Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Historical Author Anne O'Brien Talks of Writing and Queen Defiant

Today I'm delighted to welcome Anne O'Brien, a writer of historical novels whose newest book, Queen Defiant, the story of Eleanor of Aquitaine before she became Queen of England is due to be released on June 7, 2011.  Anne lives in England, in the Welsh Marches, a wild, rural area in the west between England and Wales. She lives with her husband in a half timbered eighteenth century cottage with a large garden and a lot of wildlife.  Anne describes it as a splendid place to live, full of historic houses, churches, ruined castles and battlefield sites--not to mention the old tales of witches and ghosts.  I must say I envy her, it sounds like there is plenty of stimulus there for a writer.

Now before you leave us be sure leave a comment for your chance to win a "signed"copy of Anne O'Brien's Queen Defiant. Winner selected via Random.Org and don't forget to download your complimentary commemorative jigsaw puzzle of the cover.

Q. Tell us about Queen Defiant.
A. My featured book is Queen Defiant which will be published by NAL 7 June, 2011.  It is the history of Eleanor of Aquitaine before she became Queen of England.  What an astonishingly adventurous life she led!  Vibrant, beautiful, often outrageous, quite willing to ignore the social mores of her time, she makes the quintessential heroine.  Her difficult relationship with Louis VII of France, followed by her marriage to the young Henry Plantagenet who has an eye to her land as much to her person, make for breathtaking reading.

Q. What was it about (YOUR GENRE) that captured your fancy?
In my previous working life, I taught history.  I cannot recall a time when I did not enjoy history and reading historical novels.  When I began to write it seemed to be an obvious choice to write about events and characters in history - I found it impossible not to be drawn to the wealth of 'good stories' and my interest in the medieval period has grown since I moved to live in the Welsh Marches.  It has real atmosphere, with castles, abbeys, ruins, battle fields and important families.  History is all around me.  So much to offer.

Q. Do you have an all-time favorite novel in your genre, and what elements make it your favorite?
  My all time favourite must be Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett, the first of the Lymond Chronicles.  I remember reading it, many years ago now, and being completely hooked. The tension was tremendous and grew as I worked my way through the six novels.  I loved them and I have re-read them since.  I think if any book spurred me on to write historical fiction, this was it. 

Q. How do you research your novels?
I am definitely a book person.  I use the internet of course, but my first love is books.  I live less than a half hour drive from Hay on Wye, the Town of Books on the Welsh border, a glorious place to browse for second hand and out of print books, some weird and wonderful, but a goldmine for a writer of historical fiction.

I begin with some very general reading to set the scene; how my characters lived, what they ate and wore, their leisure pursuits and as far as it is possible to determine, what they thought about the events that determined their lives.  From there I turn to specifics, the lives of the characters at the center of the novel.  So I read biographies, diaries, contemporary literature, anything I come across relevant to the period.

Once I have a plan of the life of my leading characters, I list the scenes which will bring some element of tension or excitement or emotion into the story.  I also make a list of areas which can be omitted, or given a mere passing reference, to keep up the pace of the story.  Some events just don’t fit and I find it just as important to recognize these as it is the explosively important ones - although sometimes it surprises me when the scenes I’ve thrown out demand to be included when I begin writing.

I do not complete all my research before I begin writing.  I become too impatient to see how my characters will develop.  I need to make a start on creating my hero and heroine and the secondary subjects very early in the process.  For this reason my research is ongoing – and when my characters surprise me, my research also leads me into areas I had not at first considered.  I think it is important to keep an open mind and to some extent allow the story to dictate its own direction.

