Monday, 13 March 2017
Meet the participants of the #LlandeiloBookFair: Judith Arnopp
Today I welcome back Judith Arnopp, a familiar face to the Llandeilo Book Fair whose historical novels include:
The Beaufort Bride: Book one of The Beaufort Chronicles (the life of Margaret Beaufort)
The Beaufort Woman: Book Two of The Beaufort Chronicles
A Song of Sixpence: A story of Elizabeth of York and Perkin Warbeck
Intractable Heart: the story of Katheryn Parr
The Kiss of the Concubine: A story of Anne Boleyn
The Winchester Goose: at the court of Henry VIII
The Forest Dwellers: Anglo Saxon/Norman conflict
Peaceweaver: the story of Eadgyth, queen to Gruffydd ap Llewellyn and Harold II
Please tell us about the books you’ll be bringing to the Book Fair.
I shall bring copies of all my books. I have always been intrigued by medieval women, there is very little on the record to illustrate how they coped with the demands of their day. In my books I explore how it might have felt to live in a male orientated world, beneath the jurisdiction of often very misguided men. My current project, Margaret Beaufort, faced many conflicts as she manoeuvred her way through the wars of the roses. Married as a child, taken into the comparatively hostile environment of Wales, she was widowed at the age of thirteen and left pregnant and vulnerable. It is believed the birth of her son caused such physical damage she was never to conceive a child again, yet that didn’t prevent her from negotiating two further marriages to powerful men. Margaret was intelligent, a political player in a man’s world who fought tirelessly for the rights of her son, Henry Tudor, ultimately seeing him on the throne of England and launching the Tudor dynasty.
And Margaret wasn’t alone. My novels explore the lives of other women who bore witness to events that are unthinkable to us today. Just how does a young woman stand bravely on the scaffold, waiting for the axe to fall, and speak kindly of the king who signed the death warrant? I examine this in The Kiss of the Concubine and The Winchester Goose with the deaths of Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard.
We are all tested and my novels examine the resilience and determination required to withstand such trials, in whatever form they come.
Which genres do they belong to?
All my books are Historical Fiction. I studied for a master’s degree in medieval history at university and when I began to write seriously historical fiction was my instinctive choice. I am far more at home in the middle ages than in the modern world. There is nothing I like more than dressing up in my 16th century style gown for the Tudor Weekend at Raglan Castle where I meet readers old and new and sign books, discuss history and generally have a great time. You should come. It is on August Bank Holiday this year.
What are the characters and plots like?
I have to be quite careful with my characters, the historical ones at least. They were real people, their experiences were real and I don’t like to belittle or demonise them for the sake of entertainment. I keep that for the fictional characters that rub shoulders with the royalty and noblewomen of the past.
When it comes to plot, I have to follow the historical record but I usually weave a fictional narrative alongside the historical events. For instance, in The Winchester Goose, Joanie Toogood is a prostitute working the streets of Southwark, just across the river from the royal palace. Joanie’s irreverent observations on the political events of her day are illuminating, her fictional story revealing that her life is very little different to Henry’s queens.
Most critics have remarked that I provide a different perspective to other authors of the same genre. Initially I was unaware of that but once it was pointed out to me it seemed a good idea to continue. Once I am in character and writing the people I am writing about seem to take on a life of their own and tell me, in some strange subliminal way, the sort of person they want to be.
My most recent publication is The Beaufort Woman, Book Two of The Beaufort Chronicles. It follows Margaret Beaufort’s life during the most unsettled part of the wars of the roses. Separated from her son, she marries first Henry Stafford and then, after his death, Thomas Stanley. Never once does she falter in her campaign to have her son’s rights and properties reinstated. She is prominent at the Yorkist court, close companion of Queen Elizabeth Woodville and later, Richard III’s queen, Anne. The Beaufort Woman takes us to the day after the battle at Bosworth.
I am currently working on Book Three of the Beaufort Chronicles: The King’s Mother, in which Margaret has achieved her ambitions but finds life at the top is not as secure as she had imagined. Her son’s reign is beset by rebellion, imposters and invasion and as one of the king’s chief advisors, Margaret pits all her hard won skills at strategy to keep him on his throne. The King’s Mother should be published before Christmas if I get my finger out!
I am also working with other historical authors on a non-fiction anthology to be released by Pen and Sword Books. It is to be called In Bed with the British, focussing on love and romance. My piece is about a possible romantic relationship between Anne Boleyn and Thomas Wyatt. It has taken up quite a lot of my time recently, a very intriguing subject. There is another non-fiction project in the pipe-line but I cannot talk about that yet.
Which of your books are you’re most proud of, and why?
I am proud of all of them. My first, Peaceweaver, was the most surprising of all. When I published it was more for my own benefit than anything else. I wanted to prove to myself that I could complete a whole novel. What I hadn’t expected was that people would buy it AND enjoy it. I wouldn’t say it was an overnight success but the people who did read it, loved it and are still supporters of my work today.
Even though The Beaufort Chronicles are selling very well, my bestseller is still The Winchester Goose – I think the risky subject matter attracts readers and they then progress to read all my others. The Beaufort Chronicles is the hardest thing I have attempted so far. Margaret’s life was long and very eventful so it was necessary to split it into three volumes.
