Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Blogging and Medieval Heroines - Midweek chat with Sharon Bennett Connolly

Today I'm chatting to writer and blogger extraordinaire, and jolly nice person, Sharon Bennett Connolly: ~

I began our chat by asking her:

Welcome to the blog, Sharon. You've studied history - which particular periods, and did any appeal to you more than others? 

My degree was a Combined Studies course, with Law as the major – until the time came to give up the History module. I realised I couldn’t and so gave up Law and changed my major to History (luckily my tutors were very understanding). The History course itself was very wide-ranging, and covered from 400AD to 1989. It was fabulous. We covered everything, the decline of Rome, the Norman Conquest, the Crusades, the Tudors, the rise of Hitler, the Holocaust…. And we could choose absolutely anything for our dissertation. In those days, I was a Bernard Cornwell fanatic (still am) – I couldn’t get enough of Napoleon, the French Revolution and the wars that followed. So I chose to do my dissertation on the British soldiers in the Peninsular War. As I get older, I seem to be going back in time. I still have a soft spot for the Napoleonic era, but I’m now firmly fixed in the Medieval, and Medieval women at that. There are so many women who have not had a voice until now – whose stories only get told through their fathers and husbands – and yet their stories and lives are so fascinating. I’m loving getting to know them! 

The defenders of Monteleón make their last stand during
the Peninsular War (image in public domain via wikipedia)

I agree - it's nice to see the women of history being given centre-stage! You call the blog 'History the Interesting Bits' - do you actively seek out over-looked stories, or do you just write about what appeals to you? 

The title is one I’d had in my head a long time – I just didn’t know what to do with it, until the hubby bought me a blog for Christmas 2014. As a title, it covers – well – everything, so I can write about any aspect of history I like.  
Joan of Kent
(image in public domain)
I do like to shine the spotlight on those people who have been overlooked by the history books – either because they were women, or because they were not kings or queens. I try to look for the less famous characters – Eleanor of Aquitaine, for example, has been done time and again, but very few people can tell you what happened to her daughters. And yet, they still led fascinating lives and their stories deserve telling. There is so much drama in history; kidnapped women, abandoned wives, an earl who killed his own son in a joust. I just love to bring these people to life, and one story tends to lead to others; such as Joan of Kent and her various husbands, or the women of Robert the Bruce’s family and their treatment by Edward I. 
Luckily there are thousands of years of history; so I will, hopefully, never run out of something to write about. 

You are very prolific - how do you go about researching for your blog posts and how long, roughly, does each one take to prepare? 

Now I’m writing a book I don’t have as much time to work on the blog, but I’m still trying to write at least 3 posts a month, plus some book reviews. I’m using the blog as light relief now, a way to get away from the book for an hour or so every day. Although I do have the problem that I start writing a blog post about a Medieval woman I think ‘oh, she could go in the book’ and have to stop writing it. I don’t want those who read Heroines of the Medieval World to think they’ve read it all before on my blog, though there is some crossover, I’m trying to limit it. So, now I’m looking for some interesting men, or women out of the Medieval period, such as the Tudors. 
Each post usually takes about 10 hours of research, then a couple of hours to type it up. The first few sentences of any post are always the hardest! I do all my research be pen and paper – I find it easier to organise like that, and to be able to flip between sources - I then write it up straight to the PC. 

Can you tell us a bit more about Heroines of the Medieval World? 

Seal of Eleanor of Aquitaine
(image public domain via wikipedia)
Heroines of the Medieval World is about those women who rarely get mentioned in the history books, but whose lives made a difference one way or another. There are a couple of queens included, including Eleanor of Aquitaine – you can’t really have a book about heroines without including the most famous of all – but there are also princesses who married for love or politics and women who actually took over the reins of government; either of a country and their own lands. There are women who fought for their people, those who made a difference in religion and those who managed to survive against the odds. But there are also victims, women held prisoner, or who had their lives vilified because they went against the norm. The hardest part of the book seems to be deciding who to leave out. There are so many fascinating women out there clamouring to be included and I only have to write about 100,000 words, so I need to limit the number of women in order that it doesn’t just become a list, and I can give each of their stories the time they deserve. 

Talking of stories, have you ever been tempted to write historical fiction? 

Honestly? Yes, but I’m not sure whether I’ll be any good at it. I have an idea I have been mulling over, and may give it a go once I’ve finished Heroines. It’s based around Ambrosius Aurelianus, who used to own my local castle – Conisbrough – but I need to get some more research done, into his life and achievements, before I can decide if I have enough to write the story. We’ll have to see…. 

What's next for you - You've worked as a tour guide in the past; would you consider doing that again in the future? And how much did that job add to your understanding of history?

I loved being a tour guide – especially to school groups. I used to love making history real for them – to give them a sense of the past. Castles and cathedrals have always brought the past to life, for me, and to see the kids’ faces light up when you tell them about all the people who’ve lived through the generations, to tell them they’re standing in the exact spot that King John would have stood 800 years ago! It’s an amazing feeling and I still get that when I take my 11-year-old son around a castle or cathedral.

Conisbrough Castle - Sharon's 'local'!

I wouldn’t go back to it just yet. I have a few more books in my head first – if I get the opportunity to write more. 
But maybe when I’m retired, old and bored, I’ll volunteer at a local site – Gainsborough Old Hall is only 5 minutes away from me and has a fabulous history. 
Thank you so much Annie!

Thank you, Sharon, for popping by and casting light behind the scenes of your blog.

And anyone interested in history absolutely must visit Sharon's Blog

Connect with her on Twitter
And find her on Facebook


  1. Thanks so much Annie. I thoroughly enjoyed doing this interview. What fun!
    Best wishes, Sharon

    1. Thanks for popping by - it was really interesting to find out what goes on behind the blog!

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks Alex - we had a great time chatting about history!

    2. Thank you Alex. It was so lovely chatting to Annie - I think we could have gone on for hours!

  3. Very interesting, thanks Annie! Thanks Shaton, we need to hear about the heroines. 😊🇨🇦