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10 questions with historical fiction author: Geraldine Evans

Geraldine Evans is the author of "Reluctant Queen".
Geraldine Evans is the author of "Reluctant Queen".
Courtesy of Geraldine Evans

Geraldine Evans, author of "Reluctant Queen" answers 10 questions about her favorite time period in history, her favorite figures from history, and the age old question of coffee or tea.

1. If you could go back in time and be any figure from history, who would it be?

Richard III. I’d like to go back and try to erase his evil reputation. Throughout his life, I believe he had pretty much always been the good guy. He was loyal to his brother, King Edward IV, unlike the third brother, the treacherous George of Clarence (the one whom history says chose to be executed by drowning in a butt of Malmsey wine).

I feel he should have been far less trusting of various people, especially the Duke of Buckingham, John Morton, the Bishop of Ely and William Stanley, the man who switched sides on the battlefield at Bosworth and changed history. Richard was October-born, and a Libran, like me., so how can I not empathise with him? We’re an astrological sign well-known for our love of justice and for standing up for the little guy.

Richard wasn’t a womaniser like his kingly brother. He wasn’t a traitor, like his other brother, George, Duke of Clarence. As the youngest and the runt of the litter, I think he always felt he had something to prove. And he did prove it (whatever it was). As I said, he was loyal, but he was also courageous and had a firm belief in justice.

He had spent most of his life in the North of England, firstly training in the knightly skills in the household of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick (better known perhaps as ‘The Kingmaker’). And then, when he came of age, virtually ruling that part of the kingdom, fighting Edward IV’s battles with the border-encroaching Scots and was well-known and well-loved there.

He died with incredible bravery, leading his men in a charge towards the would-be king, Henry Tudor, in a ‘do or die’ manner. I wonder if he felt fatalistic about the battle and its outcome? He’d recently lost his wife and only son and all ofhis three brothers were dead (Edmund, around a year younger than Edward, was killed in battle at the age of sixteen). He must have felt very alone.

I think his epitaph is best summed up, not by Shakespeare who had an eye to the main chance when he chose to blacken Richard’s name, but by the words expressed by the city of York, a city that had good reason to fear incurring the enmity of the new, Lancastrian king, Henry VII by showing their allegiance to Richard so openly: “…King Richard, late mercifully reigning upon us, was through great treason piteously slain and murdered, to the great heaviness of this City.”.

2. What year in history would you have liked to live in?

I can’t say that I’m terribly keen on living through any of them, especially if I had to go back as a woman! All those endless pregnancies would be enough for me, without risking the deadly attentions of the medical profession and their appalling ‘remedies’. As Thomas Hobbes said, life is: “…nasty, brutish and short.”. Or at least, it generally was in previous times.

But, I suppose, if I discount all the drawbacks of life in earlier centuries, the era that most appeals is the Victorian one (no particular year). It was such an exciting time to be a Brit; a time of Empire and inventions and get up and go. If you had some entrepreneurial spirit back then, I believe anyone could have done well. I might have made my fortune! And could then have passed it down the family line to me!

3. You're having a dinner party and you can invite 5 people from history, who would they be?

Richard III is the first one I’d invite. I’d like to ask him what he would do, if, now he could change what happened back in the 15th Century. And, of course, I’d like his opinion of who was really responsible for the disappearance and presumed murder of his nephews, the ‘Princes in the Tower’.

I’d also like to invite King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, on the presumption that they could be equal sparring partners at my dinner table, with all gloves off. I’d like her to pin him down and watch him squirm and his prickly conscience squeal, both over her execution and that of others.

The Duchess of York, Cecily Neville (mother to Richard III, Edward IV and George, Duke of Clarence, grandmother to the two missing young Princes in the Tower and great-grandmother to Henry VIII through her eldest daughter, Elizabeth). She must have known so many secrets, so many lies. It would be interesting if her tongue loosened with the plentiful application of alcohol.

And then, I’d like Winston Churchill and Eisenhower. I’d really like Josef Stalin as well, but he’s one too many to make up the five. It would be fascinating to listen to them as they fought World War II all over again. (And, in case one or more of the others were unable to come to my dinner party, I’d like to invite Einstein, for a purely selfish reason. I’d like to see if his brilliant mind was up to the job of improving my appalling grasp of mathematics. I’d like him to also explain why subjects like algebra and geometry are force-fed to children when the vast bulk of them are likely to have no earthly use for either.

Oh dear. I did say my grasp of maths is poor! Even without Einstein or Stalin, that’s six, not five. I’ll have to, regretfully, dispense with Cecily Neville, then. But I’d invite her to a girly lunch soon after!

4. What castle from the past or present would you like to live in?

Windsor, one of the castles built by William the Conqueror who ascended England’s throne after his defeat of Harold in 1066. The history of that place and the many monarchs who lived in it is mind-boggling. I’d love to have a good ferret in the historical archives and all the nooks and crannies, without supervision, just to see what I could unearth. There must be many documents mouldering away there that haven’t seen the light of day for decades or longer. And it’s so handily situated; close to London and close to the continent. And I could stand a little of that luxury.

