Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Celebration: My Second Novel Appears in Germany

I'm very proud that Germany made a multiple-book deal, and on Dec. 4, 2013, my second novel was published by DTV. The name of the book is not "The Chalice" but "The Prophecy of the Nun." I like that title, just as I liked "The Last Nun" instead of "The Crown." But then again, "The Last Nun" was my original title for my first book. It was changed after I sold it.

The cover of the German book is also quite interesting:

I'm told that the German market for historical novels set in England is strong. So let's hope that "The Prophecy of the Nun" finds its way into a lot of homes!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Hans Holbein: Artist as Politician

What if your livelihood--if not your life--depended on pleasing a vain king who was the essence of mercurial? Such was the predicament of Hans Holbein the Younger in the court of Henry VIII.

Read my blog post on English Historical Fiction Authors to learn more!

Go to:

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Blogging About the Tudors

I wrote a guest post about my nonfiction writing for the wonderful people at This is part of raising awareness for the new anthology, Castles, Customs and Kings: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors. Many of the writers who contribute to the group blog at English Historical Fiction Authors pitched in with chapters for this book, which stretches from the age of Boudicca to that of Downton Abbey. I wrote six chapters on Tudor England myself.

To learn more, go to:

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

"The Paranoid State of Tudor England"

By Nancy Bilyeau

There is an incredible sentence in the respected UK book site Crimereview: "No-one reflects the paranoid state of Tudor England better than Nancy Bilyeau."

What an honor!

UK Orion Books' cover of The Chalice
The review, published last week, begins this way: 

"Joanna Stafford, niece of the disgraced and beheaded Duke of Buckingham, herself of royal Plantagenet blood and maid of honour to Queen Katherine of Aragon, became my favourite heroine when she made her debut last year in Crown.
"Now the beautiful half-Spanish former novice nun is once again caught in the bitter web of internal and international politics that is the England of Henry VIII, where a careless word can send earl or bishop, lord or commoner to torture, the execution block or the stake. Thomas Cromwell, acting on behalf of a king increasingly desperate to sire a son, completes his ruthless destruction of the monasteries, earning the hate of both the Pope and the Catholic sovereigns of Europe who would use their religion to mask territorial ambitions." 

To read the full review, go to

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Nancy Bilyeau Historical Fiction Giveaway

I'd like to give away one of my books in this fun historical-fiction hop!

I'm writing a suspense trilogy set in the 16th century, published by Touchstone/Simon & Schuster in North America and Orion Books in the United Kingdom. The fictional protagonist is Joanna Stafford, a daughter of an English aristocrat and Spanish lady-in-waiting who is drawn to the spiritual life and becomes a novice at the only order of Dominican nuns in England, just as the religious orders of England face a violent destruction. Each novel tells a suspenseful tale, with the backdrop of the harrowing Dissolution of the Monasteries-- from a point of view rarely seen in fiction.

The Crown takes place in 1537 and 1538, when Henry VIII's break with Rome throws hundreds of monasteries and convents into turmoil. To save her father and her way of life from destruction, Joanna is forced to find a mysterious relic but then must decide who can be trusted with its powers.

The Chalice covers 1538 to early 1540, when Joanna along with thousands of other men and women  expelled from their orders are struggling to find a place for themselves. In this book, a traumatized Joanna discovers she is part of a prophecy about the fate of the kingdom, and she must decide between her conscience and a violent act that could bring back her beloved way of life.

