Saturday 24 January 2015

Alternative Research: The Psychic Strand by Elizabeth Chadwick

sun prism at Pembroke Castle, 
I use many research methods to weave the braid of my history stories.  I use primary sources in Latin and Old French (in translation when I can get them). I use a variety of secondary sources ranging from the work of academic presses to children's books. I visit locations, I research online. I re-enact with early medieval society Regia Anglorum to try and create a 3D feel for the words on the page.  And...I use the psychic.  Let me explain.

I need to take you back 30 years. At that time I was a young mum with small children. One afternoon, while attending a group set up for mothers and toddlers, I met fellow mum Alison King who would become a very dear friend and colleague. At the time I was a hopeful but unpublished author, and she was taking a job break to bring up her family. We hit it off and began meeting  once a week for a coffee and a chat at each other's houses while the children played together. Later, when our offspring had gone to school and we both had part time jobs, we still met up every week. Gradually as we got to know each other in more depth, Alison told me that she had awarenesses that I suppose you'd say come under the umbrella of being psychic. She could see auras and sense energies.  It's not the sort of thing you tell people until you get to know and trust them, because there is often  stigma, scorn and even hostility attached to such admissions and Alison, being soft, shy and unassuming, only told me once she had come to know me well.  I accepted it as part of who she was. I had an open mind even though I wasn't gullible and I had come to know that she was a very genuine person.

In the fullness of time I realise my dream and became a successful published author, and Alison, on her own path trained in Reiki and neuro linguistic programming (NLP) and became a therapist.  We began working together in the psychic sense quite by accident in 2004. I was writing my bestselling novel THE GREATEST KNIGHT and was about three quarters of the way through it when I went round to Alison's for our usual coffee and chat. She asked me how I was getting on with the novel and I said that it was going very well except that I was having difficulty finding out about the woman who had been the mistress of William Marshal's brother. I knew her name and had a few dates but that was about it. Alison in her therapy job had been dealing with clients who had had a traumas in the past and she had discovered that her abilities enabled her to tune in and go back to when that trauma happened and to work through it with them. She offered to go back for me and look for this lady, reasoning that if she could go back 20 or 30 years, then she could go back 800 or further. As I said at the beginning, I have an open mind, so I thought why not?  

Alison doesn't go into any sort of weird mediumistic trance when she accesses the information. She is fully awake and aware, although she may close her eyes the better to see what she is accessing.  She tunes in to the vibrational pattern of the past and what comes through to her are visuals, sights, sounds, smells and emotions the latter in particular. For her, it's like seeing a film but with full sensory perception and from all angles. She then relays back to me what she is experiencing. When I say full sensory input, that includes the smells and tastes of the time! I recall once she was with a character who was very hungry and impatient for his dinner. She could actually smell the good food smells that were making his mouth water but to make sure it wasn't coming from an external source, she made me go in the kitchen and check that my husband wasn't secretly cooking a casserole!

What came through in those 10 minutes was astounding. I didn't write it down, we were just sitting there over the coffee and biscuits and it was totally impromptu. At the outset Alison came across a lady swinging what she described as a bag on a string. 'Do you think she's drying lettuce?' Alison asked me - not knowing anything about the Middle Ages. I said I suspected the lady in question was actually swinging a hawking lure!   She proceeded to describe a meeting between this lady and William Marshal's brother that was detailed and fascinating. I was amazed and could immediately see how useful this ability would be for me the novelist if Alison was able to do this on a regular basis. The possibilities knocked the ball way beyond the boundaries.

We agreed to meet next week and have another go, this time perhaps going to William Marshal himself, and taking notes. Again, what came through was astounding. This is Alison's description of William Marshal from our first ever 'official' session we did.  I've followed it with some quotes from Professor David Crouch's biography of The Marshal 'William Marshal, Knighthood, War and Chivalry 1147-1219.'

