This is a more difficult question than it may first seem. The period when Constantine became the first Christian emperor is one about which so much has been written, and yet so little detail is known.
For example, no one knows for certain where his mother, Helena – the main character in my story The Pilgrim – was born. There are three main legends, and I used the one that has the greatest sense of historical resonance, that she was British, and her father ruled one of the provinces taken over by the Romans. Her husband was a general who met Helena in the local market and fell in love at first sight.
So one problem was deciding which of the many legends to use as the basis for this story. The second problem was timing.
Again, there were many different versions of when Helena had her own vision and felt called by God to take a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. In this case, I decided not to use the most popular one in today’s world, that she was a grandmother and her son was already emperor.
Instead, I brought all the major elements of their lives together into a relatively short time span. I wanted to create a sense of dramatic action that would resonate with today’s reader. This same problem, as a matter of fact, was faced 70 years ago by T S Eliot, the last major author to write about Helena.
What can be said is that the era and the people were carefully researched. When I first came to study about this crucial moment in our Christian heritage, I was granted a position as Postgraduate Scholar at the University of Oxford. My two tutors during this wonderful period were Bishop Kallistos, head of the Orthodox Church of England, and Reverend Donald Sykes, president of one of the Oxford colleges and a Roman historian.
So the answer is, the facts have been studied, the legends too, and then I tried and make a story from them that would ignite a sense of passion in today’s reader.
The Pilgrim releases July 17, 2015, from Franciscan Media.
Question for my readers:
When you read a historical fiction story, how accurate do you expect the story to be?