History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

02 June 2008


The history hoydens are delighted to welcome Leslie Carroll and her nonfiction debut, ROYAL AFFAIRS: A Lusty Romp Through the Extramarital Adventures That Rocked the British Monarchy.

Insatiable kings. Lecherous queens. Kissing Cousins.Wanton consorts.
Welcome to nearly 1,000 years of Naughty Behavior

Royal unions have always been the stuff of scintillating gossip, from the passionate Plantagenets to Henry VIII’s alarming head count of wives and mistresses to the Sapphic crushes of the Stuart sisters Mary and Anne right on up through the scandal-blighted coupling of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. Shoved into loveless arranged marriages for political and economic gain, no wonder so many royals were driven to indulge their pleasures outside the marital bed, engaging in delicious flirtations, lurid love letters, and rampant sex with voluptuous and willing lovers.

This nearly pathological lust made for some of the most titillating scandals in Great Britain’s history. Hardly harmless flings, the affairs enjoyed by these prolifically adulterous royals disrupted dynastic alliances, endangered lives, and most of all, have fed the salacious curiosity of the public for centuries.

Q. Tell me about ROYAL AFFAIRS: A Lusty Romp Through the Extramarital Adventures That Rocked the British Monarchy. What was your inspiration for writing this particular book? And What attracted you to this particular subject?
First of all, thank you very much for having me here at the hoydens’ den of integrity. I’ve never been interviewed by a pseudonym before, Amanda—especially my own. I’m a big fan of your work, by the way.

Q. Aww, gosh, now you've got me blushing. Please tell your friends about my books. Sales = future contracts, you know.
Whose interview is this?? To answer your question, Amanda, my inspiration for ROYAL AFFAIRS was a contract—quite the reverse of the way things have worked out for my fiction career where I am continually submitting proposals and hoping my literary spaghetti sticks to an editor’s wall.

Last May, a few days before I got married, I received an offer from my historical fiction editor at NAL to tackle the project. It was their idea and I worked closely with my editor on the structure of the book and the royals and their lovers whose relationships would be profiled. Initially, we were going to span all of Europe from the middle ages through the present day, but I was also given a word count, and a phenomenally short five-month window to research, write, and deliver the manuscript. Once we realized we had close to 55 affairs in Great Britain alone, we narrowed the focus.

It was my idea to structure the book chronologically, and in a narrative form, with the story of each relationship in an easily digestible chapter, rather than having it mentioned in several places throughout the volume, as the affair might have related to other events. Coming to nonfiction from fiction, I really wanted to tell the love stories, one after the other in a contained narrative. So the book is 100% fact, but structured in a way that’s more familiar to fiction readers. There are two ways to read ROYAL AFFAIRS. One can enjoy the book out of sequence, by first reading about the affairs of their favorites. However, if you read cover to cover, you’ll get the whole arc of British History from Henry II right up to Prince Charles and Camilla and really get a sense of how the monarchy changed over the centuries, and how history, politics, and religion morphed as well over time.

Q. How long did it take? Was this an easy or difficult book to write?
It was the hardest writing project I have ever undertaken. With only five months to complete it, and an extremely modest advance, I had neither the time nor the money to fly to England and hole up in the Bodleian Library. I read many biographies and nonfiction accounts of the royals and their eras, and I found the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography to be a valuable research tool as well. I haven’t counted the titles listed in the book's bibliography recently, but I think I read about 60 books, dozens of articles, and visited numerous websites in the course of researching ROYAL AFFAIRS. Basically it was an advanced crash-course in over 900 years of British history!

Additionally, because of the time constraints as well as a page count restriction from my editor, I had to cherry-pick which affairs to include. So I gave myself a mandate to include those that had a lasting effect on the monarchy and the kingdom.

Anne Boleyn

Q. Were there any challenges in researching this book? Any new or surprising historical facts you discovered?
Not being privy to primary source material, I was compelled to rely on secondary sources and too often I discovered that very well respected historical biographers provided conflicting “facts.” As I am neither an historian by profession, nor an academic, attempting to discern what was correct and accurate in these sources was sometimes a bear. When I found something I was absolutely positive was an error (for example, a book with a similar theme to ROYAL AFFAIRS erroniously credits royal mistress Mary Robinson with having a bastard child by the Prince of Wales!!), I wondered how many other errors I might not have caught, since I'm not as well versed in other life stories as I am in Mary Robinson's. I was terrified of regurgitating what I call “bad history”—unwittingly handing down the same mis-information that has made it from bio to bio over the decades. I did notice this regurgitation in some cases, and didn't want to be guilty of it.

My next comments illustrate what I mean by this.

