I am super excited to have an interview with the lovely Barbara Kyle, author of the Thornleigh series, today here at Passages to the Past!! The third book in the series, The Queen's Captive will be released tomorrow, September 1st, so Happy Early Release Day to Barbara! And I have 2 copies of The Queen's Captive up for grabs so make sure you enter at the bottom of this post.
Welcome Barbara and thank you for stopping by and answering a few questions!
Have you always been a fan of historical fiction? If so, do you remember how and when it started?
I’ve been a fan of historical fiction for as long as I can remember. When I was about eleven I got a book from the library, a YA bio of Eleanor of Aquitaine, that transported me to twelfth-century England and France and left me in a happy daze. I was hooked. In my teens I gobbled up Leon Uris’s novels, my favorites being TRINITY and MILA 18, and then the late, great Edith Pargeter’s wonderful novels of Wales in the Middle Ages. You recently featured Pargeter on “Passages to the Past,” which was much appreciated.
To this day, the books that have thrilled me most – the books that I stayed up late reading, and in fact that made me look forward to bed just so I could go on reading them – have been historical novels, usually big, saga-type stories: James Michener’s THE SOURCE, James Clavell’s SHOGUN, Margaret Mitchell’s GONE WITH THE WIND, Larry McMurtry’s LONESOME DOVE, Herman Wouk’s THE WINDS OF WAR. A few months ago I reread SHOGUN and marvelled all over again at its narrative vitality and the thrilling scope of Clavell’s depiction of the life-and-death political and social currents in 16th century Japan. In fact, I would happily re-read all of the books I listed above.
Two other favorite novels set in the past are A.S. Byatt’s mesmerizing Possession and Ian McEwan’s masterpiece, Atonement.
Why did you choose to set your Thornleigh series in the time of the Tudors? Are you a big Tudor fan?
Actually, it wasn’t the Tudor monarchs who drew me to write the first of these novels, THE QUEEN’S LADY. I was drawn by the paradox of Sir Thomas More. He was Henry VIII’s chancellor, and famously went to the execution block because he refused to sanction Henry’s divorce from Katherine of Aragon. I say paradox, because More was a brilliant scholar and a loving father, but as chancellor of England he banned books and burned men. In THE QUEEN’S LADY I created a character, Honor Larke, to be More’s ward, and my story turns on Honor’s passionate conflict with her once-beloved guardian as she tries to save his victims from the stake, enlisting rogue ship-captain Richard Thornleigh in her missions.
I found these characters so engaging – and, I’m happy to say, so did readers – that I wrote a sequel, THE KING’S DAUGHTER, featuring Honor and Richard’s daughter, Isabel. It’s set in 1554 when Henry VIII’s bitter daughter, Queen Mary, launches her reign with a vow to annihilate heretics, and Isabel must act quickly to save her family. Determined to rescue her father from prison, she entrusts her mission, and herself, to a ruthless soldier of fortune, Carlos Valverde. I’m delighted that so many readers have found Honor and Isabel such appealing heroes.
The ending of The Queen's Captive seems like there could possibly be another book in the series, maybe one based more on Adam? Will there be a 4th book in the series?
There sure is. It’s the book I’m currently writing, mentioned above. Adam Thornleigh does play a role in it, captaining his ship in daring raids against the French fleet off Edinburgh. He is captured and faces execution. OK having, I hope, whetted your readers’ appetites with that tidbit, let me leave Adam there and say that the story in fact centers on his sister Isabel (she of the adventures in the Wyatt Rebellion in THE KING’S DAUGHTER) and her Spanish soldier husband, Carlos Valverde. Isabel and Carlos return from the New World with their young son, only to be swept up in the Scottish crisis when Queen Elizabeth enlists Isabel to secretly take money to help the Scottish rebels fight the French. But when Carlos is sent to Scotland as a Spanish military advisor to the French troops, he and Isabel find they are on opposite sides in this deadly “cold” war, and the Queen has made their little boy her hostage. The book will be published in mid-2011.
You give writing courses and workshops, so I know you have tons of good advice for first time writers. What is the best advice you can give to an aspiring historical fiction writer?
In my workshops I enjoy getting across to aspiring writers the importance – and the thrill – of being in control of story structure, and of creating a proactive and empathetic protagonist. Learning about story structure can be a “light bulb” moment for new writers. I also give Master Classes for emerging writers who have a novel in progress. Several who’ve attended have now been published.
As for advice, my agent, Al Zuckerman, when asked to give one piece of advice to aspiring writers, said, “Be willing to work your ass off.” That’s about right! Talent takes you only so far. Successful writers know that it’s the daily slog that produces results – what author Tim O’Brien calls, “the hard-lifting, heavy-duty, day-by-day, unending labor of a fiction writer.” My advice is to embrace that reality.
