I am delighted to be taking part in the official blog tour for the release of Anne O’Brien’s new novel, The Queen’s Choice. Released on the 14th January 2016, The Queen’s Choice tells the story of Queen Joanna of England, someone who may not be all that familiar to history-lovers out there, but I’m sure this fantastic novel looks set to change that.
I was thrilled to be able to quiz Anne about how she goes about doing the research for her novels and she takes us through her own favourite period of history…
Hi to everyone. So pleased to be here with you at Bookaholic Confessions.
Originally from Yorkshire, I now live in the Welsh Marches. In a past life I taught history. When I left teaching I decided to try my hand at writing historical romances. It was not a longstanding ambition but something to fill the time, and I began with a traditional Regency romance. How fortunate I was to find a publisher for my first book. I enjoyed the romances but ambition drove me to write about medieval women. The Queen’s Choice is my seventh novel about these women who barely make a footnote in history but who in their own time must have been very influential, if only in their own families.
When I am not writing I enjoy gardening, cooking, visiting historic sites and improving my photography. Sometimes I manage to do some yoga.
Can you tell us a bit about your new book, The Queen’s Choice (released 14th January 2015 with Mira Books)?
How many of us have heard of Queen Joanna of England? Very few. Wife of King Henry IV she manages a paragraph or two in history text books if she is lucky. In fact she was an intriguing character, faced with life-changing choices when she decided, on being widowed, to throw in her lot with Henry as his second wife. It was not an easy reign for either of them, full of warfare and insurrection, not to mention dislike of Joanna’s Breton associations, but evidence suggests that they were strengthened by a true bond of love that lasted until Henry’s death.
This was not all Joanna had to face. When she might have contemplated a gentle life at Court on her second widowhood, she was accused of using necromancy and witchcraft in an attempt to kill her stepson, King Henry V.
What an incredible story to write. It is so dramatic, full of great characters, fear, tragedy and excitement I couldn’t make up.
You must have put a huge amount of research into writing The Queen’s Choice. How do you go about doing the relevant research for your novels?
To begin, I need a structure of the life of my main character, in this case Joanna. I read everything that might give insight into her. I use primary sources as well as secondary ones where they are important and also available, such as the household accounts when Joanna was imprisoned.
Once I have a basic ‘skeleton,’ and for Joanna it was very basic, I worked my way through the dark and bloody politics of Henry IV’s reign because this will set the scene. There are a number of excellent historians who have done the groundwork here for dates and events. Joanna will act out her life against this background, and the events must be used to give a sense of the history around her.
A final layer is to apply the personal bits to make Joanna a complete figure, to clothe her skeleton in flesh and also clothes and jewels and talents. This knowledge is acquired through my writing about this period in history over a number of years. Accuracy to the historical time is essential, and I have a responsibility to Joanna and the people she meets on her journey. There will always be dispute over some events, but based on the evidence, and what seems realistic, in the end I must make my own decisions.
With final editing – I always tend to write more than my publishers would like – it all takes between twelve and eighteen months to make Joanna’s tale into a page-turning novel.
If you had to choose your favourite period from history, when would it be?
Difficult to choose but I think that it would be England in the reign of King Richard II. So many of the characters I have written about lived during this reign and would have known each other. Katherine Swynford, John of Gaunt, Elizabeth of Lancaster, John Holand and of course Joanna of Navarre and Henry Bolingbroke, and all the dynamic characters in The Queen’s Choice. It was a glittering reign with a flamboyantly youthful and ambitious king, but one that became touched by tragedy too as Richard’s faults and failures led to his downfall and death. It is a reign that has been not much written about, but one that has a brilliant cast of actors on the stage, as I have gradually discovered.
What’s the best thing about writing historical fiction?
The adventure. The excitement. The drama. The people I meet in medieval history are far more intriguing than any I could imagine, sometimes almost unbelievable in their complexity. To write about them and bring them to life for me is a delight. I also enjoy being able to escape into a distant world with different experiences and different social mores. But then, most importantly, I am able to return home when I’ve had enough of the gruesome bits.
What do you think you’d be doing if you weren’t a writer?
My earliest ambition was to be an archaeologist. I studied archaeology at university, enjoyed the digs, the discoveries, but eventually abandoned it for a more mundane career. Yet even today the fascination of discovery of ancient remains and objects, and the sheer thrill of unearthing the past, still remains. Not least because of Time Team and, of course, the discovery of the remains of Richard III in so unlikely place as a car park in Leicester.
What tips would you give to any aspiring authors out there?
- Will power is essential, the desire to write. There is no good time to write. It is so easy to find an excuse not to start. Just sit down and write, whether it’s pen and paper or PC.
- Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar – these can come later. Get the story down onto the page. Write a good story for yourself. When you are satisfied with the outcome, then start to make it readable. This is where you decide on the ‘voice’ you want to put over and who your audience might be.
- Enjoy it. Enjoy the experience of getting to know your characters and making them work to carry your plot forward. If you don’t enjoy the experience, you won’t drive yourself to complete it.
Who are your favourite authors and which type of books do you enjoy reading?
I read over a wide spread of books as the mood takes me – historicals of course, modern fiction, but not often crime, and I am not a fan of fantasy but I have to admit to enjoying Game of Thrones. I have just finished Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread. I enjoy all her books which bring to life the quirks of life in the American family. At the moment I am reading Phil Richman’s latest Merrily Watkins novel Friends of the Dusk. Set in the Welsh Marches where I live, I love the scene setting and am an admirer of the female vicar who is the official exorcist. And then I always return to the incomparable novels of Dorothy Dunnett who writes with such dedication and detail to wring every ounce of emotion and drama out of her novels of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
And finally – can you tell us a bit about what you’re up to at the moment?
I am writing about Joan, the Fair Maid of Kent. As cousin to King Edward III, Joan was living in the same court circles with so many of my ‘heroines’ and she is such a major character. As well as being wife of the Black Prince and mother of King Richard II she is notorious in history for the clandestine and bigamous marriages that ruined her reputation. She was a remarkable woman and has been on my radar for some years. This time she insisted that I write about her. I am not finding her to be an easy heroine but the more I write about her, the more she is beginning to emerge from the shadows.
A huge thank you to Anne O’Brien and to Sophie at ed pr.
The Queen’s Choice by Anne O’Brien is published 14th January by Mira Books, price £12.99 in hardback.