As my first draft wore on and evolved in countless redrafts, I began to develop new plots and character motivations for different stories. It was an escape from thinking about the novel that stole two years of my focus. Soon, everything became a story. An interesting character on my commute to work, or daydream that ran until my imagination resolved an invented problem. Soon, history provided me with inspiration.
YouTube channels such as Extra Credits and Oversimplified told me tales of real people from history. Books and documentaries let me see a story within the factual context of history. George Martin based his fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire on historical empires, JK Rowling used a lot of myths and legends to bring the Harry Potter universe alive. Soon I learnt, real history has many great stories to offer.
Someone said ideas should be kept a well-regarded secret, but concepts are easy to come by, and my list has reached over thirty titles and plots. Some more developed than others, but I may never write these stories, and it’s likely I won’t feel the same way about them should I ever get the chance to write them. As of now, the stories interest me, but I’d prefer to tick everything off my “original” list than I would like to rewrite the past. So, here it is, 5 real stories from history I’d love to write one day.
Historical Story #1: The Rise of the Timid Temujin
Before the rise of the infamous and ruthless Genghis Khan, Mongolia was a collection of warring nomadic clans, competing for resources and power. Kidnappings were common, and one way a warrior could secure a wife. Before she conceived the future Khan, Temujin’s mother was kidnapped and dragged from her husband and family. Later, while living with her abductor as his new bride and another wife, a future emperor was born.
His father named the young boy in honour of a warrior he’d killed in battle. However, Temujin was a timid child with an extreme fear of dogs. His father, a feared warrior, viewed Temujin as weak and went as far as leaving the child behind when his clan left in search of a new campsite. The feared leader of the largest empire the world had ever seen was also bullied by his older half-brothers.
At the age of 8, his father sought out a wife for his young son. A young girl called Borte from another tribe. Temujin’s father betrothed his son to Borte and allowed the family to use Temujin as a source of labour as payment for the future wedding. However, as his father returned home, he was murdered by enemies who recognised him as the man who killed their comrade. The man Temujin had got his name from.
After his father’s death, the clan abandoned the family. An older clansman lectured the leadership about loyalty to a warrior’s family, but he was stabbed to death as he spoke. Temujin’s mother took on the role of provider of her children, stepchildren and her husband’s first wife in a time where abandonment would mean certain death.
As his mother foraged for whatever food she could find, the children used sewing needles for fishing hooks, learned to make ice skates for playing and hunting rats and small birds using arrows made from bones. Temujin’s only associates were his brothers and sisters, but he made a blood pact with another boy from a nomadic clan who camped nearby, Jamukha.
As Temujin grew and fought for survival, he murdered his older half-brother after he repeatedly stole Temujin’s hunts. Forced to flee, Temujin was captured by the clan who abandoned him and forced into servitude. Later, he would escape and seek out his once future wife, Borte. Where he was delighted to discover she had waited for him.
At the age of 19, Temujin inherited a clan from his father’s uncle, but he and his once blood brother found themselves pitted against each other as they vied for power and resources on the steppe. In simple terms, Jamukha was a conservative, eager to preserve the noble traditions of separate clans, but Temujin preferred to prioritise merit over hereditary privilege, a pre socialism, socialist. The old friends differing ideologies would lead to a vicious rivalry and a two-decade-long war. The eventual death of Jamukha at the hands of his former friend would see Temujin renamed Genghis Khan, and go on to create the largest land empire the world has ever seen.
Historical Story #2: The Autobiography of Charles Darwin
Everyone has heard of the evolution theory. Scientists swear by it, others pass it off as just another theory, but the voyages that led to Charles Darwin’s place in history are little known compared to his controversial writings. In Victorian Britain, most people believed in creationism and the bibles telling of history. Species never changed, and the world was only 6000 years old. The concept of Natural Theology believed in Gods perfect design.
As a child, Charles Darwin held a fanatical interest in bugs and insects, but his father insisted he followed in his footsteps and become a physician. However, a young Darwin wretched at the sight of blood. It proved a difficult obstacle for an aspiring Doctor. Instead, Darwin chose to study Beetles at the University of Cambridge and began collecting various species of insects. He was an avid collector and voracious reader, but Charles Darwin didn’t attend lectures as often as he should have and graduated with little more than a massive collection of Beatles.
