Thursday, June 21, 2012

Espionage and The French Way: An interview with historical fiction author Katherine Pym

Today I'm talking with Katherine Pym about her novel of espionage and 17th-century England, Of Carrion Feathers.


1. Please tell us about your book.

Thanks so much for having me on your blog.

All of my main characters come from the middle to lower classes, and how the main population copes with the transition between Cromwell’s Commonwealth and the Restoration of the King.

Of Carrion Feathers is about espionage under the reign of King Charles II. There was a lot of it then primarily due to certain unhappy sectors that preferred the Puritan ideology.

2. What got you interested in 17th-century London?

While writing The First Apostle, I lived in England and came across several documents/books of Early Modern England. It was a fascinating time. The 1660s especially sent England onto a new and vital path that set the rules we have today. Every year had something new, and my stories take place over the period of one year. Of Carrion Feathers is in the year 1662. It is historically correct right down to the weather.

3. Your book initially focuses on a woman interested in going into the theater. The so-called "French way of the theater" allowed women to be on the stage, but this was somewhat new at the time. Why were the English against women thespians?

From Medieval days, a woman actor was unthinkable. It brought her to the level of harlotry. The line was very narrow between a proper, virtuous woman and a strumpet. She was a man’s chattel, his virtuous property. He could lock her in a closet and take away her children if he so desired, so a woman would be very careful to maintain her air of obedience.

4. Can you tell us a bit about your female and male leads?

Beatrice Short is brilliant and loves puzzles. She intends to go on stage, and won’t let anything stop her, but she must have money to pay for dance and singing lessons. While working as a servant, she gets caught reading the Undersecretary’s ciphers and is blackmailed into being a spy.

Oliver Prior is a man haunted by the brutal death of his sister while under his care. He becomes a spy for the Crown, never expecting to live long.

5. Your novel has a strong espionage component. Espionage, by its nature, is secretive. Were you able to find historical research material on espionage on the period or did you have to fill in a lot of gaps yourself?

Sometimes, one finds the best research under the farthest rock. I picked up a book on Colonel Blood one day, who plotted against the King. This book had a very nice bibliography, from which I sourced, so the espionage in my book is correct. I changed the name of the undersecretary, though.

6. We all build up stereotypes of the past in our minds. What is the most surprising thing you learned about 17th-century London?

That London City was only within its original walls. Anything outside the walls was considered the liberties, or suburbs, and not London. The London Bridge was an entity of itself.

7. Though sometimes the past is exactly what we think it was. Was there anything you confirmed in research that you perhaps initially heard or were taught but were dubious of?

One thinks of early Modern England as something quite far away, but the people were just like us. There were shops, and restaurants, called ordinaries, bookstalls with chapbooks called penny merriments. People had the same expectations we have. They struggled to find happiness and peace with their God, like today.

8. What future projects are you working on?

My next novel will deal with London events of 1663. It’ll be a novel of superstition vs. science. 


Thanks, Katherine.

You can read more from Katherine at

Of Carrion Fields is available at Amazon and Wings ePress.

1 comment:

Maggi Andersen said...

Hi Katherine, nice to learn more background on your great book I had the privilege to read.