Monday, December 16, 2013
Elizabeth Chadwick—The Interview!
And two lucky commenters will be chosen to receive their choice of one of Elizabeth’s novels!
1. Though all of your novels involve characters from the medieval period including their lives and loves, your earlier novels were more in the genre of historical romance. Why did you move into historical fiction with romantic elements? (And I must say The Outlaw Knight, which you consider historical fiction, had plenty of romance for this romance lover!)
I think even in the early days I straddled the line between historical romance and historical fiction, much in the same way Roberta Gellis does with her Roselynde Chronicles – Gellis is one of my personal author heroines. I don’t tend to categorise my writing with solid enclosures and the boundaries are fairly fluid. The Outlaw Knight does have strong romantic elements, but there are aspects of it that wouldn’t fit into the traditional niche of the historical romance. I do enjoy writing a romantic element into my stories. Readers enjoy that frisson and so do I.
I’d also like to add that occasionally there is confusion over title changes between the UK and the US. This isn’t some awful conspiracy on behalf of the publishers, but comes from the fact that I have different publishers in different countries and they have their own ideas about what they want. Readers will find The Outlaw Knight sold in the UK as Lords of the White Castle and published by Sphere. My USA publisher Sourcebooks which has no connection with Sphere, was wary of this title because of the White Castle hamburger chain, hence the change.
2. I know that for your research you use primary sources (original documents, etc.), secondary sources (reference works), location visits (I’m jealous as we US authors of stories set in Britain have a real challenge!) and living history or reenactments. What do you do when you hit a dark space that you’d love to fill with real history but don’t have a clue. Do you enter into the world of fiction and create that? Or do you dig further? Do you do any research online?
I do a couple of things. Being as I’m writing fiction it’s a given that I have to use imagination, but that imagination will be guided by copious research. I always ask myself: ‘On a scale of 1-10, how likely is this to have happened? How likely is this person I am writing about to have done or said this? If the answer’s 8 out of 10 or above, I’ll go for it. If it’s 7 or less, I’ll think some more or read around the subject until I can answer with a higher score. My research is ongoing and multi-layered, so I hope it gives a solid grounding to the embroidery of fiction. When I first began writing I set out to do it for my own satisfaction. I wanted to tell a story set in the Middle Ages, but I wanted it to feel as real as possible. Of course sometimes you get called out despite or even because of the research. Sometimes you get it wrong because you get it right! I recall one reviewer saying that one of my novels was a fairy story because they didn’t have sidesaddles in the 12th century (I had a heroine riding side-saddle). But yes they did; they just didn’t look like the ones we have now, but were more like a chair with a footrest, and I have the evidence to prove it!
I do research online, but with reservations. Not all websites are equal and there is so much to beware of out there, but there are also some fantastic websites and some great digitized books and historical records. You just need to keep your wits about you.
3. I was fascinated to read about the “Akashic Records” that you use—the invisible record of images, thoughts, sounds, smells tastes and feelings. Like an invisible running record of what has gone before. Your guide to this world is, I know, your friend Alison King. (Oh, how I wish I had access to her!) Meanwhile, how significant is this to your research? And in which of your books did it figure most prominently?
It is a fabulous resource indeed. I have known Alison since we were young mothers with small children. I was unpublished back and then and Alison was still developing along her path, and we used to meet up as friends while our kids played together.
It wasn’t until I had almost finished writing The Greatest Knight that we came to use Alison’s extraordinary ability to look back into the past. I was having difficulty finding out about a particular person and Alison asked if I wanted her go and see if she could find her. What came through, just as an impromptu session over coffee, led me to realize that it was a wonderful resource, wherever it was coming from and I have been using it ever since. With time and experience, we’ve been better able to fine tune the sessions and now we use digital recorders to catch everything. I use the sessions in tandem with conventional research. Often they will cast new slants on known historical facts that make me look at a happening in a whole different light. I send the sessions to a professional historian and am told that it’s definitely medieval mindset coming through. Since getting the mindset right is one of the holy grails of historical fiction, I’m happy with that, wherever it’s coming from.
