1537. As the year to end all years rolls to a close, King Henry VIII vents his continuing fury at the pope. The Holy Roman Church reels beneath the reformation and as the vast English abbeys crumble the royal coffers begin to fill.
The people of the north, torn between loyalty to God and allegiance to their anointed king, embark upon a pilgrimage to guide their errant monarch back to grace.
But Henry is unyielding and sends an army north to quell the rebel uprising. In Yorkshire, Katheryn Lady Latimer and her step-children, Margaret and John, are held under siege at Snape Castle …
The events at Snape set Katheryn on a path that will lead from the deprivations of a castle under siege to the perils of the royal Tudor court.
Katheryn Parr has for many years been depicted by historians and novelists alike as a staid, rather dull woman. Her role little more than a nursemaid to a succession of elderly spouses, but she was much more than this.
The novel, Intractable Heart, is told via four narrators, Katheryn’s step daughter, Margaret Neville; Katheryn herself; her fourth husband Thomas Seymour; and her step-daughter Elizabeth, later to become Queen Elizabeth I.
Katheryn Parr emerges as an intelligent, practical woman; a woman who sets aside her love for Thomas Seymour to do her duty and marry the aging king.
Katheryn becomes Henry VIII’s partner in all things, acting as Regent for England during the French war, embracing and guiding Henry’s three motherless children, and providing a strong supporting voice for religious reform.
It is not until the king’s death, when she is finally free to follow the desires of her heart that her life descends into chaos … and wretchedness.
I had the privilege of reading and reviewing this novel for Ms. Arnopp. As my readers know, I enjoy giving honest reviews for anyone interested. I do warn you, they are without bias.
Now, let me start off by saying I am not the targeted audience for this story. Normally I enjoy historical fiction where the main character is not historical figure. That saying, I started this book with an open mind. At first the narrative from Margaret as young girl felt clunky due to the level of awareness but Ms. Arnopp made the story feel as if a child was writing it, which I have to say isn’t easy for every writer to pull off. I had a hard time attaching and contemplated putting the book down. However, once we got into the story where Margaret is older and also where Katherine took over, everything smoothed out. The detail and personality of Katheryn flew off the pages with each word. She was no longer a historical figure but a human being. The amount of research astounds me. I felt like I knew her and was a part of the world. Great job!
Ms. Arnopp joined me for an interview where I was able to pick her brain and shuffled through her writing desk (I wish!). Enjoy 🙂
What made you gravitate towards Katheryn Parr for a historical figure?
When I first decided to try my hand at writing a full length novel I didn’t want to go near the Tudors. Although the period has always fascinated me, I thought there were far too many novels set in that era already. But after so many of my readers asked if I had ever thought of writing any ‘Tudor’ novels, I decided to oblige.
The first of my books set in Tudor England is The Winchester Goose and in that I cover Queens Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard. While I was working on The Goose I became hooked and went on to cover Anne Boleyn in The Kiss of the Concubine. They have both been very well received, The Winchester Goose was recently the number one bestseller in historicals and number seven in the overall Kindle chart. This made me very happy.
I have considered the remaining two queens but Katherine of Aragon would need a mammoth sized book and I’ve never found Jane Seymour as interesting as the others. We know very little about her so it would have to be heavily fictionalised. Katherine Parr seemed the ideal next candidate but it wasn’t until I began to researcher properly that I realised just how interesting her life was. She was a strong, resourceful woman who ‘managed’ Henry very well indeed.
Poor Anne. She has so many books about her but none of them seem to be very fair. Her story is so unbelievable I don’t think it needs any embellishment; all I do is bring her and Henry to life, give them a voice. I am not interested in the public side of their life, the glitz and glamour doesn’t fascinate me at all. I hone in on the private relationship, the man and woman beneath the King and Queen. I don’t believe Anne was the scheming arrogant woman she is so often portrayed to be (and certainly not a witch or incestuous). I wanted to give her the chance to put her own side of things. I put a lot of thought into every event of her life that I cover in the novel and concentrated only how it might have seemed from her perspective. Writing it in the first person meant I had to leave out many things that she wouldn’t have witnessed, things that happened behind her back, but at the same time that allowed me to illustrate how she may have really ‘felt.’
Where did your love of history come from?
I think I was born with it. As a small child I had a big picture book of King Arthur and the knights of the round table. We often came to Wales on holidays and I always I loved it when my parents took me to castles and churches. I studied it to A level at school. In a way, I’ve been researching all my life although I did no serious historical study until I went to University as a mature student where I studied for a Master’s in Medieval History. If I hadn’t done that I would never have dared attempt to write historical.
How are you drawn to a story line? Does it start with a person/place/ event?
