It is with great pleasure I introduce
© Anne O'Brien
|Mira Books 4 May 2012|
England's Most Scandalous Mistress. One marriage. Three people. Proud king. Loving wife. Infamous mistress. 1362, Philippa of Hainault selects a young orphan from a convent. Alice Perrers, a girl born with nothing but ambition. The Queen has a role waiting for her at court. 'I have lifted you from nothing Alice. Now you repay me.' Led down the corridors of the royal palace the young virgin is secretly delivered to King Edward III - to perform the wifely duties of which ailing Philippa is no longer capable. Power has a price, and Alice Perrers will pay it. Mistress to the King. Confidante of the Queen. Whore to the court. Her fate is double edged; loved by the majesties, ostracised by her peers. Alice must balance her future with care as her star begins to rise - the despised Concubine is not untouchable. Politics and pillow talk are dangerous bedfellows. The fading great King wants her in his bed. Her enemies want her banished. One mistake and Alice will face a threat worse than any malicious whispers of the past.
Anne has kindly taken time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions for jaffareadstoo.
What makes you write Historical fiction?
I cannot recall a time when I did not enjoy History. My father was the source of my original fascination – I have much to thank him for. As a child I was taken to visit castles and churches and stately homes – anything with a touch of history - and fell in love with the lives of the people who lived there. I found it easy to imagine them. I read historical fiction as a child and my interest continued through school and university. My degree was in history, and in another life I taught history for many years. When I decided to try my hand at writing, about ten years ago now, it was an obvious choice to make. ‘Write about what you know’ is the advice usually given to would-be authors, isn’t it? And so I attempted a ‘Georgette Heyer style’ Regency romance, which was, to my delight, published. And the rest is History...
Since then I have taken a different step, to write about characters who actually lived. It gives me great pleasure to breathe some life into these medieval people.
What was the inspiration for a novel about Alice Perrers?
It was pure chance. How often does that happen?
I had no thought of writing about Alice Perrers, mistress of that most powerful of Plantagenet Kings, Edward III, at the same time as she was a damsel (lady-in- waiting) to Queen Philippa, but she crossed my path when I discovered a copy of Lady of the Sun, the life and Times of Alice Perrers by F. George Kay in a second hand book shop. I bought it out of interest but was not impressed with Alice. There was very little that we knew about her that could be supported by evidence. What we did know gave her an astonishingly bad press from contemporary writers, painting her with a black reputation and with absolutely no redeeming features. This was not a woman I could immediately admire:
‘There was ... in England a shameless woman and wanton harlot called Ales Peres, of base kindred ... being neither beautiful or fair, she knew how to cover these defects with her flattering tongue ...’
This was the view of Thomas Walsingham, a monk at St Albans who knew Alice well.
Alice fared no better at the hands of reputable modern historians.
‘Edward III was sick and enfeebled, given over to the wiles of his rapacious mistress.’
The adjective rapacious, or one equally unpleasant, is used very frequently about her.
And yet something attracted me to this remarkable woman from the fourteenth century. I thought that she could not possibly be quite so dislikeable, and on not one occasion do we hear Alice speaking for herself.
I thought that I would give her that chance. This was the beginning of The King’s Concubine.
Did your research into Alice’s life reveal any surprises?
I knew that Alice was attacked because she persuaded Edward to give her grants of land. So successful was she that she controlled 56 manors, castles and town houses stretching over 25 counties of England from the north to the home counties. What I did not realise was that out of all those pieces of property, only 10 were royal grants. The rest of them Alice acquired for herself. What an astonishingly competent and smart businesswoman she must have been, especially for the time in which she lived. Even better, when property disputes arose, Alice, with the King's authority behind her, had the temerity to sit in the law courts to intimidate the judges and ensure that she got the best deal for herself in the legal outcome. I can imagine her doing that, and the judges detesting her.
Alice became the wealthiest common-born woman in the land; if she had been a man her wealth would have qualified for an earldom. How’s that for a woman with no recognisable family, and absolutely no evidence to inform us of where she acquired her education.
And did Alice really strip the rings from her royal lover’s dead body? Well, that’s a marvellous scene to enjoy in The King’s Concubine ...
Do you have a favourite historical character?
