Saturday, May 19, 2012

A Dangerous Time--Tudor England: An interview with historical fiction author Barbara Gaskell Denvil

Cover image of the novel Sumerford's Autumn by Barbara Gaskell Denvil

Today I'm talking with Barbara Gaskell Denvil about her novel SUMERFORD'S AUTUMN, a historical adventure set during the Tudor period.


1) Tell us about your book.

SUMERFORD’S AUTUMN is a colourful historical adventure with a wide scope. The storyline follows the Earl and Countess of Sumerford and their sons - four brothers, who each have entirely different characters and entirely different aims. The youngest son is the hero, but he has to face many adversities including arrest, imprisonment and torture before finally finding peace. The book is set in England during the last years of the 1400s, when King Henry VII, the founder of the Tudor dynasty, sat on England’s throne. I have interwoven different storylines including romance and humour, and conspiracy and treachery to the crown is a large part. The politics of this period were terrifying and many faced execution. But life in general was equally fraught with danger, and my characters deal with many such challenges.

2) What inspired this book?

I read a fascinating book (by Anne Wroe) on the so-called pretender Perkin Warbeck. I found his story absolutely tragic, and by the time I finished the book I was convinced that the whole subject has been far too easily dismissed by historians. Very little research has ever been done on the various claims against the emerging Tudor dynasty, and indeed the reign of the first Tudor King Henry VII has rarely appealed to the public. (His son Henry VIII was far more colourful) But the man later dubbed Perkin Warbeck actually claimed to be the younger of the two princes in the Tower, and had some exceedingly good reasons to say so. He had huge royal backing from abroad, and his story is much too impressive to be easily overlooked. Yet most historians have laughed and looked the other way. Why? Henry VII was a master of propaganda and altered history to suit his own ends. Perhaps he altered this too, just like everything else. I wanted to know more. So I started with this historical research, and then wrapped a much larger story around this kernel.

3) What went into developing your lead, Ludovic?

I tried to start with a balance between believable and likeable characteristics, (heroes who are just too perfect are never so interesting) and combine this with those attitudes which we believe were accepted in the 15th century. But once having established the first basic foundations of personality, my characters somehow seem to invent themselves. I begin with a very vague outline, and gradually they creep into my heart and begin to talk to me. They come alive over the weeks and in the end I feel I am simply obedient to their demands. They live in their own right – I just create the story around them. Ludovic is now so real to me, I would instantly recognise him if I met him, and would know just how he felt in any circumstance. He grows through the book, another natural aspect of character I enjoy – where a character matures and develops due to the actual challenges he faces through the pages.

4) In historical fiction, language is always a difficult thing to manage. Too much period accuracy can alienate modern readers but too little can damage the historical atmosphere. How did you approach language in your book?

This is such an interesting question, and the answer could fill another book. However, in general I start with the simple knowledge that the genuine language used in those days (my book starts in 1497) would be almost entirely incomprehensible to us now. It would be absurd to try and write a modern book using the real language of that period. Therefore – since I cannot copy the real period usage – why try and do half and half? I therefore use normal modern language – and certainly avoid those awful ‘foorsooths’ and ‘fie, my lords’ which were popular in some fiction of the past. However, there are pitfalls. It sounds equally ludicrous to put in modern slang, modern psychology and technological terminology, or other words which are just too inappropriate. So I try to keep a fair balance, but within sensible limits. I do keep strictly to the names of that era, and the name Ludovic, for instance, was not common then but was certainly known.

5) The Tudor period has consistently remained one of the most popular English historical periods, inspiring loads of novels, movies, and television series. Why do you think people find the Tudor period so fascinating?

Henry VIII is more colourful than any believable fictional character could be. His marital difficulties and his presence have been represented to us in such detail and so many times, huge, fat, bright red hair, dangerous, horrifying and yet resplendent. Then of course his poor wretched wives were a mixed bunch with extremely interesting complexities. His children were nearly as colourful as himself, Edward VI, Bloody Mary and Elizabeth I, and his reign introduced some amazing progress and developments including the toppling of Roman Catholic power in England. Much less, however, is generally known about Henry VIII’s father, the man who began everything with his invasion of England in 1485, culminating in the Battle of Bosworth and the death of King Richard III. My book is set during the reign of the first Tudor King Henry VII. A man much feared, and equally as dangerous in a different way to his son.

6) If you could meet any historical personage from the period covered in your book, whom would it be and why?

Definitely King Richard III. My book actually starts a few years after his death, but the truth about what happened to the so-called princes in the Tower, whether they were murdered or not, is integral to my plot. I would absolutely adore to meet up with Richard III, to see just what he was really like and hopefully to discover the truth about some of those endless mysteries surrounding his actions and behaviour. Was he an exaggerated villain? Or was he a decent man making a fair attempt at doing his duty according to the beliefs and standards of the time? I would actually love to meet anyone of that period in history. The late medieval fascinates me and I should just adore to live a few days in those narrow dark streets and really understand the life and times, hear the gossip and explore the truth.

7) What is the most surprising thing you learned when doing research for this book?

I started researching this historical period nearly ten years ago and my first discovery was that King Richard III just could NOT be the villain he had been painted. That inspired me to research more and more, and now I try to immerse myself in historical discovery whenever possible. My next big surprise was when I researched the so-called Perkin Warbeck figure for this new book – and my conclusions are a major part of the plot.

8) Tell us about your current projects.

I have written the first draft of another historical adventure BLESSOP’S WIFE – set a little earlier this time during the actual reign of Richard III. This still needs to be edited and polished, but I hope to publish it later this year. It delves into many mysteries of the period, including the beginnings of political espionage. It is wonderful, as an author, to start falling in love with a whole new cast of characters. I am certainly fascinated by my new hero Andrew. For one thing he is neither grand nor noble, and I find it a pleasant change not to continuously write about the medieval aristocracy. The working classes and the poor are just as interesting.


You can see more from Barbara at her website,

SUMERFORD'S AUTUMN is available for purchase at Amazon.


paulalofting said...

Your book sounds really interesting Barbara. I've always felt a lot of sympathy toward Perkin. From what I can see he was truly hung out to dry. Poor chap. Perhaps the desperation of a woman who had never recovered from the loss of her brothers and nephews?
I will watch out for your book.

Diamond Cronen said...

I definitely want to read this! I'm fascinated with Richard II and Henry VII..the intrigue for me began a few years ago after reading Richard II, and Henry VII by Shakespeare). And although I'm not quite finished with Fair Weather Im a big fan of Barbara's writing. It's amazing, and I'll read anything she writes. Love the interview! I may send a link to it (and the FW interview) at the end of my review for Fair Weather on my blog, if that's ok J.A.? Let me know, we're pals on goodreads u can message me there.

J.A. Beard said...

Fine by me.