History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

25 September 2007

Welcome, Blythe Gifford!

The Harlot's Daughter
by Blythe Gifford
Availbile October 1st!

Betrothed to a man she must betray.

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.


Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

This book sounds absolutely fascinating and compelling ... I love the interweaving of politics into the story. One almost "has" to do that, but too many authors shy away from that aspect of the characters' world -- which is almost a character in itself.

I have just started reading about Katherine Swynford for my WIP; the era, and her life, were incredibly compelling.

Gorgeous cover, BTW!

7:14 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Blythe, I too read Katherine by Anya Seton in junior high, and was fascinated by the love between John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford, particularly since one of their descendants married the son of another great love affair, Owen Tudor and Katherine Valois. My love of the Plantagenets and that era started with Lion in Winter. How fascinating that you're using the children of Alice and Edward III. I've always found the story of her stealing rings of his dead body a real indication of her character.

7:33 AM  
Blogger doglady said...

I love the premise for this book. While I write Regency romance, the medieval period has always fascinated me. The interweaving of all of the aspects of the period must be a monumental task, but I am sure it is a lot of fun too. Anya Seton is one of my favorites as well. I too see research as a "get to do" rather than a "have to do." Oh and Lion in Winter is another of my favorites. Saw it on Broadway several years ago and of course the film with Peter O'Toole and Kate Hepburn is marvelous. Do you think the people then lived such intense lives because their life expectancy was so uncertain?

9:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your book sounds wonderful! I too love interweaving politics into stories. I specialized in late fifteenth century English history for my undergrad major and did my honors thesis on the chivalrci romances published by William Caxton (a lot of which had been written in the fourteenth century). I've read quite a bit about Edward III and Richard II, but I didn't know Edward III and Alice Perrers had children. Great hook for a novel!

9:36 AM  
Blogger Blythe Gifford said...

It's interesting how many of us have been hooked by Katherine's story. As a novelist, I would love to think of someone reading my books years from now and feeling the same kind of discovery.
Amanda, can you tell us a little more about your book? How does Katherine fit in? Elizabeth, you may find my take on Alice a little different from the chroniclers. It comes, I think, from bringing a woman's perspective to history.


9:44 AM  
Blogger Lindsay Longford said...

Blythe, this story of a "reverse Cinderella" sounds abfab. It's interesting that so many of us readers/writers, whether historical or contemporary, have the same touchstones of books that drew us into writing or reading: Anya Seton, Mary Stewart, and on and on.

Really looking forward to this--know it will be a fantastic read!

10:37 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

I, too, find myself compelled by the reverse Cinderella story. Fascinating interview, congratulations on what sounds like a fascinating book.

12:17 PM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

Blythe, I'm working on my maiden voyage into historical non-fiction; a book titled ROYAL AFFAIRS: A Lusty Romp through the Extramarital Adventures that Rocked the British Monarchy. It is set to be released next August and my manuscript is due to my editor on November 1. Moving chronologically through British history, it will contain about fifty of the most scandalous royal relationships, couple by couple -- the story of who they were and how they met and the scandal their love affair created and how its effects rippled down through history ... and Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt get an entry. After all, their children were the ancestors of the House of Tudor. I'm bummed that the release of Alison Weir's biography of Swynford, which was set to be released earlier this month, has been delayed until November. I've never read the Anya Seton novel, though, and I can't use fictional versions of anyone's story for any of my research, of course, so "Katherine" will have to be placed on a TBR pile for the future.

12:35 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Since we've all been taken by Katherine's story, I just found out there's a Katherine Swynford society. http://www.katherineswynfordsociety.org.uk/

1:02 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Thanks for blogging, Blythe. I love all things 13th and 14th century, too!

And I also read KATHERINE, by Anya Seton. It IS a romance, even if Ms Philippa Gregory says it isn't in her forward. ;-)

1:51 PM  
Blogger Gabriele Campbell said...

It must be Katherine Swynford memorial day or something; this is the second blog mentioning her today. *grin*

It's a time I'm learning more about these days thanks to some blogs - me being a Roman and earlier Middle Ages (~500-1200) geek. Looks like another book for my TRB pile. :)

Amanda, maybe she'd give you a preprint/ARC copy for research. I've asked authors for those if I had a paper due before an important book came out, and usually got a favourable reply.

3:51 PM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

I had the same idea, Gabriele, and my agent's asst. contacted Weir's publisher in England to see if we could get an ARC for research purposes... but unfortunately, they weren't returning phone calls. Sad, but true, not everyone is a team player.

8:10 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Jeannette Lefcaurt wrote a book last year about Katherine Swynford. It appears that Katherine's time in the sun has arrived.

4:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can't wait to read this one!

Hope you write the next one fast!

6:56 AM  
Blogger Beverly Long said...

Your books are always a bonus for me--I'm entertained and I get to learn something. Wow. If chocolate would suddenly appear, it would really be magic.

10:16 AM  

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