As promised, today is the first in a series of interviews with some of my fellow writers.
I found the process of talking with them to be delightful and informative – it’s been fascinating listening to all their different views on topics ranging from life, and writing, through to current industry issues and their takes on the changing face of publication.
This week I will be speaking with Maggie Giles, a prolific Canadian writer and Anne Boleyn-ophile, who has been hard at work on a trilogy set in the background of the rather Machiavellian English Tudor courts.
Alexandra: First of all, I just want to say I love your writing. I’ve recently had the pleasure of reviewing your latest work, the story of Anne Boleyn’s mother, Elizabeth Howard.
What motivated you to write about the Tudor period, and the Boleyns particularly?
Maggie: Honestly, it’s completely Anne. Her story and her life fascinate me. I’ve always loved royalty, and her climb from courtier to queen was very interesting.
I started watching the Showtime show, The Tudors and fell in love with the actress playing Anne, Natalie Dormer.
I was dying to know more so I kind of dove into research about the Tudor era.
I never went any further than that until 2011 while my best girlfriend and I were backpacking Europe and she insisted I write her a story about Anne and her rumoured love affair with Thomas Wyatt.
[laughs] We were both huge fans of Anne and weren’t crazy about how she was portrayed in some media (like The Other Boleyn Girl). She proposed I write my own version.
That was how my writing (seriously) started. After writing about Anne, I really wanted to write more about her time and those around her. So I began researching her mother and her daughter, Elizabeth I.
Alexandra: I’m always interested to know what others think of Europe when they visit – most seem to love the experience. What about you? Did you enjoy touring it?
Maggie: Hmm Europe… I could talk for hours about my trip there honestly.
I traveled with my friend the fall after we graduated university. Many people advised me against traveling with such a good friend, but this girl and I had lived together for four years in university and known each other for twelve. There wasn’t much we couldn’t do together. We had an amazing time in Europe and were very patient with one another. We backpacked for two and a half months and saw fourteen countries (twenty-six cities) spending about three to four days in each place.
Alexandra: A common dictate for writers is to ‘write what you know’, and people always talk about how important it is to ‘broaden your horizons’. Do you think your time spent there contributed to your writing?
Maggie: As I said before, my traveling was where I really started writing. My friend bought me a book and insisted I write her a story, but I was at a loss for a topic.
Anne Boleyn and Thomas Wyatt was her first suggestion. [laughs] I honestly never thought I would get too far into it. At the end of the trip I still hadn’t finished and I decided to continue.
It took me a full year to write that novel and it ended up being 176,000 words. I still need to cut it down.
I think my time there did contribute to some of my writing, especially when traveling to some of the places I write about. The history I experienced while staying in London made me feel closer to the history I was writing about at the time. That being said I’d love to do a castle tour of England and stay in Hever Castle (Anne’s childhood home) for a bit. That would be a nice vacation for me. Though she may haunt the place…
Alexandra: [laughs] The idea of a headless Anne Boleyn wandering the halls of Hever Castle is certainly an interesting one. I shall have to go next time I am there visiting family and report back!
So, what was your favorite place while in Europe?
Maggie: Hmm my favorite place. This is always the hard question. I’m a total English history nerd, and I love the country and the people… [laughs].
But I guess my favourite place would be Santorini (Thira) in Greece. We were only there for a weekend, but I wish I could have stayed longer. Ideally, I will honeymoon there. It was so beautiful and peaceful. We were able to walk everywhere we needed to and we took a small boat to visit the volcano and the hot springs. We even rode the donkey’s up the mountain side (I’m scared of heights. It was terrifying.) I did promise my poor tired donkey that I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, though, so don’t do it! There is no controlling the things anyway. I’m a horseback rider and I thought I’d have no problem directing a donkey… yeah… they don’t listen to people on their backs.
Alexandra: I will consider the donkey ride not recommended then! It sounds absolutely beautiful, although I must admit I didn’t particularly like Greece the one time I visited as a child. Long, complicated story… no time for it here!
You’ve told us the good, now dish on the bad. Was there anywhere, or anything that you disliked on your journey? Juicy details please!
Maggie: Least favorite is the easy one… Naples, Italy. Nothing wrong with the city at all, in fact we actually stayed there for three nights and traveled to Pompeii (which was awesome) and saw some of the historical parts of Naples.
The reason I didn’t like it was because it was our first Italian city and we took public transit. These three guys started following us on the subway and that freaked us out. When we arrived at our hostel, the manager pulled out a map and drew us the correct way to see all of historical Naples. There is a lot to see. Then he added, in red, all the places we wanted to stay away from because we’d probably get mugged. So we were slightly nervous.
Luckily we met three guys around our age in our hostel, from England. Who happened to be visiting Pompeii as well and they kindly escorted us around the city.
Alexandra: Sounds like you found some nice people to hang out with at least.
