This evening in the Library we have Judith Arnopp, who has dropped in to say hello and to share some insights into her life as an author.
You are very welcome, Judith, please introduce yourself:
Thank you for inviting me to your blog. I write historical fiction from my home overlooking Cardigan Bay in Wales. I like to put myself in the shoes of the women who lived and breathed under the rule of the Tudors, sometimes my characters are members of the Tudor family, sometimes they are subjects but they all share one thing – the fight to survive the political upheaval of the day.
The Tudor novels include: Sisters of Arden: on the Pilgrimage of Grace; The Beaufort Chronicles: the life of Lady Margaret Beaufort (three book series); A Song of Sixpence: the story of Elizabeth of York; Intractable Heart: the story of Katheryn Parr; The Kiss of the Concubine: a story of Anne Boleyn; The Winchester Goose: at the court of Henry VIII.
Early in my career I wrote in the medieval/Anglo Saxon era and produced three novels, The Song of Heledd; The Forest Dwellers, and Peaceweaver. I also write nonfiction – my articles appear in several anthologies.
Which genre do you write in and what draws you to it?
I write historical fiction, mostly in the Tudor period. I have always loved history so when I graduated from university it made sense to stay on a while longer and study for my masters in medieval/Tudor history. When I could find no more excuses not to leave full time education I began to write, turning my hobby into a career. My first novel, Peaceweaver, was published in 2009 and I am now writing my eleventh (I think). I live very quietly, and am a bit of a recluse so I feel much more at home writing in the Tudor period than I do in the present day.
Are you an avid reader? Do you prefer books in your own genre or are you happy to explore others?
I used to read historical fiction exclusively but now I am an author I try to avoid it. I don’t want to taint my own voice or style so I read crime fiction, or classics. The book I most enjoyed last year was The Mermaid’s Daughter by Ann Claycomb, a rewrite of The Little Mermaid – I was totally gripped by it and sorry when it came to an end. Of course, there are always a few historical fiction titles I can’t resist and I am very excited to hear the Hilary Mantel has finally got around to finishing the sequel to Bring up the Bodies. I will certainly be reading that one.
What part of the writing process do you find most difficult? How do you overcome it?
Time in which to get the first draft written. There doesn’t seem to be enough hours to do everything expected of an author today. I’d love to be able to just sit and my desk and write but if you neglect marketing, social media, keeping your covers updated and producing new attractive posters your current books will cease to sell. There are so many authors these days that is has become very difficult to be ‘seen’ and it can be disheartening to pour hours into a blog post that nobody reads or comments on. I’d love to have time to deal with all these things but the older I get the shorter my working day becomes, and something has to be sacrificed. I just do what I can. If my whole morning is spent marketing, I get very few new words on the page, if I spend the morning writing, I sell fewer books. I really need a team of enthusiastic marketing managers so I can just write but I am not rich enough. I just do what I can, when I can – my working life is a desperate muddle of seeing what can be achieved before I drop – I don’t have an answer to this difficulty.
What was the best piece of writing advice you received when starting out?
I was advised to write, write, write, to hire an editor and to never believe I was good enough. I stick to this advice. I try to write every day. I have a fabulous editor Cas Peace, who ensures my commas are in the right place and hunts down the typos. Between us we produce something worth reading. The piece of advice I pass on to new authors is to never think I am good enough. This doesn’t mean one should tear out your hair and wail that your writing is rubbish – it means to strive to be better, always see the faults and failures in your own work (then you won’t be so disappointed when others call you out on them). Do the best you can and then, next time, try to do better still. Complacency has ruined many a fine author.
Do you have a favourite time of day to write?
I write in the mornings while I am alert enough to think clearly. I start the day answering emails, tweeting and responding to social media messages while I fuel myself with coffee and cornflakes. Then I edit what I wrote the previous day before launching into the next part of the story. That is the plan anyway; sometimes I have to research, or life gets in the way in the form of grandchildren or appointments, or answering interview questions as I am today.
If you weren’t an author, what would you be up to?
That is a very good question. I have no idea. I can’t really see myself doing anything else. My side line is making French hoods, coifs and medieval bags etc. which I sell in my Etsy shop so perhaps I would do that in a more serious way. I could never work in an office or a shop. I like to work from home and have become used to being my own boss. Or perhaps I’d enjoy interior design, I do a lot of that and I am running out of rooms to make over at home. Or garden design – I love my own garden and have transformed the one we have now. Come to think of it, there are heaps of other jobs I could do but I have learned that if you turn a hobby (in my case writing) into a job inevitably some of the shine is rubbed off.
If a movie was made of one of your books, who would you like to play the lead roles?
A movie! What a lovely thought. I am not very good at remembering the names of actors but I will give it a shot. If The Winchester Goose was being filmed I’d choose the following. Francis Wareham is the main male character. He is very dashing and handsome but not very old so would need to be played by someone like, erm …Simon Woods who was Mr Bingley in Pride and Prejudice, the Keira Knightly one.
I think Alex Kingston would make a brilliant Joanie Toogood, the ‘goose’. She did a great job with Moll Flanders and I think she has all the necessary credentials.
Isabella and Evelyn Bourne are gentlewomen from court. Emma Watson would be good as Eve or maybe Jenna Coleman, the girl playing Victoria at the moment,. The actress who plays Edith in Downton Abbey, Laura Carmichael, would make a lovely Bella. For Peter, who is a costermonger from Southwark it would have to be Rupert Grint – wonderful actor who played Ron Weasley in Harry Potter. Henry VIII would not be played by Jonathon Rhys Meyers (as gorgeous as he is) I think the role is better suited to Steven Waddington who played Lord Buckingham in the Tudors. As to Katherine Howard and Anna of Cleves, goodness, I have no idea. I will leave that to the directors!
If you could travel back in time, what era would you go to? What draws you to this particular time?
This is an easy one to answer. I’d visit the Tudor period to see if I’ve got it right in my novels. I’d like to discover for myself what changed Henry VIII from a virtuous, golden prince into an embittered ‘monster’. At the start of his reign he had great potential yet something happened to change him after 1536. Some say it was a fall from a horse that damaged his mind, others that it was nurture and some believe he was born that way and the decline in his character was inevitable. I’d like to find out for myself at close quarters but not so close that he would notice me. I’d not want to end up on the scaffold.
Please tell us about your latest published work.
My latest release is Sisters of Arden and it is set during the dissolution of the monasteries in Henry VIII’s reign. The plight of those affected by the dissolution has always intrigued me and I enjoyed revisiting the period. The records of Arden Priory are scanty but by piecing together what little we know with wider records of the dissolution and the Pilgrimage of Grace, I have explored the closure of the abbeys and the uprisings that followed from the perspective of a group of three insignificant nuns.
Sisters of Arden follows the path of Margery, Grace and Frances, after the closure of Arden. Their adventures take them the length and breadth of Yorkshire. They move from determination to despair, from hope to disillusion but, with their world in pieces, the only thing they can do is try to rebuild it.
Arden Priory has remained unchanged for almost four hundred years. When a nameless child is abandoned at the gatehouse door, the nuns take her in and raise her as one of their own.
After the execution of Anne Boleyn in 1536, the embittered King strikes out, and unprecedented change sweeps across the country. The bells of the great abbeys fall silent, the church fragments and the very foundation of the realm begins to crack.
Determined to preserve their way of life, Margery and the sisters of Arden join a pilgrimage thirty thousand strong and attempt to lead the heretic king back to grace.
Sisters of Arden is a story of valour, virtue and veritas.
Buy link: mybook.to/sistersofarden
If you would like to know more about Judith and her work, please check out her links below: