Monday, June 6, 2011
Interview: Barbara Kyle
Author of the Thornleigh Series
First, Debra, let me say it’s a pleasure do this interview for you. Your readers might be interested to know that we met via Twitter, where you very kindly gave me, a Twitter novice, some helpful advice when I needed to change my username. So thank you for that, and for inviting me to your blog.
*I'm glad to have you! I have read that you began your career by studying drama and going into acting. Could you tell us which productions you were involved in and whether you still take on acting work?*
I loved being an actor, a career I enjoyed for twenty years. I did everything from Shakespeare and Moliere on stage, to musicals, to starring in a TV soap opera called “High Hopes.” Several years ago I traded my acting career for one as a novelist, so it’s been a long time since I was in front of a camera or “on the boards” (the stage). I had a very pleasant “swan song,” though: the last role I played was in a made-for-TV film about the US hostage crisis in Iran when Jimmy Carter was president. George Grizzard played the president, and I played his wife, Rosalynn Carter. That was an honor, because she’s a person I admire. I must say that acting was a terrific background for writing fiction. All those years of reading scripts drilled a sense of dramatic structure right into my bones.
*Please tell us a little about the Thornleigh series and the Thornleigh family.*
My Thornleigh series follows a rising, middle-class family through the tumultuous reigns of three Tudor monarchs: Henry VIII, Mary I, and Elizabeth I. So far, there are four books in the series, and I’ve just signed a contract with my publisher, Kensington Books, for three more, so I’m now at work on the fifth. The Thornleigh family characters – Honor, Richard, Adam, and Isabel – are fictional, but each of them becomes dramatically enmeshed in the lives and loves, crises and adventures of real people of the day, such as the headstrong monarchs I mentioned above, and movers and shakers like Thomas Cromwell and Sir Thomas More, and revolutionaries like Thomas Wyatt and John Knox.
The Queen’s Lady begins the series. It’s Honor’s story as a young lady-in-waiting to Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s first wife, the wife he threw over for Anne Boleyn. My story features Honor’s conflicted relationship with her guardian, Sir Thomas More, who was Henry’s chancellor, and the missions she ran to rescue the men he persecuted. It also begins her exciting love affair with Richard Thornleigh, a seafaring wool merchant.
The King’s Daughter features their daughter Isabel’s adventures with mercenary soldier Carlos Valverde during the Wyatt Rebellion early in the reign of Queen Mary. Isabel is pledged to help Wyatt’s rebellion, but first she must rescue her father from prison, all while being hunted by her father’s old enemy.
The Queen’s Captive interweaves two stories. One is Honor’s mission to advise and protect the headstrong twenty-year-old Princess Elizabeth, who was in peril of being killed by her half-sister Queen Mary, and then turning her into a queen. The second is the story of Adam Thornleigh’s love affair with Elizabeth. Both stories culminate, the second one rather poignantly, in Elizabeth’s accession to the throne.
The Queen’s Gamble, which will be out in August, brings Isabel back from the New World to undertake a mission for Elizabeth, who, after less than a year on the throne, was facing the first international crisis of her reign: the threat of invasion by France via Scotland. Isabel smuggles money from Elizabeth to Scottish rebels, but Elizabeth keeps Isabel’s young son as a hostage to ensure her loyalty. Then, Isabel’s troubles worsen when Carlos, her Spanish husband, is engaged as a military advisor to the French, putting the couple on opposite sides in this deadly cold war.
*How do you feel when writing a book and nobody else knows these characters that you are so intimately connected with? Do you wish someone else was able to discuss them with you?*
Actually, I discuss the characters with my husband almost every day. He’s my totally reliable sounding board. He used to be a film editor, and has a marvelous editor’s eye. Also, he’s a great go-to guy for checking about how my male characters would really feel and act. That quest for authenticity has brought us a few smiles. In The Queen’s Lady I wrote a scene set during May Day night revelry in which I had a drunk walking through the crowd while pissing. Then I wondered: can a man actually do that – walk and piss? I asked my husband, and he went outside (luckily we lived in the country then, no neighbors around) and he came back in and said, “Yup.”
No doubt you have spent countless hours researching the real characters, such as Queen Mary and Princess Elizabeth, and times that you write about. Do you feel that your portrayal of these persons in your book matches their real life personas?
That’s an excellent question. I take great pains in all my books to keep the historical facts accurate as far as who did what, and when, where, and how. But within that historically true framework I take literary license to create characters who are emotionally true. The historical record gives us dead personages, but fiction brings them to life as flesh-and-blood people with all the passions, longings, hates, and fears that are the human condition. I love marrying these two elements – history and humanity – to make these people “live” again.
For example, Queen Mary was a religious zealot who burned hundreds of people at the stake during her brief reign; her people in her own time called her “Bloody Mary.” That’s a historical fact, and it makes us view her as cruel. But she was also a woman who suffered in her personal life, hopelessly in love with her husband, Philip of Spain, who coldly fulfilled his conjugal duty with her and then promptly deserted her for his mistress back home. Mary believed she was pregnant, joyfully so, and kept on believing it right into her tenth month, by which time it was clear to all that her pregnancy was a phantom one, and she became the laughing stock of Europe. It’s hard not to pity such a sadly self-deluded woman, and I hope I’ve conveyed that pity in The Queen’s Captive. By the way, some modern scholars believe that her condition was a tumor caused by uterine cancer.
