Monday, 2 December 2013

Reflections from a hermit in West Wales

This is where I live. Miles from the shops, miles from the bus. Of course, it isn't always snowy but since I don't drive and the bus service is non-existent, it might as well be. Sometimes the only person I see all day, other than my old fella when he comes home at night, is the postman. This time of the year, when I order more parcels I sometimes see several different delivery men in a day. Oh what a dizzy life I lead. My lifestyle does have its drawbacks. I can get a bit cranky, a little too introverted, especially if the phone rings and disturbs my peace. You see, I have come to rather like my solitude. I can be totally selfish all day, do exactly as I please, as long as that doesn't involve going out. It also enables me to give 100% attention to my work. I write four days a week, from nine(ish) to five(ish), researching, writing, marketing and networking and I am so grateful to be able to do that. So many of my writer friends have to fit their writing around work commitments, I know I am blessed. 

My life hasn't always been like this. For years I was a full time mum, running a smallholding, trying to keep the house in order. I spent years chasing children, chickens and (most of all) my own tail.
Then one day, I turned around and they were all grown up and I hadn't a clue what to do next. So, after months of indecision, I went to uni, took a degree in English literature and Creative Writing. Fortunately our local uni is just eight miles away in Lampeter. I loved University, the buildings, the lectures, the students, the staff ...the library. It was by the far the scariest step I have ever taken but also the very best decision of my life. I loved it so much that after graduation I signed up for a Masters, this time in Medieval Studies. But, of course, time doesn't stand still and I soon found myself in that 'now what?' situation again. This time though I was better armed.

I have always written stories and poems but never let anyone read them, only  my children who loved to be the protagonists in the adventures I wrote. Even today I slot their names into my novels if I can. Anyway, I digress. I wrote two novels (dreadful things) before I produced Peaceweaver and decided it was good enough to run with. I did the usual battle with agents and publishers before I decided to go it alone. Another challenge, another set of skills to learn but the result was well received but not widely read. A little discouraged initially but undaunted, the reviews it had received were encouraging enough for me to write a follow up,The Forest Dwellers. Again it met a luke-warm readership, those that read it liked it but there was not the buzz I'd hoped for. I sorted out some formatting problems, re-issued it, stuck my head down and wrote another, The Song of Heledd. 

I love this book. It is very Welsh, very romantic and ends in horrible tragedy but once more, it wasn't met with overwhelming acclaim. During this time, on the back of a small very short pamphlet I'd published about Henry VIII's wives, I had lots of people asking if I'd written any full length 'Tudor' novels and since I was between projects I decided to do so.  

The Winchester Goose stands out from anything I'd written previously. For a start, once you've written five books you are more in control, know what  you are doing and so I think it benefited from author confidence. This book breaks rules but I am like that. I like to be different. 

It is written first person, present tense and tells the story of Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard
from the perspective of a prostitute from Southwark. But it doesn't stop there; Joanie Toogood's story contrasts the life of a woman of the night with the life of a queen, and concludes that there is very little difference.
This book, along with my blogging both on this page and the English Historical Authors Blog won me lots of fans, lots of facebook friends and twitter followers and I began to get the exposure I needed.

Of course, I am by no means famous or even well-known but I am too introverted to crave real fame. I am much happier here chatting to my virtual friends and plotting, well-researched stories for my readers. The idea of  public speaking, radio or television interviews fills me with horror. I love the internet because it allows me to make my living without having to confront my deepest phobias. My fifth published novel, The Kiss of the Concubine; a story of Anne Boleyn has been out for three weeks (I think) and much to my surprise has shot into the Amazon Kindle Historical chart. The reviews so far are immensely encouraging, my back catalogue is also selling and for the first time in years, I can afford to have the heating on all day if I need to.

