Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Meet My Guest, a Tudorphile and author whose books I plan to devour, Judith Arnopp

Note from Diana: I've been a HUGE Tudorphile since I'm a little kid. I don't even know where I first heard about Henry VIII or his six queens. I wish I could remember...I know exactly how I 'met' Richard III, as does every Ricardian! My very first historical, THE JEWELS OF WARWICK, was set around Henry and two fictional heroines, and one of my favorite authors inspired me: Bertrice Small, whom we lost recently. Her book BLAZE WYNDHAM got me going. I went to England to research Tudor sites with my laptop. There was no internet in 1990, so I did all my research the hard way. Last year I joined The Tudor Society and The Anne Boleyn Files, and met some fascinating people. When I read about Judith and her books, I had to ask her to guest here. Judith is the author of seven historical novels, three set in the Saxon/medieval period and four in the Tudor era.
She sent me a riveting article about Raglan Castle and succumbed to my interview. She also sent some gorgeous pictures of her favorite coastal walk and view from her window at her home in Wales.
Enjoy meeting Judith!

About Judith
I’ve been writing professionally for about six years now but I’ve never been too far from a pen and notebook. I wrote as a child, all through my teens and penned adventures for my children when they were small. We have a smallholding, so I was a stay at home mum, goat milker, chicken feeder, groom, gardener-come-dogs-body until they grew up. I was at a loose end once they got to a certain age and so I did something I wasn’t able to when I was young and enrolled at university. I studied English literature and Creative Writing for my first degree and then went on to do a Masters in Medieval History. Once I graduated it made sense to combine my skills and so I began to write historical fiction. It has been all go since then. My first novel Peaceweaver was published in 2009 and I have just finished my seventh, A Song of Sixpence.
What kind of books do you love to read? Why?
I read lots of different genres but my favourite has always been historical fiction. I cut my teeth on Jean Plaidy way back in the 1970’s but now I prefer something with a bit more bite. Hilary Mantel is a master in my eyes.
What is your stress buster?
We live close to the west coast of Wales where the scenery and the air quality is fabulous. There is nothing like a tramp along the cliff path to blow away the cobwebs and cheer me up.
What is your favorite food? What food do you seek when you are sad, sort of a comfort food?
For health reasons I have to follow a fairly strict diet. I am a vegetarian and enjoy lots of healthy meals for the majority of the time. When sadness strikes, which it does far too often, I need chocolate and ice cream …preferably both.
Describe yourself in one word.
If a fairy grants you one wish and one wish only, what would it be? Why?
It has to be health and happiness – is that one wish or two?
What is your biggest regret in life?
I don’t believe in regret. I have done things that perhaps I shouldn’t have but regretting it won’t make it better. Instead I strive to be better in the future. Onwards and upwards.
What is the most adventurous thing you’ve ever done?
I am not terribly adventurous. I keep that for my books. It is one thing pushing my characters around a dangerous world on paper and quite another to do be brave myself. I suppose my most adventurous deed was when I was in my early thirties. I was very disillusioned with urban life and the damaging effect society was having on the environment, so my husband and I packed up our life and our kids and moved from just north of London to the wilds of Wales. I haven’t regretted it for a single second.
What makes you happy/sad/disappointed/frustrated/hopeful/angry? (Pick one)
My old fella makes me feel all those things – lol. No, to be truthful he is the most caring, funny, supportive and loving man I could wish for. He is necessary to me.
How would readers find out more about you?
I would love to see you all there.

