QAB Interview With Gillian Bagwell, Author of “Venus in Winter”

Gillian Bagwell, author of "Venus in Winter"
Gillian Bagwell, author of  “Venus in Winter”

 

Queen Anne Boleyn Historical Writers (QAB) is very pleased to highlight the writing of Gillian Bagwell, author of Venus in Winter, which released for sale in United States on July 2, 2013. QAB recently posted our review of the novel, and recommends it highly to anyone with an interest in the Tudor Era of English history. Anyone who missed the review can go here for more details: http://queenanneboleyn.com/2013/06/29/qab-book-review-venus-in-winter-by-gillian-bagwell/

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As detailed on her website (http://www.gillianbagwell.com/), Gillian Bagwell is an American historical fiction  writer with a passionate interest in British history. As is stunningly obvious in Venus in Winter, and Gillian’s previously acclaimed novels The Darling Strumpet and The September Queen, her ability to draw in her readers through exquisite detail to time and place, along with outstanding character and plot development, is the hallmark of her writing.

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The following details QAB’s recent online interview with Gillian.

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1. Gillian, Venus in Winter focuses on the magnificent live of Bess of Hardwick through her 40th birthday. What gave you the idea to focus your novel of this particular historical figure? After all, she is not a queen or mistress of a king.

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The fact that Bess of Hardwick was not a queen or a king’s mistress is one of the reasons I found her story interesting and wanted to write about her. So much historical fiction is focused on royalty and royal mistresses, it’s hard to find someone whose story hasn’t been told over and over again. Bess had a fascinating life, but hasn’t been explored in fiction so much. She knew just about anyone of any importance in Tudor and Elizabethan England in her very long and eventful life, and observed some of the most significant events in English history.

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Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury (Bess of Hardwick)
Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury (Bess of Hardwick)

 

2. Bess and her family’s life experiences very poignantly reveal the challenges and fears many living in Tudor era at all social levels endured during the late reign of King Henry VIII and the transitions in government and power plays inherent through the reigns of King Edward VI and Queen Mary I. How were you able to capture these tumultuous times, while focusing primarily on the life of one woman?

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Lots of research! The changes of regime and shifts of power during the Tudor era involved many people and complicated series of events, with matters of religion underlying much of what happened, and it took a lot of work to understand what happened and bring it to life.

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I think that Bess’s experience during these treacherous times was probably what many people experienced. She and her second husband, Sir William Cavendish, had to watch carefully to guess which way the wind was blowing, who was about to lose or gain power, and who they should ally themselves with. It must have been very difficult. They knew well many people who rose to great heights only to lose their heads when they were unseated. The advantage of writing the story from Bess’s perspective is that she saw these events up close, but survived.

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3. In Venus in Winter you very effectively, without beating the reader over the head, paint the life challenges of women, particularly in relation to how women negotiated through a male dominated society. What are your thoughts on how Bess negotiated through her unique challenges? To follow-up to this question, in contrast, what are you thoughts related to one of the other women in Bess’ life, Lady Jane Grey?

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Bess rose in society through virtually the only way open to women who weren’t royalty: marriage. Each of her four marriages was to an increasingly wealthy and well-connected man, and each time she was widowed, she inherited money and property. Being a widow actually gave a woman more power and control over her own life than other situations. Before a girl was married, she was controlled by her father. When she was married, she was controlled by her husband. In the absence of other arrangements, widows were entitled to the income from a third of their husband’s property, which gave them some independence.

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That said, Bess was clearly very intelligent and acute in business matters. Her second husband, who was old enough to be her husband and well off and established when he married her, no doubt taught her a lot. She not only oversaw the management of her households, but several enormous construction projects, including the building of Chatsworth House and Hardwick Hall, and major renovations to other properties. She went to court several times in her life, which was very unusual for a woman to do.

 

Lady Jane Grey
Lady Jane Grey

 

Jane Grey, by contrast, had very little power at any time throughout her short life. She was fourth in line to the throne from the time she was born, and her parents were very ambitious for her and very domineering. She was more or less forced into marriage with Guildford Dudley, whose father the Earl of Northumberland was very powerful, and forced onto the throne when she would probably have been happier to be left alone. Even during the nine days when she was queen, she didn’t actually have much power, but was being controlled by her parents and in-laws.

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4. The historical detail in Venus in Winter is very rich and exquisitely highlighted throughout the novel. For members and browsers of Queen Anne Boleyn Historical Writers who are just beginning to master their craft, what hints can you give in completing the research that is essential to achieving the historically accurate tone that permeates this novel?

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Fortunately, this is a period for which there is a wealth of research material available, both primary sources like letters and court documents, and many very good books on the monarchs and those around them as well as every other aspect of life during that time, including clothes, food, music, architecture, religion, family life, entertainments, and so on. For matters of daily life such as how people did their laundry, what they ate, and how much things cost, Liza Picard’s Elizabeth’s London is a great resource. She also has similar books on the Restoration period, 18th century London, and Victorian London.

 

Elizabeths London

 

I think one of the most important things writers of historical fiction have to achieve is to have characters think and act as they would have during their time, rather than imposing modern values and points of view on them. For me, nothing ruins historical fiction more quickly and thoroughly than characters who aren’t consistent with their period in history.

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5. Are there other thoughts that you have regarding Bess of Harwick, your novel Venus in Winter, or the Tudor Era of English History that you wish to share?

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I hope that in this book I’ve captured a period that was fascinating but must have been terrifying to live through, and shown how daily life–love, marriage, birth, celebrations, death– went on despite the historic events taking place. We don’t have the outside perspective to see the historical context of the times we live in. We experience our lives one day at a time, and our hopes, fears, and dreams are uppermost in our minds. What later ages will regard as history is mostly important to us in terms of how it will affect our own lives.

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6. Gillian do you plan to continue Bess of Harwick’s story in a follow-up novel?

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I would like to write a second novel about Bess, covering the second forty years of her life, which were just as eventful as the first. Her fourth marriage, though the longest, was the most unhappy. She and her husband became the caretakers of Mary Queen of Scots soon after they married, which contributed to the ruin of their marriage. One of Bess’s granddaughters, Arbella Stuart, was a potential successor to Elizabeth I, and Bess was close to Queen Elizabeth and the galaxy of famous historical people surrounding her. But I don’t plan to work on a second book about Bess immediately. I’m working on something else which is somewhat of a departure from what I’ve written so far, and that will probably be my next book.

Beth von Staats

is the owner and administrator of QueenAnneBoleyn.com. The author of "Thomas Cranmer in a Nutshell", Beth specializes in writing magazine articles, online historical articles, short stories, and flash fiction.

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