So, really this blog is to say 'thank you' to all those people who kept the faith in me, have bought and read my books; it is to say thank you for all the good reviews, the sharing of links, the recommendations to friends, for supporting me in my battles. Thank you to all those readers who asked me to write 'Tudor'. I am eternally grateful.

Have good Christmas, Holiday, Yule etc. and a fantastic New Year.

Watch this space for Intractable Heart: a story of Katherine Parr, coming to a book shop near you in 2014.

Photographs: wikimedia commons, author's own.
All my books are available in paperback and on Kindle.
For more information about me and my work please visit my webpage
Some of my non fiction is included in the superb collection from the English Historical Fiction authors, Customs, Castles, and Kings, click here for a preview.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

A thousand times, I thank you.

Judith Arnopp

October and November have been mad bad months for me so far. At the end of October we were devastated by the news that our house buyers were pulling out and all our plans thrown into chaos. The news came on the morning of my other half's 60th birthday and it wasn't easy to shake off our disappointment and enjoy the day but, thanks to our lovely bunch of kids, all of whom joined us for the celebrations, we managed.

As is often the case, hot on the heels of the bad news came better tidings, this time in the shape of my latest novel, The Kiss of the Concubine (available now on a kindle near you). I am not very good at marketing but I organised a few blogs and interviews to alert the reading public that the book was released, then I sat back and waited to see if anyone would notice.

To my surprise it is flying off the shelves - well, it would be if e-books were kept on shelves. I have now ok'd the paperback version and that will also be available via Amazon, myself, or direct from the publisher very soon. but it isn't just the new book that is selling, my back catalogue is moving too and some wonderful reviews are coming in.

So, this blog is really to acknowledge and thank all  you wonderful people who enable me to carry on writing books. I want to thank the bloggers who hosted me, the reviewers who spread the word and most of all the people who buy my novels. Without you I would have been forced to give up long ago. I cannot describe the thrill I experience each time one of you emails or flags on Facebook how much you enjoyed a particular book/character/scene/blog. I don't crave fame or riches. It is your enjoyment makes it all worth while. So, thank you. I love you all :)

In case you've not noticed. The Kiss of the Concubine is the story of Anne Boleyn, from her own perspective tracing her love affair with Henry VIII and charting her downfall. It is a frank and often painful account of a doomed romance.

Here are some examples of what the reader reviews have said so far. "Well formed characters, great Tudor atmosphere. One of those reads where you feel a bit bereft when you get to the end - my measure for five stars"

" Highly recommended to any lovers of historical fiction. Worth buying."

" The reader is swept along with Anne, and the book is impossible to put down. Warmly recommended to those wanting to know more, but also to those who just love a good read"

"Judith Arnopp has found such a unique and fresh approach to this most famous of love/hate relationships that readers will be drawn into her atmospheric prose. She is so skilled at conjuring the sights and sounds of her chosen setting that you can almost hear the courtly music, smell the pomanders, and taste the suckling pig."

You can watch a trailer here.

Below is the introduction.

