Interview with Author Nancy Bilyeau

Nancy, thank you for the pleasure of an interview! I was delighted for the opportunity to review your novel, “The Chalice.” I enjoyed it very much. How would you describe your novel?

Thank you for having me on Layered Pages! “The Chalice” is a thriller set in Tudor England told entirely through the viewpoint of a former Dominican novice, Joanna Stafford, who while trying to find a life for herself after the destruction of her priory, discovers she is at the center of a deadly prophecy. The book is about her struggle to decide whether, to bring back a way of life she loves, she should commit an act that is dangerous and quite possibly unforgivable.

the chalice

What an enthralling story it is! The Chalice is the sequel to, The Crown. Will there be a third book?

 I am working on a third book now, with the working title “The Covenant.” It picks up a few weeks after “The Chalice” leaves off. But I also have an idea for another novel that is not in this series—too soon to say anything more about it.

Oh, I’m so delighted to hear that! Now I will be counting the days until it comes out and I can’t wait to hear more about this other book of yours in the works! Character building is truly an art that you are gifted in. How do your characters voices come to you?

 That is very nice of you to say. My characters come to me partly through deliberation and partly by instinct. I start to build them, thinking a lot about behavior in this time period and once I get excited about them, they take off. I really love that part of writing.

 How long did it take to write your novel?

I began writing it in November 2010 and I had a first draft completed one year later. I took time off from my work as a magazine editor to write it fulltime but it still took a year. Perhaps it’s because of all the research.

Well, all your research certainly paid off! While reading your story, I felt surrounded in history and intrigue! It was great! Were there any challenges?

 Many thrillers take place in short periods of time, but the covers a period stretching from October 1538 to March 1540. The reason is I use real events in history to revolve around, to make use of. And I can’t move them. Even if I wanted to, the people who are familiar with this period in history—and there are many of them—would be appalled. So I have to keep the tension up over quite a long time. It’s challenging, yep.

Your protagonist, Joanna, is extraordinary but she tends to put her trust in the wrong people at times. How would you describe her characteristics? In this story has she finally learned her lesson?

 One of the aspects of Joanna is that for much of her life she lived with her family in an isolated, slightly crumbling ancestral home: Stafford Castle. And then she lived in an enclosed priory. She is far from a modern woman, meeting lots of people all the time and going to school and then work in large, open institutions. Joanna is actually quite an independent person for her time, especially in “The Chalice,” but she is still a sheltered woman and can be naive. So she makes mistakes in her judgments of others. After “The Chalice,” I think she will make fewer mistakes, because of her trials by fire.

Nancy, you give an intriguing look into Tudor England. I’m always hearing people’s thoughts of Henry VIII or the Boleyn’s. So I would like to ask what your thoughts are on the kind of man Stephen Gardiner is.

 He is extremely intelligent and well educated but he is also ferociously ambitious. When he was younger, his ambition overtook everything, and he used his abilities and legal training to help Henry VIII get his divorce from Catherine of Aragon. But he didn’t foresee the break from Rome taking England as far as it did and so he spent the rest of his life filled with guilt and frustration because although he supported Henry’s being the head of the church he abhorred the Protestant movement. He wanted the country to be Catholic but with Henry VIII at its head. Actually that is often what Henry VIII wanted as well. But it was unrealistic that this could work for long.

That is really interesting about Gardiner. I have so many thoughts on the Reformation on all accounts of what took place, but that is for another discussion and would be very interesting indeed. Nancy, the supporting characters in your book are well developed. Geoffrey Scoville and Brother Edmund are my two favorites. Which one is yours and why?

Oh I can’t pick between these two men. It’s impossible! I think what I like best about Geoffrey is his humor and his guts. I like Edmund’s compassion and sensitivity. Both men are intelligent and resourceful but they are each, in different ways, quite vulnerable.

Was there a particular scene you found a challenge to write?

The scene in the Red Rose when Joanna clashes with the astrologer was tricky. This is the first time Joanna gets an inkling that all is not what it seems with Gertrude Courtenay. The revelations had to be subtle but ominous too. This is the point everything starts to build from in London.

I remember that scene and I could literally feel the tension in the air between them. I knew things were going to get really interesting between the two ladies from there on out. Nancy, what intrigues you most about this time period your book is written in?

The mixture of medieval and modern. In some ways, people acted as we would understand today and relate to, but in other ways, no, their thinking was very removed from ours.

Nancy, I would have to agree with you. I think that is one of the things I find so fascinating with the medieval times. What makes a perfect heroine in your view?

Someone who fascinates us even when we don’t approve of what she’s doing. We always want to know what she will do next.

Great answer! What advice would you give to an aspiring author who wants to write Historical Fiction?

The research is important but keep working on pace and character too. All the historical details in the world can’t make a story come to life if it isn’t intriguing and filled with people the reader cares about.

Nancy, it is always a pleasure to chat with you and thank you for visiting Layered Pages again!

