September 4, 2013

'Queen's Gambit' Author Elizabeth Fremantle Q&A

I am so pleased to welcome author Elizabeth Fremantle to The Tudor Book Blog for an exclusive Q&A today!

It’s a pleasure to have QUEEN’S GAMBIT featured on the Tudor Book Blog.

What is your writing routine? (i.e. cup of coffee early in the morning, afternoon only, etc.)

I usually wake up quite early make the essential cup of tea and do a couple of hours of reading and pottering about, then see my son off to school and walk the dogs before finally getting to my desk at about 9.30. I do my emails and any admin first and then the writing begins. I rarely stop for lunch and tend to snack at my desk, working until about 4-5pm when the dogs start eyeing me plaintively for their afternoon walk. When writing, I start by going over the previous day’s work, which helps focus my mind before beginning any new material. My rule is to write a minimum of 1,000 words a day, which can take an age but if the gods are with me I can find I have written three or four times that amount and hardly noticed. I tend to stop and catch up with domestic tasks if I find myself stuck – there is nothing like the mindless action of doing the laundry to clear the creative tubes. I am utterly useless without large quantities of strong tea throughout the day.

What inspired you to focus on this time period and set of characters for your novel?

The mid-sixteenth century is a fascinating period – the great upheavals of the Reformation had a political and social impact that would change English culture forever. It is a particularly interesting time in respect of women’s history as we see the dawn of an age in which two Queens in their own right sat on the throne, a great challenge in a culture that set men above women without question. I wanted to look at the circumstances through which this came about, so in a way writing about Katherine Parr, who urged Henry VIII to reinstate his daughters to the royal succession allowed me to explore this and then follow through with further novels that focus on the reigns of both Mary and Elizabeth Tudor.

That aside, Katherine Parr is herself a woman whose life merits exploration. The was wed four times, survived marriage to a notorious tyrant, out-foxed her enemies, published two books and is far from the nursemaid figure, who cared for an old king in his dotage, that history would have us believe she was. I wanted to tell a version of her story whilst also offering differing perspectives on the Tudor court through the eyes of other characters such as her maid, Dot, and her doctor, Huicke.

What other time periods do you enjoy writing about?

I am most drawn to times of change and upheaval because when the tectonic plates of history shift fissures are created through which new and interesting voices emerge. I am particularly drawn the English Civil War for these reasons and also the early twentieth century.

I love how you bounce around and see into the minds of different characters throughout your novel. Which was your favorite character to write and why?

That’s a difficult question to answer because I formed such close attachments to all my characters. Katherine is a fascinating woman really less because of her striking intelligence and charisma but due to the essential contradiction in her character that meant that a woman such as she was fallible to the vicissitudes of a disastrous romance. This is what makes her so very human and relatable, I believe. I have a great fondness for Dot’s straightforwardness and Huicke’s loyalty but one of the lesser characters in QUEEN’S GAMBITI enjoyed writing most was the young Elizabeth Tudor. She is so intriguingly complex and I go on to develop her further in my next two novels.

Along those lines, which character did you find the hardest to write and why?

Without a doubt the aging Henry VIII – he has become so fixed in our culture as a one-dimensional fat, old monster and I wanted to try and describe him in a way that was more rounded and nuanced. I hope I achieved this.

You have obviously done a lot of good research for your book. What was your favorite source(s) to use?

Katherine Parr’s two books (Prayers or Meditations and Lamentation of a Sinner) allowed an invaluable glimpse into the mind of my protagonist. Knowing that I was reading her own words gave me an understanding of the woman herself, as did her letters and particularly one she wrote to Thomas Seymour, which is touchingly intimate.

Did any other living or historical characters (not mentioned in your novel) inspire you when writing the characters in your novel?

I think I had the ghosts of all Henry’s previous wives around me as I wrote and I wanted those tragic stories to hang over my own narrative. Who cannot be moved be the devastating fate of the teenaged Katherine Howard or the tragedies of Anne Boleyn and Katherine of Aragon?

