Samantha Norman: Finishing My Mother’s Last Novel

Samantha Norman: Finishing My Mother’s Last Novel

British author Ariana Franklin earned legions of fans with her historical mysteries. When she passed away in January of 2011, her final manuscript was left unfinished. It was then that her daughter, Samantha Norman, stepped up and completed The Siege Winter—a tale of civil war in 12th century England. Norman, a journalist, had always been encouraged by her mother to write novels. Their unintended collaboration serves not only as an excellent novel for fans to add to shelves, but an opportunity for Norman to find that she still had more to learn from her mother. Here, Norman shares the important lessons that her mother taught her that helped her complete the novel.

I learned everything from my mother, and this isn’t just me eulogizing about her because she’s dead and I’m still grieving for her terribly. It’s simply a fact that I happened to be born to one of the most intelligent women there ever was. From that point of view, I am and was extremely fortunate. Although, that is not to say that it was always an easy ride exactly: Brains and ambition are inextricably linked and just as she strove to be the very best she could be, she was also quite adamant that I, her daughter, should be too.

I got my love of literature from my mother, probably one of her greatest gifts. Until I was old enough and smart enough to choose my own reading material, she was both library and reading coach, endlessly recommending and handing out novels until I—a distinctly un-bookish child—was converted to the joy of reading. It was mum who gave me the first novel I ever fell in love with, Elizabeth Goodge’s The Little White Horse, and from that moment on I was hooked.

Strangely enough, it was also my mum who taught me to write. Shortly after leaving university, I found myself in a rather dull office job with the ambition—although, alas, not the opportunity—to become a journalist. As in all times of crisis, I went home to mum—a trained journalist herself—who sat down with me and patiently taught me how to research a subject, conduct an interview, and craft a story. Under her tutelage I went on to have the most wonderful career traveling the world and visiting extraordinary places to interview remarkable people.

So it was fitting, I suppose, and somehow natural, that when she died halfway through her last novel I should be the one to finish it. After all, while she was alive, she had nagged me often enough about writing a book of my own, convinced, as she so adamantly was, that it was something I could do. And I had equally adamantly avoided doing it, partly because she had also—if unwittingly—taught me that novel writing was an extremely tough business and not the sort of hard labor I was suitable for. After all, I’d watched her sweating blood over her innumerable books and learned enough to know that the whole process was much too long-haul for me.

And yet, how could I not accept this challenge?  Her old adage “no pain no gain” rang in my ears until I felt I must; and the result, dear reader, is Siege Winter.

But even from beyond the grave, she continued to teach me. During the 18 months or so I spent completing the manuscript, I learned the value of research, rediscovered the joy of learning after so long, and the deep satisfaction you feel when a sentence completes well. Nearly all mum’s novels were set in the Middle Ages and although I’d learned a smattering about the period from them, it was nothing like the sort of forensic detail necessary to do justice to her work. I waded in though with fistfuls of books and before I knew it had gained a love for and respect of the period for myself.  Damn the woman!  Thanks to her I was suddenly besotted by medieval history too, infatuated with Henry II—just as she had been—and the peculiar flatlands of the English Fens.  It’s become a compulsion I fear, another thing my mother taught me, and I’ve already started on another one.

Ariana Franklin was the award-winning author of Mistress of the Art of Death and the critically acclaimed, bestselling medieval thriller series of the same name, as well as the twentieth-century thriller City of Shadows. She died in 2011, while writing The Siege Winter.

Samantha Norman began working life in publishing as a junior editor in children’s books before moving in to freelance journalism. She became variously a boxing correspondent, feature writer, travel writer, theatre critic, film critic and show-business columnist for most national newspapers and magazines before falling in to television where she worked as a presenter for many years. Nowadays, as well as writing, she is an interviewer for Celebrity Productions, specifically their Audience With … series. The novel she completed for her mother, the historical thriller writer Ariana Franklin, will be published in 2014.


  1. Any news whether Samantha will write at least one more book (PLEASE!) to complete the “Mistress of the Art of Death” storyline?

  2. Yes! Someone needs to fix the cliffhanger in that last book! I’m very sad that Ariana/Diana won’t be putting out any more literate mysteries. Very very sad. Luckily JK Rowling is helping to fill the gap with her series on Cormoran Strike.

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