DEB: Elizabeth, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
ELIZABETH: I live in the UK. I was born in the north of England in a county called Lancashire and in a town called Bury (more or less pronounced Berry) near the city of Manchester. My grandparents worked in the industrial cotton mills and my father was a textile chemist. (making fabric dyes). I lived in Scotland as a child and then moved to Nottingham where I live now. I had always told myself stories but only began writing them down when I was 15. I wrote my first full historical novel then, and decided that it was what I wanted to do for a living. It took me another 17 years to get my dream job, but with perseverance I got there! My first novel, The Wild Hunt, won an award for romantic fiction that was presented to me at Whitehall by Prince Charles. You can’t get a much better start to a career than that! It’s still in print now and doing very well.
DEB: Tell us a little about your latest book, To Defy a King?
ELIZABETH: It’s set in the 13th century and is about Mahelt, the daughter of a great magnate who has an arranged marriage when she is 14. The match is partly to try and keep her safe from the persecutions of the king, and partly sound family business. Love doesn’t come into it at that stage, but as time goes on, Mahelt comes to adore her husband Hugh. However, King John casts a long shadow over their lives and Mahelt finds herself in very conflicting and difficult circumstances. It’s got a bit of everything. Romance, adventure, politics at the sharp end, and what I hope is sound history. Earlier this month it won the UK’s Romantic Novelists Association 2011 prize for Historical Fiction.
DEB: What was your inspiration for these books? Have you always been interested in historical fiction?
ELIZABETH: I became interested in historical fiction as a written genre in my teens. Roberta Gellis was one of my first favorite authors. Before that I had loved historical films and TV programs and I had been interested in factual history in general. My inspiration for the current set of novels about the Marshal family, came from the life of the great William Marshal himself. You can’t research the 12th century and not come across him. He rose from obscurity to become the regent of England, along the way, saving the life of Eleanor of Aquitaine and unhorsing Richard the Lionheart. To Defy A King is the story of William’s eldest daughter and her marriage to Hugh Bigod, an earl’s son with connections via his half-brother to King John. It’s set at the time that the barons were trying to rein in the King with a list of demands that became the Magna Carta. I wanted to explore the road that led to Magna Carta through the eyes of some of the people involved, and I also wanted to investigate what it was like for a young woman to have an arranged marriage in the medieval period.
DEB: What type of research did you do for your book?
ELIZABETH: A great deal of research goes into the novels. I use primary source documents from the time, I use academic secondary sources and I read widely not just about the politics, but about the culture. The food, the clothes, the attitudes of the time. An author shouldn’t just get the physical details right when writing historical fiction, they need to look at mindset too so that the characters are not just modern people in fancy dress. I visit the places my characters would have known and I walk in their footsteps. I also re-enact with living history society Regia Anglorum – www.regia.org as I feel this helps with my understanding of what life was like in the Middle Ages. I know how to spin and weave (not well, but I can do it!), and cook using cauldrons and cooking pots. I have tried on the armour, and walked up and down castle stairs in a long dress and medieval shoes. It helps tremendously in understanding what life felt like back then. I use the psychic to research as well, but as part of several ongoing strands. Readers wanting to know more can look up the details on my website here. http://www.elizabethchadwick.com/akashic.html
DEB: What is your normal writing day like? Do you have things that have to be in place to write comfortably?
ELIZABETH: My work room is a converted small bedroom with space for two desks, and some bookshelves. I write sitting next to a window with a view of fields in the distance. Generally I sit down to write by about 9.30 in the morning. I check e-mails and Twitter for anything important that needs answering, and then I begin writing. I don’t write in long spells, but in shorter bursts interspersed with internet work. Most days I will write around 1500 words though all told. I take time out in the day to go to the gym, do shopping, routine chores and once a week I see a close friend, but then I will work at night, sometimes into the small hours of the morning. I guess I am like the hub of a wheel with various spokes going out, of which the writing is just one spoke, but it all gets done in the day to make the wheel turn.
DEB: What was it like when you got the word that your first novel would be published?
ELIZABETH: I was very pleased, but in a quiet manner. I knew that this was what I was born to do (I can remember telling myself involved stories from being 3 years old) I just had to convince the publishing world that this was the case! I had finally got there and now I could settle down and do my proper job instead of working in shops to earn a wage. I guess I felt an enormous sense of relief – and satisfaction.
DEB: Do have any advice for new writers?
ELIZABETH: Write something every day. Set yourself a goal that is easily achievable and stick to it. The operative word is ‘easily.’ So you’ll accomplish a set number of words every day and feel good that you’ve succeeded, and you may well go on to write well above that bottom line limit. Also, listen to your own voice. Don’t get too hung up on the ‘rules’. As in the Pirates of the Caribbean, they are ‘more like guidelines really.’
DEB: When you’re not writing, what kinds of books do you like to read? Do you have a favorite author?
ELIZABETH: I read all genres. The key to my reading is widespread variety. So I might read a modern, gritty police thriller by Peter James, then follow it up with a warm-hearted saga by Fannie Flagg, and then perhaps a rich historical by Sharon Penman, followed by a cookery book by Nigella Lawson, and then back to a thriller. I love the works of Terry Pratchett. He writes fantasy novels that are in fact very pointed commentary on our society. I am particularly fond of his novel Witches Abroad.
DEB: What are you working on right now?
ELIZABETH: I have just finished a novel about the Empress Matilda and her stepmother Adeliza of Louvain, which explores the emotional lives of these women between 1125 and 1148. My next project is still under wraps, but I hope to announce it officially very soon. I am very excited about it.
DEB: Tell us one thing that people may not know about you?
ELIZABETH:I have a genuine carved Tudor oak chair in my spare room that has been handed down through generations of my family.
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