Today I’m meeting again with Judith Arnopp – I’m sure you remember at least her amazing attire from her participation in my Welsh Wednesdays. Welcome back Judith. Please tell us a little bit more about yourself as writer and as person.
I am very lucky to live on the Welsh coast where I enjoy walking on the beach and cliff path, gardening with my husband and working in my study with the stunning sea view. I have four birth children, three step children whom I regard as my own, two step grandchildren and a baby grandson who is approaching his first birthday. I love my family, Wales and the environment, all of which has a positive impact on my career as a historical novelist.
Why did you choose to write historical fiction?
I was interested in history long before I became a historical novelist. A class project in (drops her voice to a whisper) 1970s was about the way history has maligned Richard the Third so I was on to that topic well before they dug him up and the hysteria began. When I was little I wrote stories and read them to my dolls, when I was a teenager I poured my angst onto paper and when I was a young mother I wrote stories with my children as protagonists. So I think I was born to write, there is nothing else I would consider doing; it is an instinct and if I haven’t written for a week or so I become very grumpy.
After I graduated writing seemed the natural choice. I don’t think it was a decision but more of a progression. I began my first (and never to be published) novel at university. When I finished it the sense of achievement was immense; I was astounded that I had actually done it. At the time I didn’t realise the hard work was only just beginning. I am on my ninth historical novel now and, although I doubt I will ever be a household name, I am doing very nicely, with a steadily growing fan base.
When I write it isn’t a matter of dates or records. I am interested in perspective, how it felt to be in a certain situation in a particular political climate. There are many books about Anne Boleyn but when I wrote The Kiss of the Concubine I climbed inside Anne’s head and wrote from her perspective, exploring possible reasons behind some of her actions. I am very careful to be as accurate as possible and look at things from all angles. My readers seem to like that aspect of my work – I don’t just recount events but try to explain why they happened.
Tudor history has always fascinated me but when I began writing I mistakenly believed the Tudor era had been done to death so I concentrated on Anglo-Saxon and Medieval period. The early books, Peaceweaver, The Forest Dwellers and The Song of Heledd did quite well and set the foundations of my fan base but I constantly asked to write a novel set in Tudor England, so I did. The Winchester Goose: at the court of Henry VIII is the story of a prostitute working in Southwark during Henry VIII marriages to Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard. Despite having written three more (working on the fourth) The Winchester Goose remains my best seller. Sometimes publisher and authors really don’t know what the reading public want so it is best to listen to them.
Tell us about the concept behind your books. How did you get the idea?
Everyone is searching for the truth in history. Was Richard the third a murderer of innocents or a nice guy? Was Anne Boleyn guilty or framed? What turned Henry VIII from the prince of chivalry into a megalomaniac? We will never know the answers but it is fun to speculate and of course the first question that needs to be answered is, What is truth anyway? As far as I am concerned, there is no truth. That is why I never become involved in hot-headed on-line debates, truth is variable and dependent upon the witness. Every event, every recorded instance has another story behind it, another perspective, or another possible explanation. Researching the past is like being in a tall building with a hundred windows, each showing a different aspect of the invents, or an alternative route I can take. I wrote a blog some time ago about this that you can read here.
What makes you laugh?
I am very fortunate to have a very witty and amusing husband. We’ve been together for thirty-six years yet he still makes me laugh out loud every day. After so long together he knows exactly how to tickle my sense of humour and as a result our day is peppered with constant banter. It is something I am extremely grateful for because if you can laugh life can never become too bad.
I have just finished The Beaufort Bride, book one of a Trilogy called The Beaufort Chronicles. It follows the life of Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry VII. She was married at an extraordinarily young age to Edmund Tudor, the Earl of Pembroke, and spent the first years of her marriage in South Wales. Records of Margaret at this period of her life are sketchy and she is only really remembered historically for her role of the king’s mother. The only artistic representations we have of her are in her latter years, but it is quite clear she was not a celebrated beauty. It has been fascinating to think about how this small child bride rose to be one of the most powerful women in England. The Beaufort Bride takes place at fabulous Welsh locations like Caldicot Castle, Lamphey Palace, Carmarthen and of course, Pembroke where Henry was born. I always make sure I visit the locations prior to writing so I can get a feel of the place and perhaps a glimpse of how my characters might have lived there.
Blurb for The Beaufort Bride
As King Henry VI slips into insanity and the realm of England teeters on the brink of civil war, a young girl is married to the mad king’s brother. Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond, takes his child bride into Wales where she discovers a land of strife and strangers.
