Barbara Gaskell Denviil, historical fiction author, is here today to answer a few questions about herself and her writing. Thanks to Barbara for taking the time to share with us. Keeping reading to learn more about Barbara and her books.
1) What was you inspiration for Sumerfords Autumn?
I had many, many inspirations for writing SUMERFORD’S AUTUMN, but the principal one was a book by Ann Wroe about the so-called pretender Perkin Warbeck who claimed to be the younger of the two princes in the Tower. I found this young man’s story so terribly tragic and – although I tend to think his claims were very believable – it makes no difference whether he was truthful or simply confused – he was still a tragic figure and his life was horribly bleak. I do not think historians have given his story or his claims sufficient interest. His behaviour was highly unlikely for a simple fraud – and he certainly frightened the life out of King Henry VII for many years. He has been too easily dismissed by historians who have simply denied him credibility without even any basic investigation or questioning the possibilities. So although my story is fiction and covers the many adventures of one fictional family – the core of my plot is the existence of this Perkin Warbeck character – and the doubts as to his real identity.
2) When picking time period for this novel, what made you decided on the early Tudor era?
For many years I have been interested in the mid to late 1400s, which covers the reigns of Edward IV, Richard III and Henry VII. I consider all three kings unusual, extremely different, and totally absorbing characters. These were fascinating times of enormous upheaval, and changing conditions, and of course the devastation of the Plantagenet kings and the arrival of the Tudors was the most significant change of all. I do not like the sound of Henry VII, and he was an extremely unpopular king at the time – but this just makes the era more interesting. I have researched this historical period in some length and depth and the period has subsequently become so alive to me that I find myself walking the old narrow lanes of medieval London in my dreams. I love to write books set during that time. My earlier novel SATIN CINNABAR was also set against that era.
3) Alysson is a fascinating character. How did you develop her story?
Alysson was a very rudimentary character when I started and basically she then almost wrote herself. My characters usually take over – they come alive to me and decide their own personalities. Alysson took advantage of her initial beginning – which gave her considerable scope – and then she grew from there of her own accord. I wanted her personality to be a foil to the budding arrogance of Ludovic, since he had been brought up a lord whereas she had suffered misery, loss and poverty from an early age. Their relationship was to grow from these contrasting attitudes.
4) The four brothers in the Sumerford family are all very unique. Was keeping their particular characteristics from getting mixed up a challenge?
I’m so glad you found the four Sumerford brothers interesting and unique. Keeping them very separate in personality was not really a challenge however, as they also came alive quite quickly for me and promptly wrote themselves from then on. I do find this in every book I write, for my principal characters (often some of the minor ones as well) soon seem so real to me that I can imagine them leaning over my shoulders as I write and voicing their dialogue straight into my ears. I know many authors experience this same phenomenon. It is actually one of the most enjoyable side effects of writing, and I feel as though I am making lifelong friends as I go deeper into the book. I would certainly recognise them all if I met them in the street. I never base them on real people – they are just themselves. Characterisation is certainly important to me, and I am delighted that other people seem to find my characters as real as I do.
5) Each of the three younger Sumerford sons are engaged in various clandestine activities. How did you choose what each brother was engaged in?
The brothers’ activities were very much part of their personalities. Gerald’s idealistic morality was always a part of the book’s plot, for he is prepared to die for what he believes. Brice is the self-serving and amoral opposite of Gerald – although I did not want to make him an all out villain. He has his motives, his beliefs, and his standards – they are just very different from other people’s. Ludovic grows up through the book. He starts young and rather self-serving like Brice – particularly since he expects to be left penniless unless he provides for himself – but he is actually very idealistic underneath, just as decent young men often are. He learns from his unusual experiences, and develops his maturity and his moral objectives directly through the events he suffers throughout the book. He ends up being far nicer and more tolerant than he is initially.
6) There is an element of political intrigue that floats in the background of the story. How much research did you do to create a believable political atmosphere?
I have done an enormous amount of research on the political background of this book – but I did not use even a quarter of it. I do not want the book to seem like a history lesson! On the other hand, some aspects of the political turmoil are integral to the plot. This is an era I have actually been researching for about 10 years so it seems quite normal to me to just carry on – setting the story against a setting which seems entirely real to me now.
7) What drew you to writing historical fiction?
I started writing fantasy since I adored the element of escapism and magical insights, combining this with a lifetime of an extremely vivid imagination and unusually active dream life. I wanted to create something from my own busy head and make it seem as real as possible. Then for my first novel FAIR WEATHER I wrote of a time switch, and needed a genuine historical background for that. I began to develop my hobby of historical research into something more specific, and soon discovered that this absorbed me more than the fantasy. I promptly became engrossed with historical fiction – and I’ve never looked back. I do still write fantasy as well – but that has taken rather a back seat.
8) Who are your favorite authors?
My list of favourite writers is very diverse and very, very long – Shakespeare, Tolkien, George R.R. Martin, Dorothy L. Sayers, P.G. Wodehouse, Mervyn Peake, - I could go on forever.
9) Do you have any interesting habits or rituals when you write?
I don’t think I’m at all interesting when I write – I become lost to reality. I huddle over the computer and disappear into the world I am writing about. Sometimes when I need to think out a small problem or readjust some aspect of the plot, then I will get up and make tea, do housework or become involved momentarily in anything that leaves my head free to think. Then – when I’ve found my answer – I rush back to the computer and whatever I had started doing is forgotten. I like to play classical music as I write – but nothing with words, as that would distract me. I become rather manic.
10) Can you tell us about any other books or future projects in the works?
I am writing the final draft of a new work of historical fiction – set a little earlier this time in 1482/3 - entitled BLESSOP’S WIFE. This time the storyline is more concerned with the ordinary people of the time rather than the earls and dukes. However, the political background (this time the death of Edward IV and the rise of Richard III) is once again entirely integral to the plot. I finished the book some months ago, but have now taken it up again for a final edit and rewrite, which is my usual habit. It helps to leave a gap between the first and final draft in order to get a hopefully more objective view of the book. However at the same time I have three other books boiling around inside my head – a possible sequel to FAIR WEATHER – a possible sequel to SUMERFORD’S AUTUMN – and a completely new book also set during the 15th century. It makes me rather schizophrenic I suppose – but I would find life impossibly boring if I did not have a whole world of characters and events constantly exploding inside me. I just hope my work gives pleasure and entertainment to my readers.
Thanks so much, Barbara, for answering these questions and letting us get to know you a little better.
Don't forget you can get a copy of Sumerford's Autumn now on US Amazon store and the UK Amazon store.