The Covenant, which plunges Joanna into the court of Henry VIII during one of his most lethal years, 1540, will come out in 2014. I'm finishing it now. :)

I will share a few reviews of the first two books:

The Crown:

“Bilyeau deftly weaves extensive historical research throughout, but the real draw of this suspenseful novel is its juicy blend of lust, murder, conspiracy, and betrayal.” – O, The Oprah Magazine

“An engrossing thriller…[the] extensive historical research shines.” – Entertainment Weekly

“Bilyeau weaves her breathtaking story though a string of events to a pleasing conclusion while giving the reader a more thorough understanding of a complicated bit of history. Historical fiction as it should be.” – Florida Times-Union

The Chalice:
"English history buffs and mystery fans alike will revel in Nancy Bilyeau's richly detailed sequel to The Crown." -- Parade

“Bilyeau continues from her first novel the subtle, complex development of Joanna’s character and combines that with a fast-paced, unexpected plot to hold the reader’s interest on every page . . . history and supernatural mysticism combine in this compelling thriller.” -- Historical Novel Society

“The novel is riveting, and provides fascinating insight into the lives of displaced nuns and priests during the tumultuous Tudor period. Bilyeau creates fully realized characters, with complex actions and emotions, driving the machinations of these historic personages.” -- RT Book Reviews (Top Pick))

For this giveaway, I will send a signed paperback of The Crown or a signed hardcover of The Chalice to anyone in North America. To enter, see below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Nun Who Challenged Henry VIII

Author Judith Arnopp is running a Tudor blog pageant, and asked me if I wanted to participate. I wrote a post about Sister Elizabeth Barton, a Benedictine nun who took on Henry VIII and paid the ultimate price.

She worked as a servant until, after recovering from a serious illness, she experienced visions so startling that all the churchmen up to the Archbishop of Canterbury proclaimed then genuine. Her life bears some resemblance to Joan of Arc's a century earlier. Because she was a threat to the king, Sister Elizabeth, the "Holy Maid of Kent," became a nonperson in the Tudor era. Most papers destroyed. All the chroniclers who wrote about her later in the century were Protestant. I have tried to restore to her some of the prominence she held in the dangerous 1530s, in my novels and in my blogging.

Please read the full post on Sister Elizabeth Barton here..

Monday, August 26, 2013

Whitby Abbey: A haunting history

I have a passion for abbey ruins. Part of the reason is that I am writing a thriller trilogy set during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and through my research I've discovered fascinating things about the world inhabited by my protagonist, a Dominican novice, in Dartford. But every ruin has a story to tell, and few are as enthralling as Whitby, in North Yorkshire...

To read more, go here.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Power of Tintern Abbey

Nearly 1000 years after it was founded, Tintern Abbey continues to awe and inspire. The Welsh monastery survived war, plague and the dissolution of Henry VIII. Roofless and crumbling, it nonetheless possesses a haunting beauty...

Read the latest in my blog series on monastic ruins to learn its fascinating history

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

"Well Behaved Women Don't Make History"

I am delighted to find a meeting of the minds with the blogger who reviews books at Scandalous Women:

"I found myself fascinating by the turmoil and havoc that Henry VIII's decision to wrench control of the church from Rome had on England. A decision that still has ramifications today....This is a superbly written historical thriller, an enticing brew..."

To read the full review, please go to:

Friday, July 26, 2013

THE CROWN: A special Kindle Daily Deal

I'm thrilled to report that a few months after amazon chose The Crown for a Kindle Daily Deal, selling it for $1.99 for one day only, my first novel was chosen again, this time to be sold in a special promotion--the 20 top-selling Kindle Daily Deals of the year.

So spread the word! For one day, Saturday, July 27, The Crown ebook is $1.99.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

J.K. Rowling and Crime Fiction's "Discovery Problem"

By Nancy Bilyeau

There are not that many novelists who would be delighted with selling 500 copies of a book in four months. J.K. Rowling is one of them.

The gig is up and "Robert Galbraith," debut author of the detective story "The Cuckoo's Calling," is proven to be J.K. Rowling, creator of the Harry Potter series and multi-millionaire. The novel hit No. 1 on amazon and shall soon rule the print bestseller lists with the vigor of a vengeful Snape..."

To read the blog post, go here:

Monday, July 15, 2013

Was Henry VIII a Psychopath?

By Nancy Bilyeau

"I know more about Henry VIII than I do about psychopaths. Or at least I think I do. I'm under the impression that psychopaths don't feel guilty about the bad things they do. They're not capable of it...."