At Caldicot Castle and Lamphey Palace Margaret must put aside childhood, acquire the dignity of a Countess and, despite her tender years, produce Richmond with a son and heir.
While Edmund battles to restore the king’s peace Margaret quietly supports his quest; but it is a quest that ultimately results in his untimely death.
As the friction between York and Lancaster intensifies 14-year-old Margaret, now widowed, turns for protection to her brother-in-law, Jasper Tudor. At his stronghold in Pembroke, two months after her husband’s death, Margaret gives birth to a son whom she names Henry, after her cousin the king.
Margaret is small of stature but her tiny frame conceals a fierce and loyal heart and a determination that will not falter until her son’s destiny as the king of England is secured.
The Beaufort Bride traces Margaret’s early years from her nursery days at Bletsoe Castle to the birth of her only son in 1457 at Pembroke Castle. Her story continues in Book Two: The Beaufort Woman.
What would your friends say are your best and your oddest quality?
Lots of people think I am odd but I prefer to see it as ‘individual’. Years ago, when I first turned vegetarian, we were a bit of a rarity, and I think that is when the label ‘odd’ was first applied to me. It stuck even more when I started banging on about climate change and anti-hunting ban, and protested about animal testing etc. etc. etc.
In a posh town north of London, I was the strange woman with goats and chickens in her back garden. I was the odd woman who put a lead on her goats and took them for walks to the park. Strangely, once I moved to West Wales I became less eccentric but whether that is to do with the Welsh being less judgemental or as ‘odd’ as me I wouldn’t like to stay.
Despite all that though most people say I am kind and genuine. I will help people if they ask me but I am very shy and often hesitate to offer for fear of rejection. I tend to hang on to the people who understand me, people who don’t like me, don’t matter.
Did anyone influence you / encourage you to become a writer?
I went to university as a mature student and had grave misgivings that I’d not be up to the challenge. After twenty years of being a mother my confidence was at a low ebb. Surprisingly I did very well. My tutors always remarked that my essays were well written, even when they were ill-conceived. My history tutors, Professors William Marx and Janet Burton, persuaded me history was the way to go. My creative writing tutor, playwright Dic Edwards was also encouraging, urging me to write ‘something long.’ When I produced my first novel he urged me to try to get it published but I didn’t; I knew it wasn’t good enough but his enthusiasm encouraged me to sit straight down and write another. My first decent novel, Peaceweaver, was published in 2009. I can never give enough thanks to Lampeter University and the people who taught me there and opened my mind and got me thinking again. They changed my life.
Who are your favourite authors?
There are so many. Hilary Mantel is my current favourite; I love the way she breaks rules, is not afraid to speak out or deal with public adversity. Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies are a superb journey into the Tudor court; I can never even hope to emulate her. Many people disliked her portrayal of Anne Boleyn and it was very different to my own but she was showing us Anne through Cromwell’s eyes, and she did it magnificently.
I love the classics of course; Shakespeare and Chaucer and Dickens for their characters and drama. For easy reading I tend to stick to historical but the genre is very mixed, some of it is dreadful, some fabulous; you have to seek out the good authors and quietly ignore the not so good. I never write bad reviews. One of my favourite modern day historical authors is M. M. Bennetts who sadly passed way a short time ago. Her books Of Honest Fame and May 1812 are outstanding. I also loved Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White. For me, the thing that makes a good book is the journey to another time. If an author can make me forget I live in the 21st century and introduce me to solid, three dimensional historical characters and make me care about their lives, then they can count me as a fan.
What is your advice to new writers?
Write. Being an author is about getting words on a page and crafting them into art. Don’t waste time on social media, don’t worry about writing like other people. Join a class, polish your skills and write, write, write. If you don’t you aren’t a writer just a wannabe.
Thanks Judith. See you soon in Llandeilo at the Book Fair!
Bio: Judith Arnopp’s first Tudor novel, The Winchester Goose: at the court of Henry VIII is still her best seller while The Kiss of the Concubine: a story of Anne Boleyn; Intractable Heart: the story of Katheryn Parr, and A Song of Sixpence: the story of Elizabeth or York and Perkin Warbeck also sell well and receive excellent reviews.
Judith is currently working on a trilogy tracing the life of Margaret Beaufort, the mother of King Henry VII. Book One of The Beaufort Chronicles will be called The Beaufort Bride and will be available later on in 2016.
For more information about Judith’s work click on the links below.
And Twitter: @juditharnopp