The complexities of the politics are intriguing when you peel away the layers. It had a lot to do with the clashing of personalities. Alliances were constantly shifting and while blood ties were strongest, if your brother’s or father’s agendas compromised your own power, then it wasn’t unheard of to throw your support with the opposition. Edward II was not a popular king and his own brothers actually aided his wife Isabella in her invasion of England. Apparently, they thought he needed to step aside, too.
2. How do you go about researching your books?
I collect a lot of non-fiction books. Then they get underlined in purple pen, dog-eared, and tagged with neon Post-It Notes. I try to read a broad spectrum of perspectives, because different historians often have different theories. Besides history books and biographies, I also have a small library with everything from the dress of the period, to foods, hawking and hunting, tournaments, armor and weaponry, castles and abbeys . . . It’s like building a house. The historical events are the framework, but you need all that additional information to flesh it out and set the story firmly in a different time from today. Research is both fun and exhausting. I can spend an hour digging for one tiny detail.
3. What is the hardest part of writing historical fiction.
Striking the balance between ‘story’ and ‘history’. Historical fiction is fiction in a past setting, sometimes based on historical events. When you’re writing epic biographical fiction, as I’ve done, there are a lot of facts to keep straight. Sometimes you err, whether unintentionally or intentionally in the interest of the story arc, and there are readers out there who will let you know about it. If, as a historical novelist, you focus on factual history for the sake of accuracy, you risk compromising your story. If you focus on story at the sake of accuracy, you compromise your credibility in some readers’ eyes. Talk about pressure!
People often shy away from history books because they’re too dry, verbose and have no relevance to their own lives. Most of us would rather read a novel, because it deals with characters and their fears, ambitions, motivations and emotions – things we can relate to. My aim is to bring to life some historical figures who haven’t been written about a lot in fiction. If my readers can learn something new that they didn’t know before, without feeling like they’re getting a history lecture, then I’ve done my job. It’s hard to find that balance between entertaining and informing.
4. Which historical figure from your books would you have liked to know? Which would you have run away from? And why?
Can they be the same person? Okay, I confess I have a bad-boy crush on James Douglas, who’s one of the viewpoint characters in The Bruce Trilogy. I find him mysterious and recklessly brave. In my books, he comes across as a little shy with women, but when he loves, he gives his heart completely. I admire his loyalty to Robert the Bruce, his cleverness, his dedication to his cause – all at the peril of his own life. By the same token, though, I would not want to be the one he was out to get. He makes cameo appearances in Isabeau and The King Must Die, so you get to see his ruthless side, as well.
5. Who is your favorite royal?
Robert the Bruce! He persisted against constant odds and had a long-term vision, but he was also charismatic and a natural leader who knew how to inspire.
6. Your books are set in 14th and 15th century in the British Isles. Is there another time period you'd like to explore?
While I’ve grown comfortable in the 14th and 15th century, I do feel it’s time to explore other periods. I enjoy a good Tudor story, but there are plenty of Henry VIII stories to go around. Most likely, I’ll either hurtle forward to 19th or 20th century America or write a contemporary love story that involves past lives set in 16th or 17th century Scotland. But those are just nuggets of ideas, scribbled in a notebook. One thing at a time. Next up is a journey into 15th century Wales.
7. Can you share one thing that you learned that really surprised you about one of the historical figures in your books?
Without giving too much away, I’d probably say that following Queen Isabella and Sir Roger Mortimer’s invasion of England in 1326, it was a looong time before Mortimer returned to his Welsh estates and visited his wife of nearly twenty-five years, Joan Mortimer. (Yes, they married very young back then.) It’s surprising in that he didn’t make more of an effort to play the dutiful husband, if only to deflect rumors. And yet it isn’t surprising, considering how passionate his relationship with Isabella must have been. Obviously, he was sending Joan a message by avoiding her. There is every indication he and Joan had a strong marriage until he become involved with the queen. When he did finally see his wife again, it was with Isabella at his side. That had to be an awkward reunion!
What is done cannot be undone.
England, 1326. Edward II has been dethroned. Queen Isabella and her lover, Sir Roger Mortimer, are at the pinnacle of their power.
Fated to rule, Isabella’s son becomes King Edward III at the callow age of fourteen. Young Edward, however, must bide his time as the loyal son until he can break the shackles of his minority and dissolve the regency council which dictates his every action.
When the former king is found mysteriously dead in his cell, the truth becomes obscured and Isabella can no longer trust her own memory . . . or confide in those closest to her. Meanwhile, she struggles to keep her beloved Mortimer at her side and gain yet another crown—France’s—for the son who no longer trusts her.
Amidst a maelstrom of shifting loyalties, accusations of murder propel England to the brink of civil war.
In the sequel to Isabeau, secrecy and treason, conspiracy and revenge once again overtake England. The future rests in the hands of a mother and son whose bonds have reached a breaking point.
The Wedding of Edward III and Philippa of Hainault
Edward III – York, January 1328
While a howling wind lashed the snow into knee-high drifts, we proceeded to the castle. Philippa and I rode abreast of one another, our horses caparisoned in heraldic silks, the silver bells attached to their bridles and reins tinkling gaily amid the clamor. It may well have been the coldest and snowiest day in years, but it did nothing to dampen the spirits of England’s people. We dismounted before the steps to the great hall, the bells of York’s churches pealing in celebration. She slipped her hand from beneath the warmth of her miniver-edged cloak. I grasped her fingers and pulled her closer.
“I regret to say,” I whispered rapidly, before anyone could close in and overhear, “that my mother has raised objection to our wedding night being so close to Lent. She thinks we should forego, ah, a certain ‘rite’ in the hopes of receiving God’s blessing upon our union.”
Philippa clasped her other hand over my forearm. “I had not thought of that. Will we not ...?”
Casting a glance around, I guided her up the steps. A pair of porters opened the great doors before us. I shrugged. “Do you want to?”
“I do.” Lowering her chin, she shrank inside her hood to conceal her blushing. “That is, if it would not trouble your conscience.”
“Mine? No.” I scoffed. “Christ himself could not keep me from you tonight.”
N. Gemini Sasson is also the author of The Crown in the Heather (The Bruce Trilogy: Book I), Worth Dying For (The Bruce Trilogy: Book II), The Honor Due a King (The Bruce Trilogy: Book III) and Isabeau, A Novel of Queen Isabella and Sir Roger Mortimer (2011 IPPY Silver Medalist for Historical Fiction). She holds a M.S. in Biology from Wright State University where she ran cross country on athletic scholarship. She has worked as an aquatic toxicologist, an environmental engineer, a teacher and a track and cross country coach. A longtime breeder and judge of Australian Shepherds, her articles on bobtail genetics have been translated into seven languages.
Web site: http://www.ngeminisasson.com