A Conversation with Historical Fiction author,
Please give a warm Coffee Pot welcome of Gemma Lawrence.
MA: Gemma, thank you for dropping in to chat with us today. Before we begin, could you please tell my readers a little about yourself.
GL: Lovely to be here, and thanks for having me! My name is Gemma Lawrence, and I am an independent author. I go by the name G. Lawrence, and I mainly write historical fiction concentrating on the Tudor and Medieval periods, but I have also written a small selection of fantasy novels, and re-writes of fairy stories. When I write historical fiction, I write about women of history I admire, and find captivating.
MA: What inspired you to write your recent book, Child of Water?
GL: Child of Water is the first book in a series I’m writing called Heirs of Anarchy, about the life of the Empress Matilda, daughter of King Henry I of England and Duke of Normandy. Matilda was named heir to her father’s kingdom in 1127 during the lifetime of King Henry. Barons of England and Normandy swore to uphold her as Queen upon the death of her father, but her cousin Stephen stole the crown from her, leading to years of civil war as the two cousins, one male and one female, fought to become monarch. It is a period known today as the Anarchy. Child of Water covers a period before this conflict, the early life of Matilda, when she was the child-wife and Queen of Emperor Heinrich V of the Holy Roman Empire and later Empress and regent of northern Italy. The latter part of the book concentrates on her return to Normandy, when she was once more under the power of her father. The next two books in the series will examine the period before the civil war, and then the Anarchy itself. After Matilda’s story will come that of her daughter-in-law, Eleanor of Aquitaine, the Queen of Matilda’s son, Henry II, who will continue the story onwards as the first of the Plantagenet kings takes the throne.
That is what the book is about, and the inspiration was Matilda herself. I have, in fact, been dying to write this story for a long time. Reading about Matilda, the woman who could have become the first regnant Queen of England and Normandy so long ago, and her fight for the throne, enthralled me from the start. She was a strong willed, highly-educated, confidant woman who never faltered in her belief that she was able to rule, and was righteous in her claim to the throne. Matilda was condemned a great deal for displaying arrogance and coldness, but many of the traits she demonstrated were lauded in male rulers. It was not a time of gentle kings and monarchs, and she is no exception in this regard, but I saw more in her that was throne worthy than I think those chronicling her actions at the time did.
|Portrait of Empress Mathilda, from "History of England" by St. Albans monks (15th century); Cotton Nero D. VII, f.7, British Library.
I find the idea England might have had a female ruler so early in its history intriguing. What could that have altered in the future? Would it have changed the way society thought about female power, or would not a great deal have changed? Of course even the slightest alteration in history could change everything that followed, but I find the subject fascinating; as fascinating as the idea of a woman pressing for rights that had not been conferred on a woman before that time, with such vim and courage, as Matilda did. Matilda was a remarkable woman. In her lifetime, she was an Empress, twice a Queen, a Countess, the daughter and mother of kings as well as the leader and figurehead of an army. She had energy, intelligence, courage, self-belief and not a little pride and stubbornness. No person is perfect, and she certainly had flaws, but I admired her when reading about her and wanted to tell her story.
MA: Your new book series sounds amazing. Like you, the life of Matilda has always fascinated me.
How did you come up with your characters and your setting?
GL: My characters come from the historical records. I don’t tend to include “made up” main characters in my books, (of course, all characters in my books are made up to an extent) and only put in people who are entirely from my imagination if they are common people or servants. Servants’ lives were not as well recorded as nobles, so inventing a person here and there to be a friend, companion or part of a household does not change the historical facts of the story. Making up main characters does. When it comes to main characters, I take people who actually existed and build characters into them. I try to work from descriptions, physical and of character, about them, so that I am not altering an actual historical figure too greatly, but conversations, relationships, private times, these are all things that come to me as I write. You could say I take a skeleton of a character from what is written about them in historical sources, and I put flesh on their bones. At least, that is the idea!
As for setting, the world has changed a great deal since the times of Matilda, and therefore I read widely about the way the countryside was and how it has altered, methods of travel, farming, house and castle construction etc. But many of the physical descriptions of the world of the book come from walks I take with my dog. Although landscape may alter, the pictures of the countryside, antics of animals and insects, I include in my books are largely things I have seen as I walk in forests and along beaches with my (rather aged but still game) dog, Toby. I carry a notebook, and write down everything that occurs as I walk, including random thoughts and things I find beautiful. Walking is an important part of my job, in so many ways. Typing and reading for hours can make muscles stiff and bones creaky, so walking helps me to prevent my body turning into one big knot. Often walking is when I get some of the best ideas I have, too, which is why I learned to carry a notebook, so I don’t miss them. Toby has learned to be patient with me; he sniffs out good smells as I scribble!
MA: Your dog is gorgeous. It is such a good idea to carry a notebook around with you.
There are many books in the historical fiction genre. Can you tell us three things that make yours stand out?
GL: I would say, firstly, that there are so many books in all genres of fiction, and non-fiction. A new author might look at all the books in the world and think what on earth could they offer? I think what all writers have to offer is our voice, our own perspective. Everyone writes differently, and that makes each book distinct.
