OAKLAND -- Though Patricia Bracewell spent most of her years in the field of English, teaching literature and composition, the past decade has seen her equally immersed in Anglo-Saxon England, researching the first 30 years of a queen no one has ever heard of, but one whose marriage set in motion events that led to the Norman Conquest.
Wanting to share this remarkable woman, the Rockridge author has written "Shadow on the Crown," a novel based on real events set in 11th century England.
The queen was Emma of Normandy, married at 15 to Ethelred II, an Anglo-Saxon king left with 10 children upon the death of his wife, a suspicious man haunted by previous events and a ghost. Their marriage was one of alliance, with Emma as peace weaver, to blend the blood of two countries in an attempt to stop conflict.
"It's a story about how all that works. Emma's coming into a court environment filled with intrigue, and she has to learn to make her way through it," Bracewell said. "There's ongoing danger from Danish invasions, so it's Emma coping with a terrible situation she's been put into."
Bracewell learned the writing craft on two romance novels that remain on a closet shelf. While looking for a genre that offered more grit she came across a reference to Emma, but wasn't sure she could handle all the research. Fast-forward two years, and Bracewell realized she really wanted to write Emma's story.
"This was a woman people needed to know about, and I wanted to be the one to tell her story," she said.
In her later years, Emma had a book written about her that began when she was 30, but the first years of her life were a blank. Bracewell set out to use the history of the period to weave a story about Emma that would fit the gaps, explain what took place and be a good story.
Not wanting to write a fictional biography of Emma's entire life, the author turned to a trilogy to cover the years 1002 to 1017, and wrote a more intimate story.
"I wanted to look at the years Emma had been silent, and I wanted to be very, very close to her," Bracewell said. "I wanted to imagine what issues Emma would have been dealing with, what decisions she had to make and what kinds of conflicts she would have run into as a young queen."
So Bracewell became an Anglo-Saxon historian, starting with an extensive study of the period and the major players, using local libraries and archives at UC Berkeley and Stanford. After she started writing, she realized she needed more information, so she traveled to Normandy and England and took an intensive two-week class in Anglo-Saxon history at Cambridge University.
"Shadow on the Crown," the first book, covers just three years, from the death of Ethelred's first wife in late December 1001 and ending in January 1005, with an event that only readers will discover. Not surprisingly, it will be released in the United States and England, and Bracewell feels very, very lucky about her success.
Throughout the research and writing, Bracewell's motivator has always been Emma, whom she feels should be as well known as Elizabeth Tudor. Though she's also hoping "Shadow on the Crown" will bring that early period of English history, with all its amazing people and events, to the forefront, Emma is the key.
"It's a story about a very amazing, remarkable, resilient, strong woman who, although she was living in a society repressive to women, she managed to have a certain say," Bracewell said. "Working behind the scenes, she becomes a negotiator in an expected way and has to make very hard decisions away from her best interest."
Those already intrigued with Emma's story will be glad to know that Bracewell will launch the book on Feb. 8 at Diesel bookstore and is very close to finishing the second book in the Emma trilogy.
"Shadow on the Crown" will be released Feb. 7 by Viking/Penguin, hardcover $27.95. Amazon.com will release the Kindle version on Feb. 7, $14.99.
Patricia Bracewell is launching the book at 7 p.m. Feb. 8 at Diesel bookstore, 5433 College Ave., Oakland, 510-653-9965.