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Monday, August 15, 2016

Interview with Elizabeth St. John

Good morning!  Thanks to the abilities of pre-scheduling posts, I was able to get this one up while out of the house today (I'm going of 5 days without internet access).  I hope you will enjoy getting to know Elizabeth St. John, author of The Lady of the Tower.

Heather: Hi Elizabeth! Welcome to The Maiden’s Court! I would love to open this discussion today by asking what lead you to decide to write on Lucy St. John? I understand she is a relative of some sort.

Elizabeth St. John: Hi Heather! Thank you so much for having me on The Maiden’s Court. What a beautiful blog, and a perfect venue for my maiden, Lucy St.John. She was an ancestress of mine who was born in England in 1596 during the last years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth. Many years ago I discovered a diary, written by her daughter, in the archives of Nottingham Castle. Within the entries, in a beautiful clear script, there was a dramatic tale of a Lucy St. John and a love story that intrigued me. The rest, as they say, is history.

H: That is so cool!  I love hearing about stories that can be dug up from family histories! 

What type of research have you done for this book? Any special access or information that you were able to obtain because it is a relative?

ESJ: Well, after poring through the diary, I turned to its published volume, Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson, by Lucy Hutchinson. Here, Lucy St.John’s story was recounted, along with other biographical information about her life and family. I then started compiling the places she lived – Lydiard House in Wiltshire, Fonmon Castle in Wales, and, her main residence, the Tower of London. I was fortunate inasmuch as my family are Trustees of the Friends of Lydiard House, and we were acquaintances with the present owners of Fonmon Castle. As for the Tower – they couldn’t have been more generous in allowing me “behind-the-scenes” access to Lucy’s home, where I was able to walk through and photograph the rooms she once lived in.

Most of my document research has been online and with the aid of wonderful scholars - Professor Paul Sellin at UCLA on Sir Walter Raleigh, and Dr. David Norbrook at Oxford University on Lucy Hutchinson. They’ve been extremely kind in sharing their time with me over the years as I pieced together the lives of Lucy and her generation. And now that so much of the National Archives are digitized, it’s been fantastic to be able to retrieve letters, lawsuits, dispatches, etc. online as a follow up to site visits.

H: I'm sure that being able to have access to some of these locations made it much easier to build the atmosphere of your world. 

I know this is your first published work, so this might be a difficult question to answer, but maybe you have other writing experience to pull from here; did you find it difficult to write about someone who is a family relative? Were there times that you wanted to make a different story choice because information was possibly unfavorable or something you felt uncomfortable writing about, or were you able to distance yourself from the subject?

ESJ: That’s a great question, and one that addresses the crux of historical fiction. I have to admit there were many days when I muttered an apology to Barbara St.John, the main antagonist in my book, for I fear I did not portray her sympathetically. However, I felt I had enough foundational evidence to base my story on, and so I was able to create a woman that everyone loved to hate. Sorry, again, Barbara! Otherwise, there was nothing I felt uncomfortable about, or wished to conceal. My main goal in writing The Lady of the Tower was to bring my ancestors to life, and to have readers feel that although they lived 400 years ago, they are not so different from us. That meant writing about them realistically, with all their ups and downs, and I think that made for more interesting reading.

H: For those who have not read your work, how would you describe your writing style?

ESJ: I hope readers will find it interesting, with a lot of period detail, but not over-stuffed with facts. The book is intended for lovers of historical fiction, so hopefully I’ve struck that balance. My readers comment frequently on how much they love the descriptions, and how the characters really came alive for them.

H: What drew you towards independent publishing as opposed to seeking out a traditional publisher? Has there been anything that was more or less challenging that you expected? Would you do it again?

ESJ: Honestly, my first goal was to write the book. I’d been carrying the idea around for far too long, and a life event made me realize that I couldn’t wait forever. Then, I decided I would like to see it in print. I talked to a couple of agents, but the process of editing to their needs (ie significantly reduce the word count), giving up rights, and the lengthy process time just weren’t fitting with my goals.

I couldn’t be more delighted with indie publishing, for the rewards have been extraordinary. I did commit to working with an amazing editor and cover designer, Jenny Quinlan, so that the work could be the best it could be. I have not been challenged by the marketing, for I am fortunate to have that professional experience. And yes, I would do it again. At time of writing, I am on my 18th week on three Amazon best-seller lists (but who’s counting!), based on this being entirely my own effort. I couldn’t ask for more.

H: That's great to hear!  It is my opinion that the best thing an independent published author can do is get a good edit of their book because that is something that your readers will certainly notice.

