Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Interview with author Anne Easter Smith - Royal Mistress / Richard III Blog Tour

This is the moment I have been waiting for all year; my interview with author Anne Easter Smith, a fellow Richard III enthusiast! As a part of the Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour for her upcoming release, Royal Mistress, she is doing a special feature on the recent discovery of Richard III's remains in Leicester, which is the focus of today's interview. Now, enough preamble from me, let's hand it over to Anne:




What was your reaction to the possible, and then confirmed, discovery of the remains of Richard III earlier this year?

First of all, thanks for hosting me today!

It has been a very exciting six months for Richard III fans, that’s for sure. Back in August, as a member of the Richard III Society, I was asked to contribute to the dig that was to eventually reveal Richard’s skeleton. It was a long shot, we all knew, but it bothered us that Richard’s grave was the only one of England’s crowned monarchs that had never been found. As a known author of books about Richard, I got a personal plea from Philippa Langley, the intrepid Ricardian who felt it in her bones (sorry) that Richard’s were beneath this boring car park in Leicester. I was in London on August 25th when on the first day of digging, the team from Leicester University uncovered a wall of Greyfriars Church. I was in France in mid September when I saw on the French news that they had uncovered a skeleton. I was so excited, I almost dropped my croissant in my coffee. On February 4th (on holiday in Mexico), when it was revealed that DNA testing was a positive match for Richard, I cried into my plateful of tamales!

Now that Richard III’s remains have been found, do you believe that history might attempt to portray Richard III in a kinder light?

As well as being able to reinter Richard in a more appropriate place that will give us somewhere to pay our respects, the most important aspect of this discovery is the possibility of re-examining this most maligned of English kings. It has brought Richard into the spotlight, and you can bet there will be a rash of non-fiction/fiction books written about him in the next few years. All good news for Richard! Those of us in the Richard III Society who have been doing scholarly research on him for decades will gloat a bit and say, “I told you so,” when new research will reveal that Shakespeare and his Tudor historians got this man all wrong!

There is currently a controversy as to where Richard III will be permanently laid to rest. What is your opinion on this matter?

The last I heard, Leicester Cathedral was to be the recipient of Richard’s remains. I’m okay with this, although there is no doubt Richard would have preferred to be laid to rest in York Minster. He had such a strong affiliation with the north and Yorkshire in particular, and to this day, Yorkshiremen call him “good king Richard,” unlike most of the rest of the English populace! He definitely does not belong in Westminster Abbey, alongside the Christopher Wren designed urn that purportedly holds the bones of the princes in the Tower, and whose inscription condemns Richard as their murderer (without any proof)! I also thought that if York and Leicester couldn’t agree, then perhaps he might be happier being with his mum, dad and brother Edmund in Fotheringhay Church in Northamptonshire near the castle where Richard was born.

The Richard III Society recently released a reconstruction of Richard III’s face based upon the skeletal remains. What was your initial response when viewing the face of the man whom you have researched for so long?

That it was a kind face and not an evil one as depicted by history and Shakespeare. It certainly resembles the most famous portrait we have of him, although research lately has found that portrait was doctored to make him look older and less kind. He was only 32 when he died, and the portrait makes him look much older and not as “bonny” as the reconstruction. The countess of Desmond after dancing with Richard is said to have written that Richard was, except for his brother Edward, the handsomest man in the room and well made. Others don’t mention his face except to liken it to his father, Richard duke of York’s. But there are several references to his lack of inches, which of course, we now know was due to scoliosis. But NO mention of a hunchback! The skeleton measures 5ft. 8ins. (Edward was 6ft. 3 1/2ins!) but his painful back may have made him seem smaller.

What first inspired you to write about Richard III in your novel, A Rose for the Crown?

I had my “aha” moment in my early 20s when I came to the end of Josephine Tey’s DAUGHTER OF TIME, a contemporary novel written in the 1950s, in which this well known English mystery writer’s protagonist is a detective who decides to solve the mystery of who killed the princes in the Tower. The author did all her research thoroughly, and in the end came to the conclusion that Richard did not have any motive to kill his nephews, and she believed the boys lived into Henry VII’s reign, and he had far more motive to rid himself of them. I was flabbergasted (or as we say in England--gobsmacked!). I had always been told in history classes that Richard III was one of our Bad Kings. And I was very familiar with Shakespeare’s play (with a mother and a sister in the acting profession). Surely Tey could not be right? So thus began my own research of this intriguing and misunderstood man. That was forty plus years ago, and I am still fascinated by him!

When I set out to write A ROSE FOR THE CROWN, I wanted to tell the real Richard’s story--but I really had no aspirations to publish the book, I just wanted to prove to myself I could write such a story. It was a labor of love, no question.

Has the recent excitement over the discovery of Richard III’s remains inspired you to write about this fascinating king once more?

My newest book (out in May) is ROYAL MISTRESS, a retelling of the compelling and very dramatic story of Jane Shore, Edward IV’s final and favorite concubine. As Richard figures hugely in what happens to Jane after Edward’s untimely death in April 1483, I got to see him from a different perspective. It was hard to figure out his motives for many of his actions in those three months before his coronation, and it made me understand why there are people who think he was a usurper and schemer. That was hard for me to swallow, I can tell you. But I had to be true to Jane and look at Richard from her viewpoint. I chose to write this book using omniscient voice, which gave Richard a chance to tell his side too. I hope I have created a complex character who believed deeply in his duty and morality.

Would a readership want yet another book about this enigmatic king? I am tempted, but I fear many others will already be halfway through one in order to jump on this particular bandwagon! All I know is that if I decide to write a book with Richard as the central character, my readers will know that I have steeped myself in this man’s character and life for the past forty years. I think I would be fair and I think I would be accurate! What do you all think?

Are there any closing thoughts on Richard III that you would like to share with us?

I think I have elaborated enough about him in the preceding answers! But I’d like to leave you with one puzzle that I agonized over during the writing of ROYAL MISTRESS. Why did Richard execute Edward’s faithful chamberlain, William Hastings, with such haste and--uncharacteristically, because Richard was obsessed with the law--without trial? To me this is the key to the mystery that surrounds his character, not the disappearance of those princes.

Thank you so much, Anne, for stopping by The Muse in the Fog Book Review and sharing your thoughts on this captivating monarch! It is always a delight to have you here.

To learn more about Anne and her work, you may visit her website: anneeastersmith.com

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Take a look at Anne's upcoming novel, Royal Mistress:

Publication Date: April 7th 2013

Synopsis (From the Pucblisher):
"Jane Lambert, the quick-witted and alluring daughter of a silk merchant, is twenty-two and still unmarried. When Jane’s father finally finds her a match, she’s married off to the dull, older silk merchant William Shore. Marriage doesn’t stop Jane from flirtation, however, and when the king’s chamberlain, Will Hastings, comes to her husband’s shop, Will knows King Edward will find her irresistible. 
Edward IV has everything: power, majestic bearing, superior military leadership, a sensual nature, and charisma. And with Jane as his mistress, he also finds true happiness. But when his hedonistic tendencies get in the way of being the strong leader England needs, his life, as well as those of Jane and Will Hastings, hangs in the balance. Jane must rely on her talents to survive as the new monarch, Richard III, bent on reforming his brother’s licentious court, ascends the throne. 
This dramatic tale has been an inspiration to poets and playwrights for five hundred years, and, as told through the unique perspective of a woman plucked from obscurity and thrust into a life of notoriety, Royal Mistress is sure to enthrall today’s historical fiction lovers as well."


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