21 March 2020

Special Guest Interview with Karen Heenan, Author of Songbird: a novel of the Tudor Court


Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

I'm pleased to welcome author Karen Heenan to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book

My latest book is also my first published novel. Songbird is set during the early years of the reign of Henry VIII, but Henry and his queens only feature as peripheral characters. I've adored the Tudor period since I was a child, but I wanted to see it from a different angle. 

Bess, the protagonist, is my creation, but she’s based on fact. We know Henry was a music lover, but I read in a biography that he once heard a child sing in a street pageant and bought him to sing in his chapel choir. 

The choir was male, so that child would have been a boy, but it can be assumed if Henry bought one child, he could well have done it again. I wanted to explore what it would be like for a child to go from dire poverty into unimaginable luxury, from being punished for singing to being praised, the only cost being the loss of her family.

What is your preferred writing routine?

I try to write every day, but writing doesn’t necessarily mean fingers to keyboard. It also can be research, working out snarls in my plot, and talking to myself as I walk around my neighborhood.

I've started doing a lot of dictation, because I can combine writing with a fitness routine. I don't have a fancy setup—I simply dictate into a notepad app on my phone and paste it into my Scrivener document when I get home. Dictating makes for a leaner first draft. I generally have to add, rather than subtract.

After that, I try not to edit until the whole book is finished, because it's hard to get back into the flow if I've stopped to tinker with it too much.

What advice do you have for new writers?

Take writing seriously, but not too seriously. Take it seriously in the sense of devoting time to it—if you don’t see it as worth doing, neither will the people who have claims on your time—but go a bit easier on yourself in terms of the writing itself. It’s never going to be that shiny idea you had in your head, but you’ll get closer if you write it down, no matter how clumsily the words come, and then look at it from all sides, shining and rearranging. You can’t fix the words you’re afraid to write.

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

I’m still working on this one! I think all authors are. Twitter has been very helpful, both in finding readers and in supporting and being supported by other writers. I found my publisher through Twitter, and most of my marketing opportunities. I enjoy the solitary aspect of writing, having spent 30 years in an office cubicle, but even I like to discuss a good plot hole, and the people in my “real life” will read later drafts or finished books, but they don’t get down in the mud of the craft.

Also: talk to people. I also never go anywhere without a copy of my book and a handful of bookmarks, which have all my website/Facebook/Twitter information. I’ve hand sold books at my bank, at restaurants—wherever you can get into a conversation with someone who is genuinely interested.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research.

For my current project, I did a lot of research about the dissolution of the monasteries. I the dissolution, but I’d never looked into the details, and it surprised me just how embedded the monastic system was in the lives of everyday people. Most lived within an hour's walk of some sort of religious house—a convent, a priory, a monastery.

While it’s obvious how the changes affected the nuns, monks, and priests who were displaced, regular people were affected just as much. They worked on monastery lands, and their homes may have been on monastic property. They were servants. Their sons were educated by monks, and their sick were healed by them. They ate food grown on monastery farms, and fisherman made a living supplying monasteries for the many meatless days in their calendars

All this vanished in four years. It’s astonishing that something which took hundreds of years to build could be dismantled so quickly.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

There was a scene toward the end of Songbird which was very difficult, because until I wrote it, I wasn’t certain if one of the characters lived or died. I’m not quite as much of a pantser now. Most of the time I know whether or not my people make it to the end of the story.

What are you planning to write next?

I've just completed the first draft of my next book. It’s a follow-up—not a sequel—to Songbird, involving Robin Lewis, a secondary character. I thought I was done with the Tudor era, but it wasn’t done with me. 

Robin starts out as a chorister, but when his voice changes, he’s sent to Oxford as a reward for his service. A lover of books and learning, Robin wants a wider world and he’ll get his wish.  He grew up in the monastery system, but he goes on to get a job with Cromwell, and so is involved in destroying the very thing that raised him.  

I’ve also got a completed draft of a Great Depression story which was derailed by the second Tudor book. It seemed more logical to stay with a period, and also, I couldn’t get Robin to shut up. In the end, we’re all just servants of our characters. 

Karen Heenan

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About the Author

Karen Heenan was born and raised in Philadelphia. She fell in love with books and stories before she could read, and has wanted to write for nearly as long. After far too many years in a cubicle, she set herself free to follow her dreams -- which which include gardening, sewing, traveling and, of course, lots of writing. She lives in Lansdowne, PA, with two cats and a very patient husband, and is currently hard at work on her next book. Find out more at Karen's website http://www.karenheenan.com/ and find her on Twitter @karen_heenan

1 comment:

  1. Bravo on your first published novel, Karen. Songbird sounds intriguing. I love the blend of history and fiction. I like to walk around my neighborhood, working out the kinks in my story, too. All the luck with this new novel. Thanks for sharing the interview, Tony. Be safe everyone!

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