Your writing
When did you write your first book? How long did it take you to write it?
I wrote two novels before I came up with one good enough to publish. It took me about two years to write Peaceweaver, which was published in 2009. With your first novel you are perfecting your research skills and developing your voice. Once you’ve nailed that the subsequent books come into being quicker.
Did you encounter any obstacles in writing? What are they? How did you overcome them?
I didn’t encounter any obstacles until I began to use social media to bring my books to the public eye. I learned then how very unpleasant some people are. I have found loads of lovely wonderful friends but every so often you come across a real nasty one. I have grown a thicker skin now but I am always wary – as an author you have to tread carefully and be careful who you interact with.
Where and when do you write? Tell us about your favorite work place and time. Any special reason?
I work at home, from breakfast to lunchtime, then from 1 pm to around 4 pm, sometimes more, sometime less. I am so lucky. I have a lovely office with a smashing view of the garden and the mountain beyond. My companion is Bryn, my Jack Russell who sleeps on my feet for much of the time. I am surrounded by books, coffee to hand and, quite honestly, it is the best job in the world.
How do you write? Do your characters come to you first or the plot or the world of the story?
I never have to cast around for something to write. In every instance so far an idea for the next book has sprung from researching or writing another. For instance Peaceweaver is set at the time of the Norman Conquest so it seemed natural to move forward in time and write about the Saxon experiences under the Normans – thus was The Forest Dwellers born. The idea for The Song of Heledd came to me when I was studying Medieval poetry at uni; it is based on the fragments of a Welsh poem the Canu Heledd which translates to The Song of Heledd. It is set in 7th century Powys.
I turned to the Tudor era because so many readers asked me to! The Winchester Goose was, and still is, my best seller, closely followed by The Kiss of the Concubine: a novel of Anne Boleyn. Then I covered Katherine Parr in Intractable Heart, and most recently Elizabeth of York in A Song of Sixpence. Each book was born of the other and every one of my novels comes a surpise to me, I marvel at where they came from. When I look in the mirror I see a plum, short sighted, middle-aged woman – you’d never guess from looking that there was so much ‘stuff’ inside - lol.
What is your advice to aspiring writers?
Don’t give up. Trust in yourself and your ideas and motivations. Listen to constructive criticism, ignore rudeness. Edit, edit, edit – never think it is good enough. You can always do better – aspire to brilliance.

Your books
What genre(s) do you write? Why do you write the stories that you write?
Historical fiction. There was no other choice for me. I have always read historical novels and love history. I studied it at school, privately at home, and then at university. I am far more comfortable in the past than I am in the present. I write mainly from a female perspective; although it is changing now, women have been under-represented in fiction and I wanted to give them a voice. The women in my books aren’t pawns, or whores, or witches – they are ordinary women thrust into prominence and battling to survive in an unbalanced world.
Among those that you’ve written, which is your favorite book and why?
I have a soft spot for Peaceweaver because it was my first but I think my favourite is The Winchester Goose. The Winchester Geese were prostitutes who paid rent to the Bishops of Winchester. The thing that makes it special for me is the main character Joanie Toogood. She is a prostitute living in Southwark across the Thames from the royal court and she doesn’t hesitate to share her irreverent opinion of the political world in which she lives. She is tough but kind, lives in squalor yet manages to make a home, and nurtures those who need it most.
Where do you get your ideas? Do you jot them down in a notebook, in case you forgot?
I have a notebook but I can’t usually find it, or it is filled up with phone messages and memos that have no bearing on my work. Most of my ideas are stored in the chaos of my mind, sometimes I find them but, most often, they trickle out or are smothered by other, bigger ideas.
Have you ever wanted to write your book in one direction but your characters are moving it in another direction? What did you do in such a situation?
This constantly happens to me. I usually sketch out a rough plan but I have yet to stick to one. Of course, when I am writing about a historical figure, one of Henry’s queens for example, I have to adhere to their recorded life but their thoughts are my own. The recorded facts of history are the bones of the story and I have fun adding the flesh and the colour. Sometimes I introduce a character who is supposed to be a villain but they refuse to be so – authors think they are in control but most often the story tells itself, authors are just a channel.
Tell us more about your latest release A Song of Sixpence.
A Song of Sixpence is the story of Elizabeth of York and Perkin Warbeck. Everyone knows the mystery of the Princes in the Tower who disappeared sometime after 1483 and it is widely accepted that the Pretender we think of as Perkin Warbeck was an imposter. In my book I take the view that he was in fact the younger of the two princes. His story is interlaced with that of his sister Elizabeth, now queen to Henry VII. The main concern of the book is Elizabeth’s conflict – is he her brother, or isn’t he? What will she do when her husband catches up with the pretender and sends him to his death? Should she fight for the rights of her beloved brother or her son?