To read my full post about the theories of the mental state of Henry VIII, go here.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Clues to the Life of Elizabeth Boleyn

By Nancy Bilyeau

The mother of Anne Boleyn is one of the missing women of the Tudor era. She was there--the daughter, sister, wife and mother of prominent courtiers. The mother and grandmother of famous queens. But she herself is unknown: her appearance, her character. We know next to nothing.

That is why when I stumbled across some information on the burial place of Elizabeth Boleyn, I felt a stirring of excitement. For in they "why" of where she was buried there was a choice that led me to understand her, at least a little.

Read my guest post on On the Tudor Trail: here.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Bargain Pricing for THE CHALICE e-book

I'm excited to report that for the next six days, The Chalice is on sale for $2.99 on both the amazon and the Barnes & Noble websites. This is a real savings for e-book owners, and I hope will bring new readers to my series.

To order The Chalice on amazon, go here.
To order The Chalice on Barnes & Noble, go here.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

How Book Expo America is Like High School

I wrote about signing books at the big book trade show in America, BEA, for the blog Book Pregnant. I'm getting some interesting comments from people on this blog post, which leads me to think that (A.) I'm not the only one who has trouble understanding what BEA "is" and (B.) A lot of people were like me in high school!

Post is here:

Thursday, May 30, 2013

It's Official: Third Book in My Series

I've signed a contract with Touchstone (S&S) on a third book, The Covenant. Time to celebrate!!

Here is the Publisher's Marketplace item: 

Dujour executive editor Nancy Bilyeau's THE COVENANT, third in her Joanna Stafford series (THE CROWN, THE CHALICE) in which the young novice's life is threatened and she must discover who among her powerful enemies in the court of Henry VIII wants her dead, to Heather Lazare at Touchstone, by Heide Lange at Sanford J. Greenburger Associates (NA).

I will keep everyone posted on release date and a few select juicy details on the book here at the website. Stay tuned!

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Death of a Countess

By Nancy Bilyeau

On May 27, 1541, 68-year-old Margaret Pole, countess of Salisbury, was befitted within the confines of the Tower of London, as befitted someone of her rank. She was cousin to Henry VIII's mother, and well trusted by the king for years. Yet this intelligent and pious aristocrat died without trial in a horribly botched execution that is considered a low point of Henry VIII's reign.

Margaret knew better than most how difficult it was to survive royal storms if your family was close to the throne. Yet despite all her efforts to stay out of danger, it was her family that doomed her to the axe in the end.

To read more, go to my guest post on executedtoday:

Monday, May 13, 2013

New: My Blog Series on Abbey Ruins

This is the debut of a series devoted to the monastic ruins of England. My two novels, The Crown and The Chalice, are set in the 1530s; the main character is a young Dominican novice at a priory facing destruction.

"You love faded glory," said my husband, who knows me better than anyone in the world. He's right—I feel a strong pull toward grand old houses, pallid churches, neglected cemeteries, seldom-visited  landmarks. To me, few ruins are as poignant as those of an English abbey. 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Catholic Herald: "My poignant journey in search of the martyrs"

I wrote an article for the Catholic Herald in England about writing my historical thriller.

"When I decided to create a 16th-century Dominican novice as the main character of my debut novel The Crown, my motive was to find a new way into the era. Queens, princesses and ladies-in-waiting, living in royal palaces, dominated Tudor fiction. For my planned thriller, I wanted to open the door to a different world and a new sort of female protagonist. Eight years of research and two books later, I feel a complex tumble of emotions – intrigued, humbled, exhilarated, saddened and outraged – over what I learned about England’s lost monastic life....

I began my journey as a life-long Tudor history addict but fairly ignorant of the specifics of the religious orders. I had no spiritual agenda; I was raised by agnostic parents in the American Midwest. But after I learned a family secret when I was 19, I felt increasing curiosity about the Catholic Church. In the last month of her life, my grandmother told my mother that while she and my grandfather, Francis Aloysius O’Neill, babysat me as an infant, they took me to a priest in Chicago, Illinois, for baptism. The first priest they approached for baptism without the parents being present said no; the second one said yes. I was baptised in the Catholic Church but for nearly 20 years did not know it."

