The Rockridge Muse, by Ortrun Niesar

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Patricia Bracewell, Author
Saturday, March 2, 2013

Last month, Patricia Bracewell’s first historical novel, “Shadow on the Crown,” the story of 11th-Century Emma of Normandy, was launched with great fanfare and a reading at Diesel Books. Reviews have been mostly in the 4-5 star category and Patricia is “over the moon” happy.

A Writer’s Journey

Patricia spent her early years in Southern California, graduating from UC Santa Barbara after majoring in English literature. She eventually moved to San Mateo and took a job teaching English at Mercy High for Girls in Burlingame. She and husband Lloyd settled in Rockridge in 1984 where they raised their two sons, Andrew and Alan. Being a mom came first, but Patricia also worked at Herrick Hospital and took UC Extension classes in short-story writing. Along the way, she had two magazine articles published, one based on her hospital experiences. Then, a hiatus, as Patricia raised her kids. She never stopped writing, though. Constantly improving her skill, she took workshops when she could with such wonderful local instructors as essayist Elizabeth Fischel and others. Two other little pieces were published along the way, but a couple of little essays do not a professional writer make.

From Romance to History

In 1999, Patricia found herself dreaming of writing fiction, romance novels, to be specific, the kind found at the Safeway checkout counter. She joined Romance Writers of America, writing “The Long Road Home,” set in Canada at the Lloyds family ranch, as a first effort. An admirable effort, but when the rejection letter arrived, it included such comments as “plodding,” and “not dark enough,” “sorry,” but also, “good writing.” Patricia tried her hand again. The plot this time involved a house swap romance between here and Cambridge. All that mushy stuff again and no takers. Not gritty, definitely not dark enough.

It was time to change direction. Patricia had always had a keen interest in English history, and the Cambridge caper presented the opportunity to visit the Cambridge libraries. In 2001, she ran across an astounding heroine, mostly untouched by other authors: Emma of Normandy. This amazing 11th century woman who became a queen had the right mix of dark and dangerous allure for today’s audiences who have had more exposure to PBS and historical novels.

Patricia took a year to immerse herself in Anglo-Saxon history and to travel to England, Normandy and Denmark. She refined her writing style, aiming for a blend of non-fiction and fiction writing suitable for an historical novel.

The first draft of the budding novel emerged in 2007, followed by rewrites in 2008 and 2009. Imagine our author penning away in her Rockridge garret for three years – words dropping like rose petals.

Understanding Her Heroine

I was curious to hear how much our writer identified with her heroine Emma. Patricia admitted that her own life experiences as a woman did help to shape and deepen her understanding of her character. All to the good, she thinks: Emma is a real flesh-and-blood woman, accessible to today’s readers. Patricia’s early penchant for romance novels played a role, but she seems to have achieved the right balance for an historical novel featuring a real person.

It must have seemed right to the publishers as well; they will publish two more volumes to make this a trilogy of medieval mayhem.

The rose petals are already falling again in Rockridge.

Congratulations, Patricia! We look forward to the next chapters.