|Margaret with custom made ruff|
I am beyond ecstatic to have the incomparable Margaret George here at Passages to the Past for an interview!!!
She is here to talk about her newest book, Elizabeth I, which was just released on April 5th. I'm currently reading it and it's just phenomenal and for me the total package...my favorite author writing about my favorite queen, what more could a girl ask for?! Plus the cover is hands down the most fabulous cover ever!!
I was sent an extra ARC (advanced reading copy) of Elizabeth I, so I am also hosting a giveaway to one lucky follower!! Giveaway information is at the bottom of this post.
Now for the interview...
One of the main areas for concern for English parliament towards the latter part of Queen Elizabeth's reign was her reluctance to choose a successor. Do you believe her reluctance was because of fear of her own mortality or was it due to a different reason altogether?
Elizabeth was not afraid of her own mortality but she was afraid of others dwelling, and speculating upon, her mortality. She knew from her own experience that people turned toward the rising, not the setting, sun, and that in the heir to the throne people saw the fulfillment of any unsatisfied hopes and dreams they might have. Always wanting to be in control, Elizabeth did not want to yield that power to a successor while she still lived. She had a very fatalistic attitude toward the successor, believing that God would provide one at the needed time without her help.
Why did you choose to write about the latter part of Elizabeth's reign and not the earlier?
There were several reasons. First, I don’t like telling the same story twice, and I had described Elizabeth’s childhood in “The Autobiography of Henry VIII” and her middle years in “Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles,” so this was a natural continuation. I wanted to take up the story right where it had left off---with Mary Queen of Scots having just been executed, and the dreaded Armada on its way at last. Also, many books and movies stop with the Armada, but Elizabeth reigned another fifteen years. In many ways this is the most interesting period of her life because everything started to go wrong---the wars were draining the treasury so England was sliding into bankruptcy in spite of Elizabeth’s frugality, her trusted ministers were dying of old age to be replaced by lesser talents, and she was increasingly in a world that was becoming ominously strange to her. She was past the stage where she could use marriage as a diplomatic tool and had to learn other ways of political maneuvering. Last, some of the brightest names in English history appear in the latter part of her reign, such as Shakespeare and Marlowe, so the cast of characters is stellar.
Do you feel you already had a little insight into Elizabeth from when you researched and wrote about her father in The Autobiography of Henry VIII?
Yes, although it seems odd to have ‘met’ her when she was just Anne Boleyn’s pregnancy, something that made Anne say she had a great longing to eat apples. I saw her first being adored and fawned on, and later relegated to the outer rings of court life and interest. Because she was so young when her mother was executed and she was pronounced a bastard, she was not a ‘problem’ like her older sister Mary, who was bitter and resentful toward Henry VIII for his treatment of her and her mother Catherine. Therefore Henry liked Elizabeth and didn’t feel uncomfortable around her as he did with Mary. Elizabeth grew up to be clear-headed and rational and free of grudges, probably because she did not have to take sides between her mother and her father. This trait of not being burdened with wrongs she had to avenge served her well in when she came to the throne, and made her a compassionate and wise ruler.
Why do you think people are so fascinated by Queen Elizabeth I? Was there anything you found while researching her that surprised or intrigued you?
People across the board seem to be fascinated by her. Part of it is that her reign is considered the golden age of England. Another part is the sheer spectacle and magic of her presence, which we feel even four hundred odd years later. The ruffs, the jewels, the gowns, the majesty---they don’t make ‘em like that anymore.
Part of it is the wonder of how a woman could exercise such political genius to gain control and ‘have her way as absolutely as her father did’. Like him, she was a red-haired autocrat and liked to refer to herself as a ‘prince.’ At the same time she was intensely feminine. She is a bundle of contradictions and a great mystery. Apropos of that, one unexpected thing I found was that some scholars think Shakespeare’s description of Cleopatra—“age cannot wither, nor custom stale, her infinite variety” was based on his personal observation of Elizabeth.
You've written novels about some pretty big names in history and the ones you feel are misunderstood (Cleopatra, Helen of Troy, Mary Queen of Scots and Mary Magdelene), do you have an idea on who your next project will be on?
