In September I met Barbara Kyle at the Historical Novel Society’s bi-annual UK conference in London. Soon after we met I finished reading my first novel by her. Despite Barbara’s prolific output of historical fiction the first novel I was drawn to was one of her thrillers, Entrapped. I think what caught my attention was its Canadian setting – maybe a yearning for my native land surfacing. From the first page I got caught up in the action and the characters’ lives and thoroughly enjoyed the book. So now, I’m ready to move on to Barbara’s ‘Thornleigh’ novels. But first I’ve invited her here today to tell us a bit about the latest one in the series. Welcome Barbara.
Thanks for inviting me to your blog, Dianne. I appreciate the chance to reach out to your readers.
Tell us about your novel.
BK: Blood Between Queens takes place in London, 1568. Justine Thornleigh is a ward of Baron Thornleigh and loves his nephew Will Croft, a promising young lawyer at Queen Elizabeth’s court. Will’s marriage proposal thrills Justine – but she has kept a dark secret from him: she is the daughter of the traitor Christopher Grenville, presumed dead. Worse, she learns to her dismay that the Thornleighs and Grenvilles were once locked in a lethal feud, and that Will hates the Grenvilles for murdering his father. Eager to prove her loyalty to the Thornleighs and Elizabeth, Justine accepts a mission as lady-in-waiting to Mary Queen of Scots who has fled to England: Justine will spy on Mary for Elizabeth.
But Justine soon comes to admire the enchanting Mary and pities her plight as Elizabeth’s virtual prisoner. And she is stunned when she comes face to face with her father, Christopher Grenville, Mary’s secret agent. Grenville begs her to help him gain Mary’s freedom, and convinces her that the Thornleighs stole his lands and stole her. Believing that her father and Mary have both been wronged, Justine steals evidence from Will to help liberate Mary. Will discovers her theft and is appalled by her betrayal.
Too late, Justine discovers that her father and Mary have set in motion a plot to assassinate Elizabeth and put Mary on the throne. To prevent that catastrophe, and to win Will back, Justine risks her life in a desperate gamble to save Elizabeth’s life.
Blood Between Queens is the fifth in my “Thornleigh” series, published internationally. Each book stands alone as the series follows a rising middle-class family through the tumultuous reigns of three Tudor monarchs: Henry VIII, Mary I, and Elizabeth I. Blood Between Queens, will be released in early 2013.
What prompted you to write about this historical event and era?
BK: For over four centuries the world had been enthralled by the rivalry between Mary Stuart (Mary Queen of Scots) and Elizabeth Tudor. Mary was born to be queen, while Elizabeth grew up never dreaming she would be queen. Yet by Elizabeth’s royal order Mary lost her liberty, never to regain her crown, and nineteen years later, by Elizabeth’s order, Mary was executed. The two were cousins, but they never meI believe their extraordinary story holds such perennial world-wide fascination because it is a dramatic example of the primal divide of head vs. heart. In Jane Austen’s term: sense vs. sensibility.
Mary, crowned queen when she was six days old, spent her youth in luxury, and impulsively followed her passions all her life. She made two disastrous marriages, hazarded all on the battlefield, lost her kingdom – twice – and met a violent end, beheaded by Elizabeth.
Elizabeth, though passionate, ruled with Machiavellian shrewdness born of her insecure youth. She grew up in fear for her life. When she was three her father, Henry VIII, disinherited her and beheaded her mother, Anne Boleyn, for adultery. When Elizabeth’s half-sister Mary Tudor became queen she imprisoned her twenty-year-old sibling in the Tower where Elizabeth fully expected to be executed. Finally, four years later, the crown came to her.
In the seventh year of Mary Stuart’s reign in Scotland she fled to England to escape the Protestant lords who had deposed her. She wrote to her cousin Elizabeth asking for protection and an army to help restore her to her throne. Elizabeth, however, needed Protestant Scotland as a bulwark against a feared invasion by Catholic France, and so decided it was prudent to keep Mary under house arrest. Mary’s captivity, a comfortable one befitting her status as a queen, continued for nineteen years. During it she plotted ceaselessly to overthrow Elizabeth with foreign help and to take her crown.
Finally, after Mary’s last assassination plot against Elizabeth almost succeeded, Elizabeth executed Mary. Signing her cousin’s death warrant was the hardest decision she ever made, haunting her until her own death.
I’m fascinated by how these two queens exercised leadership. Their views were formed by their radically different upbringing. Mary went to France at age six to join the French royal family where she grew up in the most glittering court in Europe. At sixteen she married the heir to the throne, and when his father died the teenage couple became king and queen of France. A year later Mary was a widow and reluctantly returned to her homeland to take up her birthright, the crown of Scotland.
Elizabeth grew up in a secluded country house, anxiously watching from afar the dangerous court intrigues of her royal father and her two siblings. Only when they had all died did she, at age twenty-four, become queen of England. Her reign eventually spanned a peaceful forty-three years.
The two queens’ actions regarding marriage were utterly opposite. Mary had three husbands, two of whom, Lord Darnley and the Earl of Bothwell, she impetuously chose for herself. Elizabeth, famously, never married, knowing that a king would eclipse her power. She kept her long and intimate friendship with her dashing courtier, the Earl of Leicester, a private affair.