Mary Robinson
One affair I ditched early on was the supposed relationship between Richard I and Philip of France. Some 20th c. historians paint him as a homosexual, and that’s certainly how he’s depicted in The Lion in Winter, but obviously a nonfiction writer can’t base her own work on what’s included in a work of fiction. I would have loved to include this purported affair, but I never came across one bit of concrete evidence to support Richard's being gay (or even bisexual) that could not be easily countered by an explanation that involved an understanding of the social and historical mores of the age. Without hard facts, there’s nothing to write about. Since Edward II’s homosexuality was extremely well known during his own lifetime, there’s no reason to suspect that Richard I’s was hushed up. I found lots of material about several royals which, true or not, was incredibly damaging to their reputation, so I doubt Richard would have gotten a pass.

Not only that, in my recent reading of Alison Weir’s bio of Eleanor of Aquitaine in preparation for my next nonfiction title, Weir states that Richard was as much of a womanizer as his father, Henry II or his younger brother John; that Richard sired numerous royal bastards on different women—and of course the reason he and Berengaria never had kids is probably because they spent much of their marriage living in two different countries. As titillating as a gay agenda might be, it’s hard to dispute records that list the mothers of his royal bastards.

Q. This is your nonfiction debut. So . . . which do you prefer to write: fiction or nonfiction?
I prefer to be a perpetually working writer, supporting myself comfortably (if not better than that) with my pen (or keyboard)! To be honest, I love to make things up for a living, and I particularly adore writing historical fiction. But your question is like comparing two different genres; it's like asking an actor whether he prefers film or stage work. Nonfiction presents a different set of challenges. For one thing, you can’t make things up—though, as I’ve said, I’ve encountered errors written by some major historical biographers. On the other hand, I also love my nonfiction subject matter and if Axiom #1 is to “write what you love,” then there’s your answer. I'm very much enjoying writing nonfiction on subjects that fascinate me.
Q. How did you begin your writing career and what drew you to writing?
I always enjoyed writing when I was in school. And I have, or had, professional writers on both sides of my family. Being able to express yourself verbally was much prized in my family. And I was one of those little girls who loved to imagine herself somewhere else (my early literary heroines were Dorothy and Alice). But I became a professional actress instead, although I did have a couple of survival jobs in journalism. And I had adapted a few literary works, from the page to the stage, for a non-profit theatre company I founded. I started writing fiction in the summer of 1998, when I lamented to a friend that I wanted to get paid [well] to write. At the time I was just beginning a journalism job that paid so little that I had to work two other survival jobs at the same time. My friend suggested I consider writing romance novels (he thought my personality and sensibilities were suited to it). So I took his advice and started writing. But, I confess I’d never read any romance novels, so I had no inkling that it was a genre, like science fiction, or mystery or thriller. I just thought a romance novel had a love story in it and a happy ending. But somehow, simply by writing the story I wanted to tell (and clueless that there even were any rules, let alone how to write according to them), I got an agent in 1999, barely six months after I started to write; and I received my first contract in 2001. I began writing contemporary women’s fiction, variously pigeonholed from time to time as “contemporary romance” and “chick-lit.” I received my first historical fiction contract in 2004 and my first historical novel was published in November, 2005.

Q. Actually I’d say that I was the one who received those historical fiction contracts. Four of them so far, isn’t it?
Well, I’ll admit that your name is on the book covers. But it was I who received the contracts. You don’t have a social security number, Amanda. Or, for that matter, a bank account.

Q. Picky, picky. Let’s change the subject, shall we? What challenges have you faced in your career?
At the beginning of my writing career, I was working three day-jobs, and although it was hard to find time to seriously pursue it, I persevered because I really wanted to become a published author (and hopefully a household name), which meant getting an agent as soon as I could. Living in Manhattan is very, very expensive. And until last year, I was single so I had no one to help share the expenses. Ultimately, I got it down to one survival job, but I worked fulltime for the first five years of my writing career. I worked about 17 hours a day, no exaggeration, spending every spare moment on my writing when I wasn’t at work (and sometimes when I was!) Also, the publishing business is a fickle one. There have been years when I've done very well, and other years when I despaired about how I was going to make it without having to slip backward and get another survival job. And after I left my last survival job in June, 2003, I promised myself I would never get another day job. I vowed to be a fulltime writer come hell or high water.

Q. What is your writing schedule like these days?
I do write full-time now, but I promised myself when Scott and I first became a couple, that I would make sure that no matter how busy my writing schedule got, he and I would share quality time every day, eat dinner together, enjoy weekend activities, etc.. He is phenomenally supportive and understanding, especially when I’m on crazy short deadlines—which is all the more reason for me to step away from the computer when he’s home in the evenings and devote time to having fun with him. I’m a multi-tasker, though, so I can be sitting on the couch watching TV with him and also be reading research material and taking notes on it. Besides, if I could manage to write four novels (that got published—and a couple more full manuscripts that never saw the light of day) while I was working full-time, I can find time to enjoy my marriage as well as my career.