To read the rest, go to:

Saturday, April 13, 2013


I'm delighted that many readers tell me they like the protagonist of The Crown and The Chalice: Joanna Stafford. 

I was always determined to write a female main character, and I like to thinks she's as far from a damsel in distress as you can get. 

She's a strong woman.

Some novelists write characters that are based on themselves or based on someone in history. Joanna fits into neither of those two groups.

I wrote a guest post about how I constructed Joanna for the blog Drey's Library.

Read about how important flaws are to making her a real person:

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Wall Street Journal: "Hollywood's Gift to the Novel"

I was honored to be asked to write a WordCraft column for the Book Review section of the Wall Street Journal

Here is the article, which appeared on March 16, 2013:

Readers want fiction to plunge them into a fully imagined world, one that not only enthralls but also convinces in its scale and defining details.

In my novel "The Chalice," I try to oblige by propelling the main character—Joanna Stafford, a former Dominican novice—through the Reformation-torn England of 1538. Readers learn about the sound of a rippling ship's sail, the look of a stand-alone wooden confessional, the feel of an aristocrat's cloth-of-silver gown. Atmospherics matter a lot: "A chalky white mist hung above the street, obscuring the buildings beyond the glazier's shop. It was as if a cloud had descended to earth. The stench of the shambles—the smell of rotting fish—encircled us."

Where did I learn to focus on the most vivid details of a scene? In screenwriting class. Screenplays are widely perceived as minimalist pieces of writing, bereft of the flair and texture of prose. But that's not true. A fine script includes complex characterization, flavorful dialogue and evocative action—all greatly distilled. It's boxed French cognac to a novelist's bottle of Merlot.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner and Dashiell Hammett infused their film scripts with novelistic craft. Now, as more and more writers churn out both scripts and novels, the influence goes the other way.

"Show, don't tell" is an admonition in fiction class but an imperative for screenwriters, who are limited to dialogue and action. And then there's pacing. Producers frown on screenplays of more than 120 pages, which forces a ruthlessness that many novelists would recoil from. Derek Haas, whose script credits include "3:10 to Yuma," is also the author of novels like "The Right Hand." His novelistic style, he says, owes a lot to screenwriting: "Keep it tight, keep those pages turning, delete the extraneous."

Novelists must choose between first-person and third-person point of view (unless they're Jay McInerney). In screenplays, first person doesn't even exist. Moreover, some of the most important movies of our time, such as "The Godfather" and "The Silence of the Lambs," take point of view to the extreme, leaping around in a series of tightly controlled crosscuts.

Such intercutting between scenes, settings and points of view is "something I've found effective, especially in creating tension" in fiction, says David Levien, co-screenwriter of "Ocean's Thirteen" and author of such acclaimed novels as "City of the Sun."

A screenwriter must make characters come alive quickly. Without the space to list age, height, weight and coloring, screenwriters aim for one original, defining detail. I found myself doing the same in my novels, even though I had plenty of room to play. My introduction of Jane Boleyn in "The Chalice": "Her skin was alabaster white; gleaming, yes, but devoid of any depth to its glow, like an egg kept overlong in a cupboard."

Every screenwriter pushes for a taut fusion of imagery and words. Consider this description from the playful action/exploitation film "Machete" (2010), co-written by Roberto and Álvaro Rodriguez:


It's modern, tranquil, soft jazz, sharp contrast to county. Sartana walks down the hallway, high heels clip-clopping.

"In poetry, you use words as images to evoke a feeling," Álvaro Rodriguez says. "Journalism teaches you a 'just the facts, ma'am' approach to writing. [Both] lend themselves to screenwriting. And then, much of that technique carries over into fiction."
—Ms. Bilyeau's second novel, "The Chalice," was published in March. She is the executive editor of DuJour magazine.
A version of this article appeared March 16, 2013, on page C12 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Hollywood's Gifts to The Novel.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


It's March 5th and my second novel, The Chalice, is now on sale in North America. It's an emotional time in my life, a culmination of my work to create this world for Joanna Stafford the rest of my characters.