Q. Tell us about your favorite novel that you have written, and why it's your favorite?
My favourite novel is The Virgin Widow, published in 2010.  This novel was the first time I stepped out of my comfort zone of writing historical romances to take on an historical character in a specific period of history.  This is what I had always wanted to do.  Anne Neville, daughter of Warwick the Kingmaker was a heroine who demanded that I write about her.  She has been neglected in history, written off as daughter of Warwick, wife of Richard III.  Why should she not have a voice of her own?  I could not imagine she was as weak and insignificant as she is sometimes portrayed, given the female role-models around her at the time:  Elizabeth Woodville, Margaret of Anjou, Cecily of York.  So I gave her a character and allowed us to see the events of the Wars of the Roses through her eyes.  I think she made a charming heroine in this rite of passage novel and it was interesting to show Richard of Gloucester as Anne's hero.  I am certain there is enough evidence to suggest that he was not as black as Shakespeare would have us believe.  So I have very a soft spot for Anne Neville and The Virgin Widow.

On Writing:

Q. Is there anything you absolutely must have in order to write?
  To write well I need an early start in the mornings and no hassle!  I know that I write best when I am not under pressure so to get a good start to the day is very important and I feel at ease with myself and what I have set myself to do that day.  Once I have reached my target, then the afternoon is for me to enjoy.  If I am reviewing in the evening, a glass of white wine is more than acceptable. 

Q. What is the most difficult part of writing for you?
I rarely suffer from Writer's block, but sometimes, usually when I am in the middle of a novel, I lose confidence and cannot see my way forward.  What am I writing about?  Will all my ideas for my characters fit together?  It can be very demoralizing.  I have to follow 'gut instinct' of what sounds right for my character at that period of history and with what is known about her.  I have to be true to her, and she has to be true to her time.  So I stick at it!  AS the novel reaches completion, I feel far more at ease with what I have done to create an authentic voice.

Q. What's a typical working day like for you? When and where do you write?
I try to write every day, for the sake of continuity, and because I suffer from withdrawal symptoms if I miss more than a few days.  What will my characters do without me?  

I am a morning writer.  In summer when the days are long I can start work at 6.00 am – it is harder in winter when I am usually underway by 8.30 am.  I work until lunchtime, about one o’clock, with a brief coffee break but when I'm writing well my mind still works through the coffee break.  I have an office where I can leave all my books and papers around so that I can find them when I start again.  If I tidy up, I lose things.  Isn't that always the way?  And I sit facing the wall, so I don't look out at the apple orchards and fields of grazing Hereford cattle.

In the afternoons when the weather is fine I enjoy my garden, a large, rambling area where I and my husband grow vegetables and soft fruit.  The seasons are a delight with herbaceous flower borders, a wild garden, a small orchard and a formal pond.  With an interest in herbs and their uses, I have a herb garden constructed on the pattern of a Tudor knot garden and I enjoy cooking with the results.  It is a perfect time for me to mentally review what I’ve been doing, as I keep the flowerbeds in order and wage war on the weeds.

Housework is fitted in as and when.  My priority is writing and the garden, but I am driven to cleaning when I can write my name in the dust on the furniture.

Early evening is a time when I make contact with my husband.  It is a very important hour which we put aside for ourselves.  Sometimes I might read through what I have written in the morning or research what I intend to develop the next day, but it is fairly low-key and we listen to music.  Then we eat – I am an enthusiastic cook so it is a pleasure to fit this into my day.

Q. Tell us a little bit about your life online and the sites you maintain.
I am very much a newcomer to a life online.  I now have a website and a Facebook page and I can be found on Twitter, but it all has to fit into my writing life.  Writing is paramount, and although I appreciate the value of social media for publicity and meeting people, in the end I have to meet my deadlines for my next novel.  I need more hours in the day ...

Just For Fun:

Q. What is your favorite quote?
. "Men are from Venus.  Women are from Mars."  Isn't this just right?  We are poles apart.  And yet we need them!

Q. Where is your favorite place to read?
In winter I read in  my kitchen.  It is large and cozy with a settee with comfortable cushions - the perfect place to curl up with a book.  In summer I transfer to my conservatory.  I can look out over my garden and watch the birds.  It's a lovely spot when the day is bright but too chilly to sit outside.  I am in summer mode now so I have a pile of books beside me, along with the indoor plants.  Although I don't have too much time for reading these days ...

