Friday, May 20, 2011

Interview: Anne Easter Smith, QUEEN BY RIGHT

Anne Easter Smith is the author of four historical novels set in fifteenth-century England. In her first book, A Rose for the Crown (2006), Anne recounts the story of Kate Haute, an imagined mistress of Richard III extrapolated from the historical record. Anne's latest book, Queen by Right, published on May 10, tells the story of Cecily of York, "mother of two kings and one of England's most intelligent and courageous women."

Anne shares some thoughts on Queen by Right and her journey as a writer of historical fiction:

What led to writing Queen By Right?

Thank you for hosting me today, Julianne, and for letting me tell your readers about my new book! I needed a fourth book to fulfill the second part of my second contract with Simon & Schuster and as it seemed I was telling the York-family story during the Wars of the Roses through my three other books, I felt compelled to begin at the beginning of that story with the matriarch of the family, Cecily Neville, duchess of York. Besides, Cecily had "spoken" to me during the writing of Daughter of York and I thought then she would make for a compelling read. She a wonderfully strong woman who was right there with her husband, Richard, with whom, history appears to think, she had an unusual love match.

What research do you do for the books?

Most important for me is doing research by walking in my characters’ footsteps. I travel to those places where history tells us they were associated with. Until I have seen the places they lived, walked, loved and worked, I don’t get a feel for them. At Raby Castle, where Cecily Neville grew up, I was grateful to have a private tour with the present descendant Lord Barnard's executive assistant who showed me to a part of the castle that is not on the usual tour but where the castle historian believes Cecily and her sister, Anne, would have been housed. She also photocopied old genealogy charts from the castle archives that are incredibly detailed. That's just one instance of how kind and helpful historians/archivists are when you approach them for help. I talk to historians and curators, search archives, spend a lot of time in museums and libraries and use the internet to fill in a few gaps (but I don’t rely on that too much! It’s not always very accurate.) And I am proud of the library of resource books I have collected over the years. I research right up until I complete the last page; it is pretty much ongoing.

Do you have any anecdotes worth sharing during the research of Queen By Right?

I would have to say that an afternoon spent with the woman who owns Brancepeth Castle about 12 miles from Raby Castle BTW was the more unusual event of my research for the book. My oldest friend in UK and I traveled north to Yorkshire and Co. Durham for a double dose of research for The King's Grace and Queen By Right. Through a fellow Richard III Society member, who lives in Durham, I was given the phone number of the owner of Brancepeth (it was Cecily’s father’s, the earl of Westmorland, family seat and certainly on my list of places to visit). I called Margaret and asked if I could possibly talk with her about the castle and have a look around. She was very gracious and invited us for tea the next day. The castle is MASSIVE, and we were told to go into the Brancepeth village post office which was housed inside the gatehouse and ring for Margaret. Turns out she bought the castle on a whim--it was going for a song, and began renting bits and pieces of it as apartments. She was also the village postmistress! And if you have ever watched Masterpiece Theater and can recognize an eccentric elderly English lady when you see one, then you will know what an entertaining afternoon we had. We knocked on the huge oak door and were let in by a young man who did odd jobs. He waved us in the direction of Margaret's quarters--through a lofty and very draughty hall--and said she was expecting us. We walked through the open door into another enormous room only to see Margaret coming out of the bathroom still adjusting her underwear. "Oh, do come in!" she enthused, smoothing down her thick wool skirt. "Let's have a cup of tea before I show you around." It was here I learned that second-wife Joan Beaufort had not been welcome at Brancepeth with Ralph Neville's children from his first Stafford marriage, and Margaret was quite disdainful about my interest in Cecily (one of Joan’s brats, she scoffed!). She was an enthusiastic tour guide and I felt so lucky to have been given a glimpse into this private castle.

What are you currently working on?

I have a contract for a fifth book with Touchstone at Simon & Schuster and it will complete the York family series. It's about Jane Shore, one of Edward IV's mistresses.

Where are you based?

I moved to the US with a flatmate in my early 20s to work as an executive secretary in Manhattan. Forty years later, plus two marriages, two children and eight moves to different states and one three-year stint in Paris with the US Embassy, I am now living in Newburyport, MA, an historic seaport on the mouth of the Merrimac River about 25 miles north of Boston with my husband, Scott.

How does it feel to see your fourth book published?

It has been astonishing to me that I have a new career in my sixties. I never aspired to be a writer for the first 58 years of my life, but a desire to tell Richard III's real story (A Rose for the Crown) and a lifelong passion for reading historical fiction led me to believe I could write a book. It was probably very arrogant of me, considering I had had no formal writing training (except for learning to write business letters at secretarial school) until I somehow got hired in my forties to write for a northern New York State daily newspaper and ended up as Features/Arts Editor for ten years. There is something magical about seeing your name on a book jacket next to established authors in the bookshelf.
I'm grateful to Anne for providing these insights into her research and her writing life. Although I've yet to read her work, her novels come highly recommended by authors I respect and admire. I'm looking forward to reading Queen by Right and learning more about the fascinating world of fifteenth-century England.

You can learn more about Anne Easter Smith and her novels A Rose for the Crown, Daughter of York, The King's Grace and Queen by Right at her website.

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