5. Two fellow historical fiction authors you'd like to go on a history themed tour of the world with?

Sharon Penman and Jean Plaidy. Ms Penman because her historical novels are so deep and cover so much detail; I couldn’t fail to learn more of history’s nitty-gritty. And Jean Plaidy, because she wrote so many historical novels, covering just about every reign, not just in England, but in Europe, too. And when I wasn’t availing myself of their extensive knowledge of history, it would be wonderful to have the opportunity and time to persuade both of them to do a critique of my own work and tell me where it fell short. Armed with such information, I could then apply it to my next historical.

6. Who was more dashing and interesting, King Henry VIII of England or King Louis XIV of France?

I confess I have read very little about that period of French history, so it’s difficult to make a decision. I’ll make a selection of my own, if that’s okay, between King Edward IV of England and William the Conqueror, the Bastard of Normandy.

I think Edward IV has to qualify as the more dashing of the two. He was tall, considered handsome and had a way with him that had the ladies tumbling, one after the other into his be. I’m sure he must have been quite a charmer. He was a very successful battle commander, too, so he wasn’t just talented as a ladies’ man, but also as a leader of men. I’m sure that, as a young man, he must have cut a tremendously dashing figure in full armour.

William the Conqueror, on the other hand, while, yes, he conquered England, defeated Harold and took the throne, I’ve never thought of him as ‘gallant’ in the romantic sense. I believe luck was firmly on his side that day. Harold and his men had already endured one battle. They were then force-marched to meet William and his army so were probably exhausted by the time they came to fight the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

Nothing I’ve read about William suggests he had Edward IV’s height or his charm. But, like Richard III, I think William had something to prove. He was a bastard at a time when such things mattered. That stigma must have burned within him for years. I find people who have something to prove and who set out on the road to personal validation have a lot to teach the rest of us. It would be intriguing to draw him out and get him to speak openly about himself, his life and his feelings about the dice he had been given to play.

7. Which of the six wives of King Henry VIII is your favorite?

It depends of the reason I’d have to choose one. For stoicism, it would have to be Catherine of Aragon. That woman suffered so much; first in losing baby after baby, and then losing her husband and her Queenship. But she never lost either her love for Henry VIII or her great faith in God, which I find pretty amazing.

For wit, intelligence and sheer determination, it would have to be Anne Boleyn. She was a widely-read and well-educated woman. She had spent years of her early life at the French court, and was extremely stylish. Although she was known for her cutting tongue, I’m impressed with the way she managed to fend off Henry VIII’s lusts for years, especially when she had engendered such a passion for her in him. King Henry VIII, like most kings, was used to getting his own way. It says much for Anne’s qualities that he didn’t simply dump her when she didn’t come through on the sexual side of their relationship. On the contrary, as we know, Henry not only continued in their relationship, year after year, but also dared the Catholic world and the Pope to come against him, for her sake.

8. English monarchy or French monarchy?

I’m a Brit, so it has to be English monarchy. Okay, some of them were appalling as monarchs (King John and Henry VI spring to mind), but I believe they were still an improvement on the French monarchy. Yes, we executed one king, Charles I, but we never really had cause to go to the lengths of the French, who executed their aristocracy wholesale.

9. What three novels could you read over and over?

"The Sunne in Splendour" by Sharon Kay Penman. That has to be my favourite historical novel of all time, covering, as it does, the period of The Wars of the Roses. It is a fabulous read, the characters vibrant and believable, the dialogue gripping and the descriptions rich and rounded without going on so long that they bore. Ms Penman has much to teach other historical writers, myself included.

"St Thomas’s Eve" by Jean Plaidy, about St Thomas More (who, by the way, wasn’t nearly as saintly as we’ve been led to believe!). The author brought out so much emotion in me that I was several times reduced to tears during my reading. A wonderful novel. I urge your readers to check out both of these books if they haven’t already done so. They won’t be disappointed.

As I’m also a mystery author, I can’t leave that side of my reading out. For my third choice, it would have to be one of Reginald Hill’s "Dalziel and Pascoe" series. It doesn’t matter which one because I read them more to see his character Andy Dalziel in action than for the plots. I just love him. Dalziel may be coarse and blunt beyond rudeness, but he makes me laugh out loud. I think I’m a little in love with him (and Richard III)! Though I wish the author had given Andy a different surname as, whenever I mention him in interview or facebook comments or wherever, I always have to check the spelling.

10. Tea or coffee when writing?

Tea. Before, during and after. I drink coffee very rarely, and then only when there’s no tea on offer. There’s nothing as refreshing as a good strong cup of ‘Builder’s’ Tea, the morning after the night before.

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