Sunday, 13 May 2012

Sneak Peeks & Author Interview: Anne O'Brien - The King's Concubine

With the build up to the Queen's Jubilee celebrations, I was asked if I'd like to review Anne O'Brien's latest novel The King's Concubine.  Although historical fiction is not my normal genre I have found recently that my reading tastes are expanding so will be reading this shortly.

One marriage. Three people. Proud king. 

Loving wife. Infamous mistress.1362. Philippa of Hainault selects a young orphan from a convent. Alice Perrers, a girl born with nothing but ambition. The Queen has a role waiting for her at court. ‘I have lifted you from nothing Alice. Now you repay me.’ Led down the corridors of the royal palace, the young virgin is secretly delivered to King Edward III – to perform the wifely duties of which ailing Philippa is no longer capable. Power has a price, and Alice Perrers will pay it. 

Mistress to the King. Confidante of the Queen. Whore to the court. Her fate is double edged; loved by the majesties, ostracised by her peers. Alice must balance her future with care as her star begins to rise – the despised concubine is not untouchable. Politics and pillow talk are dangerous bedfellows. The fading great King wants her in his bed. Her enemies want her banished. One mistake and Alice will face a threat worse than any malicious whispers of the past.  

I was also able to ask Anne a few questions about her love of history.

How long did it take to get your first book published?
It seemed forever.  Virgin Widow - my first novel about a historical character, Anne Neville, daughter of Warwick the Kingmaker and wife of Richard III - took between 18 months and 2 years all told from completion to publication.  There are so many milestones on the way.  First I had to find an agent who was interested in historicals and liked Virgin Widow enough to take a chance and take me on.  Then came submissions to publishers.  Once accepted there was some essential editing and polishing required before my novel could be slotted into the publisher's busy schedule.  Much patience was required...  Although it seemed an incredibly long time, and must for any fledgling author, I was writing my second novel about Eleanor of Aquitaine during this time - no time to waste in sitting about and waiting.  It was complete when Virgin Widow hit the bookshelves, and Eleanor became Devil's Consort for publication in the following year.     

Do you have a set daily writing routine?
I am definitely an early morning worker, starting about 7am, perhaps even earlier in summer when the sun is up.  First I deal quickly with any admin, emails, Facebook posts and tweets - social media is important for an author - and then I start writing.  I write through until lunch time.  In the afternoon I prefer to do something different.  I sometimes write through the day if I have a deadline or I am on a mission, but I often think I don't do justice to my characters.  So in the afternoons I garden or even do housework - but it's surprising how frequently ideas appear when I am attacking the weeds.  For an hour or two in the evening I review what I have written in the morning, or add more research, perhaps with a glass of wine and some music to help it along.  It seems to work well for me.  I know that many writers are night-owls, but I do not burn the mid-night oil - I never have, and I won't start now.  And somewhere in all this I have to find the time to talk to my husband and read, for my own pleasure... 

If you could write another style of genre, what would it be and why? 
I have to say that I wouldn't.  Or at least not in the foreseeable future.  I find history enthralling in all its forms.  I might try historical crime but I can't envisage writing in a modern genre and I am no fan of fantasy.  So I am well and truly hooked, even if I might step outside my beloved medieval period.  But who knows what the future will bring ...?

If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring author, what would it be?
Perseverance.  It is the key to everything:
Keep writing when you are not inspired.
Keep writing when the rejection notices become too great a pile and despair sets in.
Keep writing when you seem to make no progress.
Keep writing and believe in what you are doing when no one else does (but at the same time be balanced enough and humble enough to accept advice). 

What type of research do you do for your books?  
I use anything and everything I can get my hands on.  I am basically a book person and now have quite a library of books covering the medieval period - I live close to Hay on Wye which is a blessing.  My collection covers social history, art, poetry music, as well as the political and military events.  There is nothing better than browsing and discovering a book on some esoteric subject that might just add something interesting to the novel in hand.  I also appreciate the tremendous benefits of the internet, allowing access to essays and articles that would otherwise not be possible.  My research must allow me to develop the characters of the people who appear in my novels, and must provide me with an authentic background for them to act out their dramatic story.

Have you always been interested in history?  If so, do you have a favourite time period?
I cannot recall a time when I was not interested in History.  Originally the stimuls to look at an enjoy the past came from my father and I remember visiting ruined abbeys and castles in my childhood.  There was no doubt when I went to university which subject I would study, and I chose to teach History afterwards.  If asked my favourite time period, I would have said seventeenth century, particularly the reigns of the later Stuarts, but then twelve years ago I came to live in the Welsh Marches, and the medieval period got a grip.  I think that it was all the local battle sites and castles and black and white houses that crept under my skin, so that all my recent books deal with characters from the Middle Ages.  I have particularly been enthralled by the Wars of the Roses, which once I would have rejected as being far too complicated.  Now I find this period fascinating - perhaps it was standing on the battlefield of Mortimer's Cross, with traffic roaring along the main A road next to me and still finding the echoes of the past tingling over my skin - and I will perhaps return to this period with some future novel.

If you could have any of your books made into a film, which one would you choose and why?  Who would you cast in the leading roles?
It would have to be Devil's Consort, with its tense 3-cornered relationship between Eleanor of Aquitaine, Louis VII of France and Henry II of England.  It is such a dramatic novel, and I can see it in glorious colour, from the luxury of the Aquitaine court to the rigours of Crusading, from the heat and wealth of Aquitaine to the dire cold of England.  When I wrote it, laying it out on the page, I found that it was very visual.
Characters?  For Eleanor, although the hair colour is wrong - but that can be fixed - I would like Anna Maxwell Martin.  She does costume dramas so well and I can see her as a spirited, wilful but intelligent Eleanor.
For Henry: sexy, charismatic, hot-tempered: undoubtedly Damien Lewis.  I can imagine him with Henry's quirky honour and ruthless will.
As for King Louis: David Tennant would be incredible but the role needs someone younger.  I think Matt Smith could be an interesting choice...

Can you describe The King's Concubine in 20 words of less?
Alice Perrers, a woman with no obvious talent or family connection, who challenged the mores of medieval society and made good.   

Are you able to give us a hint about what your next novel is about?  And when is it likely to be published?
My next novel - almost complete now but still to be sent to my agent and publishers - tells the remarkable story of Katherine de Valois.  French wife to the heroic Henry V, she was widowed, then was married again - to Owen Tudor, a servant in her own household.  Their descendents of course began the Tudor dynasty.  Katherine was a young woman with a troubled life who managed to snatch happiness from the most unlikely of sources.  History has condemned her very much of a dumb blonde - but I think she has far more to say than that would suggest.  I have found her a surprising character, and a very emotional one.  It will be published May/June 2013. 

Anne has also written an exclusive ebook prequel, The Uncrowned Queen, which is currently free on Amazon.  You can also read an extract of the first chapter on her publishers website.

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