The Kiss


The Concubine

28th January 1547 – Whitehall Palace

It is almost midnight and January has Whitehall Palace clenched in its wintery fist. The gardens are rimed with frost, the casements glazed with ice. Like a shadow, I wait alone by the window in the silver-blue moonlight, my eye fixed on the bed.
The room is crowded, yet nobody speaks.
I tread softly among them. The flickering torchlight illuminates a sheen of anticipation on their faces, the rank odour of their uncertainty rising in a suffocating fug. Few can remember the time that went before, and both friend and foe balance upon the cusp of change, and tremble at the terror of the unknown.
I move through the heavily perfumed air, brush aside jewelled velvet sleeves. At the high-canopied bed I sink to my knees and observe his face for a long moment. He is changed. This is not the man I used to know.
They have propped him on pillows, the vast belly mountainous beneath the counterpane, and the yellow skin of mortality’s mask is drawn tightly across his cheeks. There is not much time and before death can wipe his memory clean, I speak suddenly into his ear, a whisper meant only for him. “Henry!”
The king’s eyes fly open and his eyeballs swivel from side to side, his disintegrating ego peering as if through the slits in a mummer’s mask.
He knows me, and understands why I have come.
He whimpers like a frightened child and Anthony Denny steps forward and leans over the bed. “Your Majesty, Archbishop Cranmer has been summoned; he cannot be long now.”
Henry’s fat fingers tremble as he grips the coverlet, his pale lips coated with thick spittle as he tries to speak. I move closer, my face almost touching his, and the last rancid dregs of his breath engulf me. “They think you fear death, Henry. But you fear me more, don’t you, my Lord?”
The sound is unintelligible, both a denial and a greeting, but it tells me what I need to know. He recognises and fears my presence. Those assembled begin to mutter that the king is raving, talking with shadows.
I sink into the mattress beside him and curl my body around his bulk. “How many times did we share this bed, Henry?” His breathing is laboured now and sweat drips from his brow, the stench of his fear exceeded only by that of his festering thigh. I tighten my grip upon him. “Did you ever love me, Henry? Oh, I know that you lusted but that isn’t the same. Do you remember how you burned for me, right to the end?”
I reach out to run my fingertip along his cheek and he leaps in fright, like a great fish floundering on a line, caught in a net of his own devising. One brave attendant steps forward to mop the king’s brow as I continue to tease.
“Poor Henry. Are you afraid even now of your own sins? To win me you broke from Rome, although in your heart you never wanted to. Even the destruction of a thousand years of worship was a small price to pay to have me in your bed, wasn’t it?”
Henry sucks in air and forgets to breathe again. A physician hurries forward, pushes the attendant aside and with great daring, lifts the king’s right eyelid. Henry jerks his head away and the doctor snatches back his hand as if it has been scalded.
Even now they are fearful of him. Although the king can no longer so much as raise his head from his pillow, they still cower. How long will it take for them to forget their fear?
Mumbling apologies, the physician bows and backs away to take his place with the others. As they watch and wait a little longer, the sound of mumbled prayer increases. “Not long now, Henry,” I whisper like a lover. “It is almost over.”
A door opens. Cold air rushes into the stifling chamber and Archbishop Cranmer enters, stamping his feet to dislodge the snow from his boots. He hands his outer clothes to a servant before pushing through the crowd to approach the bed, his Bible tucked beneath his arm.
I playfully poke the end of Henry’s nose. “Time to confess your sins, my husband.” Cranmer takes the king’s hand, his long slim fingers contrasting with the short swollen digits of his monarch. As he begins to mutter the last rites, I put my mouth close to Henry’s ear to taunt him.  “Tell the truth, Hal. Own up to all the lies you told; how you murdered and how you cheated. Go on ….”
But King Henry has lost the power of speech, and cannot make a full confession. Gasping for one more breath he clings tightly to Cranmer’s hand, and I know there is not long to wait before he is mine again. A single tear trickles from the corner of his eye to be lost upon his pillow.
“It’s time, Henry,” I whisper. “And I am here, waiting. For a few short years I showed you Paradise and now, perhaps, I can do so again. Unless, of course, I choose to show you Hell.”

If you would like to read more The Kiss of the Concubine is available in kindle format on Amazon UK and Amazon US and other Amazon outlets. The paperback will be available shortly.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The Quest for Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn

The true personality of Anne Boleyn was lost the moment the sword struck off her head.  After her death only the bravest, or most fool hardy spoke out in her defence. She was the subject of poems, histories, scandals, and it wasn’t until her daughter Elizabeth’s reign, twenty-two years after her execution, that it was safe to speak well of her again.
Recorded feelings among her contemporaries are mixed, John Hussey, a former supporter of Anne wrote, “...that which hath been done and committed by Anne the Queen...which is so abominable and detestable that I am ashamed that any good woman should give ear thereto.”

