Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Louise E. Rule Interviews Judith Arnopp for The Review Author Interviews

From Judith Arnopp's Author Page on

Judith Arnopp
I live on a smallholding in West Wales with my husband, John, and two of our grown-up children. We used to do the whole self-sufficiency thing but the fox ate all the chickens, the slugs ate all the lettuce and ill health forced us to give up the battle. Now we care for our daughter's elderly pony and enjoy our Jack Russell, Bryn.

My greatest loves have always been writing and history. Since I was very small I have had a book in one hand and a pen in the other. These days, I have progressed to this wonderful machine which allows me to write the sort of books I love to read. Historical settings with a good strong lead female.

One of the great tragedies of history is that monastic chroniclers didn't think women sufficiently important enough to give them space on the record. This has caused women to be under-represented and, in my opinion, also often incorrectly categorised. Of course, the male section of medieval society tried to suppress their women; it still happens today but that doesn't mean that every one of them bowed down to male authority.
There were women like Aethelflaed, who ruled Mercia for thirty four years, led armies against the Vikings, refortified the Roman towns of Chester and Tamworth, founded Shrewsbury, Bridgnorth, Warwick and Stafford. Eleanor of Aquitaine who, among other things, ruled England on behalf of her son, King Richard the Lionheart's behalf until he could come to claim his throne. Margaret of Anjou who fought unsuccessfully for her son's rights and Margaret Beaufort whose campaign to put her son, Henry VII, on the throne, was rather more successful. Mary Banks who, along with her daughters and a handful of servants, withstood a siege at Corfe Castle on behalf of King Charles during the civil war. These are just a few examples of women who 'displayed a courage far above their sex as to surprise and disconcert their men' and they are the type of women you will find in my novels.

Welcome Judith Arnopp to The Review Author Interview, and thank you for taking the time to chat with me today.

Apart from your poetry book Waving at Trains, a personal account of your life, Judith, you have written and co-written many books. Can you tell the readers what gave you the inspiration to write about the Tudors?

The Winchester Goose
I have always loved the Tudors but when I started to write professionally I thought they'd been 'done to death' so I set my first novel in the Anglo Saxon period, which is another era I love. it was quite well received but, three novels later, I'd had so many people ask me if I had written anything 'Tudor' I thought I should oblige. That is when The Winchester Goose came into being and after that things really took off for me. I am very grateful, both to Henry VIII for having so many wives and to the people who suggested them.

Given that many books have been written about the Tudors, and in particular, Anne Boleyn, what was the catalyst that drove you to write The Kiss of the Concubine: A Story of Anne Boleyn?

I have both studied and read novels about Anne Boleyn since I was a young girl but never been entirely satisfied with any of them. She has been sadly maligned for years. I don't believe she was perfect but certainly most of the accusations against her were false. Most of the authors I've read embrace the legends of incest and witchcraft that emerged after her death. In my opinion Anne's story is dramatic enough and doesn't need embellishing too much. The Kiss of the Concubine doesn't concentrate on the pomp and ceremony of being queen, it hones in on the woman beneath and what marriage to a man like Henry might have been like.

I found it very interesting that you wrote it in the first person, and in particular at the beginning of the book, when Anne is a ghost talking to Henry on his deathbed. It lends an air of the sinister, matching the life of the king. With this in mind, can you tell the readers why you decided to write it from Anne's point of view?

The Kiss of the Concubine
I enjoy writing in the first person narrative and wanted to tell the story from her perspective. As I mentioned in the previous question she was subjected to false accusations and posthumously demonised further by her enemies. By stepping directly into her shoes, the reader experiences only the things that Anne would have been aware of. Henry and Anne's marriage was full of argument and reconciliation but there is very little to suggest any untoward break-up in their relationship right up to the time of her arrest. In The Kiss of the Concubine, when she is in the Tower, Anne is not fully aware of the real danger in which she stands and clings to the belief that Henry will free and forgive her. She knows nothing of the plots against her, or that the swordsman is summoned from France before her trial has taken place.