*Do you feel that your Thornleigh family fits the general description of any real family of that time? Or that there is a good possibility of such a family's existence?*
Definitely. The Tudor and Elizabethan period was a boom time for the middle class, who were happily making money and growing very prosperous, especially during Elizabeth’s long and peaceful reign. I based Richard Thornleigh’s success as a wool merchant on much research about the wool trade; that trade with Europe was England’s mercantile life blood. Of course, real wealth was in land. High status and riches came from the monarch’s gift of titles which brought land. In my Thornleigh saga, Elizabeth rewards Honor and Richard for their loyalty by ennobling Richard; she makes him a baron. Their son Adam, too, after carving out a life as a sea captain, is knighted for his service to Elizabeth. This was a common route to riches.
By the way, I’m running a contest on my website to name the Thornleighs’ newly built grand house. The winner will get an autographed copy of The Queen‘s Gamble, plus I’ll use the winning name in the book I’m now writing, and thank the winner in the book’s acknowledgements. So this is an invitation to your readers: If you have a name suggestion, send it in!
*I know you have a new title coming out soon. Could you give us the name of the book and the release date?*
Gladly. The book is The Queen’s Gamble and it will be released by Kensington Books on August 31. Your readers can pre-order it now from any bookstore or online supplier, and they’ll receive it even before it hits the stores.
*Do you have a story taking form in your mind for another book?*
I’m actually hard at work on it. I’ve got a three-book deal with my wonderful publisher, Kensington, to continue my Thornleigh series. The book I’m working on introduces a new Thornleigh heroine, and also introduces Mary Queen of Scots and the crisis that she created for Elizabeth when she escaped captivity in Scotland, fled to England, and threw herself on the mercy of Elizabeth, who was her cousin. The crisis for Elizabeth was that Mary was infamous throughout Europe for having connived at the murder of her husband and then marrying the murderer. In the over four hundred years since then, people have been taking sides about whether Mary was a murdering adulteress or a saintly innocent. Stay tuned to read my take on her!
*The time period surrounding Henry VIII was a period of religious turmoil and violence. Do your stories bring out a lot of that?*
They do, yes. You’re right: religion was the huge issue of the period, and I find it a fascinating parallel to the religious tensions in our own time, of Christian vs. Muslim. 15th century England was a cauldron of religious hatred and fear, of Catholic vs. Protestant. At the beginning of Henry VIII’s reign, when Protestantism first jumped across the Chanel from Germany, it was illegal to own a Bible in English; only the Catholic church’s Latin version was approved, and the English authorities burned people who refused to recant their “heresy”. Queen Mary, a fierce Catholic, burned hundreds of Protestants at the stake.
*Do you remember any favorite reader's comments on the series that you care to share with us?*
Ah, many! I treasure that connection with readers. Here’s one email that really made my day: “Your book, ‘The King's Daughter,’ is absolutely the best yet. In fact, if there were something equivalent to the Academy Awards in the Best Historical Novelist category, Barbara Kyle would be under spot lights every year. You are that good.”
The note I found most moving was from a gentleman in Tennessee who wrote me to say that after his wife died he went into a deep depression, then found comfort in reading everything he could get his hands on about the Tudors, and my books, he said, were the best. That really touched me.
And here’s a line from a reader’s email that I cherish: “I had to write you even though it is so late in the evening. I just finished Chapter 11 of The Queen Captive! You had me in tears …” I won’t tell you why this caring reader was in tears, because that would spoil the story for your readers, but I will say that she went on to add how happy she was when the character she’d been weeping about survived.
I’d love to hear from your readers, too. They can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*On your website, I see that you also have become a writing teacher. How did this part of your life develop?*
I began giving workshops about eight years ago, and found that I really enjoy helping emerging writers. My “Fiction Writer’s Boot Camp” became quite popular. This became the basis of a series of video workshops I made called “Writing Fiction That Sells. “The series is available online through my website – over ten hours of instruction and inspiration, tips and techniques. I’ve had tremendous feedback on it from writers, which is very gratifying. Then the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies, which offers excellent courses for writers, led by many successful novelists, asked me to create a course for them. Most of their courses were geared for writers of literary fiction, and I thought popular fiction was being overlooked, so I developed a course called “Writing the Popular Novel.”
Now, I offer my “Master Class: Your Novel in Workshop” a couple of times a year in Toronto. It’s an intensive weekend in which we workshop the beginning section of each person’s novel – the class is limited to ten people. As I tell the writers who attend, it’s crucial to get the opening of one’s book in top shape before submitting it to an agent or editor, because if the first twenty or thirty pages don’t grab them, they simply won’t read on.
Also, when my own writing schedule allows, I also do manuscript evaluations. Several of the writers I’ve helped have gone on to get published. That, for me, is most satisfying.
*Can people benefit from your writing instruction in some way, either through a book or online?*
Definitely. Anyone interested should check out my series of online video workshops “Writing Fiction That Sells,” available through my website. They can watch a free clip on my website. And, if they live in or near Toronto, my next “Master Class: Your Novel in Workshop” weekend is August 13-14. All the details are on my website: http://www.barbarakyle.com
Thanks, Debra. It’s been fun!
*Thank you! It has been a pleasure.*
Please comment to enter a giveaway for an ARC of The Queen's Gamble or a copy of any of Barbara's previously published books! Enter by July 5th, 2011.
Barbara Kyle previously won acclaim for her contemporary novels under pen name ‘Stephen Kyle’, including Beyond Recall (a Literary Guild Selection), After Shock and The Experiment. Over 400,000 copies of her books have been sold.
Barbara has taught courses for writers at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies and the Haliburton School of the Arts, and is known for her dynamic workshops for many writers’ organizations, garnering praise such as this from internationally acclaimed author Wayson Choy: “Barbara, I am amazed at your professional energy and dedication to teaching the craft. You're an inspiration!" Barbara also enjoys helping emerging writers through her manuscript evaluation service.