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Monday, January 9, 2012

Interview with Anne Clinard Barnhill

Today I have the opportunity to host a tour stop on the Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour for Anne Clinard Barnhill's freshman release At the Mercy of the Queen.  I had the chance to ask her a few questions and have the opportunity to share them with you today.

You have written a memoir, poetry, and a book of short stories among other things. How was writing this novel, your first, different from writing those other types of literature?

It was quite different--I had no idea what I was doing in many ways. The short story collection was the culmination of twenty year's work; the memoir was a story I had wanted to tell for a very long time and I knew what happened, of course; the poetry is also comprised of writing that sort of poured out of me over time. The novel was something I'd been thinking about for a very long time, but I had never written historical fiction before, so that was a challenge. And for me, just maintaining tension for 400 pages was different and, frankly, hard. The shorter forms of the story/poem come more easily in lots of ways. But, the novel allows you more time and space for development--I guess there are pluses and minuses to each form. I love reading novels and really like delving into writing them. I love being alive, but I have only this one life--by writing novels, I get more than one life--and also get the same by reading them.

Many people say that there has been an oversaturation of the market in the past few years with Tudor books. What sets your book apart from the sea of others on a bookstore shelf?

I think my story is different because of the family connection to Madge Shelton. Because of that, I've been doing research on the Sheltons for many years. I hope my own love for the people and the time will be transferred into the book and others will pick up on my enthusiasm--I hope that gives the book a life of its own.

I haven’t read any books featuring Madge Shelton as the main character. What was it about her that made you want to tell her story?

Several things. First, the fact that my grandmother told me about our kinship to the Sheltons started my whole obsession with the Tudors. And, I had read several historians speculate that Anne Boleyn put her cousin, Madge, up to seducing Henry so he wouldn't become interested in Jane Seymour. That idea sort of made me think about why someone would want to set up a husband with a person of their own choosing--kind of like Yoko Ono setting John Lennon up with May Pang--I can't seem to get my mind around that sort of thing. Nor can I understand why someone would go along with it--that was the question I had when I started the book. I think writers write to make sense of the world and each book begins with a question...That was my question--why would people behave like this?

What other time periods/places intrigue you as a writer? Whose story would you just love to tell?

Oh, I've got tons of stories I'd love to tell! I am interested in the Arthurian legend (which has been done to pieces!) and the American Civil War and post-Civil War period in the South. One of my students found a letter written in the 1880's from a woman in a mental institute in West Virginia, where I grew up. I've been wanted to tell that story for a very long time. I'm interested in women's stories because history has erased many of their stories--we have few facts but can piece together what might have been. I'm also interested in stories that have a spiritual element or an element of mystery. I'm working on a Tudor ghost story for my own amusement right now. I'm also interested in historical characters that were what we might consider minor characters on the grand stage of history. I'd love to do a book about Moll Cutpurse, who was quite renowned in Shakespeare's day for dressing as a man, smoking cigars and even appearing onstage.

Did you have any contribution to the cover artwork? I love that her whole head is showing even if she is looking away from the viewer and the cover is beautiful.

Oh, thank you! I had absolutely nothing to do with it--I thank the wonderful art department at St. Martin's. I, too, am glad she has a head--so many do not. I don't quite get that trend, but it would have been just awful to show Anne Boleyn without a head!

It says on your website that you are working on your second novel set in Tudor England. Can you tell us anything about this upcoming work?

Yes! It's set at Elizabeth I's court and involves another Shelton ancestor, Mary Shelton, who has the dubious honor of being remembered because Elizabeth broke her finger when Mary married a Catholic without the queen's permission. I started wondering why a person would get so angry, furious enough to break a bone! And, the story just evolved from there. It's still a work-in-progress but I hope to finish it up this spring. I love writing about Elizabeth--she is such a magnificent character! Thank you so much for having me on your blog. It's been a pleasure to be able to talk about writing!

Thanks so much for taking the time to answer these questions for me.  I love the sound of the story of the woman from the mental hospital - certainly not the kind of story you hear every day!  You can visit Anne at her website for additional information about her book.

If you would like to follow along with the tour you can follow on Twitter #MercyOfTheQueenVirtualTour or stop by the HFVBT website for the rest of the schedule!

Cover Blurb:
A sweeping tale of sexual seduction and intrigue at the court of Henry VIII, At the Mercy of the Queen is a rich and dramatic debut historical about Madge Shelton, cousin and lady-in-waiting to Anne Boleyn. 
At the innocent age of fifteen, Lady Margaret Shelton arrives at the court of Henry VIII and quickly becomes the confidante of her cousin, Queen Anne Boleyn. But she soon finds herself drawn into the perilous web of Anne’s ambition. 
Desperate to hold onto the king’s waning affection, Anne schemes to have him take her guileless young cousin as mistress, ensuring her husband’s new paramour will owe her loyalty to the queen. But Margaret has fallen deeply in love with a handsome young courtier. She is faced with a terrible dilemma: give herself to the king and betray the love of her life or refuse to become his mistress and jeopardize the life of her cousin, Queen Anne.

Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

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