Classroom Connections is a series meant to introduce teachers to new books.
GILT — Katherine Longshore
age range: 12 and up
setting: Henry VIII’s court
Please tell us about your book.
GILT is a story of friendship and betrayal set in the court of Henry VIII.
What inspired you to write this story?
History was my first inspiration – the beauty and texture and squalor and unprecedented change. My second flash of inspiration came from historian’s portrayal of Catherine Howard – as a birdbrained, frivolous flirt. I wondered if perhaps she could have been something different. But the heart of the story came from the manipulative mean girls I’ve occasionally had the misfortune to meet.
Could you share with readers how you conducted your research or share a few interesting
tidbits you learned while researching?
Because GILT is an historical novel, my primary sources of research are biographies and historical accounts. There are many excellent books about Henry VIII and his six wives, each of which enlightens with some new angle or piece of information. I traveled to England to visit and walk through the sites described in the novel. I found transcripts of actual 16th Century documents online. But to gain a better understanding of the mean girl culture, I also read books like QUEEN BEES AND WANNABES by Rosalind Wiseman.
What are some special challenges associated with fictionalizing a true story?
I’ve been told several times that my books must be easy to write because the story is already there – facts, dates, chronological events. But it’s the history that’s already there, not the story. Relating the facts and events isn’t enough. There has to be more. More depth, emotional appeal, fully-realized characters. It’s making the character arc and story arc fit the chronology that’s the hard part. I sometimes think my writing life would be easier if I didn’t have to fit my story into an already rigid structure. I face challenges like not being able to have two characters interact because they physically weren’t in the right place at the right time. Or having to dispense with an entire year in a single chapter because nothing in the story happens during that year. Or having to send characters to a fate I don’t think they deserve. Sometimes, I just want to write a happy ending, but history won’t let me.
What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?
I think GILT offers a partial view of what life may have been like in the mid-16th Century and could spark interest in Renaissance Europe and an examination of the spectrum of history at the time – what was happening in America when Catherine Howard was alive? What was happening in Asia?
GILT could act as a springboard for interdisciplinary discussions like “Finding the Story in History,” bringing together language skills, research and analysis. Students could find their own historical topic and question characters and motivations behind events.
I try to choose my words for precision and texture. I try to find the best way of putting them together. I wonder if, in an English class, GILT could serve to inspire students to define words they don’t know, and to learn that placing the perfect word in a well-turned phrase is immensely satisfying.
The underlying story of GILT is one of manipulation and misplaced loyalty. This could prompt discussions about bullying, friendship, truth and the harmful effects of gossip.
At the end of the day, I hope my book makes history interesting. I hope it increases appreciation of the variety and depth of the English language. I hope it inspires readers to look at their own relationships and compare them to the one between Kitty and Cat. And ultimately, I hope GILT is an enjoyable read, no matter what lessons are learned.
To learn more about Katherine Longshore, please visit her website.