We recently spoke to Joanna Hickson, author of The Agincourt Bride and she kindly answered a few questions for our Novelicious readers.
Can you tell us about your average writing day?
Well, today I’ll start by thanking you for inviting me to tell you about myself, although I would far rather tell you about Catherine de Valois, who is the central character in The Agincourt Bride, since I assure you that the life of a princess in the French court in the early 1400s is far more exciting than the life of this novelist today, which of course is why I chose to write about her. However, I do tend to spend the morning and most of the afternoon writing if I can, although we also run a B & B in our farmhouse in East Lothian, so there are often bathrooms to clean and beds to make. Sometimes when I can’t sleep I write at silly hours of the night and get freezing cold doing it! I have what I call my ‘cave’ to write in – a little room at the back of the house with no view to distract me, unless you consider a row of dustbins and the oil tank as a picturesque scene. Little do the B&B guests know as they eat their breakfast what a mess of research books and notes litter the room behind the closed door in the dining room!
When you are writing do you use any celebrities or people you know as inspiration?
I must confess that I don’t know any celebrities and I keep my twenty first century friends and my fifteenth century friends completely separate, so that I don’t think any of them would recognise each other. Of course I may unconsciously write a few characteristics I have noticed in real life into the characters I construct in my stories but, as it says at the front of the book, any resemblance is ‘entirely coincidental’. Somehow historical characters shape themselves through the actions they take in history and where I invent characters they take shape to fulfil the role they need to play in the book so I don’t think I import them from the present day either. Message to readers: don’t read The Agincourt Bride if you hope to meet Cheryl Cole in its pages but DO read it, please!
What is your favourite women’s fiction book of all time and why?
Phew! How to choose one? My favourite historical novel is Anya Seton’s Katherine, which I read when I was about fourteen and have re-read so many times my original copy is falling apart. All my life I have wanted to bring the medieval world to life as vividly as she did for me in that book. If it can be classified as ‘women’s fiction’ (which I’m not sure about) then Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights is the book I would say had gripped me most over the years. Of authors still living I have many that I admire greatly. I loved Kate Mosse’s Labyrinth and look forward to reading her latest, and anything Rose Tremain writes ticks my box, particularly Restoration, and I intend reading Merivel very soon. You can tell from all that that I’m a history girl!
What is your writing process?
I think I’m a bit scatty. I tend to read all the research material I can muster on the particular historical period and characters I have chosen to concentrate on and then stir it all into a mind-mix. It takes a lot of pondering and long walks with the dog before all the bits fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. Then when I’ve written it once I tend to stir it all up again and have another go. So there are probably at least three drafts before I feel confident enough to send it off for scrutiny by others. The Agincourt Bride had 3 incarnations, each with many drafts, before this latest one was accepted for publication. It’s hard work but not a chore because I love it.
What was your journey to being a published author?
Quite long and with many pit-stops! I’ve been toying with the Catherine de Valois story for more years than I care to admit, so she has had an elephantine gestation but there were a few detours on the way. In my twenties I published a YA historical novel called Rebellion at Orford Castle which was picked up by a BBC children’s TV programme called Jackanory – for those with long memories. Then in the nineties, when historical fiction was in the doldrums, I published a couple of merry rom-coms set in my adopted home of Scotland. But now I am working in the genre that I love, in the period that I inhabit most happily in my mind and having the result published so I’m in clover - as long as readers enjoy the results!
What do you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?
Well for a start I don’t believe that everyone has a book in them! They may have the start of one but the thing is to finish it – and that’s not easy. I believe that there are more half-finished manuscripts tucked away in cupboards than there are books in the British Library. Some of them are mine! But I DO believe that if you really want to write a novel – really, really, really – then you will. And that’s not a myth.
What advice can you give our readers who want to write a novel of their own?
George Eliot, a great novelist herself, had the best advice. She said ‘It’s never too late to be what you might have been.’ In other words if you plug away at it and keep writing, it might take a long time but one day you might be a novelist. However, just because you publish one book remember that it doesn’t necessarily make you a raging success – it might just give you some much-needed personal satisfaction – and maybe it will please some readers as well. The more the merrier! We can’t do without the readers.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’ve just finished the sequel to The Agincourt Bride called The Tudor Bride, which covers the second half of Catherine de Valois’ life in which she unknowingly founds the Tudor dynasty – no mean legacy! There will still be some work to do on that once the Harper Collins editors have put their razor-sharp minds to it and then it will be published later in 2013. I hope readers will be keen to find out what happens to Catherine after she goes from France to England. Meanwhile I am researching the life of another fifteenth century character; Cicely Neville, Duchess of York, a central figure in the Wars of the Roses. My goodness she has an eventful life! I can’t wait to write it and for you to read it.
Our review of The Agincourt Bride is coming soon.