I had to think hard about this question – and I am not sure that I do have a favourite character. I have some who have definitely grown on me as I wrote about them, such as the redoubtable Alice Perrers. I think I would have to say that my favourite character is the one I am writing about at the present time. They live with me for so long that they become part of my thoughts, even when I wish they wouldn’t. Sometimes I like them, sometimes I don’t, sometimes they get under my skin when they won’t help with the plotting, but that is what makes a character come to life. I think the most exhausting of my heroines was Eleanor of Aquitaine whose voice was loud and clear from the first page, even though she lived 900 years ago. The most complex was Katherine de Valois, who was not what we would call a strong character but became a very determined one. Alice Perrers was the most shadowy and difficult to unwrap because of lack of balanced evidence. Anne Neville was very young and subject to the will of her family and royal dictates so that for her it was an essay in growing up. They all have something to admire in them, and I love doing it.
One character I have in my mind to write about at some time in the future is Warwick the Kingmaker – so not a woman for once. What a remarkable man he was: intelligent, educated, charismatic, but so driven by ambition that it brought this downfall.
Do you write stories for yourself, or other people?
I write about people I am interested in, and so I suppose in that sense I write for myself, and therefore I write about women from medieval English History. My purpose is not to tell the detail of wars and alliances, of politics and constitutional developments – that is the role of a history book – but to give some insight into the lives of the women who lived under the shadow of those major movements. Women are almost silent in medieval history, even queens, so I enjoy allowing them to speak again and give their view on their life and particularly their relationships with family and husbands, and the choices forced on them by the politics and mores of the day.
At the same time I try to keep my audience in mind. What interests me in detail might not be useful for the plot. I have edited out many sections I loved for the sake of the pace of the book. That’s one of the irritating parts of writing – but it makes for a better novel in the end.
Do you have a special place to do your writing?
This is my writing room, the smallest bedroom in my cottage, now set up as my office/study/library. It is not ideal because it has the sloping ceilings of a cottage – so space for bookshelves is limited - but it is full of light with two windows and very compact so that I can (usually) find what I am looking for. It is also too small to fit in a comfortable chair as well as computer, desk and bookshelves. If I am there, it is to work, not to read for pleasure – which is always tempting. My PC, where I do most of my work, faces the smallest window so that I can see the oak trees just beyond my hedge but nothing else – no distractions! The other window looks out over cider apple orchards and fields full of Hereford cattle which take my interest all too easily. The piles of books tend to grow higher as I become involved in the Work in Progress. Because it is my work room, I don’t have to tidy everything away every night. Tidying is a terrible thing – I forget where I have put just what I must have! The notice board is mostly for illustrations to give me inspiration. The little wooden bookstand is a prize possession, picked up in a local antique shop. It is constructed from the oak supports of the historic English Bridge in Shrewsbury that were replaced in 1926.
I have a laptop which I occasionally use elsewhere in the house, but this room is where most of my work – all the sweat and blood – takes place.
Which writers have inspired you?
The writer of historical fiction who has influenced me most is Dorothy Dunnett. Her skill in compiling and manipulating complex plots and characters impressed me long before I ever thought of writing. I read the Lymond Chronicles and the House of Niccolo, and mourned when they were ended. Her use of language and subtle characterisation are exceptional.
In more recent years I have enjoyed the novels of Ariana Franklyn, historical crime, beginning with the Mistress of the Art of Death. The humour and clever manner of weaving factual material with the personal stories of Adelia, the twelfth century female doctor, and Rowley, the Bishop in her life, is a joy. The balance between facts and story-telling in these four novels – sadly Ariana Franklyn died in 2011 - is impressive: History is never allowed to get in the way of a good story, which I think is essential in historical fiction.
Can you tell us what you are writing next?
I have just completed a novel about Katherine de Valois, the French princess who was married to Henry V, hero of Agincourt, bringing with her as her dowry the kingdom of France. They were a beautiful couple, praised and feted on all sides, given a wonderful love scene in Shakespeare’s Henry V, but historically all was not what it seemed on the surface. There was little romance in Katherine’s early life. And then, when Katherine was widowed, she fell in love with Owen Tudor, a most unsuitable match. Owen was Welsh – and so discriminated against in English law – and a servant in Katherine’s employment as Master of the Queen’s Household. Katherine’s is a tale of pain and anguish, of intense joy and love - and ultimate tragedy. It is a great story, and is at the moment with the copy-editors.
It will be released in 2013 – probably April/May and titled The Forbidden Queen.
If you wish to keep in touch with me and my novels, and are interested in the progress of my new novel of Katherine de Valois, The Forbidden Queen, do visit my website:
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Anne - Thank you so much for spending time with us , Jaffa and I have loved reading about your inspiration for The King's Concubine and we wish you continuing success. We look forward to the publication of The Forbidden Queen in 2013.
Anne has very generously offered a signed copy of her book The King's Concubine to one lucky UK winner of this giveaway.