Monday, September 17, 2012

Religious Transition in Tudor England Revisited: An interview with Nancy Bilyeau about The Crown

In January, I first interviewed Nancy about the release of The Crown, her Tudor-era mystery novel to positive critical reviews and even an award nomination.  As her publisher just re-released the book in paperback, Nancy and I talked briefly about her debut novel experience and her upcoming sequel.


1) For those who didn't see the first interview or haven't had a chance to read your book yet, tell us a bit about The Crown.

It’s a historical thriller set in 1537 England, written in the first person from the perspective of a 26-year-old Dominican novice at a priory in Dartford. Sister Joanna Stafford learns that her favorite cousin has been condemned by Henry VIII to be burned at the stake for treason in a rebellion. Defying the rule of enclosure, Joanna leaves the priory to stand at her cousin’s side. Arrested for interfering with the king’s justice, Joanna, along with her father, is sent to the Tower of London. She is forced to return to her priory as a spy: to save her father’s life she must find an ancient relic—a crown so powerful, it may possess the ability to end the Reformation.

2) The Crown has been out for nine months and now is going into paperback. It's well-received including some awards nominations. Please tell us a bit about that.

I’m extraordinarily grateful for the response. I didn’t know what to expect, truly, and you know the first review I received was not so good. I was crushed: I slept three hours that night. Then more reviews came in, some mixed and some positive, and then some more positive ones. I think the good reviews from Oprah and Kirkus and Entertainment Weekly gave the biggest boosts. But I try not to get caught up in it, because you start to feel confident about the writing after a good review and then crushed all over again by a bad review. It’s not a great way to live your life. The award nomination—the Crime Writers’ Association’s Ellis Peters Historical Dagger Award—was a surprise. I opened the email first thing in the morning—because of the time difference between London and New York, I sometimes have emails waiting for me when I wake up—and it was one from my editor at Orion Books, telling me about making it onto the short list for the award. I didn’t end up winning but I was ecstatic to get as far as I did.

3) Not every debut necessarily goes well. Timing, subject matter, and the ebb and flow of trends can work against authors. Are you surprised at how well your story of a curious nun drawn into religious and political turmoil has done?

Yes! While I was writing it, I was filled with doubts about it—should I have written in the first person? Will people be turned off by a nun protagonist? I had no idea if I could get an agent, much less sell it in America and nine foreign countries. I tried to write the sort of book that I would enjoy reading myself. I really love historical thrillers.

4) Some authors do nothing but look forward. Authors agonize over every perceived mistake. Your reviews, overall, are quite positive. That being said, is there anything you wished you could have done differently?

I wish I had written it five years earlier. This is a volatile time to be a debut novelist. I just have to hang in there, and hope that no matter what, people do like to read stories, and I need to work hard to deliver the best stories I can.

5) Your sequel isn't out until spring of next year, but can you give us a little sneak peak about The Chalice?

It’s a darker book than The Crown, it’s less of a murder mystery and more of an international thriller. But also there is more romance.


Thanks, Nancy.

If you'd like to see more from Nancy, please visit 

Here is a trailer for The Crown:

Here is also a three minute video interview with Nancy:

The Crown is now available in paperback at all major bookstores and online at all major vendors including Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

1 comment:

sue said...

hmm sounds fascinating and even in paperback. You must be thrilled with the reception