I asked her to go to William Marshal in the spring of 1168 when he was in the entourage of his uncle Patrick, Earl of Salisbury, and in the company of Eleanor of Aquitaine

Alison:  "He has incredible courage. He's like a bouncy castle: very buoyant. He's riding with a lot of highborn people. He's awed by them but not overawed. He feels as if he's in the right place. He has a good sense of his own worth. He's very flexible and alert, responds not just in a chitchat way but deeply and appropriately. He knows how to say the right thing at the right time and it comes easily to him. He's alert and all his senses are awakened. He has dark hair, long cheeks, strong nose. His clothes are intricate. His eyes look dark but inside they feel light. I'm seeing the youth and the older man mingled. It is difficult for others to gauge what he's thinking. He has very dark eyes: might be brown might be blue.
There is a woman laughing and William is making her laugh by telling her jokes about the English being loutish and stupid. It's probably Poitiers they are going to. The woman is Eleanor of Aquitaine (Alison has several stabs at saying Poitiers, and prompted by me. She was unsure how to pronounce it). 

Here's what David Crouch has to say on the character of William Marshal. (Alison didn't know any of this beforehand. All she had to work on was a name, date and a place).
"He was undoubtedly a big, healthy and prepossessing man, a fine athlete and horseman. This mixture of quick wit and hand made him as perfect a warrior as he was in time commander. The crown of his fortune was that he had an open face, a ready humour and an underlying alertness for his own advantage that made him as natural courtier as he was a soldier. The Queen of England, as good a judge of a male animal as might be found in mid 12th century France, was bound to be impressed. William's face was his fortune.'... With tact and a well bridled tongue he had no need to be a master of manoeuvre and dissembling. What for others was merely the carefully constructed outer mask was for him his natural disposition. His ambition rode easily beside his own disposition... He rose effortlessly, without needing to plot and subvert the position of others. His only danger was his own success.
And re the jests against the English: 'that the English were more fond of drinking and boasting and fighting was a routine insult thrown by the Norman French at their English cousins 12th century English writers took great exception to it... And Williams lying in self-deprecation is a very good example of this form of defence. He was filing down the teeth of persecution by jokes against himself.'

Alison's assessment of William Marshal was a wonderful character study and spot-on with history that I had already read but Alison hadn't. (there is more than the above paragraph but I've not included it here).  I accept that it could be coming from her imagination, or she could have been somehow plucking it out of mine, But it could also be the real deal. It all depends on what you believe. Whatever the source, it was something I knew I needed to tap into. What a fantastic strand to add to the research threads - a glinting gold line taking me straight back to the past. 

99%  of the time the history is spot on where it can be corroborated. For the minor percentage when the known fact and the psychic readings go awry, I take that as margin for error. If it's really weird I discard. If it goes against the grain but has some plausibility, it goes in the pending file.  There was the time Alison was accessing 12th century Lincoln castle for me and told she could see a tunnel.  I said there weren't any tunnels at Lincoln Castle.  6 months later this turned up. Tunnel at Lincoln Castle
It's always fascinating when Alison describes the people she sees. King Henry II 'never sits still.' She describes all his fieriness and energy and his red hair. Of course she could have got this out of a book or from general knowledge.  Knowing her, I suspect not, but it can't be ruled out. I remember her accessing William Marshal's second son Richard. With a delighted laugh of surprise she said:  'He's a lovely roly-poly lad with red hair.' Now we don't know what Richard Marshal looked like, but we do know that his maternal grandfather was a red-head and that the de Clare line was very busy with folk bearing that particular hair colour. It's circumstantial, but it's a great handle for me the novelist.

Since I had almost finished writing  when we began our journey, The greatest Knight, that novel only contains a few small sections from what Alison calls The Akashic Record - a handle name for the way she taps into the past.  But from that point every novel I have written has contained that golden weave throughout. I have friends in the historian community who have looked at the material and have told  me that what is being accessed is mediaeval culture and mindset. So wherever it comes from, I am delighted because getting the mindset right is one of  the holy grails of historical fiction.
Alison (left) with me taking notes at a session. This was a
few years ago - my hair is shorter now!

What Alison accesses for me helps me think outside the box for conventional research too.  It helps me shovel aside the detritus of secondary source opinions. While these can be enlightening some have a tendency to obfuscate and get in the way of clarity or be downright wrong. That is particularly true where Eleanor of Aquitaine is concerned. Her biographers have taken  a lot of liberties.  It was heartening to find that my research on Eleanor with Alison has paid dividends behind the scenes. Professor Michael Evans in his recent work Inventing Eleanor (Bloomsbury Academic)  has cited me as a novelist who follow the newer academic research and avoid the pitfalls of making the egregious mistakes garnered from the popular biographies.  If only he knew about my gold thread research and its contribution to my work!