Q. What is one of your favorite books by other authors, and why?
One of my favourite authors is Jodi Picoult.  I have recently finished House Rules. I love her superbly crafted arguments that stir up all your inner prejudices and those of society - and encourage you to question them.
Q. If you were a supernatural or mythological entity, what, or who, would you be, and why?
Mythological I think.  I would choose Persephone, carried off by Hades to be Queen of the Underworld.  I would have given Hades a run for his money, refused the pomegranate seeds - or at least only three of them - and insisted on returning to Demeter and the world for nine months out of every twelve.  So winter would only last for three months and summer for nine.  Now that would be a good thing!  And I think I could manage three months every year as Queen of the Underworld.

Q. If you were stranded on a desert island what 3 things would you desperately want with you, and why?
First: a pen and paper - is that one choice?  I hope so.  I am an inveterate list-maker and I think I would keep the habit even on a desert island.

Second: a bottle of bubble bath.  How would I cope without it?  I hope my desert island has a little pool I can make use of.

Third: some music and a means of playing it.  I adore Baroque choral music with a little Marc Bolam and T Rex for light relief - and so I would need some Vivaldi or Palestrina to keep me sane.

I hope I would be rescued before my bubble bath and pen and paper ran out!

Download Sample Chapter of Devil's Consort 

Be sure leave a comment for your chance to win a "signed" copy of Anne O'Brien's Queen Defiant. Winner selected via Random.Org on June 30, 2011...and don't forget to download your complimentary commemorative jigsaw puzzle of the cover.

NOTE: If you can't see the comment box, try using the Google Chrome browser, and if you don't have the Google Chrome browser but you would like to be entered to win the signed copy of Queen Defiant post a comment about the interview on Anne O'Brien's Facebook Page.

Smiles & Good Fortune,
It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent. W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915


  1. The Queen Defiant sounds very interesting.

  2. I am looking forward to reading both "Queen Defiant" and "Virgin Widow" - Anne and I have much in common in our areas of interest! Very interesting interview. I love medieval history and would love to own this book!

  3. I am officially bouncing up and down.....Eleanor of Aquitane! :) I want!!!!!

  4. I have to say that I'm quite excited myself, Eleanor of Aquitaine was one of the first historic heroines that I read about as a young teen.

  5. Please enter me in this drawing! I would love a chance to win this book. Other than the ghosts, I'd love to see Anne's home setting. It sounds fabulous. Any pictures on the www?

  6. Queen Defiant sounds like an awesome book! Loved reading the interview and getting to know a little more about you!

  7. I would love to win a copy of this wonderful novel!! It looks amazing!

  8. Don't know if we have to leave our email?

  9. Wonderful interview. "Queen Defiant" looks amazing. Great giveaway thank you.


  10. This book sounds great! Please enter me in the draw.

    I'm following you on GFC (Darlene), and my email address is darlenesbooknook at gmail dot com.

    Thanks for the giveaway!

  11. Awesome interview Teresa!! Anne's book sounds like an interesting read!! I hope to read it soon!!!

  12. What a great interview! It's always so interesting to learn about the author behind the book, and Queen Defiant sounds like a must read, although now I think I'd love to read Virgin Widow as well!

  13. I just discovered this post, and I have READ and GRATEFULLY DEVOURED every page of QUEEN DEFIANT. This is a remarkable book on many levels, and I am inadequate to do them all justice. The writing is captivating, Eleanor is developed in rich detail, as are her suitors and antagonists, and the perils she navigates are extraordinarily real. I have to confess that I am an Anne O'Brien wannabe!

  14. Thanks to everyone who stopped by and commented on Anne's lovely interview. I think we all enjoyed reading about her wonderful home and her writing life.

    The lucky winner of the signed copy of Anne's selected through Random.Org is Gisselle!

    Congratulations Gisselle. Enjoy.

    Smiles and Good Reading,