Yesterday I had the privilege of sharing my thoughts on Anna’s latest book, and today I get to ask her some probing questions! I would just like to remind people that Anna is giving away a signed paperback of her latest book Days of Sun and Glory and you can enter by following this link to my review from yesterday!
1)Welcome back to the Review dearest Anna, how are you these days? It’s quite some time since you have visited us. Can you tell us a little about what you’ve been doing whilst you’ve been away?
Writing would be the very short answer. The somewhat longer answer involves a decision to fundamentally change my life and concentrate solely on writing – which is why I no longer work fulltime. There are days when this results in severe anxiety-attacks, mostly from a “who am I” perspective – after all, so much of our identity is linked to what we do, rather than who we are.
2) Your new series The King’s Greatest Enemy has hit the ground and kept running and is doing really well, by all accounts. What inspired you to write about this particular era, and events in our history?
I’ve had a thing about Mortimer since my 6th grade teacher Mr Wilmshurst introduced us to him. He scoffed at the ridiculous notion of Edward II being murdered with a red hot poker, went all passionate about the general political instability of the time, and made us all understand that history is never truth, it is an interpretation based on perspective. My series is just that: an interpretation, written from the POV of a man who has Mortimer to thank for everything he has, and yet as we move along, Adam de Guirande’s loyalties to Mortimer will be sorely tested.
3) I haven’t had the opportunity to read your Graham Saga as yet, though I am currently on the case, and I was wondering what your loyal readers might think about this new couple that have hit their kindles. Are Kit and Adam similar in any way to Alex and Matthew, or are they very different? And also is there any of you in any of them?
I’d say all my male protagonists share some common characteristics, integrity being one of them. And yes, they’re both tall and well-made, but their outlook on life has been coloured by the times they live in. Adam is in many ways very medieval, and as he has not had the benefit of an education – he struggles to read and write – his world view is defined by what he has seen and what he has been told by people he trusts such as Mortimer. He does, however, have a mind of his own, and yes, I like intelligent leads, so he is fully capable of amassing information and forming his own opinion.
Matthew is by far the better educated, and although much of his reading has been restricted to religious matter such as Scripture and the Westminster Catechism, he also has a whimsical side, which is why he loves John Donne and enjoys Shakespeare. Where Adam has been forced to choose sides based on loyalties and what lord he serves, Matthew has been obliged to fight to defend his beliefs – and both of them have suffered major blows to their pride as a consequence of their convictions/loyalties.
Kit and Alex are in some ways very different. Kit is a product of her time, raised in a society where women per definition were subservient to men (which does not mean they were powerless or reduced to chattels. It just means that society considered man to be the self-evident master of his wife and household, at least officially). She is also several years younger than Adam which means she lacks in experience versus her husband. But she grows with the series, I think, developing from an insecure young girl to a woman who is willing to take substantial risks to keep her family and man safe.
Alex is opinionated, loud, resourceful and rarely intimidated by anything. She is probably the protagonist with whom I have the most in common – not that I have any Karate skills, nor am I sure I’d be so good at adapting to her new life in the 17th century as time traveller Alex is – but she is, after all, a modern woman, which means she shares commonalities with me and my readers.
4) Apart from your main protagonists, who would you say are your favourite supporting characters and why?
In which series? In The Graham Saga, it would be Mrs Parson, Magnus and Simon Melville. Why? Because Mrs Parson is possessed of a lot of dry wit and also is a pillar of strength for Alex when things go pear-shaped. Magnus because as Alex’s father, he is the father I would have wanted to have – all the way down to his skills in the kitchen. And Simon is Matthew’s best friend and direct opposite physically – round like an egg, he is – but bounces through life with such self-confidence it makes me smile.
In the King’s Greatest Enemy, my favourite supporting characters are Mabel, the old nurse who follows Kit through thick and thin, William, Adam’s priest brother, and Thomas of Brotherton, half-brother to Edward II whose role in the narrative expands as the series goes along. I’ve always felt Thomas has lived a most anonymous existence, outshone by his drop-dead brother, Edmund, Earl of Kent. Actually, I have one more favourite non-protagonist, and that is the future Edward III, but his role in the narrative is too central to call it supportive.
5) Your portrayal of Hugh Despenser has me cringing whenever he walks in on a scene. What did you find in your research about him that made you cast him as the ultimate villain?