Any new projects, work in progress?
Margaret Beaufort is knocking on my door wanting a book of her own. She was the mother of Henry Tudor and is a character in A Song of Sixpence whom I’d like to explore further. She had a varied and interesting life, and was one of the most powerful and influential women of the 16th century. I have just started to research her childhood and already at the age of ten, I find her in the process of having her first marriage dissolved. She led such an eventful life that it may make a trilogy.
Some writers edit excessively as they write; others wait until a novel is finished to do the bulk of editing.  How about you?
Every day, before I begin to write, I read through and lightly edit what I wrote the day before. This helps me get back into the flow of the story and remember where I was. At the end I edit it all again thoroughly. It then goes through several beta readers before the editor gets a look at it. Although it is not until the edits are done that the book fully fledged, it is the process I like the least. I love the initial creative splurge when the words splash onto the page almost faster than my fingers can type them. 

How much research was involved in writing your book?  How did you go about it?
Tons of research! I know the Tudor world pretty well by now but I still have to look at each and every character, decide which perspective I wish to follow up and then put them into action with one another, hoping they will all behave themselves. I read the opinions of several different historians before I decide which view to take – it might not be the view I personally agree with but the one that lends itself to the sort of fiction I want to write. I don’t demonise anyone – if my characters act negatively I always provide a reason for it. There are no baddies and no goodies in my books I hope – just human beings. 

Have you had other careers before becoming a writer?
I am a trained touch typist which helps my writing immensely. I type very fast, don’t need to look at the keyboard and can get a lot of words on the page in a short time. I didn’t work in an office for long – I found it stifling and depressing. Once I was married and children began to arrive I wanted to be a full-time mum. I wanted my children to have a parent at home to be on hand should we be needed. That doesn’t mean it was easy. We had just one income. I worked on the smallholding, raising animals, growing our own veg etc. For a time I was a relief milker on a 500 strong goat farm but all the while I was writing in my spare time, perhaps subconsciously practicing for the day I would write for real.
What do you keep on your desk?
Far too much. I had my workspace specially built so that I had loads of bookshelves and enough desk space for all the research books I need. Unfortunately half the time it is cluttered with other things. Right now I have a breakfast bowl, coffee cup, two notebooks, my wallet, spare glasses, i-pad, two open research books, reels of tape, pain killers, cheque book, letters to be posted, pens, a tape measure, and empty box of Cadbury Caramel Eggs (shame it’s empty). So, having plenty of work space can be debilitating unless you are tidy-minded.

If you could have one skill that you don’t currently have, what would it be?
I’d love to paint. My father is a fabulous artist, he is 95 years old yet still at it. I come from a family of artists and although I do try, and have managed a few ‘not too bad’ attempts, I long to be fully competent. All through my childhood I watched my father splash paint around and assumed it was easy. I didn’t try it out for myself until I was in my forties and I was astounded when the paint wouldn’t do as I wished. I guess you can’t be good at everything.

