Publication Date: Available Now from Mira
Today I am VERY pleased to welcome Anne O Brien to the blog – I recently read The Kings Sister and it was a terrific historical fiction novel based in fact. I was lucky enough to be able to ask Anne a few questions and here is what she had to tell me.
What inspired you to take historical characters and build a story around them?
It seemed to me that however important a medieval woman might be, with only a few exceptions – such as Eleanor of Aquitaine – we know very little about her. The reason is simply that they lived in a world dominated by men and the history, for the most part, was written by men.
Can we believe that these women had nothing to say for themselves and the events through which they lived? I am certain they had much to say, and an influence on the outcome of some of the events. So I decided to restore a voice to these forgotten women who have a brief mention in the history books. How fascinating to see history, and the effect on families, through the eyes of a woman.
How much research do you do prior to and during the writing of the novels?
The research is of prime importance and in the beginning takes precendence. The history that we know of these women must be accurate and form the bedrock of the story. And so I begin with a simple timeline. From there I build up what we know of my ‘heroine’. When there are gaps I look at the facts we have about the men with whom she interacts so that we can sense the world in which she lives. This research has to be fairly solid before I start writing the personal story of my heroine.
The research does not stop there, however. It continues as I write because often the story takes me in a direction I had not anticipated, and might introduce new characters who have a bearing on my heroine’s life.
The end result is ‘historical fiction’ because it is necessary to ‘fill in the gaps’ and give my characters words to say for which we have no evidence. But after saying that, the story is strongly evidence-based.
Which of “The King’s Sister” characters do you find most intriguing? (I loved Elizabeth but I think it was Holland for me)
I too enjoyed writing about John Holland. What a complex character he was. Not a comfortable one for a hero, but a man who deserved some compassion as well as condemnation.
But it was his mother who took my interest. Joan of Kent dominated the later years of the 14th century: a woman of royal blood, sharp intelligence and, above all, ambition. Beautiful, charismatic, her life as the Fair Maid of Kent was blighted by scandal and a bigamous marriage, but Joan had set her sights high and, widowed, she looked to the man who had claimed her emotions since childhood when she was raised at the royal court. So Joan, despite opposition, since she was hardly an innocent virgin, wed Edward, the Black Prince, which put her in line for the future queen of England.
Edward died tragically so that Joan never wore the crown as her husband’s consort, yet it was here that her remarkable powers came to light. A mistress of compromise and mediation, a true power-broker despite her failing health, Joan worked tirelessly to smooth the path for her youthful son Richard II in his troubled reign. Perhaps she had learned this skill in the complex relationship with her first two husbands, when she had for a time shared an interesting ménage a trois. Close to John of Gaunt, Joan recognised his ability and so worked hard to shield him from his enemies, keeping peace between her son and this aging but able counsellor. As we see in The King’s Sister, Joan is said to have died of a broken heart when she failed to prevent the friction between her two sons, Richard John Holland.
I think Joan will appear on my writing horizon at some future time.
Can you tell us anything about your next project?
Joanna of Navarre is my next project, a Queen of England about whom we know very little. A princess of Navarre and the Valois family, she was Regent of Brittany before she became the second wife of King Henry IV. Joanna was a woman faced with difficult choices. It is a story of grief and conflict but also an abiding love. And the whole is overshadowed by the accusation levelled at Joanna for witchcraft. A fascinating blend of influences to make this a great story. It will be called The Queen’s Choice.
One book you recommend to everyone.
If it’s one of mine, then it has to be The King’s Sister because of the lethal interplay between dangerous politics and personal family interaction. It makes for superb tension and a great page-turning story.
Otherwise – for anyone who loves historical fiction or simply a good story – I would recommend Ariana Franklin’s Mistress of the Art of Death, set in the reign of Henry II and following the story of Adelia Aguilar, England’s first anatomist. It is one of the novels that taught me the joy of using historical fact to make fiction come alive. Even better, if you become hooked on Adelia’s , there are three more in the series to enjoy. I loved them all and was sorry for Ariana Franklin’s death two years ago.
Any writing habits?
Apart from a compulsion to start writing early in the day – I don’t burn the midnight oil very well – I need to see my main characters in my mind when I write about them, particularly the men. Because we have no true portraits of medieval people, even important ones, I use faces I know from film and television who seem to fit the looks and character. Such as the inspired choice of Damian Lewis to play Henry VIII in Wolf Hall.
This is a very personal view of course, But when writing about Owen Tudor in The Forbidden Queen I imagined Neil Oliver with those wonderful cheekbones and all that dark hair. John Holland in The King’s Sister? That was more difficult at first, but for me Tom Burke from the Three Musketeers had the intense smouldering passion I was looking for. A man with issues.
I pin their pictures to my board to keep them in my mind. And of course they are easy on the eye.
Favourite thing to do on a lazy Sunday.
This is my idea of a lazy Sunday afternoon in summer. Collect the Sunday newspapers from the nearest village and settle down with a cup of tea beside the pond in my garden. It is peaceful and private with rambling roses twining over a pergola and water-lilies in the pond. On warm days I am entertained by dragonflies and visiting gold finches that come for a drink and a quick splash. It is good for the soul and sets me up to start writing again on Monday morning.
The King’s Sister by Anne O’Brien is published 26th February by Mira, price £7.99 in paperback.
About the book:
1382. Daughter of John of Gaunt, sister to the future King Henry IV, Elizabeth of Lancaster has learned the shrewd tricks of the court from England’s most powerful men.
In a time of political turmoil, allegiance to family is everything. A Plantagenet princess should never defy her father’s wishes. Yet headstrong Elizabeth refuses to bow to the fate of a strategic marriage. Rejecting her duty, Elizabeth weds the charming and ruthlessly ambitious Sir John Holland: Duke of Exeter, half-brother to King Richard II and the one man she has always wanted.
But defiance can come at a price.
1399. Elizabeth’s brother Henry has seized the throne. Her husband, confident to the usurped Richard, masterminds a secret plot against the new King. Trapped in a dangerous web, Elizabeth must make a choice.
Defy the King and betray her family. Or condemn her husband and send him to his death.
Sister. Wife. Traitor.
She holds the fate of England in her hands.
Find out more here: http://www.anneobrienbooks.com/
Follow the author on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/anne_obrien