I cast him as the ultimate villain because he and Mortimer detest each other. The representation of Despenser is therefore coloured by Mortimer’s opinion of the man, which means greed and thirst for power are seen as bad things in Despenser, not so much in Mortimer (at first). From what I’ve read, Despenser was not a likeable man to those whom he disliked – but he seems to have been a good husband and a faithful servant of the king, albeit that serving the king gave him a lot of advantages…
Despenser had a tendency to be high-handed, was now and then in flagrant breach of the law (like in the case of Llywelyn Bren, whom he executed, despite the man being sentenced to imprisonment), had no problems whatsoever cheating people out of what was theirs, and subjected the English to a veritable witch-hunt after Mortimer’s escape from the Tower, where it sufficed that a man had known Mortimer for him to risk being dragged before the Assizes there to be fined or even lose his life.
Due to the enmity between Mortimer and Despenser, any Mortimer man had reason to quake when in the presence of Hugh Despenser – and vice-versa. For Adam de Guirande, initially Mortimer’s man through and through, Despenser was as much his enemy as he was Mortimer’s. Dear Hugh would have agreed wholeheartedly: any Mortimer man was best dead.
6) And speaking of research, what did you turn up about this period of time that amazed you about the whole Edward/Despenser, Isabella/Mortimer thing?
One of the things I rather enjoyed was discovering just how luxurious life could be back then. Mortimer had sheets in red silk, he travelled with matching bedhangings and counterpanes, and he was very fond of butterflies, adorning not only his tapestries but also his tunics with various colourful butterflies. Maybe he was just making the point that some things are ephemeral… Also, I am rather intrigued by Mortimer’s close relationship with various men of the church – godly men considered Roger Mortimer their friend, which sort of indicates (IMO) that Mortimer must have had some moral fibre. How did he reconcile this with his relationship with Isabella? With how he treated his wife? Fascinating stuff!
7) The character I feel most sympathy for is the young Prince. I love how you have portrayed him in your book, a victim who begins to see right through his mother and Mortimer. Is your portrayal a direct result of your research?
My portrayal is the result of an intimate knowledge of young boys on the cusp of manhood – I have three wonderful sons, all of whom have contributed something to the depiction of Edward. We have little knowledge of Edward as a child, but it does not require a major leap of imagination to understand he must have felt torn. First, his father humiliates his mother by reclaiming her dower land (effectively, Edward II thereby deprived Isabella of any independent income), then he exiles all of Isabella’s retainers – on the pretext of doubting their loyalties, what with England and France being at war. Of course the young prince must have felt for his mother. Then, Edward II sends Isabella abroad to negotiate a treaty with the French, sends over his son to conclude the treaty, and suddenly Prince Edward is an indirect hostage – Isabella had no intention of allowing her son to return home. Suddenly, the prince understands he is the primary weapon Isabella intends to wield when she invades England. Can’t have left him with a warm and fuzzy feeling vis-à-vis his mother, even less so as the letters he received from his father while in France indicate a growing tension between the king and his son, Edward II going so far as to accusing his heir of being a rebel. The prince was no rebel: he was a boy trapped in an escalating conflict.
From what we know of Edward as a king, it seems reasonable to imbue this young prince with the same determination, honour and intelligence he displayed as an adult. I am very happy you liked my portrayal of him – he sort of grew into a central character as the story went along.
8)I heard that you are returning Alex and Matthew to our readers, and I was wondering what has brought this on after 8 books about them. Were your readers urging you to, or have you just decided that the world hasn’t quite had enough of them yet?
It is a combination, I think. Alex has been rather persistent in reminding me that she still did not know what happened to her unknown granddaughter in London, and yes, several readers have expressed a wish for another book.
9)When you are writing, how do you get into the ‘zone’, what helps you to get there?
A good cup of tea, some Bach, Beethoven or Silvio Rodriguez in the background, and off I go.
10) I know that you are a prolific reader and you also read widely. Can you name some of your favourite authors and tell us briefly why you like them so much?
That would be a very, very long list, I am afraid, as I read on average 2 books a week and have done so since I was seven or so… But to give it a shot, I enjoy reading outside my genre, and am a big fan of Babara Nadel and her books set in Istanbul. I also enjoy Amanda Quick (historical romance) return over and over again to Tolkien, never let a year pass without re-reading Sharon K Penman’s Here be Dragons, love Edith Pargeter’s books about the brothers of Gwynedd, love Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Mario Vargas Llosa, enjoy whiling away an afternoon with Lee Child, would love to see Philip Roth win the Nobel Prize, and gladly spend some hours with Sylvia Day’s books about Gideon and Eva.
What all of these writers have in common? They breathe life into their characters, causing them to step out of the pages to become real flesh-and-blood people, men and women I care about, cry for, root for.
11) What book have you read this year that has really left an impression on you?
Difficult question: I think I have to say An Untamed State by Roxanne Gay. Unbearable to read at times, it depicts one woman’s voyage through hell and out of it – except that her experiences will leave her permanently changed.
12) And finally, when, just when is the next instalment coming out in The King’s Greatest Enemy?
Ah, I am aiming for April, or late March of next year!