Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Today my author spotlight falls on ~ Gillian Bagwell

I am delighted to welcome back to Jaffareadstoo
one of our favourite authors

Gillian Bagwell

Author of

July 2013

Gillian ~ welcome back and thanks for taking the time to tell us all about your latest book 

What is it about Venus in Winter that will pique the reader’s interest?

Many things, I hope! Bess of Hardwick was a fascinating woman who lived a very long life in a very eventful period in history, yet she hasn’t had much fiction written about her. She was born in genteel poverty and by near the end of her life, in the late sixteenth century, rose to become the most wealthy and powerful woman in England besides Queen Elizabeth. Much of her success was because she married well and was widowed four times, each time inheriting money and property. But she was very shrewd and very smart. After her fourth husband died, she built Hardwick Hall, a palatial house in Derbyshire which remains much as she left it. She oversaw the building personally, and supervised an army of several hundred artisans and laborers over the years.

She certainly knew all the Tudor monarchs from Edward VI forward, and was a lady in waiting to Queen Elizabeth. In my book I have her present at the court of Henry VIII in time to witness his marriages to Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, and Catherine Parr, which she might well have done. She also knew many of the other giants of the century from Queen Elizabeth’s minister William Cecil, Lord Burleigh to Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, and Elizabeth’s other favorite, Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex.

From about the age of fifteen, she served in the household of Henry and Frances Grey, and was very close to their daughters, especially Lady Jane Grey, and she kept a portrait of Jane close to her for the rest of her life.

In your research for the novel, did you discover anything which surprised you?

I think one thing that surprised me is that Bess has over the centuries developed somewhat of a reputation of being a very hard and unpleasant person. It surprised me because the first biography of Bess that I read was the most recent, that by Mary Lovell, which presents Bess as certainly strong, determined, and formidable, but also very warm and caring—based on primary evidence such as letters between Bess and her second and third husbands, much of which hadn’t been used by previous biographers. Bess’s fourth husband began to go a little mad and accused her of all kinds of things that weren’t true, but some of the mud stuck. I think that some of the animosity towards her from her own period was also because men then weren’t used to and didn’t like to see powerful women.

Bess is considered to be a formidable woman, do you think you would like her if you met her ? 

Well, that’s kind of a hard question. I think she would be very interesting to encounter and I might well enjoy her company. She must have been very personable and charismatic to achieve much of what she did and count so many powerful people among her friends, including those from opposing factions. But she was very much woman of her time. She moved villages and enclosed common pasture land without compunction when she wanted to do something else with the land, which must have been very hard for the poor people it affected. She was extremely ambitious for her granddaughter Arbella, who at one point was considered very likely to succeed Queen Elizabeth on the throne, and controlled her and restricted her so severely that they ultimately had a falling out that was never repaired. Similarly, she was very disappointed in her eldest son, Henry, whom she considered a wastrel. She was hard on people who didn’t measure up to her expectations.
One of the things that I enjoyed about writing this book is that I covered Bess’s early years, about which not as much is known as the later part of her life. This gave me an opportunity to portray her as curious, uncertain, observing, learning, finding her way in the very slippery and dangerous world of the Tudors.

If Venus in Winter was optioned for a TV drama/ movie, who would you like to play Bess ?

Cate Blanchett has the right appearance and strength to play Bess in the prime of her life. Bess was a redhead and fair skinned, just like Queen Elizabeth. But she had blue eyes, whereas the queen’s eyes were dark. Jessica Brown Findlay, who plays Lady Sybil on Downton Abbey, would make a lovely young Bess. Jessica Chastain would be great for her a little older.

If I am able to write the sequel, about the second half of Bess’s life, Maggie Smith would make a wonderful Bess in her later years. Strong, tough, but with humor and heart. And continuing the Downton Abbey theme, Samantha Bond, who plays Lord Grantham’s sister, would be great for the start of the book, which would begin with Bess’s fourth marriage when she was forty.

Can you tell I don’t watch a lot of TV or see many movies? I’m just not up on who’s out there! And you can’t have a movie with five or six actresses playing the same character! Good thing this is all fantasy. 


My review of Venus in Winter 

Venus in Winter charts the first forty years in the life of Bess of Hardwick, from her early life as a gentlewoman in the service of Lady Zouche, through to her subsequent marriages, and life at the centre of the Tudor court. As one of the most successful women of the Tudor age, there is no doubt that Bess always had her eye on the main chance, and in using her unique appeal, she succeeded in securing an advantageous place in society. Her many marriages, she had four, took her to the very pinnacle of success, but unfortunately, Bess learned that heartbreak came with triumph, and she was certainly no stranger to sadness.

The story reads very easily, there is the same fine attention to detail and the meticulous research we have come to expect from this author’s writing. Rich in detail and alive with treachery, the story of Bess of Hardwick is a fascinating read, the complexity of court intrigue and the corruption and greed of some of the major Tudor personalities comes gloriously alive in a tale of classic ambition and ruthless pride.

There is no doubt that had she been alive in the 21st century, Bess of Hardwick would have been a female entrepreneur in charge of a global company. She was feisty, determined, and as a woman placed in the midst of Tudor England her consummate ambition and spirited determination to succeed was unsurpassed.

Another great historical novel from this talented author.

Gillian ~ thanks so much for spending time with us. Jaffa and I are always happy to chat about your fine historical novels. Come back and see us again soon.


  1. Thanks for featuring me, Jo, and for such a lovely review! And Jack, Charlotte, Moth, Miranda, and Inky Dinky Doo send their regards to Jaffa!

  2. Gillian , it's always a pleasure to have you visit our blog ! Love and hugs to you all from me and Jaffa xx


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