Today I have the pleasure of welcoming Anita Seymour to The Maiden’s Court. Her debut historical novel, Royalist Rebel, was released January 31st. Please take this chance to welcome her and read on to get to know a little about her.
Your new book, Royalist Rebel is set during the English Civil War. What is it about this historical period that inspired you to set your novel in this time?
I didn’t really choose the time for Elizabeth Murray’s story, as much as the setting of her life as it was played out at Ham House. The war brought out the best in her and formed an exciting backdrop to her early life, but I was firstly attracted to Elizabeth herself. She lived a long life, in dangerous as well as prosperous times and walking through the place she loved and owned was an integral part of getting into her head.
What is an interesting tidbit from your research for this novel that you can tell us about that didn’t make the cut into the novel?
The five Murray women together with fourteen servants travelled down the River Thames from Oxford to Richmond in the spring of 1644. This journey took them three weeks and intrigued as to why it took so long to navigate 100 miles, I researched the river itself. This brought up the subject of the ‘flash locks’. Unlike modern locks, the boats have to be lifted out of the river, moved to the spot higher or lower on the bank, and put back in again at a lower level. When you consider the passengers and all their luggage had to be removed and wait around for this to be done and then embark again, no wonder it took so long – however the technical aspects, though fascinating had to be cut from the manuscript – interesting but they didn’t progress the story! The same with 17th century recipes for puddings, cures for minor ailments etc. I managed to get a couple included but some had to be cut.
Do you find it easier to write real historical characters or fictional characters of your own creation that fit into the historical setting?
Definitely real historical characters. Doing the research is the fun part of writing, where I list the pivotal events in my subject’s life, and decide which of them I will include in the story. As bald facts tend to be staid and without emotion, and I like to bring them to life if I can with relationship dynamics and emotions.
For example, in my current W.I.P. Elizabeth, left her baby daughter in France under the care of a nurse. A simple line in a biography, but it conjured up all sorts of questions. What were her reasons for doing this, was the child premature and too weak to travel? Did Elizabeth hate to leave her or was she more pragmatic about her survival if she gave the child a chance to grow strong in another’s care? Did she leave the baby because she was running from Commonwealth informers and had no choice? Was the parting of mother and newborn like for her? Did she try to get back to France and see the baby? I play with alternative scenarios and then decide which one fits best, though there is no way to check if I am accurate or not – but that’s what makes it fiction.
Have you always wanted to be writer? How did you get started with writing?
I didn’t aspire to be an author – my self esteem wasn’t high enough to think I could achieve it and I assumed the title ‘Author’ was for much cleverer and talented people than me. It took a close [author] friend who sought publication herself to convince me it was possible – and I fought her all the way!
I have written for as long as I can remember, in that I was always able to express myself far better on paper than I ever could with the spoken word. I wrote stories about how I would like things to be, and letters to people to tell them how I felt. Even now, recipients will say, ‘I never knew this is what you thought.’ My daughter said she knew almost nothing about me as a writer until she began reading my blog.
What has been the most difficult part of the process of writing and publishing your novel?
Second guessing myself and my readers, and separating what I feel readers may like to see on the page, as opposed to what I want to write. If I compose a scene that I am pleased with, I then tend to doubt myself and say it’s not emotional, sad, or descriptive enough for the reader. They will think it too short, unemotional, and I must change it.
Then a critique partner will read it and delete all the ‘extras’ I have put in and tell me my original was perfect – that I must trust my own instincts. I need validation like oxygen, but fortunately have lovely critique partners who keep me on track.
Do you currently have any works in progress and if so, is there anything you can tell us?
My publisher asked me this a little while ago and sent me into a blind panic as I had no idea where to go next or about whom I could relate to in the same way I do to Elizabeth Murray; which is odd really as I doubt she would have liked me much. She was quite abrasive and vain, so would probably have seen me as a rival because, like her, I speak my mind and don’t suffer fools gladly – or even kindly. I wouldn’t let her dominate me either.
That aside, I am working on the next installment of her life when she was involved in The Sealed Knot during the 1650’s, travelling to the continent with ciphered messages, receiving letters address to ‘Mrs Grey’ at a dead drop and devising formulas for invisible ink in her still room. It’s proving harder work than Royalist Rebel, but I would like to think it will be taken up – by someone.
Anita was born in London, a city with a unique atmosphere; a sense of time passed that she connected with when she was quite young. When the other children on the school trip coach were throwing the contents of their lunch boxes at each other, Anita was staring out of the window at the ancient buildings, imagining men in wigs and heeled shoes carrying japan canes emerging from coffee houses to climb into sedan chairs on the cobbles in Paternoster Row.
Writing about the past may be more intricate than contemporary fiction because there are so many details to get right, and even more ways to get it wrong - but Anita maintains that historical fiction chose her.
She has also penned two Victorian romances which are in print under the name Anita Davison: Trencarrow Secret and Culloden Spirit.
You can find Anita on her blog.
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