Moving back in time now for our next interviewee, Cynthia Haggard, historical fiction writer and heir to no small literary inheritance, related as she is to H. Rider Haggard, the author of SHE and KING SOLOMON’S MINES.
Her latest novel, Thwarted Queen, is set in 15th century England and follows the life of Cecylee Neville, mother of Richard III. This all chimes in nicely with the recent finds on the archaeological site in Leicester concerning that unlucky king’s final resting place, and there will surely be a re-newed enthusiasm in reading about all things Plantangenet as a result ….
Cynthia Haggard will be under the Spotlight at AuthorsAnon throughout October.
You mention you read Jean Plaidy and Georgette Heyer as a child – can you remember your first contact with history as a child? Something that triggered off your passion for history and which led you to read these and other authors?
I grew up in England, which is filled with history. I remember trips to St. Albans and Bath to see Roman ruins, and I remember struggling up various spiral stairs in castles. Ruined abbeys are also a part of the landscape. So it was all around me. I used to stand and look at the beautiful English countryside and imagine people from the past. It was easy to do.
What attracted you first to the period you write in?
The Middle Ages is presented as a very romantic period, full of knights and fair ladies. It seems glamorous and very civilized. It is also interesting that illustrations for Fairy Tales often use the costumes from the 15th century, the period of Cecylee’s life. So it has a lot to it that initially, I found very attractive.
What inspired you to write about Cecylee Neville in particular?
I was watching a BBC program about the princes in the Tower, given by Tony Robinson, when he casually mentioned that historian Michael K. Jones had discovered some evidence that Edward IV of England was illegitimate. The evidence was that Cecylee’s husband, Richard Duke of York was not around in July-August 1441 when Edward would have been conceived. (He was born April 28, 1442). My immediate question was, what on earth did Cecylee say to her husband, when he returned from his summer campaign of fighting the French?
What are your own favourite scenes in the book?
I have four. There is the scene where Richard discovers that Cecylee has been unfaithful. The scene where Cecylee tells her son Edward IV that she doesn’t support his marriage to Elisabeth Woodville. Then there are two crowd scenes, the one where Duke Humphrey dishes about the new queen of England, and how she brought no dowry to her marriage, and the one where Warwick the Kingmaker tells everyone that the Queen’s son is illegitimate. I loved these scenes because there was a lot of scope for conflict.
Who are your favourite characters in Thwarted Queen (in addition to Cecylee)?
I loved writing about the maids, Audrey and Jenet. I got very fond of Richard of York (Cecylee’s husband) and his son Richard of Gloucester (who later became Richard III). Elisabeth Woodville was always enjoyable to write about, because she had such an effect on everyone. And I enjoyed writing about Richard’s sister Isabel.
Do you find the research for historical fiction tends to take over writing time? Or are you able to divide the time up to your satisfaction?
I find that one feeds the other. If I’m in the middle of writing something and I need to do a piece of research, I either mark the place in the text with Xs, or I look it up right away. I often find that research sparks my imagination, so it’s not a problem for me.
Which books/authors do you think most influenced you when developing the novel?
Michael K. Jones THE PSYCHOLOGY OF BATTLE, which gives a completely different take on the family dynamics of the Yorks. And Alison Weir’s books, THE WARS OF THE ROSES and THE PRINCES IN THE TOWER.
As you were brought up in a very musical environment (playing the violin, studying at the Royal College and the Guild Hall) – do you feel music has influenced or helped you in your writing? Are there favourite pieces of music you have playing in the background when writing?
I’m very particular about what I listen to when I’m writing. When I was writing Cecylee, I was either listening to Hildegard of Bingen, or all those Anonymous 4 recordings of medieval music, sung a cappella by female voices.
How do you work? In starts and spurts, or do you have a timetable you adhere to?
It really depends on what’s going on. Generally, I work in starts and spurts. Initially, I write down whatever’s occupying my mind. By the time I get to the last draft, I’m usually working to a deadline, so in that case I work every day, sometimes for 6-9 hours.
Can you write anywhere, or do you prefer to have a special place in which to do so, a cubby hole or ‘snuggery’?
I really have to have my place to write. It’s too disorienting otherwise. I don’t really like working outside my home, I find cafes too distracting. I’m happiest when I’m in my spot that I’ve designated as my writing place.
Do you have a favourite system for working?
I have a flexible system. Generally speaking, in that first draft I tend to throw things down. But I have noticed that as I’ve gotten more experienced, that I’m making better choices about how to start off a story, like which point of view to tell it on, that saves me a lot of time down the line.
Which comes first: images, plot or characters? Or other?
I usually have an idea, which I scribble down. Then I may wait a long time before I actually start writing. During that time, I’ll do a lot of reading and develop it. At some point, I feel that I have enough head of steam to start. In that first draft, I just write down whatever’s on my mind. I find that first draft really hard work. I’m a writer who really enjoys re-writing.
You have also had a career in neuro- and cognitive science research : do you think there will come a time when you might apply your knowledge in these areas to a novel?
Actually, I do apply my knowledge to my novels. Cecylee is about how timing is really the controlling variable in finding one’s suitor. (Richard of York is on a much slower clock than Blaybourne, who is as fast as the quicksilver Cecylee). In another novel I’ve just finished, titled AN UNSUITABLE SUITOR, I talk about how shopping lists of attributes, such as income, or interests don’t work. That what really works are the ineffable qualities, all that information that comes in to you literally under your nose, that most people don’t notice. This is what people mean, I think, when they talk about following the dictates of your heart.
Do you think writers are more empowered now than before?
Yes, because of self-publishing. Writers now have more choices about how to present their work, whether they just want to do it for a small audience, whether they even want to make money.
Any thoughts or advice on writing you’d like to pass on historical fiction writing?
Yes. Unless you are a superb researcher, do NOT do fictional biography, because the standards for getting all the facts straight are very high. You have to remember that people who read this type of historical fiction tend to think that everything you say is true. So if it isn’t, you have to explain your decision to your reader. For those starting out, I recommend writing about events that happened to fictional characters set in an historical setting. That is a good way of getting your toes wet, because you still have to do research, but not as intensely.
Where on the web can people connect with you and your work?
My website is http://www.spunstories.com.
Where can they buy your book(s)?
My books are available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, Redroom and Smashwords,
May we know a little about your next novel?
The tile is AN UNSUITABLE SUITOR. It is a coming-of-age story about identity, forbidden love, and family secrets, set in 1920s Washington D. C. and Berlin, Germany. Filled with the haunting sounds of the violin, this novel draws you into the world of a gifted violinist honing her artistry with the foremost violin pedagogue of the day, and the seediness and glamor of Berlin in the twenties. We follow Grace’s emotional journey from a shy girl who almost never speaks, to a passionate woman who fights for what she wants.
Thank you for profiling me in this interview, and for your interesting questions.
Thank you for participating! Happy writing!
- Should Richard III – the last Yorkist king – be reburied in Yorkshire? (guardian.co.uk)
- ‘Yorkshire king’ could be brought back after 500 years (yorkshirepost.co.uk)