Leaving Eleanor, here's an example from my research when I was writing a novel titled A PLACE BEYOND COURAGE  about William Marshal's father John and his chequered career during the anarchy between King Stephen and Empress Matilda. There was an incident described in a chronicle called the Gesta Stephani where, in 1140, a mercenary thug, attempted to take John's Castle at Marlborough away from him.  I was interested in the dynamics of this incident and asked Alison to go to it and see it from John Marshal's point of view.

Taken from my notes:

Elizabeth:  I want to look at a situation between John Marshal and a mercenary named Robert FitzHubert. In 1140, FitzHubert was serving Robert of Gloucester. FitzHubert made a surprise attack on Devizes castle, and took it for himself, renouncing his contract with Gloucester. Then he started looking around for others to conquer and his eye fixed on John Marshal at Marlborough. He approached John by way of intermediaries and mooted the notion that the two of them might join forces and carve up the surrounding area between them. John was suspicious but wanted to know what FitzHubert was really up to, so invited him over to Marlborough to discuss the situation. This is known history. Go to the meeting.

Alison: I can see parallel lines going upwards and light between them. I think it's a window in a church. It's very quiet and still. I get the sense that John is in a church thinking, praying, enjoying the stillness. He needs that stillness to be able to think. He is trying to figure out what FitzHubert's intentions are. He needs to work it out before FitzHubert arrives at Marlborough. He's given himself a good amount of time. He's figuring it out like you would in a chess game, working out all the possible moves FitzHubert could make and all the directions he could be coming from. John can see that none of them are good. A pact doesn't make sense for FitzHubert whichever way John looks at it. Now he's ruled out that perspective he has to work out what FitzHubert's motive really is, what he's trying to do. If he can do that, he can make his own response more effective. He has sussed out that the man is coming to threaten him, that the visit is going to be about threats and bullying. Alison sees a symbolic image of FitzHubert with a big sword pointing at John. 'Do what I say or else.'

 FitzHubert is an intense small, broad, thorough ball of muscle. John is cool about the notion of threat. He thinks 'Who tells me what to do? Certainly not this little worm.' He thinks he will fight force with force. He's figuring out which of his own men are going to look the most forceful. He will have them in the meeting with him and dressed in an intimidating way. He is going to put all his men on the alert and on guard. He will contain FitzHubert's men in the hall with guards at the door and he will make them disarm and promise them wine and nourishment after their long journey. He's going to instruct his wife to see that they are occupied. He's pleased with his plan and clasps his hands. 'Thank you God.' He lights a candle and leaves the church.

There is still quite a bit of time before FitzHubert arrives. John has something to eat and drink himself. He's relaxing in his chair with his dogs and discussing the above plan with his senior men in an easy way around the fire. They all know what they are doing. John goes to get himself ready. He instructs his steward to make the hall ready and goes to have a word with his wife. She agrees to do as he asks. She doesn't say a lot. She looks plumper than I've seen her before; she might be pregnant.
All John has to do now is wait. He sees to his equipment, inspects the men. He makes sure they know what they are doing by asking them. They are all in the areas where they should be and know what they're doing next. There are meeters and greeters at the hall door and they have concealed weapons or weapons where they can grab them quickly if needed.

The word has gone out that FitzHubert is coming. He arrives faster than he should i.e. at a gallop, but John stands his ground and FitzHubert has to rein in. John welcomes him as he dismounts and shows him where his men can go. He takes him to the private chamber for their discussion, and as the door closes, FitzHubert looks round and sees that as well as John there are two burley well armed men coming up the stairs behind them. John says 'Don't mind them, these are my subalterns.' FitzHubert swallows hard. He's been outwitted; he's left all of his men in the hall and he's on his own. He thought he was on strong ground. He thought that with everyone being so friendly, he was in a powerful position, but now he finds himself at a disadvantage and he doesn't like it.

John offers him wine and nibbles from the sideboard. It's not the sort of food a ball of muscle goes for. He's a doorstop sarnie type, but John is showing off his cultured and courtly ways and again putting FitzHubert at a disadvantage. Plus FitzHubert is hungry after his ride and this stuff won't even fill a gap, whereas John's already eaten.

