What is the genre you are best known for?
My blog, The Freelance History Writer is dedicated to medieval, Tudor and women’s history. These are my favorite subjects to write about. But I have left the parameters open to cover Ancient history to early modern so I can write about whatever takes my fancy.
What made you choose this genre?
History explains everything for me. When I was a teenager, the series “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” aired on TV and I was fascinated. That is when my interest in history started and I’ve never looked back. It fostered my love of Tudor and medieval history and influenced me to get my degree in history in college. When I first began blogging, I started writing about women. They have been neglected and maligned throughout history and I want to change that.
Favorite picture or work of art?
I have many favorite portraits such as those of Tudor personalities, especially as they were painted by Hans Holbein the Younger. But a few years ago I discovered the life of Isabel of Portugal, the princess who became the Duchess of Burgundy when she married Philip the Good in 1430. There is a magnificent portrait of her painted c. 1450 from the workshop of Rogier van der Weyden, a Netherlandish painter who was born in Tournai. A few months ago, I was in Los Angeles for an event and went to the Getty Museum where this portrait resides and got to see it close up. There is so much detail that you can’t see when looking at the picture on the internet.
Was becoming a writer a conscious decision or something 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?
Actually, I drifted into it completely by accident when I was 55 years old. A friend was looking for a partner to write with on her blog about women’s history. I wrote my first article on Emma of Normandy, twice Queen of England and people seemed to love it. After that, I was totally compelled to write and I still am! I try to write an article a week. It’s something that allows me to read, study and research about my favorite subject which is half the fun.
Other than writing full time, what would be your dream job?
Professor of Medieval and Early Modern European history at a university. It is my belief that people should know more about history. It would be my mission to make it fun and compelling so people would want to study it. I like to think this is a little of what I’m doing with the blog.
Coffee or tea?
Coffee. This is a guilty pleasure. I’ve been drinking Maxwell House International Coffees since I was a teenager. My favorite flavor is Café Français. I also indulge in a Starbucks Café Mocha occasionally. My parents are big coffee drinkers so I followed in their footsteps!
How much of your work is planned before you start? Do you have a full draft or let it find its way?
In most cases, 80% of my work is planned. I do a great deal of reading and research before I begin an article. I then make copious notes. Sometimes the notes turn into the article with little effort. Other times, it takes some work to put all the notes together in the structure I want. I enjoy this part of the process as well as the editing.
Imagine you could get hold of any original source document. What would it be?
Recently I wrote an article on Catherine de Valois, Queen of England. There is a small controversy regarding a statute that may or may not have been passed in Parliament putting restrictions on the subsequent marriages of a Dowager Queen of England. We don’t know if such a statute was really passed or not as there are no existing records. If it was, I’d like to get my hands on it.
Also, anything that would solve the mystery of what happened to the Princes in the Tower would be amazing to have.
What do you enjoy reading for pleasure?
Anything about history really. I’ve always loved biography. Right now I’m reading a series of biographies on Mary Tudor, Queen Mary I of England. The author of each book tackles the subject differently so it’s fun to evaluate and compare. The enjoyable part for me is I can take pleasure in reading the books and use them for research at the same time. Occasionally I will read a book just for fun but it’s always a history book.
How do you get ideas for articles on the blog?
I have several lines of research that I have followed since I started the blog six years ago. Tudor and medieval history are the top of the list of course. One of my favorite sections is a group of articles on the Queens of Scotland, England and France. The Queens of Scotland section is for all intents and purposes finished. I’m about 75% done with the Queens of England and have a long way to go on the Queens of France. For the Tudors, I want to have a survey article for each monarch and I have three more to go. I’m always adding to the Tudor section as there are many fascinating characters from this era.
For medieval history there are so many topics to choose from and I find a lot of ideas just from reading for research. I want to have an article on all the Valois Duchesses of Burgundy so that is my next project. I have a long list of other potential topics I’m working my way through.
Have you ever thought of writing a book?
Yes. Yes I have! The idea is a daunting one for me. There are some women I’ve come across that would make great topics for new biographies. However, I can come up with a hundred excuses for not doing it. Right now my focus is on the blog. I really enjoy it so much it doesn’t seem like work for me. So for now I’ll just stick with blogging. However, you never know what the future holds.
© Diana Milne January 2017 (Susan Abernethy, February 1, 2018)