Q. What are you working on now?
I just got a contract to write a follow up book (not exactly a sequel) to ROYAL AFFAIRS. The working title is NOTORIOUS ROYAL MARRIAGES . . . or What’s Love Got To Do With It? This book will have an international scope, although my editor still wants to keep the focus between the Middle Ages and the present day. I’m also eager, as I’m sure you are too, Amanda, to roll up my/your sleeves and get back to writing some fiction!


Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Wonderful, Leslie! I want your job, and Amanda's! ;-)

I can't think of a better way to spend me days reading about all the naughty royal behaviors. What fun!

I will most definately be picking up your book! Best wishes for huge sales!

7:43 AM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Wonderful, Leslie! I want your job, and Amanda's! ;-)

I can't think of a better way to spend me days reading about all the naughty royal behaviors. What fun!

I will most definately be picking up your book! Best wishes for huge sales!

7:43 AM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

Kathrynn, it was amazing fun doing all the research, but I was terrified the entire time that I wouldn't meet the deadline. And the original ms. was way over the page count I was given. I had to really trim some of the entries (I think my first draft of the Anne Boleyn entry was something like 42 ms. pages) and cut some of the other mistresses I'd planned to spotlight. It was sort of a relief when I discovered during my research that there wasn't enough meat on the bone in some cases, or their affairs weren't so titillating as I originally thought, so I could cut them.

Luckily, there ended up being enough room, as we got to the editing process, to put back two royal mistresses whose entries I had excised for page count considerations: I've already blogged about Hortense Mancini, the wealthiest heiress in Europe at the time who was a lover of Charles II. Racy and bisexual, she was also a lover of his daughter by Barbara Castlemaine!

And I put back Jane Seymour because I loved the fact that she was what they'd call in the American South a "steel magnolia." She was not quite the bland doormat as she's often characterized.

7:59 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Thank you for joining us, Leslie, and for the informative interview, Amanda! :-). This book sounds so fun and so full of fascinating information. Did you have a favorite story as you wrote the book? A historical character who really caught your attention and gave you an idea for a novel perhaps?

11:55 AM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

Thanks, Tracy!

I have always adored Nell Gwyn and fell even more in love with her as I researched and wrote the entry on her affair with Charles II. A buxom redheaded actress with a ready wit and an infectious laugh, not to mention a generous and loving heart ... hmmm ... :)

I would have loved to do Nell's story in the first person POV, but alas (and ironically) another client of my agent got there first and her book was released earlier this year. My NAL editor (who published it) didn't think there was room at the inn for another Nell Gwyn hx fx (she also thought that there were a few others that were either published recently or in other publishers' pipelines). I could see her point, from a pragmatic financial standpoint, but Nell and her story was one of those things that I so much felt was "mine, mine, mine!!" I connected with her so deeply, so viscerally, that I remain convinced that no one understands this woman's "voice" the way I do.

Have any of you authors felt that way about someone whose story you were dying to tell? Have you been similarly thwarted by rejections because there are other, all-too-similar books already on the market?

I figure, wait 7 years or so and the time will be ripe again. But right now, editors (or at least those on my agent's radar screen -- who are at the big NYC houses) seem convinced that as far as historical fiction goes, the only subjects that sell are Regency and Tudor. And with the economy what it is, they're gun-shy about throwing bucks at something they're not convinced by their sales and marketing staff is a sure bet.

WE hoydens and history geeks may love Nell Gwyn, but if you ask the average reader at the mall if she's heard of either Gwyn or Boleyn, Anne's name recognition will beat Nell's every time.

12:10 PM  
Blogger doglady said...

I want your job too, Leslie ... uhm Amanda ... uhm.... Do you ever get that schizophrenic feeling?

I am really looking forward to reading Royal Affairs. I cannot begin to imagine how much fun it was to research this book.

I think what I love most about this idea is the idea of finding out who these people were as people. They had obsessions, they made foolish decisions, they let their heart (or other portions of their anatomy) lead them around and that makes everything they did in public life that much more accessible.

12:24 PM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

I totally agree, doglady! One thing that fascinated me (as a fiction writer) about this project from the getgo, is that I was going to shine a light on the humanity of these people who birthright placed above so many others. By "humanity," that's not to say that these royals were nice -- far from it, in many cases. But I was very interested in the person who wore the crown, as well as what might have been going on inside the heads of the lovers and mistresses.

12:34 PM  

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