Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Jayne's Corner: Interview with Amy Licence

I have been lucky enough to interview one of my favorite non-fiction writers, Amy Licence. She very kindly agreed to answer some of my questions and I thought I would share them with you.

You have so far chosen to mostly write about women from the 15th century, so what made you choose them ?

There are two answers to this: one about women but also specifically about the 15th century. I can’t help but feel drawn to that period in time, although I started out being interested in the Tudors and gravitated to the Wars of the Roses. Something about that century fascinates me and I can’t really offer a satisfactory explanation of why. I can say that I find the people and events fascinating, but I expect enthusiasts of any era would make the same assertion. The closest I can come to it, is to say that I feel most at home there. Regarding the women aspect, I’ve always been interested in women’s lives, in their experiences within a patriarchal framework and just how far they were able to exercise any influence or control at all, from queenship to motherhood. The women of the 15th century particularly fascinate me because so many of them remain an enigma to us, although they must have been key players in the dynastic power struggles of the day. I don’t accept the theory that they were just there to reproduce. They may not have sat in council chambers or fought on battlefields, but as wives, mothers and daughters, I’ll bet they had a lot to say.

Do you have a favourite out the three women, Anne Neville, Elizabeth of York or Cecily Neville?

They’re all very interesting to me and as I researched each, I learned just how remarkable their lives really were. I think there is a lot we will never know about Elizabeth’s history and marriage and I am endlessly fascinated by the question of what exactly Anne Neville did or didn’t know. But I have to say that Cecily’s role probably interests me the most. As the wife of the Duke of York, and the mother of Edward, George and Richard, she was in a unique position at the heart of that family and occupied a place in their lives. There is also a degree of controversy about some of Cecily’s decisions, such as her support of George’s rebellion against Edward and her role in the allegations about her own fidelity. Perhaps more than the other two, she shaped contemporary events, which is all the more ironic, as she was the only one of the three who did not become queen.

As  a wife and  mother of two young boys how do you manage to make time to write?

It’s literally as you suggest, I have to make time. I’m at home with my toddlers all day and I have to work by stealth. It means that I have to read and think, seize opportunities and use my time effectively. I don’t really watch TV and I don’t procrastinate or waste time. Before I had the boys, it was relatively easy to come up with reasons not to write and put barriers in the way but now, the busier I am, the more I have to just facilitate my writing. I’ve really discovered that the only way to do it, is to actually do it, to stop worrying and finding excuses, just to snatch this half hour and get something typed. Every minute I’m thinking about the next thing I’m writing; I tend to mull over a paragraph for a while and then dash off to write it down before playing Thomas the Tank Engine. I’m also lucky that my husband will take them out for the day, so I can get a good uninterrupted stretch. If I’m not exhausted at the end of the day, I’ll try and do a bit then too.

How long does it take you to research each book?

My publishing record looks a little misleading, as my books have come out in a relatively short space of time, but I would describe this process as an overnight success that took 25 years in the making. I did my MA in medieval history back in 1995 and since then, I’ve never stopped researching and writing on the topic, so I’ve accumulated a body of knowledge over the past two decades- in fact, I began well before that. It’s all there in my head or jotted in notebooks, so with each of my books it was a case of accessing the information and doing some further, specific research for that individual. That process can take around nine to 12 months.

When did you first begin to be interested in history?

I’ve been interested in history as long as I can remember. My parents took me to visit castles and on digs and I’d worked through my local library’s shelves of medieval and Tudor books by the time I was about 14. It was just always there. I decided I would be a writer when I was eight and wrote my first novel at 11 and my first full length biography when I was sixteen, on the romantic poet Thomas Chatterton.

How do you manage to find all your sources for information and do you try to visit some of the places you mention in your books?

I think I’ve been very lucky with the timing of my career. A lot of the key texts, historical and literary, I’d read whilst at university but in recent years, so many primary sources, court records etc., have been uploaded online. It means that I can access and search chronicles and accounts, court payments and letters from my kitchen table. In around 2001, when I was still trying to get published, I was trying to write a biography and there were just no sources out there, so I had to go up to the British Library every weekend. My children hadn’t arrived at that point, so I would teach all week, spend Saturday in the reading room making notes and write them up on Sunday. I couldn’t do that now; the Internet has made it possible. Having said that, there is no substitute for getting out there and visiting these places, and seeing the actual records in the archives. Now my boys are four and 20 months, and I’m starting to take them out to some of the places I write about. Recently, while I was researching my Richard and Cecily books, we managed to get to Raglan Castle in Wales and Tonbridge Castle. They quite enjoyed running about with wooden swords.

What is in the future for you as a writer?

At the moment, I’m working on a book about Henry VIII’s women. Some of the most famous books on this topic are a few years old now and easily turn into a narrative of Henry’s life. I’m writing a really colourful account from the women’s perspectives; what was it like to be his wife or mistress? It’s difficult to squash him down, as he is such a gigantic character, but the focus is definitely on the women. After that, I’m returning to the 15th century to write a joint biography of Edward IV and Elizabeth Wydeville.

Thank you to Amy for sparing the time to talk to me. She has a website which can be accessed here

Jayne Smith is a member of The Review team and a great lover of history. 


  1. Wonderful interview. I enjoyed getting to know Amy a bit better and learn more about her writing process. I also agree that Cecily was such a fascinating lady.

  2. Agree--great interview with interesting questions and a nice flow. It's great to know also--as someone who lives far away from most of the world--how much research can actually be done over the Internet, despite hearing all the time people say it cannot be done. By the way, I also admire Cecily a great deal--very strong woman.

  3. I love her working by stealth. Nice interview

  4. Thank you. I love Amy's books also. Shared with pleasure.

  5. Dear Jayne, I thorughly enjoyed reading your interview! Congratulations! I hope you don't mind if I share it via Google+. It's great to know that Ms License is working on a new book about Henry VIII's queens.

    Warmest regards,


  6. Wonderful insight into Amy's writing processes. Well done Jayne, you're an interview Diva! And many thanks to Amy for this great opportunity to get to know her better!