Mastodon The Writing Desk: Special Guest Interview with Author Judith Arnopp

1 December 2017

Special Guest Interview with Author Judith Arnopp

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

With the English crown finally in his possession, Henry Tudor’s endeavours to restore order to the realm are hindered by continuing unrest. While the king is plagued with uprisings and pretenders to his throne, Margaret in her capacity as The King’s Mother oversees the running of his court. The warring houses of York and Lancaster are united, the years of civil strife are at an end but, as the royal nursery fills with children, the threats to Henry’s throne persist and Margaret’s expectation of perfect harmony begins to disintegrate.

Today I would like to welcome author Judith Arnopp:

Tell us about your latest book

I have just completed The King's Mother, the third and final volume of The Beaufort Chronicles, tracing the life of Margaret Beaufort. It is due to be published in December and available for pre-order now. It has taken more than three years to write the three books, which involves heaps of research and long periods of just thinking about Margaret, contemplating the times she lived in and the influences over her life.

She has had a very bad rap in historical fiction over the years and I wanted to give her the chance to redeem herself. Margaret was an extraordinary woman, she was steadfast and brave. Writing from her point of view gives access to her innermost thoughts and feelings and allows us to think about the motives behind some of her more questionable decisions. And before you ask, no, in my book she does not murder the princes in the tower.

What is your preferred writing routine?

I have to write in the mornings when I am most awake, by the afternoon I am past my daily creative peak. Writing is a full time job. I usually attend to emails and marketing over breakfast, write from around 9am to lunchtime when I take a walk on the cliff path if it is not raining. I return to my desk after lunch to either edit the morning’s work or write a little more. I stop work between 3 and 4pm when, for the sake of my sanity, I try to do something completely different like gardening or sewing, depending on the time of year.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

The most important thing is to write. Do your best to stay away from online distractions and write something every day. There is no truer saying than ‘practice makes perfect.’ The more you write, the better your work will become. Join a writing group, learn to accept constructive criticism and take the negative comments on the chin because the writing world is tough. Also, never believe you are good enough: always strive to be better, even if you have a number one bestseller; don’t become complacent, there will always be room for improvement. In my experience the best writers are tortured with self-doubt, the ones who think themselves fabulous … usually aren’t.

What have you found to be the best way to raise awareness of your books?

Marketing is the hardest thing for me. I am a very shy person and I would love to be able to sit at home and write without ever having to think about selling. I cringe every time I put a tweet out, or am placed in the position of having to ‘boast’ about my work. I am very reluctant to post in Facebook groups regarding my books and have a clumsy policy of hoping someone will stumble on them and like them enough to tell their friends.

I’m not sure how that works but I don’t do too badly; my sales keep me out of trouble and provide a reasonable income. An online presence is crucial. I tweet daily, both my own books and those of fellow authors in my circle. I have taken out Facebook ads in the past but it is hard to say what effect they have had. I think the best results come from blogging (which I’ve neglected lately) and non-fiction articles in anthologies and magazines.

Many of my readers have discovered my books via a historical blog based on my research and then, thankfully, they seem to want more. Daily, I get loads of emails and messages, usually asking when the next one will be out which is gratifying even if it does add to the pressure. I don’t partake in free giveaways but I do keep one book at a low price as a sort of ‘taster’, and Amazon have selected a few of mine for kindle monthly deal; most readers start with the cheaper books and are then confident to buy the rest. I just need to learn to write them fast enough.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research

It is the little things that please me most, like the incident with the escaped bear in Southwark that I found so funny I had to include it in The Winchester Goose. Bishop Burnet, writing a century after the event, relates a bizarre incident that took place in Henry VIII’s reign during the aftermath of the six articles. The Six Articles was an act that reinforced six points of medieval doctrine which Protestants at that time had begun to undermine. The act also specified the punishments due to those who did not accept them and was known by many Protestants as ‘the bloody whip with six strings.’ As a married man, Archbishop Cranmer must have taken particular exception to Article Three which stated that priests should not be allowed to marry.

He set down his objections quite strongly, making detailed notes, all backed up with citations from the bible and learned scholars, and it is believed he planned to present his findings to Henry. His secretary, Ralph Morice, duly copied the notes into a small book and set off with it to Westminster.

The king, meanwhile, was attending a bear-baiting across the river at Southwark and, just as Ralph Morice and company were passing in a wherry, the bear broke loose from the pit and with the dogs in hot pursuit, leapt into the river and made straight for the boat. Bishop Burnet goes on to relate that;

‘Those that were in the boat leaped out and left the poor secretary alone there. But the bear got into the boat, with the dogs about her, and sank it. The secretary, apprehending his life was in danger, did not mind his book, which he lost in the water.’ You can just picture it, can't you? Dripping wet bear, soaked dogs, terrified clerk, wildly rocking boat?

When Morice reached the shore he saw his book floating and asked the bearward (who was not perhaps as ‘in charge’ of the bear as one might hope) to retrieve it for him. But before he could get hold of it, the book fell into the hands of a priest who, realising what the book contained, declared that whoever claimed it would be hanged.

Burnet says that, ‘This made the bearward more intractable for he was a spiteful papist and hated the archbishop, so no offers or entreaties could prevail on him to give it back.’
In no little panic Morice sought the immediate assistance of Cromwell who, on discovering the bearward about to hand the book over to Cranmer’s enemies, confiscated it, threatening him severely for meddling with the book of the privy councillor. Thus saving the life of the Archbishop.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

In The Song of Heledd I wrote a fictional scene in which Heledd’s sister is having a difficult birth and she has to deliver the baby. The book is set in 7th century Powys so there is no sanitation, no proper equipment, not even a decent light in the timber framed stronghold. Medicine depended very much upon chance and rather a lot of superstition. After my first attempt, when I read through I found it didn’t work at all. The descriptions were there but there was no heart in it, no real sense of the horror or desperation of Heledd’s experience – not to mention her sister, Freur’s!

I realised that was because I wasn’t ‘feeling’ it while I wrote. I needed to take my shoes and socks off and immerse myself in the narrative. To do so I imagined it was my sister who twisted in agony on the bed, fighting for life, digging her nails into my flesh as she begged me to make the pain stop. I love my three sisters dearly so I imagined the helplessness of having one of their lives at the mercy of my incapable hands. I am not given to tears but when I finished writing I was broken by it and had to go and have a lie down. A lot of people mention that scene when they comment on my writing.

What are you planning to write next?

I am running a small competition with a group of readers in which I ask for ideas and they’ve come up with some great suggestions. There are one or two that are brilliant but they are out of my comfort zone and will take a few years to complete the research and write the book. So as not to disappoint my readers by not having a release for Christmas 2018 I plan to write something more fiction based while researching for the next ‘big’ project. It will feature a fictional character set against a historical back drop, rather in the manner of The Winchester Goose. So far, I have only a sketchy outline but it involves a disposed nun, the dissolution of the monasteries, and rather a lot of bad weather and tribulation. Sounds like the typical day in the life of a writer!

Judith Arnopp
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About the Author

Judith Arnopp is a historical fiction author based in Wales, UK. She has a particular interest the Tudor period and her collection of Tudor novels will take you inside the minds of women like Elizabeth of York, Anne Boleyn, Katheryn Parr, Anne of Cleves and  Katherine Howard. The Beaufort Chronicles, is a trilogy tracing the life of Margaret Beaufort, the mother of the Tudor Dynasty. Books one and two, The Beaufort Bride and The Beaufort Woman are available now and book three, The King's Mother is to follow soon. Find out more at Judith's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @JudithArnopp.

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