Questions posted on or before 9/16 have been forwarded to the author for response. We will post her answers as soon as we have them. This section is closed for new questions now. Thank you!
Join Date: 10/15/10
Join Date: 01/12/12
Q. Hi, Elizabeth! Just wanted to let you know how much I loved your book and appreciated you chose Katherine Parr - a lesser known wife - as the main character. My question is: How long did it take for you to research the background, in order to write this novel? I imagine it was an extensive, ongoing process.
A. I’m so glad you enjoyed Queen's Gambit. You are absolutely right, research is a way of life to me. I’m constantly reading the historians, both old works and new, and it only takes the discovery of a previously lost letter or painting being reattributed to throw new light on a subject. I feel it’s important to be aware of all the differing opinions, and have a thorough overview of the period about which I’m writing, whether or not the material ends up in my own work. But it is in no way onerous as I derive such pleasure from it.
Join Date: 01/12/12
Q. Who are your literary influences? Who are your favorites and which do you think have had the biggest impact on your own writing?
A. It’s very hard to say; I love Mantel, Tremain and Waters though I try my best not to be influenced by contemporary writers, but I’m sure things manage to seep in without me realizing. As a child I endlessly and passionately read Jean Plaidy, so she was probably the source of my desire to write historical fiction but I would say that someone like Stephan Zweig has been influential stylistically. He didn’t necessarily write historical works, though he wrote two utterly captivating tragic biographies (of Mary Queen of Scots and Marie Antoinette) but it is his fiction and the novel Beware of in particular that I go back to in search of brilliance. I also love Henry James for the intensity of his prose and sometimes turn to poetry too for inspiration. There is an Emily Dickenson poem describing a death-bed scene with a fly buzzing about, which was a source for a death scene in Queen’s Gambit.
Join Date: 10/15/10
Q. The chess move "queen's gambit" is a move in which you sacrifice pieces in order to gain a better position. What do you think Katherine most risked and what did she most want to gain?
Adapted from bonnieclyde's post on the topic: Katherine employs the queen's gambit the first time she plays chess with Henry. How does this game foreshadow Katherine's relationship with Henry? Why do you think the book is titled Queen's Gambit?
A. Yes, the idea of taking a greater risk for greater gain was behind my idea and you are right in saying that Seymour was one of the sacrifices, but her primary sacrifice was that of her own safety. For me her primary gain was political as she has an opportunity to forward the New Faith and I would disagree to a point that she cared nothing for it herself. My notion is that she felt ambivalent about her marriage to the King. Women were expected to hoist their kin up through marriage and as such hers was a great triumph for the Parrs. Indeed her brother became a Marquess and her sister's husband was made Earl of Pembroke after Katherine’s death, with both becoming hugely influential in the reigns of the Tudor monarchs who followed. As you point out she was instrumental in reconciling Henry with his daughters and reinstating them into the succession, so her effect was far reaching in every way, though sadly she did not live long enough to experience it.
Join Date: 07/18/11
Q. I am curious why you made Dr. Huike a homosexual. I read on your Internet site that he was actually heterosexual. You explained there that he made a safer person for Katherine to confide in as a he was a person who had his own secrets to safeguard. My question, then, is why did you not tell your readers in a historical addendum which would have explained some of the choices that you, as all writers of historical fiction make, to enhance or to fill in background.
A. I did point out in my author’s note at the end of the novel that I had taken the liberty of making Huicke homosexual though there was no evidence to support this theory, but then again none against it either – indeed almost nothing is known about Huicke’s private life. My decision to do this was based upon the narrative requirements of the novel and in the development of Huicke as a fictional character it made sense. But I also had a definite desire to create a landscape that was inclusive of different sexualities, rather than do as history has done and erase their possibility altogether. As a writer of fiction I feel my role is to ask questions within a narrative, rather than answer them and to explore avenues that a historian cannot. I could have chosen to wholly invent a person, and considered doing this in both the case of Dot and Huicke, but felt that ultimately something would be lost if I chose that path. In my author’s note I say that on one level all the people in the novel are fictions because we can know nothing of the inner worlds of such individuals – their thoughts, hopes, secrets – and in order to create convincing and rounded characters one must build them from the inside out. I only hope I have done this convincingly.
