From The Writers' Room Featuring Whitehall

Barbara Samuel on writing Whitehall Episode 7: “Imperfect Enjoyment”

The Muscovites Arrive and Yearnings Abound

The best part of writing historical fiction is the happy accidents that always, always arise.  

WHITEHALL.EP7_600x960_300dpi_TXTAt the start, the work of bringing the past alive begins with world-building—who was there and where did they live and how did they dress and what was on the table.  In Whitehall, that world is the Restoration, and it’s a juicy era no matter what angle you examine it from. Nearly every session of research gave me—and all of my co-writers–some lovely new tidbit to play with, from the tortured history of Charles himself to the shoes on lovely Catherine’s feet to the politics threatening to tear everything down at any moment.

When we divided up the episodes, our timelines were pretty strict. Each episode needed to have a mini-story within the larger story, but to hit all the beats of the larger plot, each of us had to stick within a time frame.  For my episode 7, the actual  time was very short. Christmas was over and the coldest month of the year was mine to do with almost as I wished.

So I dug into the research to see what I could find.  It was a brutally cold winter. The Thames froze and everyone was huddling into their furs—and into this dull, dark landscape marched a wild, colorful company of Muscovites. The more I dug into their culture and the way they arrived at court, bearing gifts of birds and animals and furs and a glittering array of jewels—the more I knew this was where I could begin.

The vivid sensuality of the Muscovites sets the tone for Barbara’s restlessness and recklessness. Despite her infamous temper and bad girl ways, she is one of my favorite characters, and here she is walking a razor’s edge of emotions. Neglected by the king, hungry for attention, aroused by the big, solid vividness of the Muscovite party, she veers into very dangerous territory, egged on as ever by the unrepentant Rochester.

The mood of this episode—exotic and sensual and filled with yearnings of all sorts—suited my voice exactly and was a delight to write. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.  

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