I ought to have mentioned this earlier, but: about a year ago I was approached (doesn’t that sound mysterious?) about becoming part of the writing team for a serialized historical story called Whitehall, focusing on Charles II, his wife Catherine of Braganza, and his mistress, Barbara Castlemaine. Not a period I know well, and I was a little reluctant to take on something I’d never done before… and then I heard about the people who’d be on the team with me: series creator Liz Duffy Adams; Delia Sherman; Mary Robinette Kowal; and Barbara Samuel (and Sarah Smith coming in as guest writer on #11). In which group, in my own mind, anyway, I was decidedly a Junior Partner.
When a group of writers like that invites you to play, you say Yes. Thank You. Which I did. And dived into research and reading and plotting, in the most unsual sort of collaborative process I’ve ever participated in. Once I got over the first flush of “wait, you–what? but I was writing that scene” push and pull of the thing, I began to realize how generous, and inventive, and fun all these people were.
We knew the story, of course: Charles, newly returned to the throne, finds his nation impoverished and damaged by the years of religious turmoil. He has to marry money, even if that money comes in the form of a Portuguese Catholic: Catherine of Braganza. Catherine’s nation, under threat from their larger, more powerful neighbor Spain, needs England’s military strength to keep her country safe. Meanwhile everyone in England , from the peerage to the peasantry, has an opinion, good or bad, about the new Queen.
What that outline doesn’t tell you is how rich the characters are: Charles, finally on the throne, enough of a king to realize that he cannot enact vengeance on the nation that killed his father and sent him on a decade-long flight through Europe. The original laughing on the outside/sorrowing on the inside guy–restless, thoughtful, deeply intelligent, taking the stewardship of his nation very seriously. Catherine, with the weight of her nation on her shoulders, who–against all self-interest–falls in love with her new husband. And Barbara Castlemaine, who loves her king, but realizes as well that her standing at court depends on maintaining ascendancy over the new queen. And a cast of secondary characters who scheme and want and worry, with–literally–the fate of nations on the line.
Whitehall is available from Serialbox: one episode a week for 13 weeks, available as e-book or audio-book. With five different voices telling one story, each of us with our own take on the time, the place, and the people. For what it’s worth, me, I’m Team Catherine all the way. At least one of my fellow writers is team Barbara. Where do you come down on this one?