14 November 2019

Special Guest Post by Sarah Kennedy, Author of The King's Sisters

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

The King’s Sisters continues the story of Catherine Havens. It’s now 1542, and another queen, Catherine Howard, has been beheaded for adultery. Although young Prince Edward is growing, and the line of Tudor succession seems secure, the king falls into a deep melancholy and questions the faith and loyalty of those around him.

Is the third novel the most difficult? It was for me. My first novel, The Altarpiece, the beginning of my Tudor series The Cross and the Crown, was the writing on which I learned to be a novelist rather than a poet. That was hard enough (plot, plot, plot!). Its sequel, City of Ladies, seemed somewhat . . . well, not easier, but at least more familiar. I knew my character, and I knew where I was going, as though the field were mine and I had walked it many times before.

Then I hit the third book, The King’s Sisters (a metaphor that plays on the unofficial title of Henry VIII’s discarded third wife, Anne of Cleves, who was called “the king’s beloved sister” after their divorce). In this novel, my main character Catherine has two children and is serving in the household of Anne of Cleves. Henry has just executed his fourth wife, Catherine Howard, for adultery when the book begins—and Catherine has just discovered that she might be pregnant, even though she’s not married.

Writing this story was like encountering a barbed wire fence where there once had been open pasture. I sailed through a first draft, only to discover that I didn’t know how to end it. I went back to the beginning. Again, I wandered into a wilderness and came up against the barrier of an ending that felt like a satisfying and inevitable ending. Again, I went back to the beginning. Again, I arrived at the last fifty pages only to find that I had no idea how to get over that fence and into the lovely land of conclusion.

Did I finally figure it out? Well, I hope so. The book was initially scheduled to appear in 2015, and was actually advertised on Amazon, but it never appeared, except as an Advanced Review Copy for reviewers. It was right after this sort-of release that my first fiction publisher suddenly went out of business. For The King’s Sisters, this shocking and dismaying event turned out to be something of a blessing, because while I was searching for a new publisher, which I found to my delight in the wonderful folks at Penmore Press, I had time to look at the manuscript with fresh eyes.

In doing so, I discovered what is, for me at least, one of the problems with a continuing character or a series of any kind, mine or someone else’s: what can a writer do that’s different, interesting, even unexpected in the middle of a series without losing coherence? Historical fiction writers, like me, often have to cast about for yet another famous person whose biography the character can get tangled in or some event of great moment for the character to become a player in.

But, for me, the answer lies in character, a person who finds herself confronting political and spiritual issues that force her to make difficult choices. I want my main character Catherine to be a human being facing human problems in the human world. Our lives may sometimes be crime stories, and we may sometimes encounter the great and the famous, but human lives are also fictions of love, self-deception, betrayal, triumph, and grief. The notion of “the King’s sisters” became, at last, as much a description of Catherine’s awkward position as a former novice, in a newly Protestant country, who still seeks the company of women as a pun on the title of Anne of Cleves.

It took me a long time to figure out what my Catherine really wants this time. She doesn’t want to be part of the court, and she doesn’t want to marry a prince. She wants the things that many people want: freedom to make choices for herself, security for her children, and, sometimes, a man in her bed. The events that unfold take their shape from her very human and often quite flawed desires. And so, after several false starts and one large disappointment, I was finally able to jump that fence. It was not an easy or pleasant experience, but it taught me quite a lot about myself as a writer and about the construction of a series. On now to Books Four and Five and all of the problems they are sure to bring to me!

Sarah Kennedy

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About the Author

Sarah Kennedy is the author of the novels The Altarpiece, City of Ladies, and The King’s Sisters, Books One, Two, and Three of The Cross and the Crown series, set in Tudor England, and Self-Portrait, with Ghost.  She has also published seven books of poems.  A professor of English at Mary Baldwin University in Staunton, Virginia, Sarah Kennedy holds a PhD in Renaissance Literature and an MFA in Creative Writing.  She has received grants from both the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Virginia Commission for the Arts.  Find out more at Sarah's website:  http://sarahkennedybooks.com and find her on Facebook and Twitter @KennedyNovels

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