I’ve used the “Akashics” in all of my novels since The Greatest Knight. However, The Outlaw Knight doesn’t utilize them as it was written before I began using that resource. I have edited it since, but only to tighten it up. The latest novel to have had the “Akashic” treatment is The Summer Queen, the story of Eleanor of Aquitaine. It’s been interesting that many readers have written to me saying that they didn’t think anything fresh or new could be said about Eleanor of Aquitaine but that the novel succeeds in this and that it’s realistic. I would say that it’s definitely in part due to my alternative researches, although of course other strands of conventional study and the all important imagination come into it, too. Incidentally, Alison does offer her services to others. Along with other skills of a sensitive, it’s her day job.
4. Which of your books is your favorite? Whose love story is your favorite (I’m a romantic; I had to ask). And, who is your favorite hero? Heroine?
That’s kind of like asking ‘Which of your children do you like best?’ Every book, every story has its own special niche. So, my first published novel The Wild Hunt, got my foot in the door, publishing contracts from many countries and won a major UK award – so it’s earned its place in my heart. The Champion, The Outlaw Knight (Lords of the White Castle in the UK), The Winter Mantle and The Falcons of Montabard, were all shortlisted for the Romantic Novel of the Year Award in the UK. The Greatest Knight was a New York Times bestseller. To Defy A King won the UK’s Romantic Novelists Association prize for Best Historical Novel 2011. The Scarlet Lion was nominated one of Richard Lee’s top historical reads of the decade – Richard Lee being the founder of the Historical Novel Society. So they all have their high spots.
The same with the love stories. They all have their own nuance, their own path. Perhaps William Marshal and Isabelle de Clare from The Greatest Knight and The Scarlet Lion affected me deeply because their bond remained so strong across their marriage through thick and thin, and the readers get to see it on the page through some tough adversity. I like to use songs to define my stories, and William and Isabelle’s story is perhaps encapsulated by the lyrics of Billy Joel’s “All About Soul.”
Readers often expect my favorite hero to be the great William Marshal, and I do love him very dearly and carry a torch for him. Indeed, I love all my heroes, but perhaps the one who is with me for life is John FitzGilbert, William’s father from A Place Beyond Courage.
He is one of those characters that later generations have not always understood: a man caught between a rock and a hard place and having to make some desperate choices. I had to go digging hard to find out about him across all areas of research, but what emerged from that depth was a personality so vivid and direct, that he’ll remain with me whatever. Of course, Fulke FitzWarin of The Outlaw Knight is a strong contender too. Some historians think he is the genesis of Robin Hood, and I wouldn’t be surprised. It’s not every lord who has his honeymoon as a hunted outlaw in the greenwood, with his own Maid Marion at his side! [Regan’s note: Fulke is on my Favorite Heroes and Heroines list!]
5. What are you writing now? What can your US readers look forward to? (Not that we are stopped by a book only being available in the UK…we can order off Amazon.co.uk!)
I have a contract with my UK and US publishers to write 3 novels about Eleanor of Aquitaine. I have called her Alienor, which is what she would have called herself in the 12th century. The Summer Queen has already been published in the UK and has already gone into reprint in hardcover. It comes out in the US as an e-book and in paperback next June. Then there’s The Winter Crown which I am finishing editing at the moment, and then The Autumn Throne.
6. I know you have an extensive reference library (sigh). Which books do you reach for most often?
When I’m writing, I tend to separate out the books I know I am going to need for that particular project and I put them on the shelves surrounding my work station. So at the moment I have a stack of Eleanor of Aquitaine biographies, and several books on Henry II and Thomas Becket. I began researching the 11th through 13th centuries when I was 15 and I’m several decades older now (!), so I have a good basic baseline from where to begin. For anyone new to the period, I would suggest reading England Under the Angevin Kings by Robert Bartlett. It really does cover every base, especially if you don’t have a lot to spend on books. Daily Living in the Twelfth Century by Urban Tigner Holmes is an excellent all round book, too, and good for either side of the 12thC if you are writing in the late 11th or early 13th.
7. For a woman steeped in the medieval past of England, what would you consider a vacation? To where would you like to travel? Or do you prefer to stay home?
