Posted By Claire on June 2, 2014
Today, I am honoured for The Anne Boleyn Files to be a stop on author Katherine Longshore’s blog tour. Katherine shares with us how she goes about researching her books, and specifically her latest novel Brazen. Over to Katherine…
When people ask how much time I spend researching my novels, I usually tell them five years (though now, I suppose, it’s been more like nine). I started reading about British history after seeing Ian McKellen in the film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Richard III. He played Richard as a sympathetic sociopath—or at least such a delightful sociopath that I fell in love with him. And I wondered if the real Richard could possibly have been that bad.
And so I fell down the rabbit hole. Once I got started reading history, I couldn’t stop. I devoured every Richard and Wars of the Roses book I could get my hands on and then moved onto the Tudors. I still haven’t exhausted all of those possibilities. I haven’t even finished with Henry yet. I just hope I make it to the Civil Wars (English, of course) before I die. I joke that I know more about Henry VIII’s family tree than I do about my own (but sadly, it’s probably true).
When asked how I researched Brazen specifically, I start with that foundation. For five years, I read about history because I enjoyed it. I never imagined I would write a novel—much less three—based on the lives of the people I encountered in these books. When I read an account that had a certain bias, I made sure I went out and found another one that offered a different opinion. I didn’t want anyone else telling me what to believe about the princes in the Tower or Anne Boleyn’s guilt (or innocence) or Henry FitzRoy’s sickliness. So I read everything I could and drew my own conclusions.
I like to think I had a good, balanced foundation of knowledge before I started writing historical fiction. My research didn’t have an agenda (or, it seems, an end point) and I didn’t need to shape it to fit my purposes. It was strictly for fun. Obsessive fun, but fun nonetheless.
But every novelist must have an opinion about her characters, must give each one strengths and faults and flaws. So when writing my characters, I look at the actions they took historically and try to get into the psyche of someone who would do those things. For some characters—like Margaret Douglas—I took the simple approach. Some historians say she had ambitions to the throne—either for herself or for her children—so I created a character who leaned in that direction, or at least gave an impression of it. But Margaret also made decisions about her love like that with hindsight appear irrational. This makes for a fascinating facet to explore fictionally.
Mary Howard was a little more difficult to undertake. Her young life went almost entirely undocumented and is reduced to a mention or two in her mother’s epic letters of complaint, an almost-afterthought reference to her wedding, her appearance at Easter eve mass in 1533, Anne Boleyn’s coronation and her role in Elizabeth’s baptism. And then, of course, her struggle to retain her title and jointure after the death of her husband and eventual falling-out with her brother.
I had the seeds of a character here. Someone intelligent. Tenacious. Someone close to the queen (not an easy feat, I think, as the court was so divided over its opinion of Anne Boleyn). Though I had no hard evidence to go on, I made Mary part of Anne’s household, based solely on that information and a mention that Mary was one of Anne’s supporters. This helped create the framework of the story with Anne’s reign and fall as a backdrop.
The remainder of my research focused on details. Who was where and when. What were the exact words reported when x happened. Who gave what to whom as a gift. The Letters and Papers of Henry VIII online are an amazing resource—especially for a writer stuck out in the hinterlands of California with no other access to primary sources.
My favorite details, however, are textural, not factual, and for those I went back to the popular biographies and histories with which I began. I reread Alison Weir’s Henry VIII: The King and His Court for her wonderful descriptions of how and what the members of the court would eat, what games they might play and the flowers in the castle gardens. I went back to Julia Fox’s biography of Jane Boleyn to benefit from her knowledge of how a Tudor wedding might have played out, and employed some of those details in the first chapters of Brazen. I pored over Beverley A. Muphy’s Bastard Prince twice for details about FitzRoy’s home life, his properties and especially his funeral. And I constantly refer back to my research staples, The Royal Palaces of Tudor England by Simon Thurley for layouts and descriptions of Henry’s castles and Tudor Costume and Fashion by Herbert Norris.
In order to walk a while in my characters’ shoes, I have to know what kind of shoes they are. I have to imagine how the fabric feels on my toes, how the soles creak or stretch or bend. In order to inhabit the settings I describe, I have to see them (and hear, smell and taste them) as my characters would have. How badly did the Thames really stink? And would body odor really be that perceptible, given the environment and the fact that most courtiers bathed with the same frequency (or infrequency, as the case may be)? If the tapestries we see today at Hampton Court are worn and faded with age, how brilliant must they have been in 1533? How cold would it have been at Greenwich in December? What did a strawberry taste like after a winter eating few fresh fruits and vegetables? And how sweet was hippocras?
I embroider as many of these details into my novels as I can because as dedicated as I am to getting my facts right and being as historically accurate as possible, I am, after all, a writer of fiction. History must share center stage with story, and both are enriched and made real by sensory descriptions. It’s one of the things I love about writing historical fiction—making the world as real to my readers as it is to me.
Mary Howard has always lived in the shadow of her powerful family. But when she’s married off to Henry Fitzroy, King Henry VIII’s illegitimate son, she rockets into the Tudor court’s inner circle. Mary and “Fitz” join a tight clique of rebels who test the boundaries of court’s strict rules with their games, dares, and flirtations. The more Mary gets to know Fitz, the harder she falls for him, but is forbidden from seeing him alone. The rules of court were made to be pushed…but pushing them too far means certain death. Is true love worth dying for?
Katherine Longshore grew up on the northern California coast. At university, she created her own major in Cross-Cultural Studies and Communications, planning to travel and write. Forever. Four years, six continents and countless pairs of shoes later, she went to England for two weeks, stayed five years and discovered history. She now lives in California with her husband, two children and a sun-worshiping dog.
- 1 winner will receive all 3 books (Gilt, Tarnish and Brazen) signed, International.
- 2 winners will receive signed copies of Brazen, US Only
Brazen Blog Tour
Catch up with Katherine at her other stops this week:
6/2/2014 – Literary Exploration – Review
6/2/2014 – The Anne Boleyn Files (here!)- Guest Post
6/3/2014 – Romantic Reads and Such – Interview
6/4/2014 – Page Turners – Review
6/5/2014 – Magical Urban Fantasy Reads – Guest Post
6/6/2014 – Parajunkee’s View – Interview
and you can see the full two week tour schedule at RockstarBookTours.com
You can read my review of Brazen over at Tudor Book reviews – click here.