Q&A With Elizabeth Chadwick
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Q&A With Elizabeth Chadwick
It was an early birthday gift last Friday when New York Times and Sunday Times Bestselling author of historical fiction Elizabeth Chadwick responded to my email agreeing to do this Q&A with me. Some of Elizabeth’s work includes The Wild Hunt series, The Eleanor of Aquitaine trilogy, The William Marshal series, The Irish Princess, & her recent novel The Kings Jewel.
Q: When did you know that being an author was your calling? What made you choose writing historical fiction?
A: I was born to storytelling. One of my first memories is of being three years old, lying in bed on a light summer evening not ready to go to sleep. I had a handkerchief with a print or fairies on it, and I remember making up stories about these fairies until I became tired. Even before I could read, I would take picture books, choose a favourite illustration, say of a horse or pony, and then make up new stories around it. Throughout my childhood, I told myself stories, speaking them aloud rather than writing them down. Historical themes were of general interest for me, but didn’t really spark my imagination until I was inspired by a couple of TV programs. The first was about Henry VIII and his six wives starring Keith Michell as Henry. Inspired, I began writing down my own story about the Tudors. It occupied several weeks of the school holidays, but then I became bored and set it to one side. A couple of years later, along came a TV series about a knight called Thibaud (pronounced Tee-bow) who wore white flowing robes and lived an adventurous life in the Holy Land. He was handsome and charismatic and 15-year-old me fell in love with him. I began writing a story which these days you would call fan-fiction, but it very quickly developed a life of its own. I wanted it to feel as historically authentic as possible in order to make it real for me, so I began researching the medieval period in depth. The more I researched the more interested I became and the more I wanted to write about that time in history, so that’s really how it all started. I wrote that novel, and then started on the next straight away, knowing that I wanted to write historical fiction for a living.
Q: What is your advice to aspiring authors on writing great historical fiction?
A: Do your research. You don’t need to put every single thing you learn into a novel – indeed that would be disastrous – but your knowledge of the period should underpin your story and your characters so that they are people of their time dwelling within their time. If there’s a piece of information you can’t find out even after you’ve done your best, then use what you do know and what feels right as an educated guess. I think you need to be passionate about your subject and fully engaged with your characters. If you are, then your readers will feel it too and stay with you for the ride.
Q: Can you tell the readers of the blog and I, a little bit about your upcoming novel The Kings Jewel, and what made you want to write about these particular historical figures?
A: The King’s Jewel is the story of Nesta, a Welsh princess who, when a young girl, is snatched from her homeland after her father is killed by his Norman and Welsh enemies. She becomes the reluctant mistress to Henry I, the young King of England who is not loyal to any one woman, and takes and discards as he chooses. In time he rewards one of his soldiers, Gerald FitzWalter, with Nesta’s hand in marriage (she has no say in the matter) and the couple returns to Nesta’s home in South Wales, where Gerald rules on behalf of the Normans. Nesta has rebellion and resentment dammed up within her and is attracted to one of her husband’s enemies, Owain of Powys, a charismatic and dangerous Welsh prince. The story is about how Nesta adapts and survives. It’s about her relationships with different men who all want something from her, but what do they have to give to her in return and what is it worth? Can she find her own shelter in the storm? It’s also about some rather beautiful horses who have their part to play in the tale.
What made me want to write about these fascinating characters are the stories. I had heard Nesta’s story when visiting Wales in order to research other novels about different personalities. I love the area of South Wales over which Nesta and her family ruled and for some years I had been thinking to myself that it was time her story, and Gerald’s was told. Their grandson was a well-known chronicler of the 12th century and his work is in print even today. He was called Gerald of Wales – Giraldus Cambrensis in Latin if you care to look him up. Nesta and her husband Gerald are also ancestors of the FitzGerald Kennedy family among others in the US.
Q: If you’re writing new novels now, are they sequels to The Kings Jewel, a standalone novel, or the start of a new trilogy or series?
A:I can’t say a lot at the moment as I am waiting to finalize the contract, but there will be three books and they will be linked through certain strong Medieval women who really had to stand in the storm, not least because of the men involved! I hope to make an announcement very soon.
Q: Does Hollywood have the interests or rights to any of your work? I would love to see your work become a tv series.
