History repeats itself for returning author Elizabeth

Elizabeth Fremantle

It’s the second trip to Wordpool for hugely popular historical novelist Elizabeth Fremantle, whose latest book, Watch the Lady, is the third part of my Tudor trilogy. The three books are thematically and chronologically linked but each focuses on a different aspect of the theme of women and power. Elizabeth will be in conversation with John  Simpson Wedge – grab your tickets now for what promises to be a very popular event!

Tell me a little about your books, and Watch the Lady in particular?

Watch the Lady is the third part of my Tudor trilogy. The three books are thematically and chronologically linked but each one focuses on a different aspect of the theme of women and power. Queen’s Gambit is about Katherine Parr, a woman who finds herself, through marriage to Henry VIII, in a position of great influence but this brings its inherent dangers in a scheming court in a state of flux, when Henry’s wives have been brutally discarded for political ends. Sisters of Treason is set a little later. In it we see Henry VIII’s two daughters take the throne while the action focuses on the tragic lives of the younger sisters of Lady Jane Grey, who find themselves at the heart of the power struggle for the Tudor succession.

Watch the Lady takes place in the declining years of Elizabeth’s reign and explores the life of the legendary beauty Penelope Devereux, sister of the Queen’s favourite, the doomed and flawed Earl of Essex and muse to the great Elizabethan poet Sir Philip Sidney, Penelope learns young that it is her intelligence more than her beauty that will help her survive the perils of a period of great political uncertainty. So the three novels chart a period of sixty years in post-reformation England, shining a light into the corridors of power and offering a perspective on women’s lives at a time of unprecedented change.

How long have you been writing?

I’ve been writing ever since I can remember but it was not until I took an MA in creative Writing that I felt I could take myself seriously as a writer. Having said that it took a further decade following that course, and three finished but failed novels, before I wrote Queen’s Gambit.

What inspires the ideas for your novels?

It is the women I write about that inspire me – remarkable women, living in dangerous times.

As an historical novelist, how long do you spend in researching a book?

I never stop researching and because all my novels are chronologically linked, moving forward in time, I find that research for one book interlinks with the next. I’m always reading for the next book while writing the previous one. The research is constant but it is hugely pleasurable. With a particular book though there is always a time when I have to force myself to stop the research and sit down to write. Sometimes this is challenging.

How do you go about plotting a story?

You know, I’m not sure. My plot initially takes its shape from the historical record and that is the framework that guides me but the novel has to find its own intrinsic shape, depending where I focus each scene of action and which aspects of the story I choose to explore and the ways in which the characters develop. Often a first draft is nothing like a final draft. I suppose one develops an instinct for the thread of a story.

Are you a fiction reader? Who are the writers you admire?

I am a voracious and eclectic reader but some writers I particularly love and return to often are Stephan Zweig, Henry James, Rosamund Lehman and Sarah Waters.

Are you a disciplined, nine-to-five writer, or do you prefer to go with the creative flow?

I work to a daily word count which is a minimum of a thousand words, though having said that at the moment I’m on a very tight deadline so I have increased it to two thousand. Sometimes this might take ten or twelve hours and sometimes two or three. I never know when I sit at my desk in the morning if it will come easily. But discipline is key – I sometimes think it is more important to a writer than talent.

I have to find time for all the marketing that authors are expected to do for themselves these days on social media. This can be very time consuming but writing time is sacrosanct.

Do you have any advice for would-be writers?

Read, read and read more, across genres and styles. And think about what you have read, analyse it, work out why it does or doesn’t work. You will find when you come to write that you have absorbed all that knowledge.

Have you visited Blackpool before?

I have. I came to the Wordpool festival two years ago with Queen’s Gambit and enjoyed it very much.

 What’s next for you?

I have started work on a quartet of Stuart novels to be published by Penguin. They are really a continuation of my Tudor novels and the first one, which I’m writing at the moment to be out next year, is about Arbella Stuart, a woman raised to be Elizabeth’s heir but her destiny was thwarted when the political climate changed and her cousin James I gained the English throne. She’s a fascinating and tragic figure.

ELIZABETH FREMANTLE, Brunswick Room, Blackpool Central Library, July 3, 12.15pm

For more information about Wordpool or to book visit https://blackpoolwordpool.wordpress.com. You can also like Wordpool on Facebook or follow on Twitter @WordpoolFest.

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