Interview With Nancy Bilyeau, Author of “The Crown”
Queen Anne Boleyn Historical Writers was thrilled to have the opportunity to interview Nancy Bilyeau, author of the very highly acclaimed historical fiction novel The Crown. Remarkably, The Crown is Nancy’s first published novel. Short-listed for the Crime Writers’ Association’s Ellis Peters Award for Best Historical Crime Fiction in 2012, The Crown is set in 1537 England in the midst of the dissolution of the monasteries. An incredibly fast paced thriller, the novel is rich in it’s research of Tudor Era England, with exquisite imagery and compelling fictional characters that grab the reader’s interest very early in the plot line. Although The Crown is Nancy’s first novel, she is an accomplished professional writer and editor, working for Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, Good Housekeeping, and most recently In Style, magazines. Nancy is also a highly accomplished writer of award nominated screenplays.
1. It is obvious in reading The Crown that you have a strong knowledge of not only Tudor history but how people live and their everyday customs and routines. What suggestions can you give QAB’s members and those frequenting the website in how to best research properly for the writing they are trying to accomplish?
Read as many of the biographies as you can but also read the documents of the time and the letters to get a sense of the customs and the language. I find that British History Online is an excellent source of primary and secondary documents–and it’s free! Also I found a lot of valuable information for my novel in books that were written in the first half of the twentieth century and even the late nineteenth century. I located them in the New York Public Library system.
2. Your novel’s time line takes place at a time monasteries and priories were being dissolved. Why did you select this specific time in Henry VIII’s reign?
I chose 1537 and 1538 as the time of greatest crisis for the monasteries and priories. Once I had decided to make a novice my protagonist, this was the critical period. It was a very uneasy time. The rebellion known as the Pilgrimage of Grace left the kingdom quite shaken.
3. With so many Tudor Era novels focusing on the Queens, reigning and consort, of the Tudor Era, why did you decide to write your main character as a nun, and a Stafford yet?
That is why I made that choice, because it seemed that everyone gravitated toward the queens and princesses. They are fascinating, of course, but their stories have been well told. I wanted to write about a woman who was “ordinary,” but still doing something that was interesting, that would set her apart. I chose the Staffords because they were such a doomed family after a certain point, and that sense of tragic destiny always draws me in. They were too close to the throne. The life of Edward Stafford, third duke of Buckingham, is one of the most misrepresented in fiction and in television. He did not raise an army, conspire to overthrow Henry VIII in conversations with the nobility—and he certainly did not sob on the scaffold. According to historical record, he died with courage. He was a spendthrift, a bad landowner, hot-tempered, arrogant, yes. But not the cowardly villain he is portrayed as.
4. The antagonist of The Crown is Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester. Besides being “neither handsome or ugly”, what did you find of interest in researching his life that most readers would not know about?
He was more complex than I realized. This is a man who at university made many many friends and loved to perform theatrical sketches. He was a brilliant lawyer and had a strategic mind. Henry VIII himself did not completely trust him after Gardiner’s position became more conservative. The king believed only he could “manage” Gardiner, and he feared what would happen if he had power during the reign of Edward. Yet at critical moments Henry VIII listened to Gardiner. The rumors that Gardiner was the grandson of Jasper Tudor make it all even more interesting, the relationship between the two men.
5. This wonderful novel is your first. Given so many of QAB’s members are novice writers trying to perfect their craft, what advice can you give them in how to best develop their skills for work that is worthy of publication?
I used in-person workshops and online workshops, first through Gotham Writer’s Workshop and then private ones led by novelists. It really helped me to submit pages to others to see if the story was working. I did a lot of revision. It’s the only way to learn. I used a smaller group with the second book but I still did a lot of revision and wrote multiple drafts. I think many writers work this way—unless you are Stephen King.
6. Your sequel to The Crown is anticipated for release in Spring 2013. Do you want to give us any hints at all about The Chalice?
The Chalice picks up several months after The Crown ends. Joanna Stafford is struggling to make a life for herself without the priory, as are the other refugees from Dartford. She gets drawn into a conspiracy that gets darker and more far-reaching as the book goes on. I write about the prophecies that were running wild through England then, and the genuine fear of foreign invasion as Charles V and King Francis joined forces against Henry VIII. It was an incredibly tense period. The Chalice is not as much of a murder mystery as The Crown, it’s both a thriller and a historical novel. There are two women who marry Henry VIII in it, and more of Stephen Gardiner and Thomas Howard, duke of Norfolk, of course. Also Joanna comes face to face with Thomas Cromwell—on Tower Hill. There are quite a few new characters. Finally, there is more romance in this book. Don’t worry, though. I haven’t gone “Fifty Shades of Grey”! That will never happen.
Nancy Bilyeau has graciously offered The Crown as a book give-way for Queen Anne Boleyn Historical Writers. If you are interested in winning this great novel, please state so in the comments. The winner will be randomly drawn on Sunday, October 18th at 8:00 PM EST.