His lecturers noted Darwin’s observational skills and ability as an excellent writer, but lectures bored him. Upon leaving university, Charles Darwin was approached with an offer to join a voyage on the HMS Beagle for 3 years. The position was unpaid, but the captain offered Darwin the chance to collect different specimens.
The journey ran two years longer than expected due to unforeseen weather conditions. Fortunately, the ship included a well-stocked library that served as Darwin’s private quarters and a place where Darwin could escape from the reality of sailing, where he struggled with extreme seasickness. In this library, Darwin prepared specimens, read widely, and began to develop his scientific theories.
On the voyage, Darwin saw a volcano and felt an earthquake. He collected numerous fossils and noted that they looked like giant sloths and armadillos. As he studied these fossils further, he began to wonder if their similarities weren’t coincidental, but ancestral species of the smaller animals we know of today. As the lengthy journey continued, Darwin observed slight changes in species living close to each other but in slightly different environments.
The most extreme of these was the Galapagos Islands where he became obsessed with the local tortoises and finches. The locals explained that different species varied slightly between the islands which confirmed Darwin’s idea of something other than a divine creator. Darwin collected numerous species, but he couldn’t study the tortoises further because the ship’s crew ate them as they navigated the waves.
Back in London, Darwin wrote up his findings and published his collection of notes called the Voyage of the HMS beagle. As time wore on, Darwin took his time in developing and studying his theory. He married his cousin and lived on his Kent estate. Darwin began to conclude that the fight for resources leads to the fittest surviving and gave rise to the term natural selection. Eventually, he published his world-changing theory, called The Origin. The controversial book would become a scientific bestseller.
Historical Story #3: The Serbian Game of Thrones
During a trip to Belgrade, our guide explained the brief history of Serbia was numerous defensive wars between the two great powers either side of the tiny nation. The Hapsburgs to the west, and the Ottoman’s to the east. For much of its history, Serbia remained under the control of someone else and fell under complete Ottoman rule in 1492. However, in the late 19th century, the small European nation gained its independence.
Serbia’s first king, King Milan, proved deeply unpopular, and later abdicated. The first king aligned Serbia with the Austro-Hungarian empire and improved relations with Vienna. Serbia began exporting much of its agricultural produce to its stronger neighbour and come to rely on the western power. Milan remained unpopular until he handed power to his younger son.
The royal struggle continued as Milan’s son, Alexander, ascended to the throne. Alexander dismissed his ministers and turned Serbia into an autocracy. But a more personal issue dominated his rule. Alexander married an older woman, who would become Queen Draga of the Kingdom of Serbia. A widow with a less than perfect reputation for the times. When ministers tried to convince the king against marrying the future one of them stood and claimed, ‘sire, you cannot marry her, she has been everybody’s mistress, mine included.’ For this, the minister received a harsh slap across the cheeks.
Christopher Clarks, The Sleepwalkers, opens with a detailed account of regicide. The King and his Queens bodies were mutilated and strewn across the Belgrade streets. The Serbian Army stormed the palace and set about changing the regime. Once they had disposed of the royal bodies, they installed a more westernised leader in King Peter.
Peter proved popular with his hard-working ethos and democratic rule which included opening trade with Germany, Russia and France, as well as decensoring the press. However, modernisation cost the once autocratic state its relationship with their powerful neighbour, The Austro-Hungarian empire. Vienna resented losing control of its strategic puppet. Thus, setting off a chain of events that would eventually lead to the first world war.
Historical Story #4: The Game of his Life: Stanley Matthews
Sport has many great stories, but none are as magical as one of the games most celebrated athletes, Sir Stanley Matthews. He’s the only footballer to receive a knighthood while still playing, and he was the first winner of the European Footballer of the Year and the Football Writers Association Footballer of the year awards. No wonder they nicknamed him ‘The Magician.’
