I have the pleasure honor to introduce Sandra Byrd.
Sandra, I had the pleasure of reviewing, “To Die For” and “The Secret Keeper” for you. Could you please tell your audience a little about both books?
Sure! All of the books in the Ladies in Waiting series are told from the point of view of one of the queen’s ladies. In To Die For: A Novel of Anne Boleyn, the story is told from Meg Wyatt’s point of view. Sister of poet (and Anne-chaser) Thomas Wyatt, Meg Wyatt really did exist, was really one of Anne’s ladies, and did accompany her all through her life till the very bitter end. I did have to fictionalize much of her life, but stayed true to the facts when I could.
In The Secret Keeper: A Novel of Kateryn Parr, the story is told from the point of view of Juliana St. John. Juliana is fictional because I wanted to extend the story beyond the life of Kateryn Parr, and for another of Kateryn’s “ladies” to have her story told as well. You’ll have to read it to find out who that is!
I felt like telling the stories from the point of view of a lady – not a servant, too low-born to know secrets or have influence – but a real friend, would allow us to see the queen beyond the gown and crown.
What is the single most powerful challenge when it comes to writing about the past?
Remaining true to both the principles of good story telling and historical facts as they are known. I am passionate about history, but I try to remember that it is a historical novel, novel being the noun and historical being the modifier. I don’t take historical liberties lightly, because I want the reader who is steeped in history to take the novel as credible. But in the end, the story is the boss.
How long did it take you to write both books?
It takes me about 18 months or so for the first book, because I am building my resources in the era, and the about a year for each one afterward, writing and editing inclusive. But I’ve already read quite a bit in the period, so I’m not really starting at ground zero.
Who designed your book covers?
The wonderful, talented Bruce Gore, Art Director for Howard Books.
What is your favorite/least favorite scene you wrote about in Secret Keeper and why?
My favorite scene is the actually a chapter, the final chapter. I won’t say more for fear of spoiling things.
As for least favorite, there is a scene in which one character is attacked, and that was painful to write. But I wasn’t going to shy away from it, because it has cultural relevance then and now. Even the very high born, like the Lady Elizabeth, were relatively powerless to stop unwanted behavior, so how then could any other woman protect herself? Especially women without a male protector. Kateryn Parr had to marry Henry. That was that. It was an era in which women had little power, but they were crafty and courageous with what they were given, or took, and I admire that. To soften some of the scenes, or Anne Askew’s martyrdom, would be to downplay the courage it took those women to face life and death without flinching.
How did you research Tudor England and the lives of your characters? What are some of the resources you used?
I visited England of course, the places where many of the scenes took place, and some of the archives. I used a large variety of credible secondary sources, many of which can be found listed in the back of the books. And when I had a question that I needed a “real live” person to help me with, I asked Lauren Mackay, a wonderful research assistant and author in her own right. I am a lifelong reader and love of historical fiction and nonfiction, especially as regards England, so I had a background to bring to it, too.
Will you be writing anymore stories about the Tudors?
The final Ladies in Waiting book, Roses Have Thorns: A Novel of Elizabeth I, launches in April. I love Elizabeth and hope that readers will enjoy the story, told from the point of view of Helena, Marchioness of Northampton, a young woman from Sweden whose story I had never heard told.
When do your best ideas come to you?
When my mind is at rest, or when I’m doing some menial but physically demanding task, like cleaning the kitchen or jogging. Or while reading good nonfiction, or watching great movies or TV. This is why I never read or watch fiction set in the era in which I am currently writing, or about to write in. If something in my novel duplicates something in another, then I know it was happenstance, or grew from both of us reading the same sources. It puts my mind at rest.
What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
Choose good material with which to work. It’s like providing yourself with the finest ingredients before mixing up a recipe. If you use old eggs and stale butter it’s not going to taste good no matter the skills of the chef.
What is your favorite quote?
I don’t know that I have one favorite, but I read a quote today on author Susan Meissner’s facebook page: “There will be a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning.” ~Louis L’Amour
After earning her first rejection at the age of thirteen, bestselling author Sandra Byrd has now published more than forty books. Her adult fiction debut, Let Them Eat Cake, was a Christy Award finalist, as was her first historical novel, To Die For: A Novel of Anne Boleyn. To Die For was also named by Library Journal as a Best Books Pick for 2011. The Secret Keeper: A Novel of Kateryn Parr, was published in June, 2012 and will be followed by Roses Have Thorns: A Novel of Elizabeth I in April, 2013.
A former textbook acquisitions editor, Sandra has also published many nonfiction articles and books. She is also passionate about helping new writers develop their talent and their work toward traditional or self publication. As such, she has mentored and coached hundreds of new writers and continues to coach dozens to success each year.
Thank you Sandra for this lovely interview! It was a pleasure!