When it comes to historical fiction, one hundred people could look at the life of a historical figure like the Empress Matilda, or Anne Boleyn, and write one hundred completely different books, not different in subject matter or events, but interpretation. Some might be understanding of certain characters, others might condemn. Some might concentrate on politics and some on internal feelings. I think that is what matters when it comes to historical fiction; the eye of the writer; the way they see the characters of people long since dead and times now passed, customs and traditions forgotten. The subject matter might be well known, but the way we all look at events, people, actions, is not. The way each person chooses to bring the past to life is what makes each historical fiction book different from another.
As to what makes my books different, I think detail is one. I write a series of books about a historical figure rather than one book. Before I was a writer, I found some historical fiction, no matter how much I liked it, frustrating because even a long book missed out so much from the life of the main character, and about their lives and times. When I came to write, I included the detail I had wanted to see in books I had read, in my books. The trick was learning when to stop! Some of my readers love this attention to detail, describing the world of the past, about my books, and some, who I suspect do not remain my readers, hate it. But whilst I am sorry to lose any readers, it is a thing impossible to please everyone when it comes to books. Reading is a subjective experience, after all. As long as the majority of the people reading my books like the detail I go in for, clothes, jewels, food, drink, etc, I am happy. Really, I’m still writing for myself, even now. I love history, and I want to breathe and taste the past. That is what I try to do; bring the past to life with detail.
I tend to write in first person perspective, also, which was and is a conscious choice. I am more comfortable with it, for one thing, and I think it grants a sense of immediacy, especially in times of fear or pleasure, which pulls the reader closer to the main character. I like to examine the thoughts and feelings of my main character, create a feeling of connection with a person who died long ago, and immerse the reader into the world I have created. I want readers to be able to feel as though they can touch the past, as though they are there. The best way, I think, to do that is to open the mind of the main character to them, let them see through their eyes, using this style of writing.
Perhaps the last thing to make my books different is that I do not, as some historical authors do, alter major or main events of the past to suit the book. Where an event is recorded, it remains. I am not writing in order to change history. I might put another slant or interpretation on it, might choose to go with one source’s version of events or another, but in my books I want history to remain history. Where events are vague, I have to invent what my characters are up to, but otherwise I try to stick to fact. I take a chain of events in a life, and weave my story and characters about them. I understand why some authors alter history, and my choice not to is not a judgement on that, (I, in fact, enjoy reading some works of alternate history) but what I find fascinating about history is history, so with my books, I try to stick to the facts, as far as they are known, for the main events.
MA: One last question… Can you share with us what you are currently working on?
GL: At the moment, I am editing a re-telling of Cinderella, which I hope to have out later in the year, and drafting the next book in Heirs of Anarchy. Later in the year I will be returning to my ongoing series on the life of Elizabeth I, with a book covering the latter part of her life, called Old Foxes. So, busy, busy! But I am always busy, always writing. It is my full-time job, which is something I treasure because I know how fortunate I am to be able to do what I love for a living. It is also my hobby, because I spend a lot of my spare time researching my books.
But writing is also vital to me. It has carried me through some of the worst, and helped me to enjoy some of the best, times of my life. I would be lost without it. I don’t, therefore, mind being busy at all. I am an independent author, so all my deadlines are self-imposed. I am very strict! Sometimes I think I set myself impossible goals, and my to-do list is frankly terrifying at times, but I wouldn’t do anything else. Writing is my job, my obsession, and although it offers struggle and pain (of the neck, more than anything) at times, it is one of the greatest joys of my life. It is where I go to escape the world, and it is how I understand it, too.
MA: Thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to chat with us today.
If you would like to learn more about Gemma’s fabulous new series, then you know what to do. Scroll Down!
Child of Water
Book One Of The Heirs of Anarchy
By Gemma Lawrence
Winter, 1110, England
On a beach, standing in the snow, a girl of eight winters waits for a ship that will take her from her homeland of England, from her family, to her husband. That girl is Matilda, daughter of Henry I, King of the English and Duke of Normandy. In time she would become Queen of the Germans and Romans, and Empress of the Holy Empire.
From the dark forests and mighty castles of the German states of the Empire, to the Alps, northern Italy and Rome, Matilda will travel, at first the apprentice of power, learning from her husband, Heinrich, the Emperor. Through times of war and peace, loss and deepest sorrow, her story unfolds, leading her back to the place of her birth, and the promise of a throne.
Child of Water is the first book in the series The Heirs of Anarchy, by G. Lawrence.
Pick up your copy of
Child of Water
I am an independently published author, and proud to be so. Living in a little cottage in Wales in the UK, I love where I live as much as I love to write.
The age of the Tudors has been an obsession for me since I was a child, and many of my upcoming books will centre on that time, but I also pen the odd dystopian fiction or historical fiction from other time periods. I will be releasing all my titles on amazon, for kindle and then hopefully for print later.
I studied Literature (with a capital L) at University and usually have twenty or more books I'm currently reading. Reading and writing are about mood for me, and I haven't found a genre I didn't enjoy something about so far...
You can often find me on Wattpad or Twitter when I'm not writing...