Wednesday 22 November 2017

Author’s Inspiration ~ Carol McGrath #HistFic #Tudors @carolmcgrath

Please give a warm Coffee Pot welcome to historical fiction author, Carol McGrath. Carol is going to share with us today her inspiration behind her latest book.
The Woman in the Shadows:
 Tudor England through the eyes of an influential woman

A powerful, evocative new novel by the critically acclaimed author of The Handfasted WifeThe Woman in the Shadows tells the rise of Thomas Cromwell, Tudor England's most powerful statesman, through the eyes of his wife Elizabeth.

When beautiful cloth merchant’s daughter Elizabeth Williams is widowed at the age of twenty-two, she is determined to make herself a success in the business she has learned from her father. But there are those who oppose a woman making her own way in the world, and soon Elizabeth realises she may have some powerful enemies – enemies who also know the truth about her late husband.

Security – and happiness – comes when Elizabeth is introduced to kindly, ambitious merchant turned lawyer, Thomas Cromwell. Their marriage is one based on mutual love and respect…but it isn’t always easy being the wife of an influential, headstrong man in Henry VIII’s London.

The city is filled with ruthless people and strange delights – and Elizabeth realises she must adjust to the life she has chosen…or risk losing everything.

‘A delicate and detailed portrayal, absolutely beautifully done. Captivating.’ 
Suzannah Dunn.

‘An intriguing and compelling portrayal of a woman who lived in the shadow of one of Tudor England's most powerful men. Elizabeth Cromwell's world and that of her enigmatic husband, is brought to life in this engaging narrative.' 
Tracy Borman, Historian.

‘Step into the intimate world of Thomas Cromwell as seen through the eyes of his wife, Elizabeth.’ 
Anne O’Brien

A delicious frisson of dangers slithers through every page of the book. Enthralling.’ 
Karen Maitland.

‘Rich, vivid and immersive, an enthralling story of the turbulent Tudor era.’ 
Nicola Cornick.

Author’s Inspiration

The Woman in the Shadows is set in early Tudor London. It tells the story of Elizabeth, wife to Thomas Cromwell, King Henry VIII’s notorious advisor during the 1530s. Elizabeth died in 1528 so the novel’s remit is 1513 to 1527. I provide a feasible story for Elizabeth Williams, a widow when she married Thomas in 1514. Its backdrop is the merchant class, daily life for a Tudor middle class woman, the King’s desire for a son to carry on his dynasty, Thomas Cromwell’s personal ambitions, their children, and wider family life. Plot ingredients include frightening echoes from her first marriage and Thomas’s possible betrayal. Can their marriage survive?

I have loved History from an early age. My inspirations include Jean Plaidy’s novels and those of Anya Seton which I read as a teenager along with classics, lots of those, from Dickens to Jane Austen. For years, as well as being an avid reader, I scribbled and wrote poetry. I taught History and English. Later, as my children grew up, I found time to attend creative writing courses provided by Oxford University’s Continuing Education programme. I have always been interested in Women’s History and looking at Historical events through a female protagonist’s perspective and my novels mostly reflect this interest.

On an MPhil programme at Royal Holloway, I wrote a 40k thesis on How Romance Tempers Realism in Historical Fiction. In the first chapter, I analysed Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. This wonderful book later inspired The Woman in the Shadows. I was curious about Thomas Cromwell’s marriage. I wanted to know more about Elizabeth and his domestic life. The book is meticulously researched but includes informed speculation as well. I read extensively about the Tudor Merchant Class and a middle-class City woman’s life during the period, particularly that of widows who could run businesses and did. Elizabeth was a cloth merchant’s daughter and a widow. I invented a cloth business for her and also the story I attached to her first husband which haunts the narrative.

I kept to historical fact, where this exists, particularly those facts concentrated on Thomas Cromwell whilst seeking a strong narrative drive for the novel. Importantly, a degree of the book’s interest lies in background detail concerning the everyday life of the era such as pageantry, the cycle of the year, guilds, upward mobility, and rituals associated with marriage, birth and death during this period. I explore the Humanist movement which influenced Thomas Cromwell and became convinced that Cromwell was interested in religious reform after a visit to Rome in 1517. Read the book and find out more, and Elizabeth’s view on the dangers that reform involved. Cromwell was a Renaissance man who loved all things Italian, had a phenomenal memory, was devoted to family and who trusted close friends and family. I posit that Elizabeth was educated, plausible since she hailed from the wealthy merchant class and her family had court connections. Thomas Cromwell never remarried after her death in 1528. His will of 1533 refers to a Jane Cromwell, possibly an illegitimate daughter who was born circa 1520.

The Woman in the Shadows took several years to research and write. I enjoyed inhabiting Elizabeth Cromwell’s possible life and I hope to return to the family in a future project. Currently, however, I have returned to the medieval period for the first in a Trilogy set during the Magnificent Thirteenth Century.
I live near Oxford so History is all around me in buildings and fabulous museums. It seeps from the landscape and is part of whom I am. I love to incorporate a sense of place into the novels. This feeling for place and character inspires me more than anything.

Links for Purchase

Amazon UK

And all good Bookstores.

About the author

Carol McGrath studied History at Queens University Belfast, has an MA in Creative Writing from The Seamus Heaney Centre, Queens University Belfast, followed by an MPhil in Creative Writing from University of London. The Handfasted Wife, first in a trilogy about the royal women of 1066 was shortlisted for the RoNAs in 2014. The Swan-Daughter and The Betrothed Sister complete this best-selling trilogy. The Woman in the Shadows, a novel that considers Henry VIII’s statesman, Thomas Cromwell, through the eyes of Elizabeth his wife, was published on August 4th, 2017. Carol is working on a new medieval Trilogy, The Rose Trilogy, set in the High Middle Ages. Carol was the co-ordinator of the 2016 Historical Novels Association Conference. Oxford in September 2016 and reviews for the HNS.
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  1. Thank you for sharing your inspiration with us! Fabulous!!

  2. thank you for the opportunity. I appreciate it. Carolx

    1. Any time! It was great to have you on the blog!!

  3. Circumstances could be very difficult for history's women. They must have been so strong.

  4. Excellent post and thanks for the introduction!


See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx