Welcome, Blythe Gifford!
She is the illegitimate daughter of a dead king and the most unmarriageable woman in England. In order to save her family from ruin, she must regain a position in a divided court. Focused on the needs of others and cynical of their motives, she does not even believe in the emotion of love
He is a man of the law, who believes in justice, not power. Honest to a fault, he speaks the truth without fear, even to the King. And he is determined to stop her from raiding the public purse for personal gain. Yet her eyes remind him of pain from long ago.
But when the King forces them into a betrothal for his own devious reasons, he finds himself wanting to believe her. And she must decide which is the lesser treason: to betray her husband or her king.
THE HARLOT’S DAUGHTER is set in the fourteenth century. How did you become interested in this time period? What do you love about it?
In junior high school, I read Katherine, by Anya Seton. It’s the story of a lifelong love affair between John of Gaunt, a son of Edward III, and Katherine Swynford. They had four children together and in a happily-ever-after moment, they finally married late in life. Their children were legitimized and in just a few generations, their descendents sat on the English throne. It sparked my interest in fourteenth century England and the royal family, particularly the behind-the-throne stories. I subsequently put together my own royal family tree, complete with all the mistresses and bastards I could find.
Beyond that, I like to write about turbulent times and the fourteenth century has it all: plagues, wars, political intrigue, religious and economic upheavals. My characters grapple with a changing world, just as we do. There’s always something coming to test their mettle.
What do you like least about this period?
One of the challenges of the medieval period is that my female characters have such limited options. Society was extremely stratified, both for men and women. As I grapple with the heroine’s journey, I ultimately have three options: marriage, the church, or prostitution. And only one of those constitutes a happy ending!
Anything that constrained you or that you had to plot carefully around in THE HARLOT’S DAUGHTER?
There’s always a balance between realism and telling a good story. This particular book takes place against the background of a near palace-coup against Richard II. I had to stick to the real facts of history for all those events, though I streamlined the characters and simplified the legal machinations.
My heroine spends much of her time at court, so I had to be accurate in where the court traveled during that time. It’s a common misconception that everyone stayed home during the middle ages. In fact, the court was on the move almost constantly. Luckily, the real historical events I used took place over a year’s time, which lent a nice symmetry to the story.
What sparked this book? Was it a character? An historical event? A scene you just couldn’t get out of your head?
Edward III, who was a very popular monarch, took a mistress late in his life, Alice Perrers. She was universally loathed, partly because the Queen was so beloved, but also because she amassed power and wealth that would have supported an earl. She certainly rose far above her appropriate station in life. After his death, her life, and that of her children, took an abrupt turn for the worse. Parliament stripped her of her wealth and property and almost banished her. I was intrigued with the thought of their daughter, a reverse Cinderella. What would life be like if you had been raised as a princess and then cast out? THE HARLOT’S DAUGHTER is my answer. It was interesting for me to realize how much the story of Gaunt’s mistress Katherine influenced my ongoing fascination with this period and the subject of this story. I was tempted to include her in a scene, but it would have been a distraction. Maybe that’s bonus material for the director’s cut!
Did you have to do any major research for his book? Did you stumble across anything really interesting that you didn’t already know?
Research is not a “have to.” It’s a “get to.” I try to save time by staying in the fourteenth century, but I had much to learn about Richard II and the politics surrounding this particular period. I was faced with major research on two subjects that were new to me: medieval law and medieval astrology.
Much that we think of as “modern” law began centuries ago. Treason was first defined by a law passed during Edward III’s reign and the first parliamentary impeachment happened during this same era. I also discovered that despite our conventional assumptions, divorce was possible in the middle ages.
As I studied medieval astrology, I discovered that the church, astronomy, and astrology were much closer in those days. Astrology was seen as part of the natural order, ordained by God, and it was studied for clues to the fate of kings and nations. Too much knowledge, however, could be dangerous, as my heroine discovers.
Any historical mea culpas to fess up? Anything you had to fudge or change?
I have a detailed author’s note at the end of the book outlining where I took liberties. King Edward and Alice Perrers had three children, as near as we can tell: two daughters and a son. I ignored the son for the sake of the story. The facts about the daughters are so scarce as to leave lots of leeway for a romance novelist. There is no evidence that my heroine ever returned to court. But, I like to think, no evidence that she didn’t.
What/Who do you like to read?
My to-be-read pile overfloweth. I read history for fun, but I also read broadly within my genre and outside it. Just keeping up with my friends’ books is a challenge. Among the books I’ve read and loved this year are Crossroads Café, by Deborah Smith, and Eat. Pray. Love. by Elizabeth Gilbert, What Angels Fear by C.S. Harris, and Gone by Lisa Gardner. Laura Kinsale, Penelope Williamson, Madeline Hunter and Megan Chance are on my keeper shelf. And every year, I tend to reread some of Elswyth Thane’s Williamsburg novels and Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy series.
How did your writing career take off? Was it a Zero-to-Published kind of thing? Or did you have ten finished books under the bed before you sold?
Not ten books, but ten years. I had always written, but I got serious when I was laid off. During a “transition,” the advice books recommend you assess your entire life. When I made a list of what I wanted to do before I died, “write a book” was still on the list. I decided now would be a good time. Then, I made the typical beginner’s mistake. I worked on one manuscript forever. I had to be laid off a second time to generate a second book. That one finaled in RWA’s Golden Heart and sold to Harlequin. It was published as THE KNAVE AND THE MAIDEN.
Care to share a bit about your writing process? Are you a pantser or a plotter? Do you write multiple drafts or clean up as you go?
I’m a pantser with plotter-envy. Every book, I think this time I know how it’s going to work out, and every time, I discover the story only after I’ve written and re-written. Then I turn to plotter analysis to find my way home. Multiple drafts, cut and paste, revise and revise. Sigh. It’s a poor process, but mine own.
What are you planning to work on next?
I have another medieval completed and am working on yet another, but until we are set and titled, I’m superstitious about saying much more. Both are fourteenth century settings and, yes, revolve around royal bastards I’d love to set some books in the United States in the late 1800’s, early 1900’s. I have several stories ready for that “someday.”
Many thanks for inviting me to join the History Hoydens for the week. It’s been a treat.