Sander, a Catholic priest and not an admirer of Anne, writing long after her death, published a scathing attack, describing her with witch-like features, and the child she lost in 1536 to be a “shapeless mass.”

At the time of her arrest Archbishop Cranmer wrote to the king of his shock and horror. As a friend
Thomas Cranmer
and supporter of the queen, he was clearly on edge and aware that should she fall, her supporters could be suspect too. It is interesting that he qualifies his condemnation of her with the little word, “if.”
If the reports of the Queen be true, they are only to her dishonor, not yours. I am clean amazed, for I had never better opinion of woman; but I think your Highness would not have gone so far if she had not been culpable. I was most bound to her of all creatures living, and therefore beg that I may, with your Grace’s favor, wish and pray that she may declare herself innocent. Yet if she be found guilty, I repute him not a faithful subject who would not wish her punished without mercy. And as I loved her not a little for the love which I judged her to bear towards God and His Gospel, so if she be proved culpable there is not one that loveth God and His Gospel that ever will favor her, but must hate her above all other”

Thomas Wyatt

A few were more outspoken in their support. Her long-time friend, and (some say) one-time sweetheart, Thomas Wyatt, made his feelings quite plain. “These bloody days have broken my heart.”
And even her enemy, the Spanish ambassador Eustace Chapuys, raised some doubt as to her guilt in his remark, "there are some who murmur at the mode of procedure against her and the others..."

During Elizabeth’s reign, the poet John Foxe included Anne in his Book of Martyrs, declaring that Elizabeth’s long reign was God’s way of testifying to her mother’s innocence.

Later historians and, more recently, novelists have taken Anne’s name and molded her into something unrecognisable, in some cases bordering on the inhuman. By the late nineteenth century her guilt was a bone of contention. In 1884 Friedmann’s,  Anne Boleyn: A Chapter of English History 1527-1536 the author places the blame squarely with Cromwell, seeing her downfall as a political coup. And Agnes Strickland, with supreme elegance, states quite plainly that Anne, “never incurred the crimes for which she was brought to the block.” Strickland denounces Henry as a “despot” in pursuit of an heir.

Similarly, the twentieth century did not find a resolution to the question of Anne’s character and, like Strickland, the leading Tudor historian A. F. Pollard regards Anne as a victim of Henry’s quest for an heir, although, instead of Cromwell, he cites Chapuys as being behind the initial rumours against her. 
Henry VIII

In the 1970’s Anne becomes the heroine of feminists and Anne Chapman, while agreeing that her failure to produce a son was the main reason for her fall, puts the blame squarely on Cromwell’s shoulders. In Chapman’s hands Anne is not so much a maligned innocent as a heroine, a tragic martyr flying the flag for the cause of feminism.
“In these conditions of capricious hatred and undeviating ruthlessness, Anne Boleyn lived, triumphed – and perished.”

As we approach the 1990’s Anne character changes once again in a study by Retha M. Warnicke, The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn: Family Politics at the Court of Henry VIII, in which she states Anne’s fall was due to her having given birth to a monster, a fetus so deformed as to suggest witchcraft. Warnicke argues that during the period in question doctors believed birth defects to be the result of sexual misconduct. This may well be true but charges of sexual misconduct, incest in particular, had long been used against women who stepped far enough from their prescribed role s to become a nuisance to their male contemporaries.

Thomas Cromwell
In her book published in 1995, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived, Karen Lindsey returns to the idea of Anne as a feminist icon, reconfirming that Anne’s failure to provide an heir caused her fall, but this time citing Cromwell as the main instigator of her arrest.

Today, the leading historian in Anne Boleyn studies is the late, great Eric Ives whose concise and in-depth research has, in my opinion, yet to be bettered. The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn provides a balanced opinion, citing not just Anne’s failure in childbirth  as the catalyst for her fall but extending her crimes to include meddling in politics and fervour for reform.

