Friday, March 15, 2013

Blog Tour Interview + Giveaway: The Chalice by Nancy Bilyeau

Please join me in welcoming author Nancy Bilyeau to Let Them Read Books! Nancy was here back in January of 2012 with a guest post on her blog tour for her debut novel, The Crown, and that post has been by far the most popular on my blog to-date. Now she's back with the second book in her Tudor mystery series, The Chalice, and I thought it was even better than the first book! (Click here to read my review.) I'm so excited to have Nancy here today chatting about her series, and she's brought along a copy of The Chalice to give away to one of my lucky readers!
Without further ado, here she is:

Hi Nancy! Thanks so much for taking the time to appear
on Let Them Read Books! 

What inspired you to write this series?

I think one of the reasons is how much I adore reading a series myself! There is nothing like that feeling of when you finish a book you’ve enjoyed, you know that there are more stories to come with these same main characters. I particularly love the Ariana Franklin series, her Mistress of the Art of Death books, the Charlaine Harris “Sookie” series and of course the Brother Cadfael series. That’s why I burst into tears when my British editor emailed me last year that my first book The Crown made it onto the short list for the Ellis Peters Historical Dagger Award. I didn’t win, but for an American writing her first book—what a tremendous honor.

And what fuels me to write these books is my excitement over the alchemy I have created: historical fiction set in the reign of Henry VIII plus a thriller plot structure plus a woman’s story from the little-known world of religious orders plus a bit of the mystical and supernatural. No one else is doing this.

I would imagine creating a nun as your main character would come with its own set of challenges. How did Joanna's character take shape?

First I came up with a main character who is a Dominican novice, then I decided to make her half-English and half-Spanish from a noble family on the downward slide. There is a great deal of structure in a priory, then and now, and that gave me underpinnings to work with as a writer. In The Chalice, she is not in the priory any longer—no one is, Henry VIII had it demolished. There has been almost nothing written about the lives of the nuns and monks and friars after the Dissolution, when they were expelled. So I had to do a lot of thinking about what it would be like to still possess your deep spiritual calling but unable to live in the way that was meaningful to you.

Did you come across any surprises or interesting tidbits in your historical research?

The life of a nun was more interesting and assertive than most people would assume. There was prayer, of course; also teaching, music, study, and tapestry-weaving. The prioresses were like CEOs, managing everything. I read a letter from the real Prioress Elizabeth Croessener, who in The Crown is the leader of the Dartford priory when Joanna arrives. A Dominican friar was sent to Dartford to take care of administrative matters and she hated him and wrote letters to ministers in Henry VIII’s court basically saying, “Get him out of here.” LOL.

I was also surprised by what it was like to be imprisoned in the Tower of London. I thought in my ignorance that prisoners ate gruel-like food. But the reality was that if you had any sort of money or family connection at all, the yeoman warders would see to it that food was brought in: venison, fowl, beef, vegetables, wine. Your meals were catered!

Did you find any scenes in The Crown or The Chalice particularly challenging or difficult to write?

In The Crown it was difficult to shift gears from Sister Joanna leaving the Tower of London after her harsh imprisonment and transitioning back to the priory life and the slow, tense build to the strange discoveries she makes and then the first priory murder. That just required a lot of writer labor, to adjust the tempo to a quieter one but to keep reader interest going. I think I find the “big” sequences easier to write than the quieter, more psychological ones. But it’s important to me that the books be not just plot-driven thrillers but be character-driven.

What do you like best about writing historical fiction?

I love everything about it. I find the Tudor era endlessly fascinating—by writing these novels I am putting my obsession to work.  I create detailed worlds in my novels, all of it based on research, on how life was then. I almost think of my job as putting the reader in a time machine.

Can you tell us a bit about your creative process? What's a typical day like for you as a writer?

I get up really early and check my email and twitter and so forth, to see what’s going on in England. My books are published in both countries, with different editorial teams. I try my best not to get sucked into social media, which is hard because I am one of those authors who enjoys it. I don’t do it because I have to, I love finding people who are as passionate about books and history as I am.