Henry Tudor and Elizabeth of York at Raglan Castle
By Judith Arnopp
 Most people today see Raglan Castle in a blur as they dash along the A40 just outside Abergavenney in Monmouthshire. As we scurry through our frantic lives the castle serves as a reminder of our heritage, a ghost of late medieval Britain.
In its heyday, Raglan Castle was a destination in itself. A weary traveller on the old medieval route through the village may have found himself overawed by the vast crenelated towers as they appeared dramatically over the brow of the hill. The path he took encircled the castle, where dwarfed the Great Tower and moat, he could not help but notice the impenetrable walls, the defensive towers, the soaring gatehouse.
Once inside the vast walls cut out the sun, making him shiver as his eye was taken by the bright pennants that fluttered bravely against a clear blue sky. The carved stone badges and shields above the gate expressed the awesome power of the Earl, reminding the visitor of his own more humble lineage. Only then would he discover the entrance to the inner Fountain Court and a way into the Great Tower where the Family’s living quarters lay. All this display was designed to impress, put a visitor on his guard, and make any prospective enemy think again.  
The castle we see today was begun in 1415 by William ap Thomas, a veteran of Agincourt, who purchased the manor of Raglan for one thousand marks. It was William who conceived the basic shape of the castle although much of the building work took place after his time.
William’s son dropped the ap Thomas and began to call himself William Herbert. He was active on the side of York during the Wars of the Roses and also fought in the Hundred Years War. It was William Herbert who carried out most of the medieval phase of the building and added extensive parkland, orchards and fishponds. As a supporter of York, Herbert’s fortunes flourished under Edward IV who endowed him with the title Lord Herbert of Raglan.
In 1461 at the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross Herbert’s half-brother, Henry Vaughn, captured the Lancastrian, Owen Tudor, father of Jasper and grandfather of Henry, and executed him in Hereford. Owen’s son Jasper was forced to flee, leaving his nephew, Henry Tudor, behind at Pembroke castle.              
In 1468, replacing the now attainted Lancastrian Jasper Tudor, Herbert became the first Welshman to be made an Earl; the Earl of Pembroke. He also became Justice and Chamberlain of South Wales and one of Edward IV’s closest advisors and friends.
He purchased the wardship of the young Lancastrian heir, Henry Tudor (later Henry VII) and the boy spent much of his childhood at Raglan while his uncle Jasper Tudor agitated for the return to a Lancastrian rule. Also resident at the castle at this time would have been William Herbert’s son, Walter and another William so Henry was not without companions of a similar age. Although living virtually as a prisoner Henry was gently treated, receiving an education and instruction in military skills. His mother, Margaret Beaufort, although allowed to correspond with her son via letters was allowed only infrequent visits. Of course, the Lancastrians didn’t give up the fight. Jasper Tudor continued to plague Edward IV, joining forces with Margaret of Anjou and the disaffected Duke of Warwick, a plot that culminated in the bloody battle of Edgcote in 1469. The twelve-year-old Henry Tudor attended the battle in the company of William Herbert. After the defeat of York, Herbert and his brother were taken and later beheaded. Henry was taken into the care of Sir Richard Corbet who returned him to his uncle Jasper and he was placed in safety at Weobley Castle on the Gower peninsular.
Margaret Beaufort sent to Raglan Castle for news of her son but it was a few days before she was certain of Henry’s whereabouts. She sent money for his keep and a little extra so he could buy a bow and arrow. For a time Henry VI was reinstated on the throne but after the return of the Yorkist king Jasper and Henry took refuge overseas. For a short time before their departure Henry and Margaret spent some time together at Woking. They would not meet again until after his victory at Bosworth Field in 1485.
The Herberts had long been supporters of York but, perhaps due to childhood loyalty, Walter Herbert joined the Lancastrian forces at Bosworth and Henry’s victory was restored to his rights.
Whenever I visit Raglan I cannot help but think of the time Henry spent at the castle. A young boy and, although treated kindly and educated as befitted his station, he was nevertheless separated from his mother and his uncle and living among enemies. Perhaps that is when he first learned to mistrust his fellow man. He did not know the future; his destiny was a blank wall, and there were to be many years of exile before he was able to win the throne.
Many years later, just before her death in 1503, Henry’s queen Elizabeth of York also spent time at Raglan Castle. The records say she passed a happy time, playing cards, listening to stories and being wined and dined by her host, Walter Herbert. She was on a royal progress, pregnant with her last child, and said not to be in the best of health. I wonder if, as she moved from room to room, she thought of Henry and the time he had spent there in obscurity. 
At the end of May 2015 there is a Tudor Weekend at Raglan Castle where you can mingle with kings and queens, noblemen and women or watch craftsman demonstrate their skills. You can also meet me where I will be offering signed copies of my books. 
Above: Elizabeth of York & Henry VII
Below: photos of Raglan Castle
Judith's favorite coastal walk, Aberporth, West Wales
View from Judith's desk
Photographs copyright©Juditharnopp2015


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