|When Judith Arnopp began
professionally there was no question as to which genre to choose. A
lifelong history enthusiast and avid reader, Judith holds an honours
degree in English and Creative writing, and a Masters in Medieval
Studies, both from the University of Wales, Lampeter. Judith writes
both fiction and non-fiction, working full-time from her home
overlooking Cardigan Bay in Wales where she crafts novels based in the
Medieval and Tudor period. Her main focus is on the perspective of
historical women from all roles of life, prostitutes to queens.
Her novels include: The Beaufort Bride, The Beaufort Woman (Book One and Two of The Beaufort Chronicles); A Song of Sixpence; Intractable Heart; The Kiss of the Concubine; The Winchester Goose; The Song of Heledd; The Forest Dwellers, and Peaceweaver. She is currently working on Book Three of The Beaufort Chronicles: The King’s Mother.
Her non-fiction articles feature in various historical anthologies and magazines.
Questions for Judith
1.Are you working on another book?
I am supposed to be but life keeps happening! I am researching for Book Three of The Beaufort Chronicles – The King’s Mother. I have the opening and a rough outline and several times have sat down to begin writing properly but there have been family issues, and decorating, not to mention the ongoing marketing and promoting for my other books.
2.What do you love most about the writing process?
Writing the first draft, when it all flows and I am there and living it. The second part of the process, the editing and rewrites are not so much fun but vital, of course. It is good to see the finished jewel emerge once my editor and I have finished polishing it.
3.What is your writing style?
Hmm, good question. It is so instinctive that I’ve never really thought about it, it is just how I write. Readers say my books flow and are easy to read and not too descriptive. I don’t try to be clever but I don’t dumb down either. I just close my eyes, imagine I am walking through the Tudor court in my protagonist’s shoes … and see what happens. It seems to work.
4. What gives you inspiration for your books?
I’ve always loved history, always been fascinated by the lives of the women in medieval and Tudor England. For instance, just how Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard stand tall and brave on the scaffold, knowing what was to come. How did they disguise their terror? Why did they not scream their heads off and try to get away? I can’t imagine any young women today having that resilience. I find that once I have lived vicariously through them for months while I am writing, I come to a better understanding of medieval coping mechanisms.
My current hero, Margaret Beaufort, (I don’t like feminine suffixes) didn’t die on the scaffold so there are no gory executions but she had other huge issues to overcome. The Beaufort Bride covers the period when Margaret was married as a young girl, taken into the wilds of Wales by a husband she barely knew. She was quickly widowhood, left pregnant and unprotected to face childbirth at the age of thirteen. Henry’s birth can only have been traumatic and once York took the crown, she suffered forced separation from her son. The Beaufort Woman takes place during her marriage to Henry Stafford. Eager to stay in favour with whoever had the crown, the couple had to pick their way through the dangers of the wars of the roses, stand by as her blood relatives died on the battlefield, and all the time she campaigned quietly for the reinstatement of Henry as the Earl of Richmond, later taking a great risk in helping him usurp Richard III’s throne. The King’s Mother is set during Henry’s reign when Margaret has achieved all her desires – but can she keep hold of them? You couldn’t make this stuff up!
Margaret has had very bad press but she was undeniably a very admirable woman. She may not have wielded a sword but she survived the reigns of two Yorkist kings, working quietly and effectively for her exiled son’s rights and ultimately succeeded, securing the throne for the Tudor dynasty.
I suppose the short answer to your question is that I am inspired by the bravery of medieval/Tudor women – they had a lot to bear and dealt with adversity nobly, and with style.
5.Of all the characters you have created, which is your favourite?
It has to be Joanie Toogood from The Winchester Goose. Joanie is a fictional character; a prostitute working in Southwark. She is a strong, quiet hero who would do anything for anybody. We rarely hear the opinions of ordinary people on the events of the 16th century and Joanie’s observations of Henry VIII and the goings on at his court are unique … and insightful.
