Stephanie: Hello, Christopher. It is a pleasure to be chatting with you today. I have read your books, The Queen’s Vow and The Tudor Conspiracy and have thoroughly enjoyed them both. Please tell your audience a little about, “The Tudor Conspiracy.”
C.W.: Hi, great to be here! The Tudor Conspiracy is the second book in the Elizabeth I Spymaster Series, about a young man with a secret past who becomes Elizabeth’s private spy in the years before she rises to power. In this book, the hero, Brendan Prescott, is recruited by his mentor Cecil to return to court, where Queen Mary Tudor now reigns, to help save Elizabeth from a conspiracy hatched against her by the Spanish ambassador. While at court, Brendan becomes entangled with a mysterious woman and suffers a personal tragedy as he races against time to uncover a wide-reaching plot that may be Elizabeth’s downfall. This is a fast paced suspense novel that explores another side to life in the Tudor court, as seen through the eyes of Brendan.
Stephanie: There are many stories of the Tudors. If a reader were to ask you what sets your book apart from the rest and what inspired you to write this particular story. What would you tell them?
C.W.: I’ve always been interested in the intelligence network that Cecil and Walsingham developed to protect Elizabeth. It was essentially the first modern spy system, in which countless men and women worked, and often sacrificed their lives, to defend the queen. I also am fascinated by the Tudors, but I felt as though the years of Elizabeth’s later reign were quite well covered in fiction, as were the years of her father, Henry VIII. However, that crevice in history between Henry and Elizabeth – when Edward VI and later Mary I became rulers— had not been written about as much, though it’s such fertile ground for a novelist. England was in tumult after Henry’s death, the religious and political situations unstable, and Mary, in particular, has a terrible reputation that obscures the reality of who she was as a person. Her bitter relationship with Elizabeth is truly a tragic one, in that these half-sisters who had lived together suddenly found themselves in opposing camps. I think my Spymaster books are different from other Tudor novels because I explore the underworld of the court and feature fictional characters, like Brendan, interacting with historical ones. Also, these are adventure stories with mysteries at their heart that explore the price of secrets—they are not biographical accounts but rather moments in history when everything hinges upon one crucial event.
Stephanie: Yes, I agree that Mary’s relationship with Elizabeth is a tragic one and I do wish the outcome could have been different for them. You did a fabulous job exploring the underworld of the court and you blended the fictional aspects splendidly. And the intelligence network of Cecil and Walsingham is fascinating.
Brendan Prescott is a wonderful character. What inspired you to create his character?
C.W.: The genesis for this series sprang from a conversation that I had with a friend years ago. We were talking about what it might have been like to be a Tudor spy and who might have actually been recruited into this type of service. So many of those who fought to defend their country and queen are lost to us; we don’t know anything about them. Brendan is a composite character, based in part on one particular man, but also enhanced by my life-long love of the novels of Alexander Dumas, in which the main character often has a terrible secret he must hide because it could destroy him. I also wanted to create a hero who is both fallible and reluctant; Brendan doesn’t choose the missions he embarks upon. He yearns for an ordinary life, yet finds himself involved in danger and making split-second decisions that carry repercussions for him and those he loves. His service to Elizabeth exacts a personal toll, as I believe it must have for anyone who dedicated their lives to protecting her. Through Brendan, I can also explore how common people lived, as well as how different social classes and power structures in Tudor England played a role in people’s survival.
Stephanie: That is really cool.
Even though his loyalty lies with Elizabeth, he seems to have a soft spot-if you will-towards Mary. He seems not to wish her any ill will. He is respectful and polite to her. In a way I wonder if he feels a bit sorry for her. What is your personal opinion of Tudor Mary and do you carry over some of your thoughts of her to Brendan?
C.W.: I think Mary was a product of her time and circumstances. She went from being the adored daughter of the king to being branded a bastard; she witnessed the chaos and tragedy that ensued from her mother and father’s acrimonious separation, and was, in modern-terms, abused psychologically and emotionally at a very impressionable age. I’m quite fond of Anne Boleyn, but accounts of her treatment of Mary are not nice. She saw Mary as a threat to her own position, and that of her child, Elizabeth, and she made certain Mary was denigrated. I don’t think people are born monsters; I think they are created. Mary believed in holding fast to the faith that had sustained her, both in memory of her mother Catherine of Aragon, as well as her fervent belief that Catholicism was the only path to salvation. Stepping into Mary’s shoes is always important when writing about her, because it’s too easy to condemn her otherwise. Brendan’s relationship with Mary begins in the first novel, The Tudor Secret; he meets her as she’s fighting against Northumberland for her throne and she impresses him with her valor and perseverance. There are hints even then of the queen she will become, but Brendan sees her as a woman who’s trying to do good even as she is misled by those around her, as well as haunted by her past. Mary could not forgive what had been done to her and her mother; it was, in essence, her downfall.
Stephanie: I agree with you your portrayal of Mary and how she was misled by those around her.
Will we see Brendan Prescott again in another story?
C.W.: Yes, absolutely. I’m currently writing the third Spymaster novel, tentatively titled The Tudor Vendetta. In this novel, Elizabeth has just assumed the throne and a near-fatal attempt on her life brings Brendan back to court. The new queen, however, has a special mission for him surrounding the disappearance of a trusted lady-in-waiting, which sends Brendan to Yorkshire. There, he becomes entangled with a strange family as he hunts for an opponent from his past, even as he begins to realize that Elizabeth may be hiding a catastrophic secret of her own.