Sometimes it can be something really small; an inscription on a tombstone, a message in the margin of a book, or a painting. With the well-known figures like Katheryn Parr and Anne Boleyn it is more of a desire to give my interpretation of their lives and attempt to get readers to see them as real people, rather than unlikely fictional characters. I don’t know if I succeed but it is fun trying.
Where does that inspiration stem from?
I don’t know. Sometimes a sentence or a scenario pops into my head from nowhere and I think about it for a while until I am sure I can take it far enough to turn it into a story. Sometimes I run through it with my partner and that helps it grow. I never have to dig very deep to find my next subject. They are often born during the research or writing of a previous book. The one I am working on now, A Song of Sixpence, is about Elizabeth of York. I’ve been meaning to write about her since about 2009 but have only just got around to it. It is going very well. Henry VIII has just been born and I am enjoying bringing his childhood to life.
How do you begin researching?
I never stop. Even if I am not working on a book I am reading history. Once I have decided on a project I gather together all the information I have (my library is huge) and when I’ve exhausted that I buy more books, or go to the university library and dig out thesis’ and things.
I like to read from every angle, every opinion counts and then I find a path through the middle. With so many conflicting opinions I have to make the decision which theory I agree with and go with that. This probably upsets people who have a different idea but I can’t help that. I am creating a possible scenario, and not at all insistent that it is actually what happened.
I also like to visit relevant places; castles, abbeys, monasteries etc. This can be difficult since I live so remotely in West Wales and the Tudors rarely ventured this far but it was great for my earlier work. I was at a Tudor event at Raglan Castle recently and seeing the re-enactors in all their gear was a great help. My holidays always turn into research trips and my research trips into holidays – which is excellent.
Do you outline or wing it?
I have a very rough outline of my fictional story. A time-line for the main historical characters showing where they were at relevant times (as far as records show). Then I wing it. Sometimes the back story ends up somewhere very unexpected but with the historical characters I can’t really do that. I have to keep to the record as far as we know it, the fiction comes in when I put thoughts and feelings into their heads.
Lastly, what advice do you give other historical authors?
I wouldn’t be so presumptuous. I think every writer approaches it differently and there is no right or wrong way to do things. My main advice would be to keep going. Don’t be put off my detractors, if your books are good enough there will be a market for them, it is just a case of finding them. It is tough out there but once you’ve decided on your genre (romance, fiction, time-slip) and discovered your niche the negative criticism won’t matter half so much. It is important to remember every writer gets bad reviews at some point, all we can do is hope there aren’t too many. I also think readers appreciate interaction. I know some authors prefer to remain aloof or even incognito, but I have had so many messages from readers thanking me for taking the time to talk to them. I am naturally very shy, and not very good at face to face meetings but on-line I find I am much braver. My readers are lovely. I owe them everything and will never forget that.
Now most blog hops stop here and you continue on, but Ms. Arnopp graced us with even more tidbits about her and our beloved, ill-fated leading lady – Katheryn Parr.
1.) She is mum/step mum to seven children (happily grown up now).
2.) She is married to her best friend.
3.) She once met and shook hands with Prince Charles.
4.) She is a vegetarian and keen environmentalist.
5.) She used to be able to recite Romeo and Juliet from start to finish but these days her memory isn’t as sharp and she forgets big chunks of it.
FIVE things readers may not know about Katheryn Parr:
1.) Katheryn was the first queen to become a published author.
2.) Katheryn was married four times.
3.) During her second marriage she was held under siege at Snape Castle during the Pilgrimage of Grace.
4.) Katheryn was an important Protestant reformer.
5.) Henry placed her as Regent over England when he rode off to war against the French. An honour only one other of his queen’s enjoyed, Catherine of Aragon.
Judith lives in rural Wales in the UK with her husband John and two of her grown up sons. She studied creative writing and Literature at university and went on to study for a master’s degree in medieval studies. She now combines those skills to craft medieval historical novels, short stories and essays. you can find out more about her on her webpage www.juditharnopp.com
Her first novel Peaceweaver was published in 2009 and is the story of Eadgyth Aelfgarsdottir who was queen to both Gruffydd ap Llewellyn of Wales and Harold II of England in teh years leading up to the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
Her second novel, The Forest Dwellers, is set just after the Battle of Hastings and tells the story of a family evicted from their homes in Ytene to make way for William the conqueror’s hunting ground. Ytene is now better known as The New Forest.
Her third novel, The Song of Heledd, is based on fragments of a 9th century Welsh poem called Canu Heledd. It tells the story of Heledd and her sister Ffreur and the disastrous destiny of a dynasty of Welsh kings.
She is presently working on a Tudor novel The Winchester Goose.