I am proud to present this review from the book blogger Luxury Reading!

A highlight: 

"I have looked forward to Nancy Bilyeau’s The Chalice since I reviewed her debut novel, The Crown, a year ago. It has been well worth the wait; once again, Bilyeau’s words flow off of the page and into the imagination, drawing the reader in to the latest exploits of Joanna and company….
…With the concept of the titular chalice, Bilyeau puts another brilliant mystical spin on Tudor history and myth, this time addressing the most curious of Henry VIII’s marriages. Joanna, if she chooses of her own free will, has the opportunity to change the entire Tudor dynasty – and the future of the country and people she loves. With gripping prose and a touch of the fantastic, The Chalice is yet another masterpiece of historical fiction."

For the full review, go to:

Monday, March 4, 2013


Pre-orders are critical to an author's viability. They help determine the amount of publisher support a writer gets, the size of the print run, and whether there is enough momentum to consider another book.

My friend Sophie Perinot, author of "Sister Queens," explains the importance of pre-orders in her post on "From the Write Angle: Not All Sales are Created Equal--What Your Writer Friends Wish You Knew But Are Too Polite to Tell You." 

Today is the last day before the official North American release. I would love it if you could pre-order THE CHALICE. Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Indie Next, iTunes, Mysterious Bookshop. Doesn't matter which you choose.

Anyone who pre-orders, please send me an email at and I will pop a bookmark in the mail to you. Postage is on me. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


"A curse to kill a king, a fight to save a nation."

On March 5th, The Chalice, the sequel to The Crown, will be published in North America. Once again, Joanna Stafford comes up against the most powerful men of the land. Based on detailed research into the tumultuous late 1530s, it's a mystery, an untangling of the political threads of the deadly court of Henry VIII, a poignant romance and a race-against-the-clock conspiracy tale. Think Day of the Jackal meets The Tudors.

Screenwriter Christie LeBlanc and filmmaker Norman LeBlanc, two extraordinarily talented people, created a book trailer for The Chalice that captures its adventurous yet eerie mood.

Without further ado, the Book Trailer! (Hit full screen, far right, to get the full impact.)

Isn't that intriguing?

To find out more about the book, read my interview with International Thriller Writers,  the book's earliest review from Kirkus and a recent review from respected British author M.M. Bennetts.

As for this wonderful book trailer, I asked Christie to share how she created it. The first step...I mailed her one of the first advance galleys of The Chalice. :)

Says Christie: "My aim was to make something visually cool on a shoestring budget that didn't allow for live action. Armed with Adobe Creative Suite and just barely enough knowledge to be dangerous, I pieced together stock footage and photos, and mixed in a dash of original material.  Then I hunted down some fabulous music! When I wasn't happy with the result, I used Norman's amazing skills without mercy. He finessed it until we ended up with a final product we both loved and hoped would do justice to a fine book."

Christie is one talented writer--and don't take my word for it. Follow her on The Single Screenwriter.

And remember: The clock is ticking...The Chalice is almost here!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Valentine's Day, Third Century Style

By Nancy Bilyeau

I'm delighted to be a part of Maria Grace's Hearts Through History Hop. This blog hop gives me a chance to indulge in one of my favorite pastimes: researching the often strange and surprising origins of our culture's holidays, whether it's Halloween or New Year's Day.

Now clearly this hop is the occasion for a blog post about romance. Believe me, I would like to be able to deliver a sweet and touching historical anecdote. I tried. I really did. But you don't find hearts and flowers when you get to the beginning of the story of Valentine. You find martyrdom, imprisonment, plague, and death by clubbing. It's hard to conceive of anything less romantic than death by clubbing.

The Catholic Church distanced itself from St. Valentine's Day a while ago, and not because of any sort of distaste for chocolate hearts or hand-holding. The evidence that there really was a person who committed acts worthy of sainthood is fragmentary. Valentine is one of the "saints whose cult is larger than themselves, so to speak," according to Richard McBrien's Lives of the Saints. In 1969, the Pope quietly dropped Valentine's Day from the official calendar of saints' days.