Matthews played in the top division of English football until he was 50, which made him the oldest player to play the game. He was also the eldest player to play for England at 42 years of age. He accomplished this by following a strict training regime, a method he inherited from his boxing father. Some pundits regard him as the father of modern footballing science for his approach to training.
The biggest tragedy of his career was the outbreak of war in 1939. The best years of a modern footballer’s career is their twenties. However, WW2 stopped Matthews from playing professional football between the age of 24 and 30. During the war, he played in friendly matches for Blackpool while he’s regiment was stationed there. He enjoyed playing there and joined Blackpool for £11,500, but his relationship breakdown with the Stoke City chairman also played a part in his decision.
At the age of 37, as everyone began to question how long the ageing veteran could continue playing, Matthew lost his second FA cup final, and his dream of winning the iconic trophy seemed out of reach. However, a year later, Matthews and Blackpool appeared in his third FA cup final match. Pundits deemed the game the ‘Matthews Final.’’ Despite a Mortensen hattrick, pundits considered Stanley Matthews second-half performance ‘the game of his life’ after Blackpool overcame a 3-1 deficit at half-time. Matthews finally held his overdue winner’s medal but credited the team and Mortensen with the victory. He refused to accept the nickname given to the game.
Despite the drama in his career, Matthews also divorced his first wife to marry his true love, Mila, whom he had met while on tour in the Czech Republic. They lived in various places including South Africa, where Matthews dedicated a lot of time coaching local teams. The players remember him fondly, and his legacy lives on worldwide as one of the finest sportsmen to ever play the game.
Mila died in 1999, and according to his biographer, Matthews was never the same after she died. The light had gone out on the once bright spark of English football. A year later, Matthew passed away in his hometown of Stoke on Trent at the age of 85, leaving behind a real sporting legacy.
Historical Story #5: Jon Snow and The Broad Street Pump
Jon Snow was a smart student apprenticed to a Doctor in Newcastle where he first discovered an undesired Indian immigrant, Cholera. The disease was so rampant, the doctor he worked for was too busy, so he sent Jon Snow into coal slums to treat dying workers, but everything he had learned proved useless in solving the causes of the disease. People died in droves. As he paced door to door, he could do nothing but leave his patients to die a horrid death. The scientific minds at the time believed the disease was caused by miasma, but Snow thought it was caused by something in the water. Doctors refused to accept his theory.
Snow moved to London and graduated as a doctor. He studied anaesthetic and revolutionised the field, even anaesthetising Queen Victoria twice. However, a cholera outbreak in London forced Snow to find a solution to the cholera problem. He interviewed patients who told him the pain started in the intestine, which led him to conclude it came from ingestion. He hypothesised that diarrhoea might not be just a symptom but a keyway the disease spread. He ran case studies in which he compared the infection rates of people drinking from different wells. Still, nobody believed him.
Jon Snow became a founding member of up the epidemiology society which aimed to understand how diseases spread. Everyone but him thought Cholera spread at random. He learned through his elaborate case studies that sewage ran into the Thames and realised that water from upstream was safer than those downstream because London pumped their sewage into the Thames, the same river they pumped their drinking water from.
He went door to door to ask about the water suppliers, but tenants didn’t know who supplied their water. When he asked landlords, the wealthy elites barely remembered what properties they owned. So, Jon Snow tested the water itself. Before he could piece his findings together accurately, cholera struck again. Corpses were stacked on top of each other, as people died in hordes along Broad Street.
Jon Snow used the deaths to create a map, and he discovered that the number of fatalities thinned out the further from Broad Street people lived. He needed to show that the pump was responsible. He created a Voronoi diagram, something he made up out of desperation and based his theory on people being more likely to get their water from whatever pump was more convenient. He discovered those who were closest to the broad street pump were more likely to die. However, he needed something to convince the doubters.
In a workhouse with around 500 workers close to the Broad Street pump, he discovered no one had died, but after speaking to the director, he realised the workhouse had a private water supply. He also learned the workers in a brewery survived due to their reliance on beer for hydration.
All of this happened in 48 hours since the Broad Street outbreak struck. But the biggest challenge would be convincing the medical community. Fortunately, they listened. Eventually.