Returning to your writing, you’ve chosen to write a book about Elizabeth Boleyn née Howard, Anne Boleyn’s mother.
I’ve had the great pleasure of critiquing the story and watching it develop, but one question did arise for me out of that process. I did a little bit of my own research and found that there are very few contemporary sources that mention her.
What research did you do, and how are you fleshing out her character and the events of her life in a believable way?
Maggie: Elizabeth Howard (Boleyn) has been really fascinating. I’m including information I learned about her when studying Anne, and have spent a lot of time researching her husband, Thomas Boleyn, and her brother, Thomas Howard. These two are pretty well known in history, so I try tying facts from their story into hers.
Sometimes I have struggled with finding enough information, but I’ve been trying to stick to known events and show how she might have reacted in these situations. There is a bit of cross over with my Anne Boleyn story. I have really enjoyed working with Elizabeth. She is much less popular and gives me a lot more creative freedom. As I try to make the world around her believable, I find she becomes more so.
Alexandra: Obviously, writing a generational trilogy that is set in the past requires a great deal of research. Who, or what, would you say are the three most influential sources for your research?
Maggie: The research I have done has been all over the place. One place I absolutely love is a site called The Anne Boleyn Files. It is an all about the Tudors site run by Claire Ridgway – author of The Anne Boleyn Collection, The Fall of Anne Boleyn: A Countdown, and On This Day in Tudor History – each is filled with facts about the Tudor era, and I have all of them. I even emailed Claire a few times to confirm some of my facts.
I’ve read various books, fiction and nonfiction alike (such as Philippa Gregory’s novels, Mistress Anne by Carolly Erickson, and some works by Alison Weir.) Articles on the Encyclopedia Britannica as well as various journals I found with historical accounts of the events I write about provide me with reliable insight.
One thing I have noticed is the amount of debate surrounding Anne’s life. I am almost certain that some historians would agree with my interpretation and others would dispute it.
I also think that it’s hard to write a novel in this genre/era without expecting some people to disagree with the accuracy.
I stress that my story is a work of fiction. Anne Boleyn – as I see her.
Alexandra: I’m going to play devil’s advocate for a moment. The story of Anne Boleyn and her daughter, Elizabeth I is one that has been told in countless ways, books, and movies.
I have seen your passion for the subject in your writing, but for people who are unfamiliar with your work, what are you bringing to the writing arena that sets it apart?
Maggie: I honestly haven’t given much thought about what sets it apart from other stories… I guess I really should. When I started writing this novel, I wanted there to be a version of Anne that was mine, the way I believed her to be.
She did have an affair with Thomas Wyatt, but it was before her marriage and they had been in love. My Henry VIII, although ruthless, is easy swayed. He hears what he wants to and he gets people to act on it. The villain in my Anne story is Thomas Cromwell. They get to a point where one has to kill the other, and unfortunately, Anne lost.
Alexandra: One thing that I’ve always been curious about, is the accusation that Anne was involved in an incestuous relationship with her brother. You literally couldn’t write some of the stuff that went on historically – it reads like a fiction novel.
Based on your research, what are your personal opinions about the incest and adultery charges she was brought up on? The history books seem to be undecided. Did she do it? Or was she simply an inconvenience Henry needed dead?
Maggie: I personally believe she was innocent. In my opinion Henry VIII was a very willful man, but was also very easily manipulated and molded when told what he wanted to hear.
I think Cromwell played a large role later on in history to remove Anne as Queen. Because of this, I think she was more an inconvenience that Cromwell needed dead. The fact that she couldn’t produce a son was just a plus for his argument.
Alexandra: So the obvious question to me is, given that I think your writing is compelling reading, when do you plan to share the Tudor novels with a wider audience? Are you planning to try for traditional publication, or do you think you’ll try for to self-publish?
Maggie: [laughs] Thank you, you are too kind.
I don’t have a date in mind yet, unfortunately. I would like to get to work on my Anne story to polish it off and start querying. So ideally I want to traditionally publish. But I will admit I’m torn.
The idea of self publishing my novel is very appealing but also daunting. I really want to be able to see my book in a bookstore, so that is why I lean towards traditional.
I’d love to walk into Chapters and see my novel sitting on the self.
That would make my life. But if no one wants to publish me, and they might not, then I will probably go to self publishing. Plus I’m not sure how difficult the subject will be to publish in, which is why I’d like to have all three stories finished to publish as a trilogy.
Alexandra: I know that I’ve decided to try my hand at a contemporary series at some point. Do you think you will keep writing in the historical genre, or like me, will your next project be given a different setting?
Maggie: I am currently working on a Fantasy/Adventure YA novel. It has been really fun to write, and I think there are going to be a few books from it. That being said, I really need to get back and work on finishing up my historical pieces for publishing. I’m undecided on looking into other historical periods or people. I considered doing some War of the Roses pieces, but if I do, it won’t be in the near future.