John is now settling down. Let's have this chat then. What have you come to talk about?
FitzHubert starts his spiel. 'We're friends and neighbours. We might have things in common that we could investigate. Things we might be able to do together. Swap men for example. You lend me men when I need them, and I'll do the same for you.'
John: 'what advantage is there in that for me?'
FitzHubert: 'Well, if you wanted to take on something bigger than you normally would, you'd be able.'
John: 'why should I want to do that?'
FitzHubert: 'You haven't been able to do it before, but now you're in a position to do so: certainly I've thought about it myself.'
John raises his eyebrows. 'Have you indeed? And where would that be? '(knowing bloody well FitzHubert means Marlborough).
FitzHubert can't answer that one and looks away. He continues talking about ambition. 'Who knows where ambition takes us. Who knows where ambition is - but he doesn't say anything specific or definite.
John just says: 'Indeed, indeed, so glad I've met you. Enjoyable visit.'
Alison says she can see John giving FitzHubert a hug. He's saying 'We'll always be friends.' They go into the main hall and there's cheering and carrying on. John gets a nasty feeling seeing FitzHubert's men in his hall. He has a snarl his face. He doesn't like this at all. He's tempted to put something in the wine - pepper? Alison isn't sure if this is what he'd like to do or whether he actually does it. John leaves the hall, really disgusted. FitzHubert's men are getting very drunk and are incapable. FitzHubert thinks that he is a big man and in control. Basically John decides to imprison him. Wrap him up like a present. He'll make a valuable offering to someone. John's men are seizing FitzHubert's  and the latter is now thinking to paraphrase 'Oh shit.' He might be a ball of muscle but there's not much brain in there. John's wife isn't in the room when John orders the taking. She'd left before it got to that stage.
I asked Alison if John had intended arresting FitzHubert from the start but she said no. John was waiting to see what FitzHubert's plans were first. 

The history here is spot on. It's mentioned in a couple of pages in the Gesta Stephani and also John of Worcester, chronicles of the period that Alison certainly had not read when she reported on the episode to me.  What she told me, fleshed out these incidents from an emotional and motivational point of view whilst corroborating everything the chronicles say. 
Incidentally, after that John sold FitzHubert back to Robert of Gloucester, the mercenary's former employer for 500 marks.

From the Gesta Stephani:
"There was in the neighbourhood a certain John, a man cunning and very ready to set great designs on foot by treachery, in forcible possession of a very strong castle belonging of right to the King, named Marlborough.  Robert was anxious to gain possession of it, either because it was near his his own castle and conveniently situated, or because if that too were brought under his power he could more freely cause discord in the whole of England.  He sent word to John by intermediaries that he would make a pact of peace and friendship with him, that he wanted to ask admission to his castle for the sake of giving and receiving advice, that it was his intention to keep the pact unbroken and their harmony unimpaired. But John, perceiving that he made all these promises in the hope of surprising the castle (which was the fact), gladly and affably agreed to his requests, and after admitting him to the castle, shut the gates behind him and put him in a narriw dungeon...and falling with his men on Robert's companions, whom he had brought with him as accomplices of his treachery, he laid hands on some at once, captured them and imprisoned them with their leader, others he put to shameful and discreditable flight and compelled them to retreat all the way to Devizes."

Using this resource is like, I suppose, conducting journalistic interviews with the persons involved, except that one gets to see it from the inside to and with sensory input.

Truth vibrating along a wire from the past to someone who can access the signal or vivid imagination? Whatever one's take on it it's a marvellous resource for a writer of historical fiction to have in his or her toolbox.   I'm busy researching my third Eleanor of Aquitaine novel THE AUTUMN THRONE at the moment and the research with Alison is proving as fascinating, insightful and intriguing as ever.

Alison's website can be found here: Alison King


Sue Purkiss said...


Libby said...

Great article, enjoyed reading it all. thanks Elizabeth and Alison

Pippa Goodhart said...

Fascinating! Lucky you to have such a friend!

Unknown said...

This was good to read. I like your saying you have an open mind Elizabeth, and that the tunnel at Lincoln Castle was found six months after the reading.

Jean Gill said...

Whatever is happening between the two of you is so creative and fruitful I'm not sure it matters how it's happening. Many writers see historical events and characters in their own minds and discover later that what they imagined was true - whether because we readily ignore what doesn't fit, who knows! I would love to try out my 12th century scenarios with such a friend and I hope you fill in the background for many books together. whatever you are doing - it works!