Wednesday 3 August 2016

Blog Tour ~ Accession by Livi Michael

Jaffareadstoo is delighted to be hosting today's stop on the 

Accession Blog Tour

And here's the author Livi Michael to answer my questions about Accession

Welcome to Jaffareadstoo Livi and thanks for spending time with us today

Tell us a little about Livi Michael, author

I can remember wanting to write when I was seven years old. I finished a series of short, four- line verses about fairies and told a friend that I wanted to be an author. ‘Authoress, you duckhead,’ she replied. This was my first encounter with my potential audience. However, neither this, nor the many dire warnings about how impoverished I was likely to be, (all true!) put me off. I loved to read, to escape into a fictional world, and for me writing was an extension of that. If I wrote all day, I reasoned, I could stay in this fictional world, where events were so much more dramatic and colourful than in my own, and where magic was always a possibility (wardrobes, Narnia). So I carried on writing through school, though I was not very good at finishing anything. The first long story, or very short novel I finished was in sixth form, when I should have been studying my ‘A’ levels. I took the advice I gleaned from a book I’d borrowed from the library, on becoming an author, and put it aside for three months before reading it again. Then I was so devastated by how bad it was, I actually wept. But I can say, from actual experience, that writing, like so many other things, improves with practice!

How long have you been writing and what got you started?

I started Succession more than nine years ago. I had been writing a book called The Angel Stone, which was set in Manchester Cathedral, where there is an actual stone known as the Angel Stone.  I became interested in some of the other angels in the cathedral – notably the fourteen carved angels in the ceiling, each of which is playing a different medieval instrument. They were said to have been donated by Margaret Beaufort.
I had never heard of Margaret Beaufort – which seems impossible now! I didn’t even know she was the mother of Henry VII!
I began to look into her, just out of curiosity, and the more I found out the more fascinated I became.  The details of her life are extraordinary.  She was married three times before she was 15 and gave birth to her only son at the age of 13, (who, on an unlikely chance, became King of England).  By the end of her life she was the most powerful woman in the country, a patron of education and the arts who was herself a writer.  But her life only makes sense when considered in the context of the historical period she lived through – the political upheavals and disasters that affected her personally.  Her story is inextricably linked to the story of England.

When I began to research her properly I was rapidly overwhelmed by the amount of material.  Margaret Beaufort lived through the reigns of six kings, and the period of bloody civil war now known as the Wars of the Roses.

Accession is the third novel in your War of the Roses trilogy. When you started writing the first novel, Succession, did you always intend it to be a three book series or did the story evolve over time?

The Wars of the Roses fall naturally into three parts, which end with the battles of Towton, Tewkesbury and Bosworth respectively. At the Battle of Towton, Henry VI, who had been king for 40 years, was decisively defeated. Edward of York, still only eighteen years old, became Edward IV.
The Lancastrians fought back. This culminated, ten years later, in the Battle of Tewkesbury, which was disastrous for the House of Lancaster. King Henry’s son, Prince Edward, was killed in this battle; King Henry was murdered in the Tower immediately afterwards, and his wife Margaret of Anjou was imprisoned. Then, fourteen years later, came the Battle of Bosworth, at which Henry Tudor defeated Richard III. He was from the House of Lancaster, but by marrying Edward IV’s daughter, Elizabeth of York, he finally united the Houses of Lancaster and York.

At each stage of the wars of the Roses, Margaret lost people who were important to her, so her story seemed also to fall into three parts.  However, my agent told me that a publisher would not be interested in a trilogy, and when I found a publisher – Penguin – my editor said she would definitely not publish a trilogy. There had been too many trilogies, she said, and experience indicated that unless the first book did very well, the second and third were likely to disappear without trace. She was prepared to consider two books.

Well, I tried. But there was an overwhelming amount of material.  I drew on the medieval chronicles to enable me to cut through large swathes of complex history. Each novel in the trilogy contains chronicle extracts. Lively personal, partisan, sometimes scurrilous, they vividly convey the spirit of the time. However, the chronicles seem to have been written by and about men – women feature peripherally if at all. I was still left with the task of portraying the key women of that time, and this involved exploring a range of interconnected events.

So despite all the warnings, I carried on. Because the urge to do justice to the material, and to Margaret’s life, outweighed all other considerations in the end. I was so relieved when my editor decided she would publish the third novel, Accession, after all.