Because she has been portrayed in fiction and on screen in a rather negative light, people think they know Margaret but in my books she is telling her own story. People in Margaret’s position had to make choices to preserve both themselves and the people they loved. When she makes a harsh decision, she provides reasons for her actions, and emerges very differently to the overly pious harridan previously described. The response to the first two books of The Beaufort Chronicles has been great. Every day I have a pile of emails to go through asking when book three will be available. Readers can be very demanding but I love that, it keeps me motivated.
Now I am approaching the end of The Beaufort Chronicles I am certain I will never attempt such a lengthy project again. I have lived and breathed as Margaret Beaufort for about four years now and I fancy more comfortable shoes to walk in. My next project will be more fiction based, I think, still historical but perhaps a fictional character set against a historical background.
There have been so many good things said about them but the one that stands out was a favourable comparison to Hilary Mantel – I don’t agree of course. Hilary Mantel is way better than me, she is my idol. Her historical fiction may not suit everyone, her detail may not be 100% accurate but the world she creates is astoundingly authentic. I re-read that review when I am feeling defeated and it gives me a boost.
I also had an email from a couple who read Peaceweaver and thanked me because it had helped them come to terms with the loss of their teenage son. They mentioned a passage from the end of the book that I could not even recall writing. At the end of the telephone call, I flicked through to find the part they referred to near the end of the book.
‘How things change,’ I say. ‘How strange that, even when all is lost, we still find beauty in simple things.’
He stands behind me with his hands upon my shoulders, both of us looking up at the sky; a sky that reminds me of the night Harold returned from Normandy and asked me to be his wife.
‘Resilience is what keeps us all from madness,’ Godwin says. ‘If we didn’t have the power to heal, to move on and overcome our grief, the human race would not survive.’
I was astounded that a few throwaway lines I had written had somehow given them the strength to move on. I don’t think anyone can make a more rewarding comment about my work than that.
Why did you decide to come to the Llandeilo Book Fair?
I am very shy person. Large crowds terrify me but these days, book fairs are part of being an author. I have attended a few now, was at Llandeilo last year and met some lovely people, both authors and readers. I also attended the Carmarthen, and Tenby Book fair, and have signed up for Narberth this year. It is good to mingle with other writers and discover we all suffer from insecurity, uncertainty – we are all feeling our way in the dark. I now have some very good writer friends who provide mutual support and advice. Authors need other authors both to keep us grounded, and to boost us when we feel we are failing.
Of course, the best thing about book fairs is the face to face contact with readers, both new and old. Sometimes they come along with a well-read copy of my book and ask me to sign it. Sometimes they stagger out the door with a bag full they haven’t yet read. Readers tell you what they liked, what they didn’t like. One reader said of The Kiss of the Concubine. ‘From the beginning, I knew Anne Boleyn had to die but I really hoped she wouldn’t.’ This was very comforting because Anne Boleyn has been the subject of so many books that I wasn’t sure when I began writing, that there was room for another. I think she is timeless, appealing to each new generation of readers of HF.
Do you have a special connection to Wales?
As a child we came to Wales for holidays. We stayed on farms where I helped with the milking and feeding the chickens. It was always my dream to live here, to have a farm and some animals. Twenty years ago we bought a smallholding near Lampeter and raised our children in the countryside, living the dream. The kids are all grown up now, and a few years after the last ones left home, we sold up. We now live in Aberporth on the coast and although I still miss the silence and beauty of our old home, I love it here. Instead of a view of Llanwnni mountain, my study now looks across Cardigan Bay toward Snowdon and the Llyn Peninsular. Sometimes the sea is wild and dangerous, sometimes it sparkles, dotted with yachts and soaring gulls. The view is ever-changing but always inspiring.
What is your personal background?
As a child we lived in a small town in England but most weekends saw us in the countryside on picnics or walks. Our holidays were always taken in rural areas, often Wales. I developed a deep need to live close to nature and have never for one moment regretted leaving Hertfordshire and coming here twenty or so years ago.
In the early days we concentrated on the children, we kept ponies, poultry and goats, grew our own vegetables and provided a free and happy childhood for our family. When the youngest was ten I began to think about my future, what I might like to do when I was no longer just ‘Mum.’ After discussion with my soul mate, John, I enrolled at university in Lampeter to do a BA in English and Creative Writing – after graduating I enrolled again, this time for a Masters in Medieval Studies. Since then I haven’t looked back. Writing is a great career choice, although it does require an awful lot of discipline. It really doesn’t do to spend all day chatting on Facebook, or to allow the sun to lure me outside for a walk along the cliff. I set myself daily targets and usually manage to stick to them.
Who are your favourite authors?
I already mentioned Hilary Mantel, I particularly loved Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies. She took a traditionally unloved stock Tudor villain and made him human, although I don’t think she did Anne Boleyn many favours.
I think, these days, the bulk of my reading is non-fiction relating to my current project. Although it is my favourite genre, while I am writing I try not to read historical fiction for fear of tainting my own voice. Instead I read contemporary crime, or something set much later in history. I also read a lot of indie authors. I enjoy Anna Belfrage’s time slip novels, M.M Bennetts, Of Honest Fame, and May 1812, oh, and so many more, it would take too long!
Please share your social media links and buy links to your books.