As for the aspiring writer of historical fiction specifically, I’d say be careful to not let the research become a tyrant. All HF writers do lots of research, because historical fact is the basis of historical fiction, but the research has a tendency to take over and crowd out the writer’s imagination. As journalists wryly advise: Never let the facts get in the way of a good story. Readers may be attracted to a historical novel for the history, but they stay with a book – and fall in love with it – because they care deeply about the characters. So give your characters compelling stories, wherever the historical chips may fall.
I saw from your website that you attended the Historical Novel Conference in Chicago in 2009, will you be attending in 2011? A few other bloggers and I are hoping to meet there and I'm wondering if you would tell us a little of what to expect.
Yes, the Historical Novel Society is a great group. At the conference they asked me to speak on a panel where the topic was: “Is Sex necessary in a Historical Novel?” There were four other authors on the panel who all gave very thoughtful views about “Is Sex Necessary.” When it was my turn I said, “The short answer is: Yes. The long answer is: Yes, duh!”
I do recommend the HNS conferences. They offer workshops and panel discussions with all sorts of HF authors, and there’s always an excellent keynote speaker at the dinner. In Chicago in 2009 it was Sharon Kay Penman. And the keynote speaker at the luncheon was Trish Todd, vice president and editor-in-chief of Touchstone Fireside, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.
A choice moment at the conference in 2009 was a comment from panellist Karen Essex, a very successful HF author, recalling a life‐changing moment in the midst of her busy career as a university professor. She said, “I woke up one night just after my 30th birthday and thought ‘Oh my God, I forgot to be a writer!’”
This is a two part question. You started your career out as an actor in Canada and have been in movies, sitcoms, daytime dramas and the theater. What lessons that you learned while acting have you been able to use also with writing?
My acting career was great preparation for writing. Twenty years of working with scripts gave me a bone-deep sense of dramatic structure. However, that took me only so far, because acting is an interpretive art, whereas writing is pure creation, and consequently I had no real idea of how to be in control of the dynamic elements of story structure. So I had to learn the hard way, as every new writer does, by trial and error. In other words: write, and rewrite, and rewrite, and rewrite. There is no other way to master the craft.
I would add that being an actor taught me how to write dynamic dialogue. Actors know that people often don’t say what they mean, or, indeed, mean what they say. Actors play what’s called subtext – that is, the real meaning behind a person’s words. What does this character want?– that’s what an actor plays. It’s helped me write convincing and dramatic scenes of dialogue.
What are you reading now?
Mostly biographies as research for the book I’m currently writing. I did recently take a break from that to read Aravind Adiga’s THE WHITE TIGER which won the 2008 Booker Prize, and I was captivated by it. And I’ve just read an advance copy of a searing debut novel called SAVING MAX by Antoinette van Heugten that my agent asked me to read to give a quote for the cover.
As for having my nose stuck in research books, it’s no hardship, believe me, since I’m endlessly fascinated by the Tudor period. It’s for the novel I’m writing, which is #4 in my “Thornleigh” series. The story is set in Scotland in 1560 during the first international crisis of the 26-year-old Queen Elizabeth’s reign. She’d been queen for less than a year when John Knox led a Protestant rebellion against Scotland’s French overlords. In response, the French landed thousands of troops in Edinburgh to crush the rebels, and this massive troop build-up made Elizabeth fear that France would use Scotland as a base to invade England. So I’m reading about John Knox, and Scotland’s Queen Regent (Mary de Guise, the mother of Mary Queen of Scots), and of course lots about Elizabeth.
If you could read any one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
THE QUEEN’S LADY – not as its author, but as a reader!
For more information, visit Barbara Kyle's WEBSITE.
Passages to the Past has 2 copies of The Queen's Captive up for grabs, thanks to the generosity of Barbara Kyle!
- Giveaway is open to US/Canada entries ONLY.
- To enter, please complete form at bottom of post.
- For +1 additional entry each, please help spread the word about this giveaway: write a blog post, post on sidebar, tweet or facebook to get extra entries!
- Giveaway ends on September 14th.
SYNOPSIS: England, 1554. In the wake of the failed Wyatt Rebellion, a vengeful Queen Mary has ordered all conspirators captured and executed. Among the imprisoned is her own sister, twenty-one-year-old Princess Elizabeth. Though she protests her innocence, Elizabeth-s brave stand only angers Mary more.
Elizabeth longs to gain her liberty-and her sister-s crown. In Honor and Richard Thornleigh and their son, Adam, the young princess has loyal allies. Disgusted by Queen Mary-s proclaimed intent to burn heretics, Honor visits Elizabeth in the Tower and they quickly become friends. And when Adam foils a would-be assassin, Elizabeth-s gratitude swells into a powerful-and mutual-attraction. But while Honor is willing to risk her own safety for her future queen, aiding in a new rebellion against the wrathful Mary will soon lead her to an impossible choice-
Riveting, masterfully written, and rich in intricate details, The Queen-s Captive brings one of history-s most fascinating and treacherous periods to vibrant, passionate life.