It is really intriguing seeing what life was like with Henry VII. Even though there is much to read regarding Henry and Anne, how did you go about making it different from all the other books written about them?

I didn't really give it much thought at the time but in retrospect I think it is different from other books because of the perspective it is written from, and also because I have stripped away the glitz and glamour to show the man and woman beneath. In the excerpt below their son has just been still-born, instead of having Henry angry and resentful, I paint them as grieving parents.

Exhausted after hours of travail, I slump on my pillows as they hand me my child. My son is swaddled in linen, his little blue face closed as in sleep, his purple lips like a bow. I cast back the covering to examine his perfectly formed limbs, his minute nail-less fingers, the tiny proof of his manhood. Apart from the fact he does not breathe, our little prince is perfect.

They take him from me, creeping away, and I roll over and wish I could die. I can find no comfort. I have lost our son, the prince that we have fought for all these years. What has it all been for? The tears don't fall, they wash down my face, no sobbing, no thrashing. I am saturated in grief. My attendants don't know what to say to me. They avoid my eye, speak in whispers and creep from my presence. When Henry finally deigns to come and face me I am quite alone, with only the terror of my thoughts for company.
He is deflated, like a child's bladder ball, his royal brilliance destroyed, his confidence quashed. I raise sore, wet eyes to him and for a long while we stare at each other, my throat working painfully, my breast burning. His face is flaccid and I can detect no anger, just unquenchable sorrow. In the end I hold out a hand, and after a long time of just looking at it, he eventually takes it and falls onto the bed beside me.
I curl myself around him, cling to the strong trunk of his body, my arms choking, my legs wrapped about his hips. If I could climb inside him I would, for there is nowhere and no one safe in this world but him; nowhere I can escape to and no way to put things right.
 As we lie there together, his torso begins to quiver and then shakes as great heaving sobs begin to tear him apart. I weep with him; useless, wrenching tears that have no end and do not heal. Henry and I are the most powerful couple in all of England and yet, in the face of death, we are powerless.

Writing historical fiction allows an author carte blanche to mix fact with fiction with alacrity. So how do you go about creating a balance between the two?

There is a very fine balance needed to create a believable world. By sticking too closely to facts and events the resulting book an be colourless. I research the Tudor world until I feel I can walk through the streets and houses quite comfortably. When it comes to writing it down I try not to describe it so much that I distract the reader from the story. I try to add just enough to provide an authentic backdrop. I keep a timeline of recorded events to hand, pictures and short bios of the historical characters and then I just begin to write. It sort of just happens. During the edits I sometimes have to take things out or add a little more to get the best mix. It is a bit like cooking; sometimes the recipe needs more spice, sometimes less. Whenever I do stray from fact or accepted opinion I always clarify it in an author's note. The past has gone and we can never really know what happened or how it was, so I never claim my version of events is 'history' or 'truth.' My stories are just ideas or speculation of how it might have been.

You are a prolific writer, Judith. Could you tell our readers what you next book will be about?

It is called A Song of Sixpence and is about Elizabeth of York and Perkin Warbeck - a dual narrative meshing their stories together until the time they meet. I have taken the idea that Perkin was in fact one of the princes in the Tower and Elizabeth's younger brother. It is going very well. I am just writing about the infancy of Elizabeth's second son, the young Henry (later the eighth of that name) and as you might imagine he is a proper handful. Elizabeth's life is quite well recorded so her side of the story follows history quite closely but we know virtually nothing of Perkin's life overseas so I am able to give my creative side fuller rein. This book is proving to be fun to write and I usually find that the more I enjoy writing a book the better it turns out. I have high hopes for this one.

Do you find writing becomes easier the more books that you write?

In some ways it does. Structure and formatting becomes second nature but it is quite difficult to ensure all the books don't end up the same. I have read lots of very successful authors who start off really fresh and gripping but after a while their books become formulaic. I hope I can avoid that but only time will tell. I think it is traditionally published authors who suffer this the most; they have the pressure of deadlines and publisher demands. As an independent author I can take as long as I want over a book and I put a lot of thought into how I want to structure it. If I want to take a risk and write first person, present tense I can, because I am my own boss. If it doesn't work I have only myself to blame. So, for me, keeping fresh is the greatest challenge.

