Jeane Westin Article and Giveaway – The Spymaster’s Daughter

Today we have a guest post from one of my favourite historical novelists, Jeane Westin, whose latest novel, The Spymaster’s Daughter, I have just reviewed over at our reviews site – click here to read the review.

Over to Jeane…

Thank you Claire for asking me to give readers a look behind the scenes of an historical novelist’s life. I hope the following will interest the readers of this (my favorite) historical website.

When I finished His Last Letter about the long love story of Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley, I didn’t have a good idea what book I wanted to write next. I knew the story would have to include that brilliant queen and her court, but how and with whom and doing what?

I flirted with several ideas until one day while reading about Sir Francis Walsingham, I became curious about his only child, a daughter, Frances. Other histories noted her marriage to the Earl of Essex, Elizabeth’s last favorite and her first marriage to Sir Philip Sidney, the great poet of love sonnets before Shakespeare. Philip’s great love was Essex’s sister, Penelope Rich. His famous Astrophel and Stella (Stargazer and Star) was written after Philip lost her to another man. What a tangle!

All that was enough to arouse my curiosity about Frances. What was her life like? Was she loved for herself by Sidney or only as second best? Did she love and who was it? What had she to do with her father’s extensive spy system which eventually brought down Mary, Queen of Scots and saved Elizabeth from multiple assassination attempts? Did this daughter of a brilliant man inherit his brain and interest in codes and spying? And how could Frances be involved in that underworld when she was one of the queen’s ladies? Historical novels always begin and turn on what if questions and I had a multitude.

Who was Frances Walsingham Sidney Essex really?

My own earlier work as a cryptographer in the Pentagon during wartime informed some of my story. Wouldn’t Frances, surrounded by code clerks, handwriting experts and messengers carrying secrets to and from France, Spain, the Vatican and even Constantinople be curious, even involved? The more questions I had about what might have been Frances’ life, the more the outline of the story evolved.

But who would be the central male figure, the lover? It couldn’t be Sidney who was away fighting in Holland and possibly still in love with Stella. I didn’t want it to be Essex, an historical figure I’ve never cared for, especially for his having brought about the drawing and quartering execution of the queen’s Portuguese-Jewish doctor in a trumped-up poisoning plot. After more research, I became intrigued by one Robert Pauley, one of Walsingham’s operatives AND a man her father placed in Frances’ entourage. A wonderful coincidence.

There are no physical descriptions of Pauley. This allowed me an opportunity I’ve long wished for…I could give him a physical flaw. A romantic interest who was not golden, not physically perfect…the idea had always intrigued me. How would this change his view of himself or a beautiful woman’s view of him? The physical flaw could not be great, but just enough to attract negative comments and disdain especially from someone like the exceptionally handsome, Essex.

I read many books about the substitution codes of that era, fairly simple compared to modern times, but complex for their day and used by Walsingham and Mary, Queen of Scots, one of them finally bringing her down.

From these facts: adventure, spying, love, jealousy, desire…there was more than enough to be woven into a story.

Hilary Mantel in a recent article said: “I try to make sure that everything I make up could plausibly have happened.” I think every historical writer does that or we drift off into fantasy-land. Still, it’s up to the writer to make every aspect of the story plausible and to weave enough real facts and atmosphere to give it plausibility.

Curiously, once the story is written, it’s real no matter how far out on the historical limb I’ve climbed.

P.S. When I finished The Spymaster’s Daughter, I had every intention of writing about Stella, Penelope Rich. I did considerable research and wrote an outline. Then, quite suddenly, I found myself in France in a World War One trench. Strange things happen to historical novelists.


Jeane has kindly offered a copy of The Spymaster’s Daughter to one lucky winner. All you have to do is leave a comment on this post by the end of Friday 26th October 2012 and one person will be picked at random to win the book. I will announce the winner on Monday 29th October.

Click here to read my review and to find out more about Jeane’s novel.

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37 thoughts on “Jeane Westin Article and Giveaway – The Spymaster’s Daughter”
  1. Walsingham has always fascinated me ever since I saw him in the movie Elizabeth and yes I know that is less than an accurate source. I love stories that look at lesser known women in
    history and I’m looking forward to reading the story of Frances.

  2. This sounds like a wonderful and intriguing novel. I’ll definitely have to pick it up and read it. I don’t know much about the subject matter as I’m currently reading as many books as I can get my hands on about Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII, but I’ll definitely read this one! Thank you for the guest post! I look forward to reading more from you! Thanks Claire!

  3. Walsingham is a fascinating and scary character. He features quite strongly in James Forrester’s trilogy which I have just completed. To learn about his daughter would be very interesting as I have never heard of her. Jeane’s background in cryptography must give the novel a great sense of authenticity – I just can’t wait to read it. When will the Kindle version be released I wonder?

  4. Thanks so much Claire for your lovely review and for asking such an intriguing question: just how do historical novelists come together with an idea for a story? It made me challenge my own process.

    For those interested in the digital edition, it’s up now, I believe.

    Jeane Westin

  5. What a great post! I’ve been reading so much historical fiction recently that I “promised” myself I’d read at least two non-fiction books before I treat myself to the next one. I suddenly have a feeling that this promise is about to be broken. 🙂

  6. Wow, this sounds like a very interesting book. I’ve always been fascinated with the famous Sir Spymaster and his family. Look forward to it!

  7. I always like reading how folks get the ideas for their stories/novels. I have had many moments like this, and I truly envy others for being able to take it from the germ of an idea to an actual novel that is published!

  8. I would love to read this! I became interested in Frances after seeing the Helen Mirren “Elizabeth” film and would love to know more about her.

  9. I think this sounds fascinating. I would love to read it, will have to look into, but I have several books on my Kindle already that I have yet to start so it may be a while.

  10. I can´t wait to read this book!! Jeanne Westin presents the subjects that lately I find very remarkable: the intrigue between royal conspiracies, ambassadors and criptographers. Sounds like a very a fascinating novel!!

  11. An execellent idea for an historical novel! I too have been curious as to how the entire system of codes and messages were set up by Walsingham and also how he recruited his operatives. Did they volunteer out of devotion to the Queen? Did he approach them and convince them to participate? Did he blackmail some because they were in a position to get the information he wanted but refused to spy on family and friends? Such a myriad of questions that will never really be answered but what fun in creating “what if” scenarios for them! I look forward to reading the new book.

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