow hunter).  Looks like a great resource for anyone interested in the science behind the stories and will definitely be added to my list of links.





Success is what you make it: Last day of Nanowrimo 2016


“You get to decide what success means in your writing life.” –Sage Cohen

Today is the last day of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) 2016. I participated this year, having set a goal of 30,000 words. This is my fifth novel manuscript, but in so many ways I still feel like a beginner. Every writing project is different, and you learn something from each one. You build on what you’ve learned and strengthen those skills.

I fell short of my goal by about 4,000 words, but I wrote most days, and I’m overall pleased with what I accomplished:

  • I established a new routine of a near-daily writing practice on top of other work, self-care, and family;
  • I figured out how to overcome what I saw as blocks (“can’t write at work”) by just sitting down and doing it;
  • I let myself trust in the process. While many writing guides and teachers urge you to map out a plan for your novel ahead of time for NaNoWriMo, I didn’t do that. I am writing historic-biopic fiction, and so I did have a lot of material to work with, and had previously written a screenplay with the same material, but I realized that this version of my project was calling me to do something else with it. I let myself dive in and do something less traditional, something more intuitive, something that called on me to break free of a pre-existing structure. Since my project was also heavily researched, I also had to learn to trust that I’d done “enough.” (I did do a little research along the way, and had books close at hand, but there comes a time when you have to trust that you’ve done enough);
  • I learned to forgive myself for the days I planned too much or didn’t get to the writing. I looked at whether I was unrealistic or I had let other things get in the way, and learned from that.

Overall, I feel this month was a success, in that I laid down a solid foundation for my novel, and ultimately I think that’s the point of NaNoWriMo. Having accountability check-ins with a Facebook group and an online writing partner was really helpful in moving me on, as well as the encouragement and support of people close to me. Mostly,  again and again, I’m reminded of how key it is to believe in yourself.

My writing guides were also really helpful here. I re-read portions of Heather Sellers’ Page after Page, reminding me to cultivate love for my writing and to not just see it as something I had to get through. I’ve also been reading Sage Cohen’s Fierce on the Page: Become the Writer You Were Meant to Be and Succeed on Your Own Terms (Writers’ Digest Books, 2016). I have to credit her for the idea for this post–that I can decide what success means for myself, and that I don’t need an external measure. While NaNoWriMo is great for providing structure, accountability and inspiration, ultimately it shouldn’t be a stick you beat yourself up with–it should be a prompt to get you writing the book you want to write, and I’m thankful that it’s been there for me to do that. So thanks, Sage, Heather, NaNoWriMo and my Facebook writing partners. Maybe I’ll see you again next year!