Please join me in welcoming author Sandra Byrd to Let Them Read Books! I have loved each of the novels in Sandra's Ladies-in-Waiting trilogy, and the final installment is the best of them all! If you're looking for a new take on the Tudors, one that sheds light on them from a different angle while keeping the story completely rooted in historical fact, this is the series for you! I'm thrilled to have Sandra here discussing her inspiration for Roses Have Thorns and the challenges she faced in writing about Elizabeth I. She's also brought along a copy of the book and a lovely necklace to give away to one of my lucky readers. Without further ado, here she is!
Because she is so well-known, people have, for the most part, already formed decided opinions about her. I knew that some might disagree with me if they didn't see the Elizabeth they expected to see. So the trick was to stay true to what we really know about her - from primary sources and reliable secondary sources - but bring out an aspect of her personality that might not be often explored. Although Elizabeth was clearly demonstrative, and got angry or jealous, I don't think that happened as often as it is portrayed in books and movies. Biographer Alison Plowden said, "Elizabeth had learnt to conceal her innermost feelings before she grew out of her teens, and as she grew older she either 'patiently endured or politely dissembled' her greatest griefs of mind and body."
The way to see the softer side of her was through the eyes of her ladies, and her friends. That's what I set out to do in the book - while remaining true to history - and I hope I have succeeded. I also had to leave out a lot of people who very often show up in novels about her, Dr. Dee for example, because of the length of the book. I covered an awful lot of time but had a word limit, so I had to stick closely to the one story in focus.
Did you read other fiction about Elizabeth before writing your novel?
Oh yes, but not for many years. As soon as I knew I wanted to write this series, I put myself on a Tudor fiction diet, so as not to commingle my impressions of her (or the others in the previous books) with other authors' interpretations. I've been fascinated by her for at least thirty years. I love the relationship between her and Dudley, but because it has been so often written about, I wanted to look at things a little differently without leaving him out entirely. I'm looking forward to reading more Tudor fiction, again, now that I have finished writing the series.
How did Elizabeth's lady-in-waiting Elin von Snakenborg come to your attention, and what led you to craft a novel around her? How did you shape her character?
What a gift Elin was to me! As mentioned, I have read lots of Tudor fiction (and nonfiction) and did not really pick up on Helena (Elin) until I was researching for the second book, on Kateryn Parr. Helena, of course, married Parr's brother William, and I followed the trail from there.
Once I found Elin, I did find some material that related to her life. Gunnar Sjogren has written a very well researched biography of her, which my husband translated online from Swedish. James Bell wrote a book about the trip from Sweden right after the trip happened; he was either on the trip or perhaps met the party as they landed in England. And then she shows up again in the Gorges' family history. So I was fortunate to be able to draw from it, but also, from the women that Elizabeth liked in her life (maternal, kindly, loyal, feminine). I suspect that often we as women choose foils as lovers and friends because it helps complete us in some way. That helped. And I read up on the women of the Swedish court of the time, which was fascinating!
Can you tell us a bit about your research for this novel? What were your primary sources?
I have, I think, better than twenty primary reference sources listed in the back of the book, from which I drew the bulk of my material. I'm mentioned the ones relating to Helena, for Elizabeth, I particularly enjoy and am the beneficiary of the work of Dr. Susan Doran, a fellow at Oxford University. She has a marvelous way of taking the most complicated situation and making it understandable to the lay reader. I also like Alison Plowden's work on Elizabeth.
I've visited many of the places that were important to Elizabeth, and I always have a historical research assistant come behind me and point out anything that might be amiss. There is no way to be 100% accurate in every detail, but I hope to, and strive to, get close to the mark.
Some books are just plain fun to read. Queen Elizabeth's Wardrobe Unlock'd, for example, by Janet Arnold, is where I found out just how many pins each Tudor woman needed to hold together all the pieces of her gowns. And, if I remember right, Arnold also shared details on the gift of furs to Elizabeth from Ivan the Terrible. They never met ... but I think he'd have found a woman who would not bend to him!
Did you come across any surprises in your research?
Yes - the fact the Eleanor Brydges actually came from a family of accused women poisoners (Frances Brydges and Mary Brydges). If you're curious, and who wouldn't be, check out Kathy Emerson's fabulous page which goes into a bit of this: http://www.kateemersonhistoricals.com/TudorWomenBrooke-Bu.htm
Were there any scenes in Roses Have Thorns that were particularly difficult to write?
Family betrayal is always difficult - the sword penetrates most deeply when thrust by those who are close. So the portions wherein the women were betrayed by family they trusted - they were difficult to write. I will say, however, that's it's engaging to write women "villains." They come up with much more clever ways to do harm, sometimes, than men do.
What influences your writing?
Everything. Snippets of overheard conversations, life lived by myself and loved ones and friends, experience, my relationships with others and with God, things I've read in the past, and especially, research material. Music. Readers influence my writing. I write for their pleasure.
What are you working on now?
I've leaving the Tudors for now, but sticking with English historical fiction. I love English history, so it's a complete pleasure to continue writing in the genre.
Thank you so much for coming over today, Sandra!
Can't wait to see what you come up with next!
And now for the Giveaway! Enter to win a copy of Roses Have Thorns plus an Elizabeth necklace!
In 1565, seventeen-year-old Elin von Snakenborg leaves Sweden on a treacherous journey to England. Her fiance has fallen in love with her sister and her dowry money has been gambled away, but ahead of her lies an adventure that will take her to the dizzying heights of Tudor power. Transformed through marriage into Helena, the Marchioness of Northampton, she becomes the highest-ranking woman in Elizabeth's circle. But in a court that is surrounded by Catholic enemies who plot the queen's downfall, Helena is forced to choose between her unyielding monarch and the husband she's not sure she can trust--a choice that will provoke catastrophic consequences.
Vividly conjuring the years leading up to the beheading of Mary Queen of Scots, Roses Have Thorns is a brilliant exploration of treason, both to the realm and to the heart.
To enter, simply leave a comment or question for Sandra on this post with your email address! This giveaway is open to U.S. residents only and ends at 11:59 pm Sunday, May 26, 2013. Winner will be selected at random.
Thanks, and good luck!
This giveaway is closed and the winner has been selected. Stay tuned for more great giveaways!
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