Stephanie Oh, how exciting! I can’t wait to read it! Sounds wonderful.
Were there any challenges you faced while writing your story and how long did it take to write it?
C.W.: There are always challenges, because I combine three different plotlines in these novels: the historical event I’m depicting and historical characters involved; the fictional plotline involving Brendan; and the “what-if?” plot line, in which I look at the events and extrapolate an alternate scenario from the one which history has recorded. It’s like a puzzle. I have all the pieces but in order to create a cohesive whole, I have to figure out how they fit together. Like my stand-alone biographical novels, the Spymaster books take about eight months to research and a year to write, including the editorial and publishing process.
Stephanie: Well, you did a fantastic job!
What is your writing process like? And where in your home do you like to write?
C.W.: I try to write at least 5 hours every day, except on weekends. Before I was a full-time writer, I wrote whenever I had a moment to spare; now, I write Monday through Friday, anywhere from between 11 pm – 5 pm, with an extra hour or two of revision in the early evening. I keep to a specific word count that I do my best to hit every day, but I’m flexible as well, because stories have their own ways of coming to life and you cannot force them. However, no matter what, I do sit down at my appointed time to face the page. Some days are easy, some days not, but that’s how novels get written. I have a studio in my house that is set aside for writing. My research books are on shelves around me and I just hunker down to work without distractions. I turn off my internet connection, too, when I write. Otherwise, I’d be tempted to shop online for shoes instead! I have found that the internet can be an impediment to creativity, so I remove it until I have my word count for the day and feel I have made satisfactory progress with the book.
Stephanie: Great writing strategy. I like my books around me as well when writing…however I tend to be bad about turning off my internet connection when writing. I need to be better about that.
Have you travelled to research for your stories? If so, where and what was your most favorite journey?
C.W.: I always travel for research whenever possible. To me, it’s vital to get a feel for the landscape, even though it’s usually changed radically from the time I’m writing about. I have many favorite journeys; one I most treasure is the time I went to visit Hampton Court. We happened to arrive on a day when performers in Tudor costume were offering a dance lesson in the great hall and my partner volunteered me. I found myself dancing under the very eaves where Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII, and even Elizabeth herself had once danced. It was magical.
Stephanie: Sounds absolutely wonderful! Yes, indeed! That is magical. I would love to visit those places. One day!
When did you first begun to write?
C.W.: As a child, I wrote stories in spiral-bound notebooks and illustrated them. I even made cover art. I’ve always written; but it wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I decided to undertake my first historical novel and I wasn’t published until my late thirties.
Stephanie: That is really inspiring.
What were your favorite books as a child?
C.W.: Curious George and Babbar. Growing up, I also loved the stories by Enid Blyton.
Stephanie: Those are great books!
Is there a particular writer that inspires you?
C.W.: Every writer inspires me, because it’s a tough and lonely path. We create these worlds in our heads and spend years putting them into words, often without knowing if anyone will read them. It’s not a job we choose; writing by and large is a compulsion, something we simply must do.
Stephanie: I agree.
What is your favorite quote?
C.W.: “Do unto others as you would have done unto yourself.”
Thank you for spending this time with me. I hope your readers enjoy THE TUDOR CONSPIRACY. To find out more about me and my work, please visit me at: www.cwgortner.com
Stephanie: Thank you, Christopher!
C.W. Gortner holds an MFA in Writing, with an emphasis in Renaissance Studies. Raised in Spain and half Spanish by birth, he currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Praise for The Tudor Conspiracy
“The Tudor Conspiracy weaves a suspenseful, tangled skein of intrigue. It is a vibrant historical mystery and crime-thriller with an A-list cast of characters. Here are Elizabeth Tudor and her Robert Dudley in a light you’ve seldom seen them. —Margaret George, author of Elizabeth I
“C.W. Gortner has done it again! Intrigue at the Tudor court never looked more lethal than in his capable hands, as forbidden desires and deadly rivalries turn sister against sister and plunge our bold hero into a labyrinth of deceit. Full of breathtaking action, dark twists and unexpected revelations, this is an unputdownable read!” —Michelle Moran, author of Nefertiti
“In C.W. Gortner’s skillful hands, the plots and counterplots come to seething life, with Brendan using every ounce of his brains and courage to protect those he loves while struggling to stay alive. . . . Lovers of Tudor history and suspense fiction will be riveted by this swift-paced, sexy, enthralling novel.” —Nancy Bilyeau, author of The Crown
“Suspense, intrigue, betrayal, and deadly rivalry: what more can you ask for? From the serpentine halls of the court to the vicious back alleys and stews of Tudor London, Gortner has brewed a swashbuckling, perilous adventure that you simply can’t put down!” —M.J. Rose, author of The Book of Lost Fragrances
“C.W. Gortner has an unmatched talent for bringing the past to life. The Tudor Conspiracy is historical fiction at its best: a compelling story masterfully told, vivid characters fully drawn, and an accurate depiction of history of the time. A novel not to be missed.” —Tasha Alexander
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