30 April 2013

My Tuesday Talk Guest - Cynthia Haggard

As I am no longer running my Guest Blog (I don't have the time to keep it updated) I thought I would invite interesting people to contribute to my Tuesday Talk slot.

The approaching date, May 3rd, is the birth-date of Cecylee Neville, mother of Edward IV and Richard III, Cynthia Haggard, author of Thwarted Queen offered to write a bit about this fascinating woman...

the fascination of Cecylee Neville
by Cynthia Haggard

I live in Washington D.C., a mile from the White House, but my passion for the past was triggered by the fact that I grew up in England, which is filled with history.  I remember trips to St. Albans and Bath to see Roman ruins, and I remember struggling up various spiral stairs in castles. Ruined abbeys are also a part of the landscape. So it was all around me. I used to stand and look at the beautiful English countryside and imagine people from the past. It was easy to do.

I was attracted to the Middle Ages because it is presented as a very romantic period, full of knights and fair ladies. It seems glamorous and very civilized. It is also interesting that illustrations for Fairy Tales often use the costumes from the 15th century, the period of Cecylee Neville’s life. So it has a lot to it that initially, I found very attractive.

I was inspired to write about Cecylee by watching a BBC program about the princes in the Tower. The presenter, Tony Robinson, casually mentioned that historian Michael K. Jones had discovered some evidence that Edward IV of England was illegitimate. The evidence was that Cecylee’s husband, Richard Duke of York was not around in July-August 1441 when Edward would have been conceived. (He was born April 28, 1442). My immediate question was, what on earth did Cecylee say to her husband, when he returned from his summer campaign of fighting the French?

I have four favorite scenes in THWARTED QUEEN. There is the scene where Richard discovers that Cecylee has been unfaithful. The scene where Cecylee tells her son Edward IV that she does not support his marriage to Elisabeth Woodville. Then there are two crowd scenes, the one where Duke Humphrey dishes about the new queen of England, and how she brought no dowry to her marriage, and the one where Warwick the Kingmaker tells everyone that the Queen’s son is illegitimate. I loved these scenes because there was a lot of scope for conflict.

Warwick held up his hand and waited for silence.
“The king has not acknowledged the child as his son,” he said slowly. “And furthermore, he never will.”
There was a sudden intake of breath.
“It’s true!” exclaimed a young woman, holding a twig basket that held a dried up turnip, a withered carrot, and some wilted sprigs of rosemary. Her high voice sailed over the noises from the crowd. As people turned to stare, she went bright pink.
“Holy Mary, Mother of Christ!” she exclaimed, blushing again as she crossed herself.
“Indeed, madam,” said Warwick, stepping down from the cross, bowing, and offering her one of his cups of ale. “You put it well.” He turned to the crowd as he remounted the steps of the cross.
“It is very shocking, is it not, that a crowned Queen of England, a queen anointed by holy oil, would stop at nothing to gain power? That such a queen, invested in spiritual power by the Archbishop of Canterbury, would lie to us? That she would stoop so low as to foist her bastard on us? What does she think we are, good people? Stupid?”
The crowd roared with laughter.

In addition to Cecylee (who was, of course, my favorite character) I loved writing about the maids, Audrey and Jenet, because they were lower-class people whom the aristocrats of the day would typically ignore. Yet they were the eyes of ears of the Neville family. By that I mean that Audrey would have known all of Countess Joan's secrets, and Jenet would know all of Cecylee's, because they saw their ladies several times a day to bathe them, dress their hair and array them in their finery.

I became very fond of Richard of York (Cecylee’s husband) and his son Richard of Gloucester (who later became Richard III). Elisabeth Woodville was always enjoyable to write about, because she had such an effect on everyone. And I enjoyed writing about Richard’s sister Isabel.
As an historical novelist, I have to be both a writer and a researcher. I find that one feeds the other. If I’m in the middle of writing something and I need to do a piece of research, I either mark the place in the text with Xs, or I look it up right away. I often find that research sparks my imagination, so it’s not a problem for me.

When I was writing THWARTED QUEEN, I was most influenced by Michael K. Jones THE PSYCHOLOGY OF BATTLE, which gives a completely different take on the family dynamics of the Yorks. And Alison Weir’s books, THE WARS OF THE ROSES and THE PRINCES IN THE TOWER.

I was brought up in a musical environment, so I’m very particular about what I listen to when I’m writing. When I was writing Cecylee, I was either listening to Hildegard of Bingen, or all those Anonymous 4 recordings of medieval music, sung a cappella by female voices.

When I work on my novels, I don’t adhere to one set timetable of work. For me, it really depends on what’s going on. Generally, I work in starts and spurts. Initially, I write down whatever’s occupying my mind. By the time I get to the last draft, I’m usually working to a deadline, so in that case I work every day, sometimes for 6-9 hours.

I really have to have my place to write. It’s too disorienting otherwise. I don’t really like working outside my home, I find cafes too distracting. I’m happiest when I’m in my spot that I’ve designated as my writing place.

When working on a novel, I do a certain amount of planning, but I’m not one of those writers who plans everything out, because I just find it too boring if I know everything that’s going to happen in advance. The magic of writing for me comes in the process of discovering what’s going to happen to my characters.

When I start a new novel, I usually have an idea, which I scribble down. Then I may wait a long time before I actually start writing. During that time, I’ll do a lot of reading and develop it. At some point, I feel that I have enough head of steam to start. In that first draft, I just write down whatever’s on my mind. I find that first draft really hard work. I’m a writer who really enjoys re-writing.

As someone who’s had a career in neuro- and cognitive science, I find myself applying my knowledge to my novels. Cecylee is about how timing is really the controlling variable in finding one’s suitor. (Richard of York is on a much slower clock than Blaybourne, who is as fast as the quicksilver Cecylee). In another novel I’ve just finished, titled AN UNSUITABLE SUITOR, I talk about how shopping lists of attributes, such as income, or interests don’t work. That what really works are the ineffable qualities, all that information that comes in to you literally under your nose, that most people don’t notice. This is what people mean, I think, when they talk about following the dictates of your heart.

Helen: Thank you Cynthia - interesting and enjoyable.
For a little extra, Cynthia appeared as a guest on my Guest Blog

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all Cynthia's books are available online

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