I plan to write a dual novel about the Emperor Nero and Boudica, the Celtic warrior queen who fought the Romans and almost drove them out of Britain. Nero had to plan the strategy to defeat her, from his debauched imperial couch in faraway Rome. Both sides had everything to lose and so the stakes were immeasurably high. And the personalities were outsized and evenly matched. A great drama!
The research aspect of writing has always fascinated me, can you tell us about the research you conducted for Elizabeth I?
The research for my fiction books is probably very similar to the process for scholarly works. It begins with reading the classics in the field, to master the background. This can be a lengthy process and I’ve never found any way to speed it up, any shortcuts. I know some people use research assistants but I’m not sure what they do. Only I can absorb the material into my head, no one can siphon it in there for me. Knowing the little details are what makes a world come alive. After immersing myself in this long enough, I begin to feel at home in that world and as if I know the people personally. Next it’s time to go onto their home turf, to walk where they walked and look at the landscapes they saw, and if possible, to see some of their personal belongings. That creates a very strong bond between us. At least I feel that way, although in truth it’s one sided.
At this point, some people find a sort of fan club of the historical figure, where they can meet other ‘groupies’ who share their passion for, say, Richard III. That also makes him seem more alive. None of my characters had such a following, though, with the possible exception of Mary Magdalene, who has become a sort of patron saint to the women’s ordination movement.
Who are your writing influences?
Edgar Allan Poe, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Keats, Ray Bradbury, A.E. Housman.
If you could re-read any book for the first time, what would it be and why?
It’s funny that you would ask that, because that is just what I have been doing---going through my bookshelves and re-reading books that have been sitting like sacred cows for years. Some of them were almost un-readable, to my surprise. Since they had not changed, I must have been the one to change. So off they have gone to the book sales. Others I found as good as ever—“The Spy Who Came in from the Cold,” for example. I suppose the one book I’ve like to read for the first time would be “Gone With the Wind.” I recently discovered my great-great grandfather was a Confederate soldier and GWTW is so much more than just a Scarlett and Rhett love story. It’s a real historical novel in the truest sense, and much Civil War material is in there once you look past the S & R romance.
And lastly, do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
The foundation would be to write for the sheer joy of writing, but in the second stage to learn your craft like any apprentice would. There’s a nuts-and-bolts aspect to writing that you have to master. I found screenwriting courses to be very helpful because screenwriting forces you to focus your material so severely and to make it visual. Something has to happen in every scene; there’s no wastage. I first wrote the scene in “The Autobiography of Henry VIII” in which Henry opens the tomb of St. Thomas Becket and puts him on trial for treason as a screenplay. (Chapter LXXXII—82). It helped me to really see the coffin being pried open and the corpse in its robes, so when I wrote it as a book chapter it was very vivid.
For more information please visit Margaret George's WEBSITE.
ABOUT THE BOOK
New York Times bestselling author Margaret George captures history's most enthralling queen-as she confronts rivals to her throne and to her heart.
One of today's premier historical novelists, Margaret George dazzles here as she tackles her most difficult subject yet: the legendary Elizabeth Tudor, queen of enigma-the Virgin Queen who had many suitors, the victor of the Armada who hated war; the gorgeously attired, jewel- bedecked woman who pinched pennies. England's greatest monarch has baffled and intrigued the world for centuries. But what was she really like?
In this novel, her flame-haired, lookalike cousin, Lettice Knollys, thinks she knows all too well. Elizabeth's rival for the love of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and mother to the Earl of Essex, the mercurial nobleman who challenged Elizabeth's throne, Lettice had been intertwined with Elizabeth since childhood. This is a story of two women of fierce intellect and desire, one trying to protect her country, and throne, the other trying to regain power and position for her family and each vying to convince the reader of her own private vision of the truth about Elizabeth's character. Their gripping drama is acted out at the height of the flowering of the Elizabethan age. Shakespeare, Marlowe, Dudley, Raleigh, Drake-all of them swirl through these pages as they swirled through the court and on the high seas.
This is a magnificent, stay-up-all-night page-turner that is George's finest and most compelling novel and one that is sure to please readers of Alison Weir, Philippa Gregory, and Hilary Mantel.
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GOOD LUCK TO ALL!