A: Not Hollywood. The rights are currently out on my William Marshal novels but it remains to be seen what happens. It’s very difficult to get anything made and even with so much content via streaming TV these days, it is still a bit of a lottery what gets made and what doesn’t.
Q: Speaking of work becoming art, did you hear that Alison Weir’s novels about Eleanor of Aquitaine and Isabella the She Wolf of France are being made into tv series by Starz? How do you feel knowing that more shows are being made about royals that aren’t about the Tudors?
A: Yes, I had heard. Indeed, there has been a query about my own Eleanor of Aquitaine trilogy, although with the Starz production already in motion, it is more problematic. I think it’s a good idea that stories have been expanding out from the Tudors. Certain eras are hotspots though. Tudors and Regency are particular favourites of the viewing public. Medieval is often ignored unless it’s dirt and grit, or fantasy. We have had Bernard Cornwell’s Last Kingdom series of course, and The Vikings. The number of stories are myriad, and how do you choose?
Q: What is the process like gathering all the research for your historical fiction novels? Which books did you have the most fun writing and researching for?
A: It’s a multi-stranded process, and I’ve been researching for decades, so I do have a good understanding of the medieval period. When I come to a new project, I begin by finding the characters about whom I want to write. Something will leap out at me about them and I will investigate further to see if we are compatible to work together on a project. I asked them to tell me what they have never told anyone before, and if they do and if we like each other then I deepen my research and begin writing a synopsis. It all sounds very personal when I am in the present and they are long dead, but that is how it works. Long dead does not mean that they were never alive, or that they never had hopes and ambitions, joys and sorrows. They were real and walked this world. I feel that in crafting a novel about them, I am building a bridge between now and then, which readers can cross to visit them and their life and times.
To do my research, involves reading primary sources, academic secondary sources, reliable online sources and talking to friends who are historians. I try to visit the places known to my characters and get a feel for the atmospheres, even while knowing they have changed with time. Vestiges still remain. I go to museums. I immerse myself in the social as well as political history. It’s important to know who these people really were, what their daily lives were like in between their deeds on the stage. I am never not researching and the specific research continues throughout the several drafts of the novel. I have an extensive personal research library of several thousand books and I will often choose one at random to read for leisure. It’s amazing what you can find out just by browsing.
Q: How do you deal with writers block, & dealing with negative feedback online whether its reviews, online trolls or anyone not supportive of your writing goals?
A: The first part of the answer is that I have never had writers’ block. My imagination and storyteller’s ability came into the world with me as on board hard wiring and so far it has never been an issue and I’m talking decades here. If I ever become minorly stuck, then I write the scene that is causing me trouble in a very swift synopsis form then go back to it after a short break.I’ll go away and do something else for a little while to let my brain work in the background on the issue. So either I will go and get a coffee and do some baking, or go for a walk, or have a chat on Facebook and answer some emails, by which time, when I return to the scene, I’m ready to fix it.
With regard to trolls and negativity, they happen and the way to deal with it for me, is to ignore and not dwell on any downward energy. There is no point in engaging. I have seen other authors get in terrible flaps about negative reviews and comments to the point where that is all they can think about, and that is very damaging to their mental well being and no way to live. I have accepted that not everyone will love my novels or like my online presence, so I am aware of that existence, but I choose to focus on positive experiences and on the people who enrich and support my life and my goals and enjoy my writing, and I try to make it reciprocal. It’s always a case of give and take. I found reading a book called The Chimp Paradox by Steve Peters very helpful. It made me understand the trolls and myself, and allowed me to step outside of the box and observe and walk away. There are more productive, positive and uplifting ways of living one’s life!
Q: If you were writing a genre that wasn’t historical fiction, which genres would you choose to write and why?
A: I’d quite like to write ghost stories. Not full of gore, but with plenty of atmosphere. As a kind of hobby I collect people’s experiences and I have plenty of material to use to craft novels and short stories if I choose to go down that path.
Fantasy quite appeals to me. I was an early reader of the first Game of Thrones novels and remember saying to my husband ‘Someone should make this into a film.’ That would be around 20 years before the TV epic series. These days I love Robin Hobb, Cassandra Clare, Holly Black and Ben Aaaronovich – among others. It’s a genre I enjoy reading and I’d be comfortable writing it.