What historical figure inspires you the most, personally?

That is an impossible question for me to answer! I am usually most inspired by the person I am writing about at the time. At the moment I could say it is Lady Mary Grey, the youngest sister of Lady Jane Grey who was a four-foot hunchback and yet managed to negotiate the treacherous Elizabethan court with courage and grace or perhaps Penelope Devereaux, the protagonist of the third novel in the trilogy, a controversial figure who danced to her own tune.

Your novel sets a great scene for the meeting of Catherine and Henry VIII. She is obviously attractive and witty…but what do you think it was about her that really set her apart from the other ladies and court, leading Henry to take her as his last wife?

Given she also attracted the attentions of Thomas Seymour, who was considered to be the ‘comliest’ man at court, I believe she was one of those people who was invested with an inexplicable charisma that made her stand out from other women. Beyond that, I feel she had great inner strength and in QUEEN’S GAMBIT I have shown her as someone with the courage to tell the truth in a court where dissembling was the norm.

You mention on your website that Catherine Parr has been mis-represented by history as a “dull nursemaid,” which your representation and research has shown not true (thankfully!) Why do you think history has painted her so?

It is probable the workings of a Protestant agenda that sought to set up figures like Katherine Parr and Lady Jane Grey as the embodiments of ideal Protestant womanhood – Jane Grey as the virgin martyr and Katherine Parr as the perfect biddable and silent wife. By the time the Victorians had finished with her reputation she had lost all her powerful allure.

What event in history would you have liked to witness?

Something celebratory, like the coronation of Elizabeth I. It was an event infused with such great hope and relief after the terrors of her sister Mary’s reign.

Have you visited any of the locations in your novel? How did it feel being there?

Yes, I have visited many of them. I love wandering around historic houses, particularly when I know one of my characters has trod on the same flagstones. Hampton Court was a source of great inspiration for QUEEN’S GAMBIT – when I was considering writing the novel I visited and stumbled upon a re-enactment of her marriage to Henry VIII, which was a satisfying piece of serendipity that spurred me on the write the book. The cavernous kitchens, dominated by the vast hearth, and the plethora of buildings beyond, housing everything needed to serve and nourish the nobility above, were where I imagined up Katherine’s maid Dot falling hopelessly in love with the kitchen clerk.

Do you have anything new in the works for us to look forward to?

Yes, absolutely! SISTERS OF TREASON the story of the two younger sisters of Lady Jane Grey is out next year. Lady Katherine and Lady Mary were born dangerously close to the crown and lived in the shadow of their sister’s tragic execution. It is court painter Levina Teerlinc who helps them navigate the terrifying court of Mary Tudor but when her sister Elizabeth comes to the throne things only become increasingly complicated for the girls who some think are next in line to the throne.
I am presently working on the third book in the trilogy, which will be set in the late Elizabethan court – the time of the great playwrights, poets and adventurers who surrounded the queen, and will focus on the life of Penelope Devereaux, the sister of Elizabeth’s favourite, The Earl of Essex. A cousin of the queen, Penelope was the inspiration for Philip Sidney’s sonnet cycle Astrophil and Stella, she defied convention, was no stranger to controversy and became enmeshed in her brother’s coup to overthrow Elizabeth – a fascinating woman indeed.

Another HUGE thank you to Elizabeth Fremantle for sharing with us today! I hope you will take a moment to check out my review of Queen's Gambit, and be sure to enter our giveaway to win a copy!


  1. I am looking forward to Sisters of Treason!

  2. TERRIFIC blog. Great post.

    I have this book...I need to read it.

    Found your blog on the interview. Great job.

    Going to follow your blog.

    Silver's Reviews
    My Blog

  3. I recently finished reading The Queen's Gambit and i loved every moment of it....My husband complained as i read every night....late into the night, i didn't want to put it down!
    I am looking forward to reading the Sister's of treason.


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