Monday, March 21, 2016

Leaving England Behind in My Tudor Trilogy

In my novels featuring Sister Joanna Stafford, a headstrong novice at a Dominican Order outside of London, the story leaves England not once but twice.

What? you may be thinking.

Isn't the point of writing Tudor fiction to dig deep into the excitement of the English court? Yes and no.

Obviously I'm interested in life at the court of Henry VIII, or I wouldn't have written these books. But there were fascinating monarchs living outside of England during the same period, from Valois to Hapsburg and many more. Rome, Paris, Brussels, Madrid, Regensburg, Lisbon, Antwerp. There are locations both beautiful and terrifying to write about.

I received a reader letter last week that supported Joanna's journeys.

Hi Nancy:
Absolutely love your Sister Joanna books, so does my mom, who is 93. I’ve always been a history buff and really admire writers who have the ability to weave a novel around historical events and characters. You’ve definitely got that dialed in.
I happened to pick up The Chalice, after reading the book jacket synopsis and discovered part of the story is set in Belgium, where I was born. Ghent to be precise. Needless to say I have been to Het Gravensteen, as a visitor, of course and the other locations you mention. Brought back some nice memories.
My mother was born in Germany (lived 11 years in Belgium after WW2) and she equally loves history. She liked The Tapestry a lot because part of the story is set in Germany. After reading The Chalice, I went out and bought both The Crown and The Tapestry . Awesome, awesome storytelling!!! 

For those who haven't read The Chalice, Joanna is imprisoned in Het Gravensteen in Ghent after she opposes the powerful. I picked her stone prison with care. It was built in 1180 by Phillip, count of Flanders, modeled after crusaders' castles. Later it became a center of the feudal court, a place of trials. The accused were held there before trial and sometimes tortured to wring confessions from them. There was no escape.

Eerie, isn't it? And that's the other reason I set my characters loose in my books. They are suspense-fiction, and thrillers need to move. Modern thrillers send characters around the world, by sports car, jet and high-speed train. Now those travel options aren't available to me in 1539. :) But with some imagination, my characters can set sail! To be honest, the chapters I've written in which Joanna is traveling to Antwerp, Ghent, Calais, Brussels, Regensburg or Heidelberg, sometimes on a mission and sometimes hurtling through them in fear of her life, are some of the most exhilarating to create. I feel more "free" somehow when my characters are set loose outside of England. I wonder if other historical novelists feel the same way...

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