Our Sensational Summer Friday guest today is a true world traveler – she was born in London, was raised in KwaZula Natal, South Africa, and she now lives in Australia. Laura Drake knows Michelle Diener through her RWA-WF (Women’s Fiction) chapter, where Michelle is the VP of Communications. The title sounds vague, but in an online chapter, this is a huge job!
You can learn more about Michelle at her group blog, Magical Musings.
Her debut book comes out on Tuesday of next week, and no one is more excited about her debut release than we are!
Michelle has generously offered to give one lucky commenter a copy of IN A TREACHEROUS COURT. We’ll announce the winner on Monday’s post. Be sure to leave Michelle a comment!
Firstly, thank you so much to Laura for inviting me to visit and guest blog today at Writers in the Storm!
I can hear you now. You are shouting, “No! Don’t do it!”
Fortunately, the people I’m talking about have been dead for nearly 500 years and won’t be calling me to account any time soon. Nevertheless, there are still issues with using historical figures in your work or weaving your story around events that happened. This week the first book in my Tudor-set series, IN A TREACHEROUS COURT, is being launched into the world, and it contains mostly real people and a number of real events, so I know a bit about the issues involved.
When I first came across a reference to my main character, Susanna Horenbout, in a work of historical non-fiction, I was fascinated by her. She was trained as an artist by her father, one of the most eminent illuminators and painters of his day, and praised by numerous Renaissance master painters as exceptionally talented.
Susanna was sent to the court of Henry VIII when she was around 22 years old, presumably to work for Henry as a court painter, but very little is known of what she did for him.
The plot of IN A TREACHEROUS COURT came to me very clearly as I delved deeper into the facts known about Susanna and the events of the time in which she would have been sent to the Tudor court. But I was nervous. How much leeway could I take with a character who is based on a real person?
What I had to get my mind around was that as a work of fiction, I didn’t actually have any restraints, other than the ones I chose to put on myself. And so I decided to use every fact I could find, and every event of that time, and make my story fit around them. For me, that made the story more satisfying. While it may have been harder to do than if I decided to ‘loosely interpret’ both the character and the historical period, it was worth the trouble.
Don’t get me wrong, I love novels that play fast and loose with history just as much, but I wanted a gritter, more realistic feel. The thing is, when you take the ‘faithful to history’ tack, you have to be sure you have been faithful to history. That means research. And more research. I’m almost paranoid about my facts, and I quadruple check them. I’ve probably still missed things, but I like to think I’ve done as much as possible to make sure I haven’t.
One good thing about my two main characters is that while there is some information on them, there isn’t a lot. I had some broad strokes to work with, but I had an incredible amount of leeway, too. With a more famous character, like Henry VIII, it is a lot harder to play around with him as a character. An even bigger burden is reader expectations.
If your readers know a historical figure or event, either from common knowledge or study, they will have a perception of it that is not necessarily your perception. Writing Anne Boleyn, Marie Antoinette or Napoleon, for example, you will come up with a great deal of resistance if you break from the norm as far as character or motivation goes, whereas I’m the first fiction writer to have a book with Susanna Horenbout in it in any form, let alone as a main character, as far as I’m aware (there are obviously non-fiction references to her). That gives me the chance to create her as I want, without the weight of public knowledge exerting any force on my creation.
I found using real characters and events satisfying, challenging and the hardest work I’d done up until then when I wrote IN A TREACHEROUS COURT, and I’ve done it again with a sequel, KEEPER OF THE KING’S SECRETS, which is out in February 2012 ( I’ve just seen the cover, which is gorgeous!).
I have a copy of IN A TREACHEROUS COURT to give away to one lucky commenter (US residents only, unfortunately!), and I’d love to know if you’ve written a book which covers a real event, either contemporary or historical, or uses a real person, and how you found the process.
Michelle lives in Australia with her husband and two children. She’s worked as an editor, a publisher, managed a small IT business, and now writes full time. Her debut historical novel, IN A TREACHEROUS COURT, is due out with Simon & Schuster’s Gallery Books on August 9th, and the second book in the series, KEEPER OF THE KING’S SECRETS, is due for an early 2012 release. You can find out more about her at her website and her group blog, Magical Musings. Or follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
About IN A TREACHEROUS COURT:
Henry VIII’s most lethal courtier and his newly appointed artist become the only thing keeping him on the throne – and if they survive, neither will ever be the same.
John Parker is one of Henry VIII most useful courtiers — utterly merciless and completely loyal. But one small favour for his King will pull Parker into a deadly plot against the throne, one that will test his courage, his resolve, and most especially, his heart.
A commission from Henry VIII should have been the crowning achievement of Susanna Horenbout’s career, but before the beautiful and talented artist even sets foot in England, she finds herself in possession of a secret that could change its history. With Parker as her only protection against killers who will stop at nothing to silence her, Susanna has to trust the dangerous, enigmatic courtier. She’s used to fighting in a man’s world, but she never expected to be fighting for her life.
What people are saying about IN A TREACHEROUS COURT?
• “IN A TREACHEROUS COURT is an action-adventure-mystery-historical that grabs the reader on page one and doesn’t let go. It reminds me of SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE in the way it captures the ‘feel’ of Tudor England, moving with equal aplomb from royal palace to refuse-clogged London street to leaky rowboat on the Thames.” Kate Emerson http://www.kateemersonhistoricals.com, author of BY ROYAL DECREE: Secrets of the Tudor Court.
• “Awesome! History woven flawlessly into riveting fiction.” Tammy J. Schneider, Special Features Editor and book reviewer at “Affaire de Coeur” magazine
• “Just when readers think there is nothing new to be learned about Henry VIII, debut author Diener delivers a taut suspense . . . that will keep you turning the pages.” Kathe Robin, 4 star review in RT Magazine August 2011 issue.