I have read The Fifth Knight and its sequel, The Blood of the Fifth Knight, and loved both of them. So I’m absolutely delighted to welcome the author E. M. Powell to Ascroft, eh? to talk with me about The Blood of the Fifth Knight which was released on New Year’s Day.
Welcome E. M.! Let’s get started, shall we?
Tell us about your novel.
EMP: It’s set in England, 1176. King Henry II has imprisoned his rebellious Queen for attempting to overthrow him. But with her conspirators still at large and a failed assassination attempt on his beautiful mistress, Rosamund Clifford, the King must take action to preserve his reign. Desperate, Henry turns to the only man he trusts: a man whose skills have saved him once before. Sir Benedict Palmer answers the call, mistakenly believing that his family will remain safe while he attends to his King. As Palmer races to secure the throne for the King, neither man senses the hand of a brilliant schemer, a mystery figure loyal to Henry’s traitorous Queen who will stop at nothing to see the King defeated.
The publisher very kindly describes it as: ‘The Blood of the Fifth Knight is an intricate medieval murder mystery and a worthy follow-on to E.M. Powell’s acclaimed historical thriller The Fifth Knight.’
What prompted you to write about this historical event?
EMP: To explain this book, I need to refer to the first in the series, The Fifth Knight, which was intended as a stand-alone book. My agent said I should do a few minor re-writes to allow for the fictional hero, Sir Benedict Palmer, to be summoned back to Henry’s service once again. As The Fifth Knight became a #1 Historical Thriller on Amazon in the US, the UK and Australia, I am very glad I allowed myself to be persuaded! I then needed to find an interesting event in Henry’s life that could involve the fictional Sir Benedict. I had heard of the Fair Rosamund and was aware of the myths and legends surrounding her death. I came up with my own version.
How closely did you stick to the historical facts? If you used them loosely, how did you decide whether to deviate from them?
EMP: The entire framework for the novel is based on facts. Henry’s penance for the murder of Thomas Becket. The rebellion led by Eleanor of Aquitaine, which almost cost Henry his throne. Eleanor’s uncle, Raoul de Faye, was a real person, as was of course Rosamund Clifford. Many of the locations are real. No-one knows how Rosamund died, so that is my fictional interpretation. And of course Sir Benedict Palmer is not a real person, nor is his wife, Theodosia. Theodosia is a fictional daughter of Henry II.
What research did you do for this book?
EMP: I wish I could include a picture of the tottering pile of non-fiction books that I read! There is of course a huge list of reputable websites that I frequently consulted. I made several research trips, visiting the Tower of London, Knaresborough and other important historical sites. I also had wonderful input from a group of medieval reenactors, Historia Normannis. And I read Chrétien de Troyes’ medieval romance,Yvain: the Knight of the Lion. I had de Faye imagining himself as the hero Yvain, so I have lots of references to that legend that the reader may not even notice. I did investigate medieval sorcery quite a lot, but drew the line at inviting the Devil for tea.
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?
EMP: I do have a mix. My view as a novelist is that they are all invented. Yes, we can have factual information about a person or records of what they said or did. But when I bring them to the fictional page, they are my creation. I’m putting words in their mouths, assigning action to them, breaking their hearts or stirring them to anger or desire. I can of course make a best guess from what I know from the historical record, but beyond that, it’s all up to me. I think that’s my job! All characters present their challenges, whether they or real or fictional. I have most fun with my minor characters. They can get up to all sorts without having to carry the weight of a novel.
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?
EMP: Partly through the research that I’ve mentioned. But I believe that once you nail a character, the rest follows. Also, I believe that most human experience is universal. Yes, I might not know what it’s like to have my throne at risk and neither, I suspect, do most other people. But we all laugh, cry, get angry, worry about how we will pay for our livelihoods, and love those we love. I don’t think those fundamentals change.
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?
EMP: I enjoy writing both genders. If I have a dividing line, it’s between good and bad. I love my villains far, far more than my heroes. There’s nothing quite so satisfying as having characters do things that are outrageous. They of course get their comeuppance in the end. Which is just as much fun!
Thanks for answering my questions, E.M. It’s great to get an insight into what went into crafting the novels. Good luck with The Blood of the Fifth Knight – and I hope there will be another in the series soon!
About E M Powell: E.M. Powell is the author of medieval thriller THE FIFTH KNIGHT which was a #1 Amazon Bestseller. Born and raised in the Republic of Ireland into the family of Michael Collins (the legendary revolutionary and founder of the Irish Free State) she now lives in the north west of England with her husband and daughter and a Facebook-friendly dog. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society, International Thriller Writers and Romance Writers of America. She is a reviewer of fiction and non-fiction for the HNS. Find out more by visiting www.empowell.com. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.