A superhero in Tudor garb? Read on and find out more…
All good superhero stories have a sequel-something else happens after his first foe is vanquished. How does your sequel begin (after the publication of you first/most recent book….) ·
When I was writing The Kiss of the Concubine; a story of Anne Boleyn it was inevitable that I’d stumble upon information about Henry’s other wives. I thought I knew all about them but most of my knowledge was centred on Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard. The other three I’d dismissed to a large extent because their stories (as I thought) were not so interesting. Katheryn Parr’s role is often skimmed over, almost as if as Henry’s life drew to a close his wives became less important. I had believed that Katheryn Parr was an older woman, little more than a nursemaid to Henry in his dotage, and a mother to his children. I was intrigued to discover she was so much more. She was, in fact, a woman of great intelligence, a published author, and a wife of whom Henry thought highly enough to leave as Regent over England while he went to war with France.
All super heroes have their mild-mannered secret identity. How has yours grown and changed since you started life as a superhero?
I haven’t changed very much. I am still too fat, too short, and too shy but my confidence has grown despite that. When I began to write professionally I wanted to stay in the background. I never believed anybody would find me sufficiently interesting to necessitate talks and appearances but I have had several requests recently to talk to other writers about my experiences and my work. I am even getting myself dressed up in Tudor costume to appear and sign books at a Tudor event during the summer. Very scary stuff indeed! It seems my super-hero side is beginning to obliterate my quiet, stay at home and hide side.
Do you have any sidekicks or a new superhero team member? What are their superpowers?
I have a little team of superheroes now. There are several proof readers, a smashing editor and a cover designer but my main side kick’s role encompasses many things. John is my husband, best friend, lover and my greatest fan. Professionally he installs and repairs people’s cooking ranges, Agas and Rayburns and, as well as eating their cake and drinking their coffee, he entertains them with historical stories and snippets he has learned from me. He is known locally, to his customers that are fans of history at least, as the ‘interesting plumber.’ In the boot of the car he always carries a number of copies of my signed books which he sells on request to those that ask.
Have your superpowers grown and changed since your last adventure?
I have grown in confidence as I said earlier. I have always been painfully shy. That is why writing suits me. Until now I’ve been able to stay home, communicate with my hundreds of friends on Facebook and Twitter but now I have to step from my comfort zone. Once or twice I have even been recognised in the street. When someone approaches me with the words; ‘Aren’t you Judith Arnopp, the author? I loved your book …’ I immediately shrivel inside and forget every historical fact I have ever learned. I am learning to overcome that, beginning to believe that people like me and find my work interesting.
What new supervillian have you faced on your latest project and how did you vanquish it? ·
The sunshine is the greatest foe I have to overcome which might sound surprising coming from an author who lives in Wales. I have a very big garden. I wish it were smaller because I don’t have time to care for it anymore. When it is sunny, or even just a mild dry day, and I am inside writing, I am fuelled with guilt because I should be weeding. I can almost hear those buttercup roots thrusting through the soil. It is a quandary, if I don’t keep the weeds down it will mean a huge task later, and if I garden and neglect my writing, my book doesn’t get written. I am learning to pace myself. I try to write in the mornings and, if it is dry in the afternoon, then I go outside and pull up dandelions and nettles from the flower beds.
What new lessons have you learned during this new adventure?
Apart from pacing myself I’ve learned to like, or at least to understand Henry VIII more. It is easy to write him off as a monster, a wife murderer, a despoiler of churches but once you look at him from a psychological angle it all becomes a little different. I have come to see his reign, not just as a blind psychopathic killing spree, but as the tragic failings of a potentially good king. In the beginning he was hailed as a great fellow, a welcome change from his introverted father. It is a great shame he didn’t continue as he began. In some instances it is as if Henry could see what he was becoming but couldn’t stop, as fast as he tried to run from the failure to produce an heir, the pile of his murdered friends grew; as if fate was chasing him, never letting him escape. Rather like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, things escalated out of control and he was powerless to stop it.
What have been the best/most memorable experiences along the way?
Well, for me, my writing life is spent at home, usually alone, reading, researching and writing. It isn’t the most exciting life in the world but it is richly rewarding intellectually. I get to meet and talk to excellent writers and scholars on-line. Probably the best times are when someone I really admire tells me they enjoyed my work. Every time I put a blog or a book out there I am expecting it to sink without a trace so every email, every nice comment on Facebook, every positive review, is like winning an Oscar. I don’t aim very high; I don’t enter for awards or competitions because it is my readers that matter. It doesn’t concern me that I don’t make as many sales as Philippa Gregory as long as the readers I do have enjoy my stories. I am not searching for fame or fortune, just a little love. So, to answer the original question, the best experience of my writing life so far is the connection with my readers and fellow authors…of course, I did meet Prince Charles a few years ago but that was nowhere near as good.
If you did this again what would you do differently and what would you not change?
I would not be so quick to publish Peaceweaver. In the beginning (2009) I had not learned all the necessary lessons so the package (cover and formatting) of the first edition was not as good as it should have been. It has since been repackaged and is selling much better now. Had I known all this at the start of things Peaceweaver might have had more impact on the reading public. The book is doing very well now because people who have enjoyed my later work are now checking out my back catalogue.
Tell us about you new book and why we need to drop everything and get it now.
The title Intractable Heart is taken from Katheryn Parr’s book of religious rhetoric, The Lamentation of a Sinner. I think it sums the queen up very well. She was a clever, level headed, wise, and educated but also an intensely passionate woman. Married three times for political reasons, by the time she got to Henry she had a good idea of how to handle husbands. Prior to her marriage to the king she had formed an attachment with Thomas Seymour but once the king earmarked her for his next wife, she shut Seymour out of her life, but possibly not out of her heart.
After the king’s death she lost very little time in marrying Seymour without the consent of the council. Katheryn’s tragedy is that when she finally managed to marry for love it ended in disaster.
Intractable Heart, is told via four narrators, Katheryn’s step daughter, Margaret Neville; Katheryn herself; her fourth husband Thomas Seymour; and her step-daughter Elizabeth, later to become Queen Elizabeth I.
Katheryn Parr emerges as an intelligent, practical woman; a woman who sets aside her love for Thomas Seymour to do her duty and marry the aging king.
Katheryn becomes Henry VIII’s partner in all things, acting as Regent for England during the French war, embracing and guiding Henry’s three motherless children, and providing a strong supporting voice for religious reform.
It is not until the king’s death, when she is finally free to follow the desires of her heart that her life descends into chaos … and wretchedness.
What’s in store for you in the future?
I am going to win the lottery and buy a yacht and sail around the world. If that doesn’t happen I shall write another book. My last two have been very heavily based on fact and I fancy a return to a more fictional approach. All my readers have loved the different perspective I was able to give via the prosaic philosophies of Joanie Toogood in The Winchester Goose so I would like to try that again. I need to invent someone from the lower orders who was close enough to voice opinions of those in government. The man on the street’s view of Tudor England – all I need is to think up a way of doing it.
Do you have any other big projects on the horizon?
Not at the moment but I do need a holiday. I haven’t taken a proper break for years and I am quite worn out. But don’t worry, you will hear as soon as I have and I will be on-line still continuing to promote my existing books, and make sure you look for me at events and conferences in the real world too.
Perhaps, before I go, I should point out that I said the very same thing at the end of last summer but sat down without a break and wrote Intractable Heart, so who knows? I might be back within the year with another book.
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