Questions from Gary Oswald
Counter factual and Alternate History discussion and fiction is a large and healthy online community. Sea Lion Press has always had the aim of providing a platform for Alternate History Fiction, discussion and essays but it can't fill every niche and there are other platforms doing slightly different things. As a result there are a lot of people involved in other forms of Fiction and historical discussion with a counter factual focus. So over the next few Months I'll be interviewing various members of this online community about their non Sea Lion Press projects to shine a bit of a light on what else is out there.
Hello Olivia. So, first of all thank you very much for agreeing to talk to us. For those of our readers who don't recognise the name, you're the author of the Anne Boleyn Alternate History series and the co-author of the Robin Hood Trilogy with J.C. Plummer. I'll start with the question I always start with, how did you first get into Alternate History as a genre, and what's the appeal about it to you?
I love history because it shows how people lived in a completely different world and in different historical periods. It reveals something new about the world, people, human evolution, traditions, and the way of life in different periods of time. Nevertheless, I often wish to explore history from new angles and to re-imagine events or fates of my favourite historical figures.
Many are aggrieved with the unjust end of Anne Boleyn’s life. She was most certainly innocent of all the accusations levelled against her, and our hearts weep at the thought of her last days in the Tower of London and how she lost everything, even her life. In my series, I’ve created an alternate universe for Anne that includes the Tudor, Valois, Habsburg, and even Medici storylines.
You say on your website that one of your motives for writing an AH (Between Two Kings) starring Anne Boleyn was to right an historical injustice by giving her a better ending. What about her do you think makes her such a still remembered and beloved character?
Anne Boleyn is a one-of-a-kind Renaissance woman, who excelled in a man’s world, and whose fate was spectacular. She managed to accomplish the most incredible thing: she was not a princess by birth, but she became the second wife of King Henry VIII of England, and for Anne, as well as because of his obsession with male heirs, Henry broke with the Catholic Church and established his own Church of England. Ann’s execution on trumped-up charges of adultery and high treason was a tragic, horrible, and unfair event; some Protestant writers even called her a martyr.
I would call Anne a victim of Henry’s obsession with sons and his selfishness, as well as a victim of her own mistakes – she was intemperate, at times cruel, and not always fair. I think that if Anne had been allowed to live for longer, she could have become a great and idiosyncratic Renaissance queen, whose magnificent intelligence would have helped her counsel Henry how to rule England. Anne influenced the course of England’s history, but she was not allowed to be a strong protagonist in her own life because the older Henry was becoming, the less he needed to find a partner in his consort instead of a queen who could give him sons – a breeding machine.
In my opinion, Anne Boleyn is an extremely interesting character because of her tragic fate and of her unrealized potential as a great queen she could have become had Henry VIII been a different man. By the way, François I of France appreciated female intelligence far more than his English counterpart, and women had a prominent role at the Valois court during his reign – just remember the great Louise de Savoy, François’ mother, and his sister, Queen Marguerite de Navarre. It is one of the reasons why I shipped Anne with François in my alternate history series.
Alternate History is a genre with varying amounts of historical plausibility, I often say you can divide AH authors between writers who research and historians who write, how important do you think it is when writing AH to get the historical details right?
Authors who write alternate history works have to re-imagine fates of historical personalities and various events. What if certain events had never happened or had occurred in a different way? Writers often ask themselves this question.
It is a challenge to imagine and construct a plausible alternate history reality. You have to take real historical events and people, analyse them properly and meticulously, and think how events could have unfolded differently, and how people would have responded to altered circumstances. If you want to create a plausible and appealing alternate history universe, you will definitely work hard to perform extensive research of your characters and their lives in real history in order to merge them in a realistic way with what you want to happen to them in your writings.
On your websites and blogs (which cover the Medieval period, the Angevins, the Tudors and the Valois) you also write essays about Medieval European history. How much do you think the audience of Historical fiction is interested in learning more about history in general? Do you feel like maybe you can reach people who'd bounce off more formal outreach by historians?
I’m a writer who is interested in history in general. I’m more interested in Tudor and Renaissance periods, but I also love medieval history and write articles about some interesting historical figures.
In my opinion, if you do not know history in general, you cannot be a good historical fiction writer. You cannot even write a plausible and solid alternate history work because if you are not well versed in general history and in the history of the period in which your novel is set. Therefore, it is vitally important for a historical fiction novelist to have an outstanding understanding of the themes they cover. Every novel and every author have their own audience, and those who love historically accurate novels can also be interested in alternate history.
What draws you to that period in History and are there any characters from it who you think are underused in Historical Fiction?
I admit that I’m more interested in the history of England, France, and Italy, especially France, perhaps because I’m a descendant of the House of Capet on my maternal side. As of late, I’ve become addicted to the history of the early Valois monarchs in France, and I’m writing novels set in this period. I feel that there should be more novels about French historical figures, which are written without traditional historical biases, which we can unfortunately still meet in some Anglo-Saxon literature. The market is also saturated with historical fiction set in England, but perhaps there should be more books about the Renaissance Italy written in English.
Anne Boleyn is obviously a very real historical character, Robin Hood is a figure from folklore so there's more flexibility in how you and your co-author choose to write him. Does your portrayal draw more on what a historically accurate outlaw would have behaved like or is it very much the Robin Hood from the folk stories?
The historical Anne Boleyn was an epitome of grace, charm, drama, elegance, wit, and, of course, intelligence. Raised at the magnificent French court of King François I and at the grand court of Archduchess Margaret of Austria, she was impeccably educated and well learned in the arts. Anne was a true Renaissance woman. She also had a cunning, ambitious, and conniving mind. In my novels, Anne is written as close to historical reality as possible, but with my own interpretations.
