Patricia Bracewell has made an exciting debut in the world of historical fiction. Her debut novel "Shadow on the Crown" is the first book in a trilogy about Emma of Normandy in 11th century England.
Growing up in Los Angeles, California, Bracewell majored in English Literature in college and then went to graduate school. She worked as a high school English teacher. Bracewell is married with two adult sons and resides in Oakland, California. She enjoys music, tennis, gardening, and the theater.
What was your inspiration in writing "Shadow on the Crown"?
Bracewell: My inspiration was Emma of Normandy herself. I was on the lookout for a historical figure who would make a good leading character in a novel. When I read about Emma I was immediately intrigued by the difficulties she must have faced in wedding an older English king. The more I learned about her, the more convinced I was that she would make a marvelous heroine.
There are two strong and complex women in your novel: Emma, the Queen of England and Elgiva, her rival. How would you describe each woman?
Bracewell: Emma and Elgiva are polar opposites in everything from looks to personality to motives. Emma is tall and blonde while Elgiva is short and dark. Emma is generous and compassionate while Elgiva is selfish and self-centered. Emma is motivated by duty, Elgiva by a desire to manipulate those around her. They are both courageous though, and both shaped by family relationships and the world in which they live.
How would you describe the relationship between King Æthelred and Emma?
Bracewell: English society in 11th century England was patriarchal, and the king was the epitome of male authority. In the novel, Emma knows that, and she knows that as a bride who is not only foreign but very young, she is at a great disadvantage in the power struggles of the court. In spite of that, she tries again and again to do her duty as wife, queen and peaceweaver, but Æthelred shuts her out right from the start. They are never equals; he always has more power and because of the demons that drive him he sometimes uses it with brute force. Emma’s expectation that her husband will be, at the very least, just and merciful, puts her at a disadvantage as well, because Æthelred is neither.
How much research went into writing "Shadow on the Crown"?
Bracewell: I knew very little about this period of history when I began this project, so I put in years of research before I even wrote a single sentence. I studied the general history of the period first, then I researched the families of both Emma and Æthelred, and then I focused on the major characters themselves. Beyond that, there was a great deal of historical detail to uncover – for example, the architecture, religion, roads, methods of travel and communication. How were the chambers illuminated? What furniture did they have? Did you know that tents were such valuable items that they were bequeathed in Anglo-Saxon wills? That’s how detailed the research became!
Can you tell readers about your upcoming projects?
Bracewell: I’m currently writing towards the end of the second book in the Emma trilogy. The four viewpoint characters will return, but I think readers – even those familiar with the history of that time – will be surprised at some of the twists the story has taken in the telling. Even I was surprised!
Where have you traveled for inspiration for your work?
Bracewell: My first research trip was to Normandy – to Rouen and Fecamp, the places that Emma would have known as a child. I went as well to Winchester, Canterbury, and to all the towns mentioned in Shadow when Emma made her sojourn to Exeter. I also spent two weeks in Cambridge where I took a course on Anglo-Saxon history, and that was a remarkable and fruitful experience.
What other areas of history are you interested in?
Bracewell: I’d like to learn more about the High Middle Ages in England. That’s a period of history that is relatively unfamiliar to me: the early Norman and Plantagenet kings are intriguing, and the recent discovery of the grave of Richard III has everybody excited.
What other historical fiction authors do you admire or enjoy? What authors from the past and present do you enjoy or have inspired you?
Bracewell: The list of historical fiction authors whose work I admire is a long one. Bernard Cornwell, Elizabeth Chadwick, Diana Gabaldon, Lindsey Davis, Sarah Dunant, Connie Wills and Robert Low come immediately to mind. There are many more. Wonderful writers who have inspired me include as well Dorothy Dunnett, J.R.R. Tolkien, Rosemary Sutcliffe, and, more recently, Iain Pears and George R.R. Martin. They are all amazing storytellers!
Lastly, if you were casting a movie of "Shadow on the Crown", what actors or actresses would you put in the main roles?
Bracewell: To begin with, thank you for giving me the opportunity to stare at dozens of on-line photos of Sean Bean! I would cast him for the role of Æthelred. For Elgiva I would cast Jessica Findlay, who played Sybil in "Downton Abbey". For Athelstan I would go with Eddie Redmayne who impressed me so much as Jack in "Pillars of the Earth". Finally, to play the part of Emma I would give the nod to Mia Wasikowska, who appeared as Alice in Tim Burton’s "Alice in Wonderland". When do we start filming?
*A huge thanks to Patricia Bracewell for this great interview*
For more information on Patricia Bracewell: http://www.patriciabracewell.com/