Are you a full time author or do you have to find time to write around a typical 9-5 job? How do you find time to write?

ESJ: I do have a “day job” – I work as a management consultant in healthcare. It’s a very rewarding and demanding career. I love the people I work with, and our mission, so am not giving it up in a hurry. I found time to write by creating a daily discipline. In my instance, I’m an early riser, so I get up at 5:00 every morning to write, finishing at about 7:30, and then get to work. I research, read and think in the evenings. My family are very understanding, and tolerate the occasional glazed look from me, when I am dragged back into reality from the 17th century to fix dinner or walk the dog.

H: Having understanding family is huge, I'm glad my husband understands my blogging commitments!

Have you had any struggles in the writing/publishing process? How have you worked through these? Any words of wisdom for aspiring authors?

ESJ: Once I decided to self-publish, it was a matter of putting together a plan and a budget, and sticking to it. Apart from the usual doubts about the whole entire madness, I didn’t really encounter any major hurdles. I’ve always written as part of my job, and I found the creative aspect of this incredibly satisfying. I made friends with some amazing writers groups online through Scribophile.com who critiqued and encouraged me along the way, and my book club was very supportive. My experience was to definitely reach out to other authors, both experienced and new, and form those bonds. Share suggestions, experience, challenges, for the writing community is extremely supportive, and I think we all want to see each other succeed.

H: Those are some wonderful suggestions!  I think critique from focus groups and other writers can only serve to strengthen your work. 

Do you have any further writing plans?

ESJ: Absolutely! I have a lot of ancestors! Actually, I’m well underway on my second novel (working title “By Love Divided”) which follows the footsteps of Lucy’s children, who fought on opposing sides of the English Civil War. And then there’s the life of Lucy’s great niece, Barbara Villiers, who became Charles II’s favorite mistress, Lady Castlemaine. Oooh…and what about Margaret Beauchamp St.John, grandmother of Henry VIIth…

Thank you for some great questions! I really enjoyed answering them.

H: Sounds like you have some great ideas ahead!  I can't wait to see what else you bring us.  Thanks for taking time out for The Maiden's Court today!

Elizabeth St.John was brought up in England and lives in California. To inform her writing, she has tracked down family papers and sites from Nottingham Castle, Lydiard Park, and the British Library to Castle Fonmon and The Tower of London. Although the family sold a few castles and country homes along the way (it’s hard to keep a good castle going these days), Elizabeth’s family still occupy them – in the form of portraits, memoirs, and gardens that carry their imprint. And the occasional ghost. But that’s a different story…

Elizabeth is currently writing a sequel to The Lady of the Tower, following the fortunes of the St.John family during the English Civil War. The working title is “By Love Divided”, and it is due to publish in early 2017.

Find Elizabeth St. John: Website | Facebook | Goodreads

Book Blurb:
Orphaned Lucy St.John, described as “the most beautiful of all,” defies English society by carving her own path through the decadent Stuart court. In 1609, the early days of the rule of James I are a time of glittering pageantry and cutthroat ambition, when the most dangerous thing one can do is fall in love . . . or make an enemy of Frances Howard, the reigning court beauty. Lucy catches the eye of the Earl of Suffolk, but her envious sister Barbara is determined to ruin her happiness. Exiling herself from the court, Lucy has to find her own path through life, becoming mistress of the Tower of London. Riding the coattails of the king’s favorite, the Duke of Buckingham, the fortunes of the St.Johns rise to dizzying heights. But with great wealth comes betrayal, leaving Lucy to fight for her survival—and her honor—in a world of deceit and debauchery. Elizabeth St.John tells this dramatic story of love, betrayal, family bonds and loyalty through the eyes of her ancestor Lucy and her family’s surviving diaries, letters and court papers.
Buy the Book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Follow the Tour!
On Twitter: #TheLadyoftheTowerBlogTour
Monday, August 8
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews
Review at One Book Shy of a Full Shelf

Tuesday, August 9
Review, Excerpt & Giveaway at The Silver Dagger Scriptorium

Wednesday, August 10
Review at A Holland Reads

Thursday, August 11
Review at Book Nerd

Friday, August 12
Review at Jorie Loves a Story
Interview & Giveaway at Teddy Rose Book Reviews Plus More

Saturday, August 13
Review at 100 Pages a Day

Sunday, August 14
Review at Svetlana’s Reads and Views

Monday, August 15
Review at A Book Drunkard
Interview at The Maiden’s Court

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