Join Date: 09/14/11
Q. Ms. Fremantle, I am a big fan of the Tudor Period. I am fascinated by the intrigue during Henry VIII's reign- I love reading historical fiction about Henry VIII and his six wives. So my question is: So out of all of the wives, why write about Katherine Parr? What was it about her life as a woman and as a Queen that drove your focus to her in writing your first book?
A. I was initially drawn to Katherine Parr because she was an author and indeed one of the first women to publish an original work in the English language. I studied early modern women writers at college and always wanted to find a way to explore these pioneering women through fiction. Another thing that attracted me to her was the fact that compared to some of Henry VIII’s other wives she has been somewhat overlooked, despite having an extraordinary story. I wanted to debunk the myth of her as a dull nursemaid who cared for an irascible king in his dotage. She was a vivacious and charismatic woman who was highly political, promoting religious reform at great personal cost. It was she who persuaded Henry to reinstate his outcast daughters into the royal succession and she cleverly outfoxed her enemies, surviving a plot on her life. But it is the contradictions in her character that I felt would make her a good subject for fiction. That a woman of such strength and intelligence could make such a disastrous decision in the name of love makes her, even at such a distance in time, relatable to modern women.
Join Date: 08/23/11
Q. Dot was a great character. What historical sources did you draw upon to make her so realistic and effective.
A. For a character such as Dot, about whom there is virtually nothing known, I had to look into other women’s lives. There is very little about people of no consequence in history but clues can be found in exploring the ways ordinary people lived. I looked into the roles of servants and their relationships to those they served. Alison Sim's "Masters and Servants in Tudor England" was helpful as were many other books that shine a light on sixteenth century everyday life, like Lawrence Stone’s book on the family. Buildings can be a source of information too: in Dot's case it was the vast Hampton Court kitchens that allowed me to imagine what her life must have been like. Tudor ballads, the music of ordinary people, are full of information on quotidian life and there are contemporary dialogue books, that were designed to demonstrate the right way to behave, which offer exchanges between people and their servants. It is a process of teasing out facts from these texts and building them up into an entire and plausible individual.
Join Date: 03/07/13
Q. I also wondered, along with lisag, about your research. Where did you go for material? I know there must still be court records for Thomas Seymour's trail, but no one who loved his or her life would have written about Henry in anything other than flattering terms.
A. There is so much documented about the period, especially about the men of importance and there are indeed court records for Seymour’s trial including Kat Astley’s statements, which are most revealing on his character. There is also a great deal of anecdotal evidence and a multitude of historians work in the area. The state papers, which record all government business down to the smallest detail, are useful but it’s necessary to read between the lines. I find reading historians who disagree with each other is a good way of getting to the heart of a subject. On your specific point about Henry VIII: he had many critics including the Imperial ambassador Chapuys, whose incredibly detailed missives sent back to the Emperor, are most revealing. Letters are also a good source because often the contents were not designed to be read by more than a single person, offering an intimate glimpse of an individual. There are a couple of wonderful letters from Katherine Parr to Thomas Seymour as well as to Henry which say much about the different relationships she had with each of these men. Of course with Katherine there are her two books, which offer insights into her as a person.
Join Date: 04/14/11
Q. I, too, wondered about your research, how much was done with "original" sources? And also, why did you pick Catherine Parr? While I think she was a very interesting character, I think much of her "survival" had to do with luck, given Henry's age and ill health. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and thought it was an interesting read, since I had not read much about Catherine Parr. I have read a great deal about Elizabeth and Thomas Seymour, an most interesting opportunist. Eagerly awaiting your next book.
A. I hope I have answered you questions about my research and choice of Katherine Parr as a heroine in earlier responses. On your point about luck, I think there was certainly an element of good timing for Katherine that contributed to her survival but given she had already cannily avoided arrest once before, it is plausible to imagine she might have been able to do so again – I like to think so.
Join Date: 01/12/12
Is there one particular place you write and do you have a set schedule? Do you have an office or a favorite coffee shop/another location where it's most conducive for you to write?
I'm always curious about a writer's "space," where s/he feels the writing flows more easily. Or maybe it's having a certain music on, a certain background noise or no noise at all.
Do you have an ideal writing location?
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