Accession provides a possible solution to the mystery of the Princes in the Tower!

Both Margaret of Anjou and Margaret Beaumont were fascinating women which of them did you feel most affinity for and why?

Neither Margaret of Anjou nor Margaret Beaufort have received good press from writers, but I was so impressed by the way each woman battled on, in her own way, substantially alone. And by the parallels in their stories. Each woman had one son who was substantially disinherited, and they fought to restore their rights and titles.
So the story of the Succession trilogy actually became a story of mothers and sons – Margaret of Anjou and her son, Prince Edward, and more importantly, Margaret Beaufort and her son, Henry Tudor.
Margaret of Anjou lost the battle to restore her son to the succession; Margaret Beaufort’s battle ultimately led to her son being crowned. As the son of the king, Prince Edward would have had the throne by right, whereas Henry Tudor is sometimes described as the unlikeliest king England has ever had.
Both Margaret of Anjou and Margaret Beaufort were strong characters and powerful women. It seems to me that Margaret of Anjou embodies the age of medieval feudalism – she was actually a warrior queen. Margaret Beaufort fought more surreptitiously, but when her son ruled she is said to have ruled with him. Together they instituted a different kind of kingship, ushering in the age of early capitalism. So these two women seem to represent different eras in English history.

Your writing is very atmospheric – how do you ‘set the scene’ and how much research did you do in order to bring time and place to life?

Well, thank you! I was lucky enough to be able to do a lot of research in Manchester’s own medieval library, The Chetham’s Library, which contains much source material and the letters of Margaret of Anjou, for instance. But I did visit several places.

Pembroke Castle, where Henry Tudor was born, was first on the list. But I also visited the place where he was confined in Brittany, in the Fortresse de Largoรซt. In both places I stayed with very kind friends, to whom I owe a great deal – because I think there is something indefinable and invaluable that you get from actually visiting specific sites and locations. Although in the case of the Succession trilogy, this could easily have taken over from the writing!

I also visited some battle sites and witnessed re-enactments of the battles of Tewkesbury and Bosworth which was really useful, because I needed to get a sense of how the battles actually played out in my mind – a sense of who was where, at what time, and what the terrain was like.
In common with most historical novelists, I love the research. One of the difficulties is not letting it dominate the novel. I don’t think I will research anything as intensively in future as Succession, even though I loved it. I will at least try to establish a storyline first!

In your historical research, did you discover anything which surprised you?

I think I was surprised at how powerful certain women had been at that time, and how effectively they were written out of history. Margaret of Anjou, Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, and Elizabeth Woodville, Edward IV’s queen, all ended their lives in confinement, and nothing is said of them at that point. It’s as if they simply disappear.

Also, I was surprised by how small Henry’s room in Brittany was, on the second floor of a tower. It has a lovely view over the forest, but it’s safe to say he spent a considerable portion of his life in a state of deprivation and confinement, which possibly accounts for his later character traits. As a king he was renowned for being suspicious, avaricious and extremely cautious, but I see this as being a direct consequence of his earlier experiences.  He said of himself that he had been a prisoner since the age of five, which is not, strictly speaking, true. But some time before his fifth birthday, he was taken from his mother, and given as ward to the man responsible for the death of his father. From there he went into exile and imprisonment, suffering attainder, and the loss of all his inheritance and title. His crown remained insecure as one person after another challenged it, and only one of his sons lived. I think it is not surprising that he became wary in the extreme!

What’s next, more historical fiction, or something more contemporary?

I’m going to stick with history. All the best stories are true – you actually cannot make anything better up! And I find it a greater challenge to make the true story convincing than the wholly fictional one. I would think twice, for instance, about creating a character who, as king, had six wives, beheaded two of them and divorced two others, etc. Writers who create fictional characters are constrained by the probable, whereas the truth is usually stranger than that!

Livi Michael’s novel Accession, the third in her trilogy about Margaret Beaufort, will be published on August 4th by Penguin Random House.

Connect with the author on her website 
Twitter @LiviMichaels

Accession is now available from Amazon UK and lots of other good book shops...

Penguin Random House
July 2016

Huge thanks to Livi for her insightful answers to my questions and also to Annie at Penguin Random House for the invitation to be part of this exciting blog tour.

The Blog Tour runs between 1st - 6th August

Do visit the other stops on the tour for more exciting content.


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