Your latest book, Long Live the King, will be published on June 1st and is a detailed account of Edward II's murder or survival. If it is adapted into a TV show or a film, who would you like to play the lead role?
I’d love Chris Hemsworth to play Edward II – he has that strong rugged fairness which is Edward to a tee. Or Henry Cavill. Edward II was a tall, immensely strong and powerfully built man, not in any way the feeble court fop he’s portrayed as in Braveheart, and I’d love to see an actor play him who represents that physicality.
What made you choose this genre?
I didn’t, it chose me. J I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t passionate about medieval history. I did two university degrees in it and loved my studies. I first visited Caernarfon Castle, where Edward II was born, when I was six.
How do you get ideas for plots and characters?
I try to choose subjects who haven’t been much written about before, or not for a good long while, or who are the victims of mythmaking and invented stories down the centuries. I want to explore the realities of their lives, not what we ‘think’ we know about them, but what the sources really tell us.
If, as a one off, (and you could guarantee publication!) you could write anything you wanted, is there another genre you would love to work with and do you already have a budding plot line in mind?
Boring answer, I’m afraid, but I can’t imagine writing anything but history. It’s my passion, my obsession. If I didn’t write about the fourteenth century, though, I’d love to write about the eleventh.
Was becoming a writer a conscious decision or something that you drifted into (or even something so compelling that it could not be denied?) How old were you when you first started to write seriously.
It was so compelling, and I was so madly into the story of Edward II and his era, that I couldn’t not write and spread the news. It was some years after I left university. I started a blog about Edward in late 2005 and it’s still going strong, with just under two million visitors now.
Marmite? Love it or hate it?
Ha, great question! J I adore Marmite, always have.
Do you have any rituals and routines when writing? Your favourite cup for example or ‘that’ piece of music...??
I love writing while listening to eighties pop, or indie rock, or thumping dance music. J And always with a large pot of tea next to me!
I promise I won’t tell them the answer to this, but when you are writing, who is more important, your family or your characters?
Oooooh, I think we all know the answer to that one. J My characters, of course!
Other than writing full time, what would be your dream job?
I do thoroughly enjoy my ‘other’ job, teaching Business English to adults, and meet lots of wonderful and interesting people. Every day, every lesson, is so different.
Coffee or tea? Red or white?
I drink loads of black coffee in the mornings then herbal tea in the afternoons and evenings. I’m practically teetotal so can’t answer the other question. J
How much of your work is planned before you start? Do you have a full draft or let it find its way?
I write some of my books chronologically, and others piecemeal, as certain scenes and ideas take shape in my head. As I write non-fiction I don’t have as much freedom to take the writing wherever I like as a novelist would, but creating a coherent and dramatic narrative is always fun to plan and write. Usually I sit at my laptop and think ‘OK, today I’m going to write about the parliament which exiled the Despensers in 1321,’ or whatever.
If you had free choice over the font your book is printed in, what font/fonts would you choose?
I don’t know much about fonts, but any that make it as easy as possible for readers. I can’t stand books that are in a too small font as I feel that I’m straining my eyes.
Imagine that you could get hold of any original source document. What would it be?
All of Edward II’s chamber accounts for his entire reign. They don’t exist at all from 1307 to 1322, then only in fragments until the last one of 1325/26 (which I’ve written an article about, to be published in an academic journal in 2018). The chamber accounts are where I find many of the great little details about Edward and his life, family and household. It’s a dream, a wonderful dream, to have all of them intact for the whole reign from July 1307 to January 1327.
Have any of your characters ever shocked you and gone off on their own adventure leaving you scratching your head??? If so how did you cope with that!?
Sadly, in non-fiction that’s not possible, though I really wish it were! There have been plenty of times when I felt like smacking Edward II upside the head and shouting ‘what are you DOING??’ at him, and I so badly wish my words could have an effect on his behaviour!
How much research do you do and do you ever go on research trips?
Lots and lots and lots, and yes. I love looking at primary sources and writing books as historically accurate as I possibly can.
Fiction authors have to contend with real characters invading our stories. Are there any ‘real’ characters you have been tempted to prematurely kill off or ignore because you just don’t like them or they spoil the plot?
As above, I can’t because I write non-fiction, but have had plenty of times, for example, when I wish Edward II had dealt with Roger Mortimer more severely in and after 1322! I love thinking about historical what-ifs, such as, what if Edward’s first fiancée Margaret of Norway hadn’t died and they had married? What if Edward II hadn’t fallen so hard for Hugh Despenser the Younger? What if Roger Mortimer had been killed or executed in 1322?
Are you prepared to go away from the known facts for the sake of the story and if so how do you get around this?
Nope! J I prefer to have integrity as a historian, rather than ignoring inconvenient facts and writing slanted history with an obvious agenda.
Do you find that the lines between fact and fiction sometimes become blurred?
Also definitely not.
Have you ever totally hated or fallen in love with one of your characters?
Madly J If I didn’t adore Edward II, despite his many flaws and mistakes, I couldn’t spend such a large part of my life researching and writing about him.
What do you enjoy reading for pleasure?
I love suspense novels, action novels, psychological thrillers, chick lit sometimes, non-fiction books about the earth and the universe, politics, anything. I used to love histfict but now don’t find it relaxing at all as it’s too close to my job. I adore reading and get through several books a week.
What drink would you recommend drinking whilst reading your latest book?
As it’s partly set in Italy, a glass of good Italian wine, or for non-drinkers like me, delicious strong espresso!
Last but not least... favourite author?
Great fourteenth-century historians such as Seymour Phillips, Michael Prestwich, Nigel Saul, Chris Given-Wilson. It’s a honour and a privilege to work in the same field.
About Kathryn: I grew up in the Lake District in the north-west of England, and gained a BA and an MA with Distinction in medieval history and literature from the University of Manchester. I've been researching and writing about Edward II's reign since 2004, and have run a blog about him since December 2005. In 2011 I had an article about him published in the prestigious English Historical Review, and in 2014 appeared as an expert on Edward in the BBC documentary The Quest for Bannockburn. In July 2016, I read a paper about him at the prestigious International Medieval Congress at the University of Leeds, and often give talks about him to a variety of audiences. On 24 June 2017, I'm leading a study day about Edward at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk. So far I have published biographies of Edward (2014) and his queen Isabella of France (2016), and have also written one about their great-grandson Richard II, due out in October 2017. My next book, to be published on 1 June 2017, is a detailed account of Edward II's murder in 1327 or his survival for years after that date. Future projects include biographies of Edward's powerful 'favourite' Hugh Despenser the Younger and of his son Edward III's queen Philippa of Hainault.
© Diana Milne January 2017 © Kathryn Warner May 2017