The consensus seems to be that Valentine is based on a Christian priest of that name who lived in Rome when the official religion was still pagan, during the reign of Claudius Gothicus, from 268 to 270 AD. This was not a proud time in the history of the empire. Rome did not decline steadily from the glorious reigns of Julius and Augustus Ceasar to the crumbling under Honorius in 423 AD. There were peaks and valleys. This was a valley. Emperors rapidly succeeded each other through assassination in the mid-Third Century. There was death by poison, death by strangulation, death by hanging, death by being dragged naked from the back of a chariot through the streets. The year 238 AD saw six different emperors.

Claudius Gothicus
Claudius Gothicus, the Ceasar who would, legend has it, confront Valentine, was born a peasant in what is now Bosnia and rose rapidly through the ranks of the army. He was popular with the soldiers, a very tall man who liked to fight. His specialty was knocking out the teeth of an opponent, including, once, an opponent's horse. He played a key role in the assassination plot that eliminated Emperor Gallenius in Milan. The Rome that Claudius took charge of was near-bankrupt, with rebel populations causing lots of trouble in German and France in the West, and Syria in the East. Claudius desperately needed more soldiers in the Army, and he tried to officially discourage men from marrying. 
Valentine and the Virgin

As the story goes, Claudius heard that the  priest Valentine was busy marrying Christian couples, in defiance of the emperor, and ordered him arrested. Pressure was put on Valentine to abandon his faith; he refused. The emperor decided to visit Valentine in prison. During this meeting, instead of being meek and obliging, Valentine tried to convert Cladius to Christianity. Disgusted, the emperor ordered his execution. Valentine was clubbed to death and then beheaded.

Three centuries later, long after Claudius died of the plague, a pope declared February 14th Valentine's day. One theory is that the Catholic leaders really wanted to banish the mid-February fertility celebration of Lupercalia. (What happened during Lupercalia? Let your imagination run wild and you still haven't come close.) Naming the day in honor of the martyred Valentine seems a wee random today. Nonetheless, the new holiday stuck, and in medieval times, all sorts of romantic stories were told. 

Shrine in Dublin
Did any of these sweet tales have anything to do with the Third Century Valentine? Only one--that the night before the rebellious priest was to be executed, he wrote a letter to the daughter of his jailer, and signed it "Your Valentine." The first Valentine's Day card was born.

It's a story perhaps lacking in historical probability. But in the spirit of the blog hop, I'm sticking with it!

To read stories from other historical writers, jump on the hop. Here is a list of bloggers:

Hop Participants
  1. Random Bits of Fascination (Maria Grace)
  2. Pillings Writing Corner (David Pilling)
  3. Sally Smith O’Rourke
  4. Darcyholic Diversions (Barbara Tiller Cole)
  5. Faith, Hope and Cherry Tea
  6. Rosanne Lortz
  7. Sharon Lathan
  8. Debra Brown
  9. Heyerwood   (Lauren Gilbert)
  10. Regina Jeffers
  11. Ginger Myrick
  12. Anna Belfrage
  13. Fall in love with history (Grace Elliot)
  14. Nancy Bilyeau
  15. Wendy Dunn
  16. E.M. Powell
  17. Georgie Lee
  18. The Riddle of Writing (Deborah Swift)
  19. Outtakes from a Historical Novelist (Kim Rendfeld)
  20. The heart of romance (Sherry Gloag)
  21. A day in the life of patootie (Lori Crane)
  22. Karen Aminadra
  23. Dunhaven Place (Heidi Ashworth)
  24. Stephanie Renee dos Santos

I've written a historical thriller set in Tudor England called The Crown, with a protagonist who is a Dominican novice. The sequel, The Chalice, will be published on Feb. 28th in the United Kingdom and on March 5th in North America. 

If you'd like to win a signed hardcover of The Chalice, please comment below. Include your email address, so I can get in touch with you.