When you co-write a book, how do you go about dividing the writing, or does it just evolve?

The only books I've co-written are anthologies with the writing group Cwrtnewydd Scribblers of which I am a member. We do one most years. We just get all our favourite different pieces together and decide which should go in and which should not. We then have to agree on covers and fonts etc. We give a percentage of the royalties to Air Ambulance Wales. Publishing our anthologies has improved our writing and publishing skills and added to the cohesion of the group and I would recommend it to all writing groups. You might not sell many but it is another string to your bow.

Judging by your posts on Facebook, your writing day starts quite early. Do you have a set working ethic, or is it flexible Judith?

It is entirely flexible; it has to be but I try to write and promote every day and aim to write four out of seven days. I write quite quickly so this works well for me. I also do a lot of blogging and networking, usually early in the morning while I am having breakfast and then I settle down to work on the WIP. I try to get a set amount of words done each day and sometimes I reach my goal, sometimes not. I often have to take a break to research some detail. There are also periods when my head gets so clogged up with the events in my novel that I am in danger of forgetting who I really am. Then I have to force myself to turn it off and re-enter the real world for a while.

I love making notes, and lists to do with my writing. How do you keep your story-lines on track?

I make a time-line and pin it up to keep a track of where I am supposed to be going. It is like the backbone of my novel and everything else is the flesh and muscle. When I research I scrawl notes on a notebook but my handwriting is so terrible I really struggle when it comes to reading them back. If I were to take all the sticky Post-It notes I have used so far in my career I could probably paper the walls of the house.

Many authors have beta readers for their manuscripts, so do you have beta readers for yours?

When I meet with the writing group they listen to the work so far and critique it as I go along. My husband also reads it. Then I have two other beta readers who are not related to me in any way. They look for continuity errors, things that trip them up, typos etc., by this time I have usually read it through so many times I am sick and tired of it and begin to not really 'see' it anymore. That is the time to lay it aside and step away.

After that I give it a final read through and edit before it goes off to my professional editor who does a wonderful job on it. Every writer really needs beta readers and editors - it is really not a good idea to publish without. It is asking for trouble.

Finally, Judith, could you tell our readers how you go about choosing a cover for your books?

In the early days I made many mistakes with covers and, once I had gained more experience, I had to repackage all three of my early novels. The cover is a big decision, something I didn't realise at first. These days I am lucky to have made friends with the designer Covergirl, and she now does all my covers. We work together to find a photograph we both like. I have simple tastes and prefer just a figure or a symbol that says something about the era the book is written in. For my last book, Intractable Heart, I was lucky enough to work with Darren Wilkins of The Tudor Roses fame, and purchased the use of his wonderful photograph. My cover designer then worked her magic on it. I am currently looking for a photograph or a contemporary painting that is available for use. Ideas are always welcome.

Thank you so much Judith, it's been really so interesting chatting with you.

Judith Arnopp is also author of:

Intractable Heart: A Story of Katheryn Parr
The Forest Dwellers, and so many more. 
To see all of Judith's books, please visit her page here.
Judith can also be found on Facebook, Twitter and on her blog and website

Louise E. Rule

Louise E. Rule is author of Future Confronted
And can be found on Facebook, Twitter and on her blog.


  1. A really interesting post Judith! I love your books and am looking forward to your next one.

  2. Rachael has it right, this is such an interesting post, it is fascinating to see how you work and build your fabulous books. I have read them all and can't wait for 'Song of Sixpence.'
    Please write twenty more! (At least!)

  3. I will try to fit twenty in Helen Spring but it will mean I will have to write quite a long time into retirement :) Hark at me, retirement? Do writers EVER stop? Thanks for the lovely comments xx

  4. Thank you Paula, I enjoyed it very much.