6. What character in your book are you least likely to get along with?
Well, I’d certainly tread carefully around Henry VIII. He appears in A Song of Sixpence and The King’s Mother as a child, and The Kiss of the concubine, Intractable Heart, and The Winchester Goose as a grown man and king. It is painful to see the decline in a human being who began so well. He was the perfect Renaissance prince, and his decline into a butcher king is made so much sadder when you consider that had he just glimpsed Elizabeth’s potential, his quest for a son would have been unnecessary. A little foresight and the history of the Tudor family would have been very different … but a lot less interesting.
7.What is the biggest surprise that you experienced by becoming a writer?
It was a big surprise when people actually started to buy my books and enjoy them! I’ve been a reader all my life – well, since I was seven anyway – but I have never written to an author to tell them how good they were. When I was younger, the author seemed very detached from the book but I think the internet has changed that. Authors are now accessible, they have lost that godlike, untouchable status and that is, on the whole, a wonderful thing. Every day I have letters or emails telling me how they love my books, asking when the next one will be ready. I am still surprised now. Sometimes they quote a passage and explain how it affected them. Usually I have no memory of writing it and I have to furtively scroll through my manuscript to find the part they are referring to. A throwaway line can impact upon a reader is surprising ways.
I remember when my early books were published, how exciting it was each time I made a sale. I never dreamed I would ever be earning more than my husband, who is a plumber. My writing has meant he can slow down and take life a little easier as he approaches retirement.
I am also surprised every time I finish writing a book. Every time I start a new one I have no confidence of reaching the end. All those blank pages are terrifying! There is so much research churning in my head, I have no hope of ever sorting it out, forcing it into some semblance of order to form a story. Nobody is more surprised than I when publication day finally arrives.
8.What is the toughest criticism given to you as an author?
I always take constructive criticism on board, see if I agree and try to improve. Negative criticism I ignore. It is difficult when readers declare to all and sundry that I have ‘got something completely wrong’ when in fact, all I’ve done is make an informed decision as to which approach to take. You may have heard me banging on before about the subjectivity of ‘truth’ in history and how we all view an event differently. When I am writing a novel, I have to decide which ‘truth’ to follow and it may not always match up with the preconceptions of some readers.
For example, many people believe Margaret Beaufort to have been a harridan, a sharp tongued, slightly insane, pious old woman. Perhaps she ended up that way but there is nothing in the record to suggest she did. She was proud, and rightly so! She was pious but perhaps we place more emphasis on that because the only surviving portraits of her show her dressed like a nun. Margaret certainly didn’t start out as a harridan. As a young girl she would have been afraid, under the control of the men in her life as were most women of the middle ages (despite revisionist ideas). Where I can, I follow the historical record but I don’t do it blindly. I consider the varying reports, think about the agenda of the person who wrote it, and try to resolve many conflicting accounts to come up with a plausible explanation for events. To be labelled as ‘wrong’ because a critic doesn’t agree with the route I’ve decided to take is harsh, especially as there is no opportunity for redress. I always include an author’s note at the end of my novels to help the reader understand my chosen standpoint.
9.What has been the best compliment?
My best compliment is when readers say how they ‘felt they were there in the Tudor court.’ Some of my readers have said they’ve never read any historical fiction before but since reading my books they’ve become hooked on the genre and now read HF almost exclusively. One reader even began to read non-fiction and has since gone on to study history at university. There is no greater compliment than that!
10.Tell us a little about your plans for the future?
I plan to keep on doing what I’m doing, hopefully gaining more readers as I go. I am aiming for world domination Once I have finished The King’s Mother, I plan NEVER to write another series – it requires prolonged concentration on one era, one set of characters, and it is easy to become stale. I don’t have any concrete plans for what to do once The King’s Mother is finished but I am thinking of something more along the lines of The Winchester Goose – fictional characters in a historical setting. I’d also like to find the time to look at getting some of my books onto audio since so many people seem to be listening to them these days. Writing is a very lonely job, especially living so far off the beaten track as I do, but I have a number of book fairs and a Tudor re-enactment weekend lined up for 2017 so I am looking forward to seeing my fellow authors again soon, and meeting new readers , of course. I hope to see you there.
Read an interview with Judith on Judith Barrow's Blog