 Initially, the shared desire for reform brought Cromwell and Anne together but, where Cromwell wanted to bring down the church and enrich Henry’s coffers, Anne desired to restructure the existing church, iron out the rough edges, remove the wheat and throw away the chaff.

Ives also cites the Anglo-Imperial alliance, during which negotiations Henry and Chapuys fell out over Charles V's refusal to acknowledge Anne as queen. When Henry, quite typically, refused to back down Cromwell was unwilling to jeopardise his dealings with the Spanish ambassador and Ives says, “…Anne Boleyn had become a major threat to Thomas Cromwell…A hostile Anne threatened both his standing with the king and his key financial achievements…Despite the risk, despite all his past debts, Cromwell’s very survival no longer coincided with the survival of the queen. She must go.”

There are still those who persist in seeing Anne as she was originally personified and G. W. Bernard in his book Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions asserts that the accusations against Anne were all true and that, according to Tudor law, her death was deserved. Although he accepts that the accusations made against her, (mostly by clergy) could be the product of gossip, Bernard maintains that “Gossip is not necessarily false.”  The unfortunate death of Princess Diana in 1997 gave rise to all sorts of conspiracy theories, none of which have any real basis in fact. Royals will always be the focus for gossip and rumour, and since Anne's prominence in church reform made her some powerful enemies, it seems only fair to regard the charges laid against her with some suspicion.

When it comes to fiction, Anne’s reputation has suffered even more, and she appears either as a too-good-to-be-true heroine of all the virtues, or a depraved, incestuous, power-hungry mother of monsters. I think I have shown that opinion has been divided since the moment of her arrest and, considering the historical material available to novelists (as discussed above) there is little surprise that historical ‘truth’ (whatever that is) has been lost along the way. Readers of novels should always be aware of the distinction between historical fact, and historical fiction.

In my forthcoming novel, The Kiss of the Concubine, I have tried to keep my feet more firmly on the ground and find a middle way. Of course, there is no hope of ever knowing the ‘real’ Anne Boleyn, or categorically defining the reasons behind her fall, but it seems we never tire of trying.
In writing The Kiss of the Concubine, I have juggled with all these sources, wrestled with the conflicting opinions and applied some commonsense but, in the end, Anne tells her own story. I haven’t tried to purify or excuse her, and neither is she demonised. The voice that speaks from the pages of my novel comes from the inner ‘Anne;’ the hidden ‘self’ that nobody can ever really know. As human beings we always rationalise our own actions and justify even our cruelest moments, and maybe her proud, power-seeking ways were like a suit of armour, covering perceived inadequacies and protecting a vulnerable, ordinary woman, who just happened to attract the attentions of a king. 
If you read my novel, please remember it is fiction.

The Kiss of the Concubine will be published very soon.
Watch a trailer of The Kiss of the Concubine here.

Illustrations from Wikimedia Commons.

Further Reading and works consulted: 

A.F.Pollard, Henry VIII, (London: Longmans,1905)
Agnes Strickland, Lives of the Queens of England, from the Norman Conquest, vol. 2 (London: George Bell & Sons,1882)
Alison Weir, The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn (Reading: Random House, 2009)
G.W. Bernard, Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010)
Greg Walker, “Rethinking the Fall of Anne Boleyn,” The Historical Journal 45, no.1 (March 2002)
Joanna Denny, Anne Boleyn (Chatham: Piatkus Books, 2007)
Karen Lindsey, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived: A Feminist Reinterpretation of the Wives of Henry VIII (Reading,MA: AddisonWesley,1995)
Paul Friedmann, Anne Boleyn: A Chapter of English History,15271536, vol.1 (London: MacMillan,1884)
Retha M. Warnicke, The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn: Family Politics at the Court of Henry VIII (New York: Cambridge UP, 1989)
Hester Chapman, The Challenge of Anne Boleyn (New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1974)
Eric Ives, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn: The Most Happy (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004)

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Interview with Helen Spring Author

Today I am rejoined by the fabulous author Helen Spring who has been working Blood Relatives,  a sequel to her novel The Chain Makers.  I couldnt wait to invite her here to tell us all about it.