When I took a year-and-a-half off from magazine work to write The Chalice, I would get my two children to school, come home, do a few chores and then head off to the New York Public Library on 42nd Street. That is the main building, the one with two stone lions in front that was prominent in Ghostbusters. It was great to write there! I was approved to work in the scholar’s room and so I had to be on my best behavior: no talking, no drinking, no eating, no music and NO wi-fi. We sat at long wooden tables. It was a monastic atmosphere, actually. Helpful in many ways.

What are you working on now?

A third book in the series. Its working title is The Covenant. Joanna is pulled right into the court of Henry VIII this time!

That was an awesome interview, don't you think? I loved her answers, and I think she's the kind of author a historical fiction reader can really appreciate!

And now for the giveaway!
Simply leave a comment with your email address for a chance to win your own copy of The Chalice.

This giveaway is open only to U.S. residents and ends at 11:59pm Friday, March 29, 2013. Winner will be selected at random. Thanks, and good luck!

The Chalice is on a blog tour!
Click here to view the entire tour schedule full of reviews, interviews, guest posts, and more chances to win!


  1. I would enjoy reading Nancy's new book, especially as I write and blog about the English Reformation--my email address is


  2. I would love to read this Book I have read the Crown. Please enter me for the Contest.
    Marilyn (

  3. I loved The Crown and have been looking forward to reading The Chalice. And, I'm delighted to learn that The Covenant will be forth-coming. Thanks for the giveaway.

  4. Love that cover! I haven't heard of these books before! Thanks for the giveaway!
    TaraTagli at gmail dot com

  5. This book sounds absolutely amazing and dying to read it!
    campbellamyd at gmail dot com

  6. I really really really want to own this book so it can sit next to The Crown. Love that the author is doing so well with her craft! marieburton2004 at yahoo dot com

  7. This historical fascinates me. Many thanks for this wonderful giveaway. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

  8. Thanks for this interesting interview which gave me a peek into this novel which I would enjoy greatly. elliotbencan(at)hotmail(dot)com

  9. I have The Crown and would would to win The Chalice. I love that she was able to write in the NYC library scholar room. How cool is that! I love that library. Thanks for the chance to win!

    libraryofmyown at gmail dot com

  10. I'm very glad to see this follow-up to The Crown and thrilled to hear that The Covenant is right on its heels. Nancy is rapidly becoming a real force in historical fiction. Thanks for the giveaway. carlscott(at)prodigy(dot)net(dot)mx

  11. I, too, was excited to hear that The Chalice was released so quickly after The Crown. Can't wait to read this one. Thanks for the giveaway!

    lafra86 at gmail dot com

  12. I'm excited to try out this one! thanks for the giveaway!

    -Len of Musings of a Reader Happy

  13. so excited about this giveaway!! thank you!!!

    cyn209 at juno dot com

  14. thanks for the giveaway! I would love to win a copy for a friend.
    ehc16e at yahoo dot com

  15. I loved The Crown and I am looking forward to reading The Chalice. Very excited to hear that there will be yet another book about Joanna Stafford!

    tmrtini at gmail dot com

  16. I've seen this book around on various blogs and have been dying to read it!
    Thanks for the giveaway!

    mestith at gmail dot com

  17. This sounds like a wonderful historical fiction novel, thanks for the giveaway


  18. I'm so excited to read her new book! I loved The Crown and I'm sure I'll love this one too!


  19. This book looks exciting and so is the giveaway! I would love to win a copy!

  20. This book looks exciting and so is the giveaway! I would love to win a copy!

  21. I LOVED this interview, and would definitely enjoy reading "The Chalice", as well as "The Crown"!! It sure sounds like Joanna is a wonderfully resourceful heroine! spocktrekone(AT)cs(DOT)com.` (As you can see, I'm also a Trekkie! Lol. Thank you so much for the giveaway!! :)

  22. Thanks so much for the chance. Please count me in. Thank you!

    nfmgirl AT gmail DOT com

  23. I would love to read this book—thanks for the opportunity to win a copy!

    skkorman AT bellsouth DOT net

  24. It was wonderful reading about the series that Nancy particularly like. I agree except for one that I haven't yet read (the Charlaine Harris “Sookie” series). May have to put that one on my TBR. Great comments about her discoveries and her dedication to writing, too. Hope that I can win The Chalice to put it next to The Crown on my book shelf.


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