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.
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
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.