From England to Rancho Santa Fe, award-winning author has personal connections to historic people and places
Growing up in England, Elizabeth St.John was fascinated by the history of her aristocratic family line, which she traced back over centuries while visiting castles and graveyards and sifting through documents to unearth stories about her forebears.
That early interest in history led St.John, a Rancho Santa Fe resident, to a second career as a novelist, after she worked for years as a journalist and public relations practitioner.
She’s now parlayed her passion into a growing line of historical novels and recognition from the literary world. Her latest book, “The Godmother’s Secret,” was honored as book of the year by the Historical Fiction Company, a website for readers and writers of historical fiction from around the world.
St.John said 2023 got off to an exciting start when she was notified that her book had captured the prize, beating out 300 other novels for the honor. “The Godmother’s Secret,” her fourth book, was published in October.
A review posted on the Historical Fiction website announcing the contest winner said the research and authenticity displayed in St.John’s novel was “immense and exquisite.”
“Ms. St.John is sure to be a new-found favorite for fans of not only this fractious time in English history, but of all historical fans who adore rich, immersive prose,” said the review.
St.John will talk about her book and the history surrounding it, as well as describe her writing process, at an event scheduled for 2 p.m. Monday, Feb. 20 at the Rancho Santa Fe Senior Center, 16780 La Gracia, in the Rancho Santa Fe Village. The event is free and open to the public, and attendees are asked to RSVP at (858) 756-3041.
St.John said she had completed a trilogy of historical novels called the Lydiard Chronicles several years ago – based on real characters from her family line - and was looking for a new topic when she began to peruse a family tree dating back about 1,000 years. She put in her own name, which led her to an “ancestress,” named Elysabeth, who lived in the 15th century, more than 20 generations in the past.
She then came across a document in which the king commands Elysabeth to serve as godmother to a prince, one of two boys sent to live in the tower of London. The nugget of historical gold was enough for St.John to begin building her story, weaving details about her own real ancestors with an imaginative retelling of the mystery of the two boys, and their disappearance from the tower. St.John said the story is familiar to every English school child.
Once she’s conducted her research and fleshed out her characters, said St.John, she becomes a passenger. “I go for the ride and see where they take me,” she said.
St.John said she prizes the feedback she receives from readers, although she began writing for her own gratification. She published her first novel after sharing it with members of her Rancho Santa Fe book club, who encouraged her to pursue her writing.
“At the end of the day I’m doing this for the pure joy of it,” she said.
Her historical novels seem to have struck a chord with people, she said.
“People enjoy reading about women who had an impact on history and lived in extraordinary times and I give a voice to them,” she said.
St.John said her personal connection to historic people and places, such as her family’s ancestral home at Lydiard Park in Wiltshire, England, also resonate with readers.
She also hears from readers who want to tell their own stories, so she is worklng with the RSF Senior Center to put on a workshop about writing family histories, which will be held in March.
St.John is narrating an audio version of her book, as she continues to split her time between Rancho Santa Fe and England, where she travels several times each year.
“My heart is in both places and I live in the 17th century, you become immersed in it as a historian,” she said.
And she’s beginning to write her next book.
“We write stories to entertain and inform. That to me is a job well done,” she said.
Visit www.elizabethjstjohn.com for more information.
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