They were equally divergent in their decisions about governance: how they managed their over-mighty nobles and their countries’ religious strife. Mary’s actions in Scotland led to a civil war that she lost, while Elizabeth, faced with a massive buildup of French troops on her Scottish border in 1559, took a calculated risk on sending an army against them before they could attack England, and won.
How closely did you stick to the historical facts? If you used them loosely, how did you decide whether to deviate from them?
BK: I am meticulous about being faithful to the historical record on facts that are indisputable, such as, in the case of Blood Between Queens, Mary being put under house arrest at Lord Scope’s castle in Bolton; the inquiry that Elizabeth set up with commissioners to hear the charges against Mary; the commissioners being given evidence in the form of the infamous “casket letters,” love letters purportedly written by Mary to Bothwell. This fidelity to facts includes dates, places, and names of the principle actors in such events. However, then I take great license by “inserting” my fictitious characters into those events: Justine being sent to serve Mary; Will acting as Cecil’s clerk at the inquiry, etc.
And, of course, in depicting even the factual events I take the novelist’s liberty of writing dialogue for the historical characters. That’s pure creation. Still, often there is solid information on which to base such dialogue, including letters they wrote and ambassadors’ reports, so I can get a good sense of how they felt about situations. For example, there is a wealth of reports by contemporaries of Elizabeth and Mary about exactly what they said in many instances. However, at a certain point I’m on my own, creating events, scenes, dialogue, and characters’ feelings out of whole cloth.
Readers come to a historical novel for the history, but they stay for the characters. So for me it’s vital to depict the emotional lives of the characters, both fictional and real, so that they live and breathe for the reader. To me, that’s Job #1.
What research did you do for this book?
BK: Plenty of reading! Biographies are wonderfully helpful, of course. For Blood Between Queens two books in which I highlighted many paragraphs were Alison Weir’s masterly Mary, Queen of Scots, and the Murder of Lord Darnley and Mary, Queen of Scots: Politics, Passion, and a Kingdom Lost by Jenny Wormald.
And, before writing the first “Thornleigh” book I spent a month in England for research, with a carefully planned itinerary of visiting historical sites throughout the country. I take a lot of care, especially, in getting London right (readers love London), and that has meant poring over historical maps and reading contemporary accounts like John Stow’s survey of London. That survey was published in the latter part of the 16th century, but it’s still a grand resource full of marvelous details and descriptions of places that were not materially different from the mid-century.
Do you use a mixture of historic figures and invented characters in the novel. Which is more difficult to write? Which to you prefer to write and why?
BK: Yes, I do use a mixture in my “Thornleigh” novels. The core Thornleigh family characters – Honor, Richard, Adam, Isabel, and Justine – are fictional, as are their nemesis counterparts, the Grenville family, and they become dramatically enmeshed in the lives of historical figures of the day, from the monarchs Henry VIII, Mary I, Elizabeth I , and Mary Queen of Scots, to movers and shakers like Thomas Cromwell and Sir Thomas More, and revolutionaries like Sir Thomas Wyatt and John Knox.
I honestly don’t find either group (real or fictional) more difficult to write, nor do I prefer one over the other. To me they’re all just people, and once I get a deep sense of who they are and what drives them, I’m off to the races.
In an historical novel you must vividly re-create a place and people in a bygone era. How did you bring the place and people you are writing about to life?
BK: I get grounded in as many facts as possible through the research, and then I take off and “fly solo.” At a certain point it becomes totally my own imagination in rendering the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of places so that the reader feels they are actually there, whether it’s in the hectic streets of London, or at a royal banquet with Queen Elizabeth, or aboard Adam Thornleigh’s ship limping into port with his starving crew.
There often seems to be more scope in historical novels for male characters rather than female characters. Do you prefer to write one sex or the other. And, if so, why?
BK: That’s a great question. In all my novels I depict scenes from the point of view of both female and male characters. My heroines are all very dynamic people; I give them plenty of scope for action. They are drawn into rebellions (Isabel Thornleigh in The King’s Daughter) and risky missions of mercy (Honor Larke in The Queens’ Lady), and dangerous missions on behalf of Elizabeth (Isabel again in The Queen’s Gamble and Justine in Blood Between Queens). These are not “stay at home” women!
Having said that, I must add that I love writing the men. It’s a real adventure in imaginative empathy to create, believably, the heart and mind of a mercenary soldier (Carlos Valverde in The King’s Daughter), a wool merchant and ship’s master (Richard Thornleigh in The Queen’s Lady), a seafaring young adventurer smitten by Princess Elizabeth (Adam Thornleigh in The Queen’s Captive) and Will Croft, the Thornleighs’ nephew, an up-and-coming young lawyer.
Male or female, the one constant in my characters is that they are fully and actively engaged in the crises of the times. So I say, bless them all!
Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions with so much interesting detail, Barbara. You’ve whetted my appetite for your new ‘Thornleigh’ book. But I think I have some catching up to do – I’d better start with the first one.
About Barbara Kyle: She is the author of the acclaimed Tudor-era “Thornleigh” novels The Queen’s Gamble, The Queen’s Captive, The King’s Daughter and The Queen’s Lady, all published internationally, and of the contemporary thrillers Entrapped and The Experiment. Over 400,000 copies of her books have been sold. Her next book, Blood Between Queens, will be released in April 2013. Before becoming an author Barbara enjoyed a twenty-year acting career in television, film, and stage productions in Canada and the U.S. For more information – or to sign up to receive Barbara’s newsletters – visit her website.