Praise for The Chalice

“Rarely have the terrors of Henry VIII’s reformation been so  exciting. Court intrigue, bloody executions, and haunting emotional  entanglements create a heady brew of mystery and adventure that sweeps  us from the devastation of the ransacked cloisters to the dangerous spy  centers of London and the Low Countries, as ex-novice Joanna Stafford  fights to save her way of life and fulfill an ancient prophecy, before  everything she loves is destroyed.” – C.W. Gortner, author of The  Queen’s Vow
The Chalice offers a fresh, dynamic look into Tudor England’s most  powerful, volatile personalities: Henry VIII, the Duke of Norfolk,  Stephen Gardiner and Bloody Mary Tudor. Heroine and former nun Joanna  Stafford is beautiful, bold and in lethal danger. Bilyeau writes  compellingly of people and places that demand your attention and don’t  let you go even after the last exciting page. – Karen Harper, author of  Mistress of Mourning
“An exciting and satisfying novel of historical suspense that  cements Nancy Bilyeau as one of the genre’s rising stars. The  indominable Joanna Stafford is back with a cast of powerful and  fascinating characters and a memorable story that is gripping while you  are reading and haunting after you are done. Bravo! The Chalice is a  fabulous read.” – M.J. Rose, author of The Reincarnationist

nancy bilyeau

About the Author
Nancy Bilyeau,  author of The Crown, is a writer and magazine editor who has worked on  the staffs of InStyle, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, and Good  Housekeeping. Her latest position is features editor of Du Jour  magazine. A native of the Midwest, she graduated from the University of  Michigan. She lives in New York City with her husband and two children.

For more information, please visit Nancy Bilyeau’s website.  You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter

Review: The Chalice by Nancy Bilyeau


the chalice


Publication Date:  March 5, 2013
Touchstone Publishing
Hardcover; 512p
ISBN-10: 1476708657

In the next novel from Nancy Bilyeau after her acclaimed debut The Crown,  novice Joanna Stafford plunges into an even more dangerous conspiracy as she comes up against some of the most powerful men of her era.

In 1538, England is in the midst of bloody power struggles between  crown and cross that threaten to tear the country apart. Joanna Stafford has seen what lies inside the king’s torture rooms and risks  imprisonment again, when she is caught up in a shadowy international  plot targeting the King. As the power plays turn vicious, Joanna  understands she may have to assume her role in a prophecy foretold by  three different seers, each more omniscient than the last.

Joanna realizes the life of Henry VIII as well as the future of  Christendom are in her hands—hands that must someday hold the chalice  that lays at the center of these deadly prophecies…

Layered Pages Comments and Review:


When I was asked to participate in the historical fiction virtual book tours for, The Chalice by Nancy Bilyeau, I was so delighted! I have been anxiously awaiting for this novel! The Chalice is the sequel to Nancy’s debut novel, The Crown. To give you a little back ground to the story. I would like to share a little to you about, The Crown.

The protagonist, Joanna Stafford, a Dominican nun in the sixteenth century discovers her cousin is sentenced to burn at the stake at the orders of King Henry VIII. She leaves the priory to go to her cousin to show her support and she is arrested along with her father and they are sent to the Tower of London. Joanna is forced by Stephen Gardiner to spy for him and to find a relic. He believes this relic, a crown is at the Dartford Priory where Joanna is a nun. She is sent back to Dartford along with two monks.

Joanna starts to unravel the history of the crown and as she discovers the mystery little by little things become very dangerous for her and the Priory. Who can she trust? Who can she turn to for help? Will she be able to save the Priory and the people she cares about including her father’s life?

Joanna is also member of the aristocratic Stafford family. She is loyal to her family, her faith and she is courageous and strong-willed. She tends to put in her trust in the wrong people at times, but that is because she has been a bit sheltered I think. It’s truly amazing how she gets herself into these situations and yet she comes out so strong.

The Chalice

The Chalice has all the elements for a thriller a reader would want! Intrigue, murder, betrayal, conspiracy, romance, suspense, well-developed characters who will captivate you! Bilyeau also gives you a wonderful blend of history throughout the story. One can tell she has done her research and knows quite a bit about Tudor history.

As the story unfolds, Joanna is caught up in a plot that targets King Henry VIII and she finds herself in a web of lies and betrayal. In this daunting position she has been forced in making a decision that could change her life, those around her and England, forever. There were many times throughout the story I wasn’t sure how she was going to get out of the mess she was caught up in. This is a story that is so well written and evenly paced that one must really read for themselves to discover how enthralling it really is. It’s not too often I’m left almost speechless to describe my feelings for a story. I highly recommend this brilliant series and want the readers to come away with as much enjoyment as I did.

The beginning of the story really sets the tone for this powerful and compelling tale. In chapter one of The Chalice the story begins ten years earlier. Joanna is seventeen years old and making a journey to Canterbury from her home, Stafford Castle with her mother. They are going to Canterbury in the guise of her mother wanting Joanna to use the healing waters to cure her melancholia. But her mother has other plans for her that are unknown to Joanna and others in their household.

When Joanna assumed they would be heading back to London, her mother made arrangements to see a nun instead. She thought nothing of it because in Spain, her mother’s family spent time with nuns and monks. As they were getting ready to go, her mother was telling her about a nun, Elizabeth Barton that she wanted Joanna to see. When she meets Elizabeth, she realizes that she is no ordinary nun. I believe Joanna’s whole life changes from that moment on…

I rated this story five stars!


About the Author:


nancy bilyeau

Nancy Bilyeau,  author of The Crown, is a writer and magazine editor who has worked on  the staffs of InStyle, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, and Good  Housekeeping. Her latest position is features editor of Du Jour  magazine. A native of the Midwest, she graduated from the University of  Michigan. She lives in New York City with her husband and two children.

For more information, please visit Nancy Bilyeau’s website.  You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter
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