8 December 2017

Special Guest Interview with Author Tracey Warr

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

1107. Henry I finally reigns over England, Normandy and Wales, but his rule is far from secure. He faces a series of treacherous assassination attempts, and rebellion in Normandy is scuppering his plans to secure a marriage for his son and heir. With the King torn between his kingdoms, and Nest settled with her Norman husband, can she evade Henry’s notice or will she fall under his control once more? As her brother Gruffudd garners support in an effort to reclaim his kingdom, Nest finds she cannot escape the pull of her Welsh heritage. While the dissent grows and a secret passion is revealed, the future of Nest and her Norman sons is placed in dire peril. In this sequel to Daughter of the Last King, Nest must decide to whom her heart and loyalty belongs.

Today I would like to welcome author Tracey Warr:

Tell us about your latest book

The Drowned Court has just been published by Impress Books. It is the second book in a trilogy revolving around the Welsh princess, Nest ferch Rhys, and the Norman king, Henry I. It is set in the first decades of the 12th century and the action moves between Wales, England and Normandy. The Welsh rulers, Gruffudd ap Cynan in the north, and Cadwgan ap Bleddyn and his son Owain in Powys continue to resist the encroaching Normans, and they are joined by Nest’s brother, Gruffudd ap Rhys, who returns from Dublin to make a bid for his lost kingdom. The nun Benedicta, who is a minor figure in the first book in my trilogy, Daughter of the Last King, becomes an important character in this second book, as she spies on King Henry’s behalf and tangles with the King’s arch enemy in Normandy, Amaury de Montfort.

What is your preferred writing routine? 

I always write best first thing in the morning. Ideally, I would start writing every morning as soon as I wake up and continue until I run out of steam. However, I’m not always able to do that, as I have other freelance work to get done, which pays the rent. So then, I find myself writing in the crevices too – on trains and planes, and in notebooks in the middle of the night.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers? 

Don’t hesitate. If you want to write, do it. Tell yourself that you are a writer and write. Writing is a process. It’s a matter of being persistent more than being inspired. You start with a blank page. You put things on it and then cross most of it out. Slowly, very slowly, a wedge of pages builds up. Your manuscript. Your story, your characters start to come alive and you enjoy hanging out with them. That’s a great feeling. Don’t think about getting published, being a genius or being rich. Some of those things may occur (in the same order: possible, doesn’t exist, unlikely) but none of that gets a story out of your imagination and onto the page. Focus on writing. Try joining a writers’ group or consider doing an MA in Creative Writing or a short writing course. It helps to have writing buddies but it can be difficult to find the right chemistry for that. Enter competitions. It’s good to push yourself to produce to deadlines. Being shortlisted for the Impress Prize was my own route to publication. The publishing world is changing drastically and many good writers are now self-publishing. Consider self-publishing if you have the necessary design, editing and marketing skills on top of your writing skills, or you can manage to pay for them.

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

I enjoy blogging about my research and find that is a good way to connect with readers and people who are interested in the early medieval period. I have a blog, a Facebook page and tweet and I’m active on Amazon and Goodreads. My publishers have a feed to my blog on their website. In addition to reading history books and articles, I do a lot of visual, object and map research and I like to share some of this with readers through my blog. So, for example, I went to St Albans Cathedral and saw a wooden ‘spyloft’ there, which enabled the monks to keep an eye on the pilgrims and the cathedral’s treasure. Although that spyloft structure is a little later than the setting of my novel, I used it as a fictional element in my story when King Henry first lays eyes on his last known mistress, Isabel de Beaumont. In my blog, I recounted my research at the cathedral and how it inspired a scene in the novel.

I also do events in England, Wales and France (where I live part of the year) and meet readers that way. I give talks at literary festivals, libraries, local history societies, castles, reading groups, bookshops, book fairs. Meeting readers and hearing what people think about your characters and stories is one of the best things about being a writer. 

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research 

I enjoyed researching the Abbey of Fontrevraud, which was ruled by women, as its enlightened founder Robert d’Arbrissel had ordered. There were many noble repudiated wives and widows at the Abbey, such as Bertrade de Montfort, former Countess of Anjou and Queen of France, and Ermengarde of Anjou, wife of the Duke of Brittany. Researching Fontrevraud and the court of Countess Adela of Blois, sister of Henry I and very probably his ‘spymaster’ in France, I gained a sense that women were beginning to kick against their inequality and envisage a different world. King Henry I tried to leave his throne to his daughter, Matilda, after his son died. She was the first woman to claim the English crown in her own right. I also looked into renegade nuns for the story and was interested to come across Katharina von Bora who, in the 16th century (later than my own story), escaped from a nunnery in a herring cart and became the wife of Martin Luther.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

The most difficult thing to write in this book was what happened between Nest ferch Rhys and Owain ap Cadwgan. He abducted her from her Norman husband and kept her with him for two years until her return to her husband was negotiated. A romantic interpretation might see Owain as rescuing Nest from the Normans and returning her to her rightful place amongst the Welsh, however the more research I did, the less this seemed likely to me to be what might have happened. I show Nest feeling ambivalent at times about Owain, but largely acting to protect her husband and children. I depicted what amounts to a rape and an increasingly hostile relationship between them. From Owain’s perspective, I felt it was more realistic to show the abduction as a provocation to the Normans rather than a romantic escapade. Writing the rape scene was difficult, but I was aiming to convey that one of the most impressive things about Nest, as I have imagined her, is her resilience and sense of self-worth. 

What are you planning to write next? 

I’m working now on the final book in the Conquest series which is called The Anarchy and covers the years 1122-1146, the final years of the reign of Henry I and then the subsequent struggle for the throne between Henry’s daughter Matilda and his nephew, Stephen of Blois. In these years, Nest’s life continued to be eventful. She married another Norman, Stephen de Marais, the Constable of Cardigan Castle. Her brother Gruffudd attempted to take back his kingdom and was valiantly supported by his wife, Gwenllian ferch Gruffudd ap Cynan. Nest’s half-Norman sons were growing up to contest against her Welsh nephews. I’m enjoying writing about a heroine who is now coming close in age to my own, and considering aspects of later life such as ageing, enjoying grandchildren, looking back on one’s life and reflecting, celebrating, although there are also still plenty of adventures in store for Nest in this final book.

Tracey Warr
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About the Author

Tracey Warr was born in London, lived for several years in Pembrokeshire, Wales and currently divides her time between the UK and France. She studied English Literature at Oxford University and holds a PhD in Art History. She worked as an art curator and university lecturer in art history and theory before starting to write fiction. She undertook an MA in Creative Writing at University of Wales Trinity St Davids in Carmarthen. Her first historical novel Almodis (Impress, 2011) was set in early medieval France and Spain. It was shortlisted for the Impress Prize, presented in the Rome Film Festival Book Initiative and won a Santander Research Award. Her second novel The Viking Hostage (Impress, 2014) topped the Amazon Australia Kindle bestseller lists. She was awarded a Literature Wales Writer’s Bursary for work on her Conquest trilogy about Princess Nest and King Henry I. She also received
an Author’s Foundation Award from the
Society of Authors for a biography she is working on about three French noblewomen, three sisters, who held power in 11th century Toulouse, Carcassonne, Barcelona and the Pyrenees. Tracey reviews books for Historical Novels Review and Times Higher Education. She is a tutor for residential writing courses in France with A Chapter Away (www.achapteraway.com). Find our more at: http://traceywarrwriting.com and find Tracey on Facebook and Twitter @TraceyWarr1

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