 It is lovely to have you back, Helen. Last time we met up we talked about your novel ‘Strands of Gold’, and you told me you were currently working on a sequel to another of your novels, The Chainmakers.  It must be a great feeling to have finished the book. It’s called Blood Relatives isn’t it?  Tell us all about it and why you wanted to write a sequel?

I had a great response to ‘The Chainmakers’, and the one thing people asked over and over again was  ‘What happened to them afterwards?’ All stories and characters have an end at the close of the book, but of course the people continue in our minds, and in the ficticious world they inhabit. In this case the family unit was interesting, because at the end of the novel we have a couple with one son, and one baby who is an orphan.

Yes, that’s right. And your main character in ‘Blood Relatives’ is in fact that small baby, but all grown up. How did you think up her story?

Well, I felt that her adoptive parents, Anna and Clancy, had endured quite enough in ‘The Chainmakers’, but here was this sweet child, with lovely parents but a very chequered biological background, who would have to live her own life her way. As is happened, by the time she was 20 years old WW2 was raging through Europe, and the Italian side of her family would be living in German occupied Rome, so the story was there for the writing, so to speak.

I quickly came to empathise with Victoria, and you have an interesting personality conflict between her and Giorgio, the Mafia boss, who is of course a distant relative. Why are you so interested in the Mafia?

I couldn’t escape it! Victoria and Giorgio shared a common great-uncle, who had been deported from the USA back to Italy. When he died he left Victoria a lovely Roman villa, it was entirely understandable that she would be thrilled and want to see it. Of course the Italian Mafia during the war was totally different to New York in the 1920’s. Circumstances and priorities have changed, but both Victoria and Giorgio bring their own prejudices to their relationship.

Was the research difficult for this part of the story?

Not so much difficult as almost overwhelming. There was a great deal of material, most of which was not relevant. In particular, I got very bogged down by the Ardeantine Cave Massacre, which is very well known in Italy but hardly known of here. In the end I had to ditch almost all except bits which were pertinent to the story I was trying to tell. The war kept getting in the way from beginning to end of this book, which was intended to be a love story.

Ah! It is a lovely love story. The lovely Guy is quite hunky isn’t he? What was the conflict between him and Victoria?

Getting them together was the problem! With all that was going on, they had very little time together so it was hard to build the romance. Of course, that was exactly what was happening all over the world at that time, separation and months without news of loved ones. I wanted to show that.

It’s interesting that they were from very different backgrounds. I liked that element of the story.

Yes, and also with very different experiences of the New York Mafia, who he would call ‘The Mob.’ His impoverished childhood has made him very self-reliant and what we would call today ‘street-wise.’ But he is very determined to make his own way, and has a happy attitude to life.             

And of course by the time Victoria managed to get back to New York, Guy was away fighting in Europe.

Yes, and the New York that Victoria returned to was also changed by the war. These were hard times for everyone, but I felt it was important that when Guy eventually comes home he is still full of fun and ready for anything.

I can’t wait to read it again, Helen. What are your writing plans now?

My next job is to put together a collection of short stories, which I also enjoy writing.
I could do with a bit of a rest and I am hoping this will be less demanding than another novel, but who knows? My characters have a way of writing themselves into interesting situations!

I shall secretly hope that they inflate into another wonderful novel. Thank you so much for joining us again. I am sure we will all rush to buy it as soon as it hits the shelves.

Thank you for having me. I look forward to speaking to you again.

Helen Springs books are available in paperback and on Kindle.

Click here to purchase if you are in UK
 Click here if you are in the US

Click here to purchase if you are in the UK
and here if you are in the US

Click here to purchase if you are in the UK
and here if you are in the US