Two of my maternal uncles were both interested in family history and over the years they put together a family tree of the Andersons, stretching back to the late 1700s. They did it the hard way - tracing documents and parish records, as well as gleaning information from members of the family. I remember seeing a copy of the tree when I was a young teenager, and I was intrigued by the fact that one of my ancestors shared my name, Margaret Williams. She married an Irishman, Sampson Moore, which I thought sounded very romantic, but there was no further information about her and, with my own life to get on with, I pretty much forgot about her and all the others.
Many years later, after the deaths of both my parents and my brother, my interest in the family history revived, and I now had both more leisure to pursue it and the invaluable resource of the internet, especially the marvellous https://www.ancestry.co.uk/
I delved deep, and was amazed to discover lines going back to the 1500s. I also researched my father's side, the Williams' of Flintshire. The more I learnt about the individuals, the more real they became to me. I began to rejoice when they survived to marry and have children, to feel bereft when they died, to learn about the places they lived in, the occupations that supported them, and the scandals that followed some of them. Of them all, the stand-out character was my 10th-great-grandfather, James Balfour, Lord Pittendreich (1530-1583), castigated as 'the most corrupt man of his generation'.
Of course, I had to find out more, and, over several months, I pieced his life together as well as I could. I will write more about him in due course, but suffice it for now to say that it was that research which prompted me to base my first attempt at writing a novel about him. In fact, the novel evolved into one about Pittendreich's son Hendrie. One day I will return to the man himself, and vindicate his reputation, which was largely created by his rivals at the court of Mary, Queen of Scots, including the reformist preacher John Knox. As a former Presbyterian myself, it was fun to uncover another, darker side of the founder of the denomination!
The statue of Knox, shown below, was designed by the Scottish sculptor Pittendrigh MacGillivray. It is sited in St. Giles' Cathedral, Edinburgh. Ironically, it was unveiled in November 1906 by the then Lord Balfour of Burleigh - a title created for Pittendreich's eldest son, Michael.
As you may by now have guessed, as well as being fascinated by the lives of the great-greats, I began to enjoy undertaking all the research necessary for the settings of my stories, and I have become a very temporary expert on all sorts of esoteric and bizarre facts about life from the 16th to the early 19th centuries! But it's the people who are the focus, along with the timeless issues of their - and our - lives: power, politics, religion, rivalry, love, betrayal, and personal integrity... somewhat relevant in these days following the downfall of PM Johnson?