Given the time, my bucket list would include seeing icebergs and the Northern Lights and the fall in New England. I like natural beauty as well as historical things. I don’t do heat, so I would probably head for cooler climes. I’d also quite happily spend a couple of weeks on an archaeological dig scraping away with a trowl. One of the things I already do with an American travel company is go on tours with visitors in search of a historical experience. In the Footsteps of William Marshal has been very popular and we visit his castles in the UK, the area he lived in, and the priory he founded in the Lake District. That is fantastically enjoyable – travelling with William Marshal fans to the places where he lived and breathed. There’s one planned for October 2014, and I can’t wait!
8. What is your writing space like? A room set apart? Does it have a view? Tell us!
I live in South Nottinghamshire in a beamed cottage built in the mid 1850’s. It’s in the country but just outside a village and not too far off the beaten track even though I’m surrounded by fields. My study window looks out on our back garden and the lane to the village with fields on either side. From the landing window in the hall, on a clear day, I can just about see the turrets of Belvoir Castle on the horizon. The entire area is one of rural beauty and is called The Vale of Belvoir. My writing space is one of the upstairs rooms in the house, once a bedroom before we moved in. There was a downstairs study in the house when we moved here about 18 months ago, but I like to be tucked away to get on with my work. The downstairs study is now an annex to the kitchen used as a pantry, laundry and storage area.
9. What do you do to relax? Do you have a pet? Do you drink tea? Something stronger? Take walks? And if you watch movies, you must tell us your favorite(s)!
I drink gallons of tea! I’m drinking a mug now while I’m writing - English breakfast with milk and one sugar. I like redbush tea as well—plain, no milk. I’m not that much of a fan of alcohol, but can occasionally be persuaded to a glass of wine, and dart match nights at the pub a glass of lager goes down well. I play darts for a mixed team of men and ladies, and it’s good fun—very different from the writing life, so it’s a complete break. I do enjoy long walks with my husband and our three dogs. They are very lively terriers.
Pip and Jack are three-year-old Patterdale/Jack Russell crosses, and Bill, just coming up to one is pure Patterdale. They’re great guys, but they need their exercise to keep them controlled. In quieter moments I enjoy baking cakes and cross-stitching, but in case you think I’m getting twee, I tend to enjoy listening to rock and heavy metal while so doing!
Films – I like gritty thrillers, or slapstick comedies. I sometimes but not always like quirky. So, in a thriller mood give me Die Hard or Bourne and I’m in heaven. I love Wallace and Grommit and the Curse of the Were Rabbit. I love The Princess Bride. Lord of the Rings – I could watch that over and over again. The Same with Some Like it Hot with Marilyn Monroe. My tastes are wide-ranging.
10. Since we are so close to Christmas, I have to ask, what are your favorite Christmas traditions and how do you like to celebrate the day?
Christmas tends to be a mixed bag for us these days. We’re not that much into celebrating the season, but do see various relations at some points between Christmas and New Year. We all get on, so it’s good to hook up and it’s not fraught. Some of us work in the service industries (my son and his partner for example are nurses) and they tend to be working over Christmas often nightshift, so we have to fit in around them.
I love the Christmas season for mince pies – a rich dried fruit and brandy mixture encased in crisp shortcrust pastry. They’re on my list of things I’d have to take to a desert island.
My most enduring Christmas memory is of my 7-year-old son at Christmas wanting a Christmas treasure hunt. I hid all of his presents around the house for him to find—including a video in the oven. My son fell downstairs and managed in a freak accident to cut himself on the vacuum cleaner, which I’d left out while doing a last minute tidy. This was 7:30 Christmas morning. My husband grabbed him, loaded him in the car and rushed him off to the hospital where son had to have 7 stitches and my husband fainted. Meanwhile back at home with the 10 year old, waiting, I thought I might as well get on and do some cooking – forgetting the video in the oven until the stench of burning plastic began to fill the kitchen. What a Christmas day that was!
Thank you so much, Elizabeth, for being my guest and sharing some inside stories of your writing and your home. Now it's time to hear from your fans! Ask Elizabeth that pressing question, go ahead.