Mastodon The Writing Desk: Guest Interview With Catherine Meyrick, Author of Forsaking All Other

2 August 2018

Guest Interview With Catherine Meyrick, Author of Forsaking All Other

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Today I'm pleased to welcome author Catherine Meyrick:

Please tell us about your latest book

Forsaking All Other is my first published novel. It is set in England in the 1580s and follows the struggles of a young widow and waiting woman, Bess Stoughton, who discovers that her father is arranging for her to marry an elderly neighbour. Normally obedient Bess rebels and manages to convince her father to allow her a year to find a husband with whom she has some hope of happiness. Bess’s domestic concerns are set against the background of simmering Catholic plots to unseat Queen Elizabeth, and the involvement of English forces under the Earl of Leicester in the Netherlands in support of Dutch resistance to Spanish rule. 

These larger matters are of little concern to Bess until she meets Edmund Wyard, a veteran of England’s campaign in Ireland, who is preparing to join the Earl of Leicester’s army; he too is trying to avoid his family’s marriage plans for him. The major characters in the novel are fictional but the historical timeline and background are as accurate as I could make them. Forsaking All Other does not revolve around the Elizabethan Court but is essentially the story of ordinary people in a time of suspicion and war. 

By making my characters conventional, I hoped to show something of the reality of lives in the past, the lack of freedom that women. and men too, had in determining their own lives and even their choice of spouse, and the difficulties that a could arise when they stepped outside the boundaries of a far more rigidly structured society than our own.

What is your preferred writing routine?

My preferred writing routine bears no relation to my actual routine. 
Because of work and family commitments, I have to fit writing in where I can. Most weeks I manage to write six days a week, usually around three hours in the afternoon and a couple of hours in the evening. Though, when I am particularly inspired, or have a deadline, I use every spare minute and let the non-essential domestic routine go (my mother used to say housework will always be there tomorrow). I can’t afford to be fussy about my writing environment, most of the time I can sit down anywhere and write. I find that once I concentrate, extraneous noise fades away.

My preferred writing routine would be to take a brisk walk or swim every morning and sit down around 8 am with a strong cup of coffee and write for the next four hours. I find I often untangle problems while swimming or on a walk around our local lake but I only manage that about once a week.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Read, read, read. Read classics, read what is popular, read in your chosen genre and read outside it. Take a few reputable writing courses. And revise and redraft, as many times as is needed even if you end up completing a dozen drafts like I do. If you can, find a couple of readers, or other writers you can share with, who you can try your new story out on and who are willing to give you their honest opinion. Listen to any professional advice you are given and think especially seriously about those things they say that you hate the most–they are probably right. Most of all, keep faith in yourself and don’t give up. 

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

I am still learning what works best through trial and error. I started with a blog tour with Amy Bruno’s Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours. Amy was incredibly supportive, helping me with things I never expected, like setting up my GoodReads page. She organized a fortnight of reviews, interviews and book spotlights with enthusiastic bloggers who have a love of historical fiction. 

The wonderful thing is that now, if a reader is not convinced by the cover and the blurb, there are a number of reviews out there that hopefully will convince her that Forsaking All Other really is worth reading. I use both Facebook and Twitter to regularly promote the book using snippets from the reviews with links to my website or to Amazon. I am now considering Amazon advertising which I have been told is quite effective – we shall see!

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research

Despite my many years of reading about 16th century England, I had the idea that widows had a fair degree of freedom, especially when choosing a second husband. I suspect this came partly because we know it wasn’t unusual for a widow to manage her deceased husband business and we like to concentrate on the lives of women whose experiences were extraordinary. We tend to think of parents whose main concern was wealth and position forcing marriages on unwilling daughters but I was surprised to see that even those with their daughters’ best interest at heart did the same. Young windows with property had little say in the choice of a second spouse. 

Margaret Dakins (1571-1633), the author of the earliest known diary written by a woman in English, was the only daughter of a wealthy well-connected Yorkshire family and was educated in the household of Henry Hastings, third Earl of Huntingdon and his countess, Catherine. When Margaret’s first husband, Walter Devereaux, was killed at the siege of Rouen in 1591, her parents and the Huntingdons as her guardians hoped to protect her from fortune hunters, so they began negotiations within a fortnight of Devereaux’ death, before his body had even been returned to England for burial. Three months later Margaret married Thomas Sidney, the younger brother of Sir Philip Sidney, the hero of Zutphen. Sidney died three and a half years later in June 1595. Just two months on, Sir Thomas Posthumous Hoby was pressing his suit. Hoby was not the most prepossessing of men, described by his mother, Lady Russell, as ‘wanting in stature, learning and otherwise’ and possibly the inspiration for Malvolio in Twelfth Night. 

Margaret was encouraged to entertain him although she was initially resistant. Her marriage to Thomas Sidney appears to have been happy yet, although ‘the tender love she bare to him that was dead, made yt grevous to her to hear of any newe’ husband, negotiations went ahead and Margaret agreed to marry Hoby. This was largely due to his connection to William Cecil, Lord Burghley and the influence that could be used to settle a property dispute involving Margaret’s much loved manor at Hackness that had been part of her original marriage settlement. Even as late as July 1596 Margaret described herself as ‘she that is nothing but grefe and misery’, but, as dutiful as her later diary shows her, on 9 August 1596 she married Sir Thomas Hoby at his mother’s house in Blackfriars. 

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

Most definitely the Battle of Zutphen(1586). Even in well-written fiction, I skim through battle scenes; they are, for me, the least interesting part of any story. With the Battle of Zutphen I had a great deal of information on what happened and needed to distil that to its essentials and then place my fictional characters in the middle of it and have it all sound plausible. I had the added difficulty of describing a situation that was, fortunately, completely beyond my experience. Reading diaries and memoirs that touched on the experience of war helped me to get a sense both of battle and the anxiety of waiting beforehand.

What are you planning to write next?

I am currently revising a novel called The Bridled Tongue set in England a couple of years later than Forsaking All Other with an entirely new set of characters. Once again, it deals with the making of marriages in this period, this time an arranged marriage that the young woman goes along with it, as so many did. Alys Bradley unenthusiastically enters into such a marriage with Thomas Granville, a privateer, not only because of pressure from her father but to escape a suitor she considers a worse prospect. 

I want to explore the way a relationship could develop where the partners to it are not ‘in love’. ‘The Bridled Tongue’ touches on other issues such as sibling rivalry and jealousy, the dangers of gossip, witchcraft accusations and the way the past can reach out and affect the present. The backdrop is the threat of immanent invasion by the Spanish in 1588 – the Spanish Armada.

Catherine Meyrick
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About the Author
Catherine Meyrick is a librarian with a love of history. She has a Master of Arts in history and is also a family history obsessive. Although she grew up in regional Victoria, Catherine has lived her adult life in Melbourne, Australia. Find out more at Catherine’s website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @cameyrick1.

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