Writing Robin Hood was a bit easier because my co-author, J. C. Plummer, and I had enough artistic freedom to portray Robin. He is a popular folklore hero, the main character of the Robin Hood legend; he is also someone whose life is shrouded in mists of history and myths. We do not know how true the ballads about Robin are and even whether he really existed in history, for there are even versions that Robin was a myth. Based on the detailed research of the Angevin period and the lives of King Richard I of England known as the Lionheart and other historical figures of the time, we created our own unique and captivating retelling of the life of Robin Fitzooth, the Earl of Huntingdon, who found refuge in Sherwood Forest and became Robin Hood.
The Anne Boleyn trilogy has been rewritten a few times before the current iteration. A lot of Sea Lion Press Books were originally posted on the forums for reader feedback before being published, and I think the Anne Boleyn books were originally available for free online too. How much do you think that direct reader feedback is helpful in terms of showing the writer what is popular when making rewrites?
My Anne Boleyn series reimagines Anne’s story in a unique way: having narrowly escaping her destined tragedy, she becomes the Queen of France as the third wife of King François I of France. Many books about Anne and Henry VIII were published, but my series is the first and only series in which Anne follows in Eleanor of Aquitaine’s illustrious footsteps and marries two monarchs. The writing style is characterized by lush romanticism and passionate lyricism.
The reader feedback in various sources is useful. Reviews of a novel might be invaluable and can help the author to understand the audience’s interests better in order to adapt the next novel in the series to the readers’ tastes and desires. At the same time, I love writing, and I write not for money or fame; any book is a brainchild of its author’s love for a character and a period.
Do you think it's useful to do that in terms of growing an audience, or is there the problem that if people can read it for free, they won't buy the book?
As I have a contract with a publisher, I cannot decide the pricing policy on my own. I do not think that a book should be available on the Internet everywhere for free to download.
Like a lot of modern writers, including myself, you originally cut your teeth as an amateur writer on fanfiction. Do you think that kind of mindset you get into while writing other people's characters is useful for Historical Fiction and Alternate History in particular?
I was a fanfiction writer for years, and it helped me learn write in the English language very well. Years ago, it was not as easy to write in English as it is now. I speak several languages, so for me writing some fanfiction stories was a tremendous practice, which also taught me to experiment with my writing style and to create likeable, engaging, and plausible storylines and plots.
When can we expect to see the remaining books in the Robin Hood and Anne Boleyn trilogies and what will your next project be after that?
The Anne Boleyn alternate series will include several books. In the second book, The Queen’s Revenge, Anne perseveres in her quest for justice and vengeance on King Henry. Her odyssey takes Anne from a world of gloom, across the barren landscape of ruin and the tempestuous waters of peril, to a realm of potential happiness in her marriage to the flamboyant, chivalrous King François. Meanwhile, politics and disquieting intrigues abound…
The later sequels explore deadly plots against Queen Anne and King François, including those of Anne’s Catholic enemies. The Valois couple struggle, and intrigues against Emperor Charles V and King Henry VIII are woven into their story, for the English monarch will try to extract his own revenge on his former wife. This culminates in a war of kings with unexpected participants. King Henry’s marriages to his historical wives have their own interpretation.
As for our Robin Hood project, the third instalment in the series, Robin Hood’s Return, is almost ready and will be published soon. We expect it to happen in the spring of 2021. Readers will learn how the struggle of Robin and his wife, Marian, against Prince John, Richard the Lionheart’s brother, and the evil Sheriff of Nottingham will end. The readers should be ready for new conspiracies, unexpected twists and turns, and the revelation of the trilogy’s main secrets.
Currently, I’m working on two new novels (not alternate history) about Valentina Visconti, daughter of Gian Galeazzo Visconti, 1st Duke of Milan, and the wife of Louis de Valois, Duke d’Orléans and the younger brother of King Charles VI of France, known as the Mad. These novels will cover Valentina’s childhood and adolescence in Italy, and then her life in France. The fierce struggle for power between Louis d’Orléans and his uncle – Philippe the Bold, Duke of Burgundy – takes place during the period of political turbulence – during the reign of the mentally sick monarch, when the long and devastating war with England was far from over.
The opposition between the Orléanists led by Louis d’Orléans and the Burgundian faction is one of the main political storylines. This story is told in detail as close to French, Flemish, and Italian medieval historical chronicles as possible. Eventually, Louis will be brutally murdered on the orders of his cousin – Jean the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy and the successor of Philippe the Bold, just as it happened to Louis in history. For the first time, the story of Valentina, Louis, and the Orléanist faction is told without the English and Burgundian biases, which we can find against Louis and Valentina in some Anglo-Saxon books. Unfortunately, these biases exist mainly because of one fact – the English did not win the Hundred Years’ War, with all due respect to English audiences. We live in a time when we have to be as objective as possible.
In other words, these two novels about Valentina and Louis cover the roots of the future Armagnac-Burgundian Civil War in France. The assassination of Louis d’Orléans led to this war. The Orléansists were later referred to as the Armagnac faction because one of their leaders was Count Bernard d’Armagnac, a close friend and ally of Duke Louis d’Orléans. These two novels will be followed by the King Charles VII of France Trilogy, where this civil war will play an important role until its end after the Congress of Arras of 1435. Charles VII of France, known as the Victorious, later became the leader of the Orléanist-Armagnac movement.