Today I am thrilled to bring you another interview with the fabulous C.W. Gortner, author of exceptional historical fiction including, The Last Queen, and his newest release, The Queen's Vow (read my review). Thank you, C.W., for delighting us with your presence and giving us a glimpse of what goes into your work!
When did you first realize that you wanted to write a novel about Isabella of Castile?
I grew up in southern Spain, near a castle that had belonged to Isabella, and I often went to visit Granada, site of perhaps her greatest triumph. She is of course a legendary figure in Spain and so I learned about her in school, as well. I always found her fascinating yet forbidding; I knew only the basics about her life until years later, when I was writing my first novel, The Last Queen, about her daughter, Juana. In that book, I portray Isabella after the fall of Granada in 1492 –she is the triumphant, middle-aged queen of legend who set the stage for Spain’s emergence as a modern Renaissance state. During my research, however, I learned the story of Isabella’s youth and her tumultuous rise to power— it’s a tale rife with danger and drama yet so rarely told; I knew then it was a story I had to write. I’m always interested in characters who evolve and transform in unexpected ways, and Isabella is one of those characters. In THE QUEEN’S VOW I set out to explore how Isabella became the queen and woman she was.
Your novel covered the majority of Isabella's life-- from her years as a young Infanta, to her struggle to claim the throne, and then the first decade of her reign-- out of these is there a particular period in her life that you enjoyed writing about to a greater extent than the others?
I enjoyed all of it, but I think I was most intrigued by the period when she was struggling to assert herself during the first years of her reign. Isabella faced tremendous obstacles, both because of her gender as well as her decision to marry Fernando of Aragon, a prince whose kingdom was a long-time rival of Castile. How she went about pacifying this prejudice and establishing herself both in her political and personal life is quite surprising. Many of us tend to see Isabella as an implacable woman with an iron fist but in truth she was temperate and cautious. Her motto in the book, con blandura (with softness) is not fictional; she believed in compromise and was an astute judge of character. She rarely acted impulsively, yet she had a streak of obstinacy that could be daunting. I love discovering this kind of duality in a character.
The relationship between Isabella and Ferdinand seemed to be strained throughout their marriage. Obviously a great sum of this can be contributed to the political battles and the stress that came along with trying to unify a country, but can some of it be contributed to a resentment felt by Ferdinand due to the fact that Isabella held Castile in her own right?
Absolutely. He had a tough time being the partner of lesser power, especially as he was king in his own right in Aragon; deep down, I believe he never fully accepted it. Isabella brought out the best in him and kept the worst at bay; it’s a testament to her extraordinary gift for compromise that she managed to balance her rights as a sovereign queen with what she perceived as her duty to her husband. She strove to create equality between them and in many ways, she achieved it. We might regard Isabella as being “weak” for giving into her husband’s demands but that would be a mistake. Her strength was her very ability to move past Fernando’s immaturity; to see him for who he was and enhance those parts of his personality that made him better. Isabella is the quintessential Renaissance queen; she had a traditional view of her role as a wife and mother, and yet she never sacrificed her divinely appointed right to rule Castile.
All my books take years. I’m usually researching one book while writing another and it all spills over. For example, Rodrigo Borgia, Pope Alexander VI, is a peripherally mentioned character in this novel and I’m now writing about him and his daughter Lucrezia. I would say that THE QUEEN’S VOW took close to 6 years to both research and write, as I really started working on it while I was writing The Last Queen.
So far you have written about Isabella of Castile and her daughter Juana, are there any other members of this particular royal family you would like to write about in the future?
Yes, I would. And that’s all I can say, on my agent’s orders J
Can you tell us a bit about your current work in progress?
As mentioned, I’m working on a novel about Lucrezia Borgia, focusing on her early years in the Vatican, when she went from being the naïve illegitimate daughter of an ambitious Spanish cardinal to one of Italy’s most notorious and feared women. Her thrust into notoriety and dangerous struggle to define herself as she battles the rapacity of her own family has offered me another remarkable story of perseverance and harrowing transformation. The book will be published by Ballantine, Random House, in 2014.
I’m also preparing the outline for the third book in my Elizabeth I Spymaster Chronicles; the second book (following The Tudor Secret) is titled The Tudor Conspiracy. This time, Brendan Prescott reluctantly goes to the court of Mary Tudor, where he’s hunted by a shadowy foe even as he plunges into London’s treacherous underworld to unravel a dark conspiracy that could make Elizabeth queen—or send her to her death. The book is scheduled for publication by St Martin’s Press in the US in July, 2013, and Hodder & Stoughton in the UK.
Thank you so much for having me. I sincerely hope your readers enjoy THE QUEEN’S VOW. I’m always available to chat with book groups via Skype or speaker phone; to learn more about me and my work, please visit me at: www.cwgortner.com
Copyright © 2012 Svea Love. All Rights Reserved.