Patricia, congrats on your debut novel, Shadow on the Crown and thank you the pleasure of an interview. I was so delighted to receive an ARC of your book and I absolutely loved your story! You wrote about one of my favorite female heroines and time period in history. Could you please tell your audience about your story?
Thank you, Stephanie. I’m honored to be interviewed and thrilled that you liked my book. Shadow on the Crown is about a remarkable historical figure, Emma of Normandy, who was sent to England in 1002 as the peaceweaving bride of the king, Æthelred II. Thrust into a hostile court filled with intrigue, suspicion and the constant fear of attack by Viking raiders, Emma must negotiate the moods of a haunted king and the schemes of powerful men in order to secure for herself a position as something more than just a royal hostage. The choices that she makes shape not only her own future, but the future of England as well.
Emma falls in love with someone other than the King. Without giving who it was away, could you please tell me if their relationship was real or fictional?
The relationship in my book is purely fictional, although it wouldn’t have been impossible. Who can say? It is an echo, though, of a real event that occurred in the 9th century when a Frankish princess wed an Anglo-Saxon king and then…well, interesting things happened.
Were there any research challenges you faced?
There were several challenges, and one of the biggest was discovering the facts of Emma’s life. Her birth date, her land holdings, her role in Æthelred’s court and household, her relationships with her husband’s children by his first wife – none of that was of interest to the historians of the time. What we know of it is all conjecture drawn from wills, charters, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and, frankly, hearsay that’s been passed off as fact. It’s like trying to draw someone’s face when all you can see is their shadow.
What led you to write about Emma?
I first read about Emma in an on-line bulletin board about a dozen years ago. I considered myself fairly knowledgeable about English royalty, yet I found myself reading about a queen I’d never heard of who married two different kings of England and who had also been mother to two kings of England. I began to research, and the more I learned about Emma the more fascinated I became, and the more astonished I was that she had been relegated to little more than a footnote in history. I wanted to write a book that would make her name just as familiar as those of the Tudor queens.
Yes. This novel is the first of a trilogy about Emma of Normandy, and I am working on the sequel now. I’m taking my time, because the next two books will cover the final, turbulent years of the reign of Æthelred II, and there are huge opportunities for dramatic tension and conflict.
The jacket designer was Kristen Haff. She has a website that displays many of the book covers that she’s done for Penguin. I hope she posts mine there because I think she did a marvelous job. The photographer was Richard Jenkins, who is based in the U.K.
Take a deep breath and throw yourself into the research, but when it comes time to write your book, remember that you are a storyteller, not a historian. Be true to the history, but always remember that a good story is about people and their emotions, their relationships and their conflicts; it’s not about historical minutiae, however accurate it may be. Don’t get lost in it.
I must have been about twelve when I decided that I wanted to write novels, but it seemed like nothing more than a girl’s impossible dream. In college my Creative Writing professor was not terribly encouraging, and I realized that being able to write well did not necessarily make one a novelist or even a writer. I put that dream aside and focused on earning a living as a teacher, but the desire to write never went away. When I finally decided to scratch that itch, I focused first on essays, then short stories, and finally I turned to my first love – the novel. I produced two manuscripts that are now sitting in a box on the top shelf of my closet, and then I began work on Shadow.
That’s a really hard question to answer, as I’m sure you know. Today’s favorite, out of the thousands of books I’ve read in my life, would be Kissing the Witch by Emma Donoghue. It’s a re-spinning of thirteen familiar fairy tales in a way that is surprising and a little subversive. Donoghue’s writing is radiant.
What are you currently reading?
I’m reading an ARC of A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea by fellow Penguin author Dina Nayeri. Her book debuts the same day as mine. It’s about a young woman who has to find a way to survive in a harsh, repressive world – not unlike Emma. But Dina’s book is set in 1980’s Iran. I’m also listening to an audio book: Nancy Bilyeau’s Tudor mystery The Crown. Just now we’re wandering the maze of corridors in the Tower of London.
My “To Read” stack is taller than I am! Up next, Parlor Games, Maryka Biaggio’s historical novel set at the turn of the last century. But please don’t think I only read female authors! I’ve just finished reading books by Bernard Cornwell, Robert Low and Oscar Wilde, all of which I enjoyed very much.
Patricia Bracewell grew up in Los Angeles where her love of stories led to college degrees in Literature, a career as a high school English teacher, and a yearning to write. She has travelled extensively in Europe, Asia and South America, both for research and for pleasure. She enjoys gardening, tennis, and, of course, reading, and she is a passable guitarist and folksinger, although her writing leaves her little time these days for practice. She lives in Northern California where she met and married her Canadian husband and where they raised their two sons.