July 1, 2012
Interview with Susan Higginbotham
Today I’m welcoming Susan Higginbotham to my series of author interviews.
Susan is the author of five historical novels: The Traitor’s Wife, about Eleanor de Clare, favorite niece of King Edward II, wife of Hugh le Despenser, and lady-in-waiting to Queen Isabella; Hugh and Bess, about Bess de Montacute, who King Edward III chooses to marry Hugh le Despenser, the son and grandson of disgraced traitors; The Stolen Crown, about Kate Woodville, sister-in-law to King Edward IV and wife to Harry Stafford who must decide where he stands when the country is torn apart by the Wars of the Roses; The Queen of Last Hopes, about King Henry VI’s wife, Margaret of Anjou, who must hold her family and her country together when her husband goes mad.
Q: Can you give us a brief description of your most recent book ?
A: Her Highness, the Traitor is narrated by Frances Grey, Duchess of Suffolk, the mother of Lady Jane Grey, and by Jane Dudley, Duchess of Northumberland, the mother of Guildford Dudley, Jane’s future husband. It’s the story of Jane Grey’s crowning and tragic end, but it’s chiefly the story of Frances Grey and Jane Dudley, whose lives are changed drastically when Edward VI decides to change the royal succession laid out by his father.
Q: What is different about Frances and Jane when compared to some of your other heroines?
A: What drew me to Frances was the enormous difference between the historical Frances and the dreadful Frances that we usually see in historical fiction and popular nonfiction; I wanted to tell her story in a way that freed Frances from all of the myths that have grown up around her. As for Jane Dudley, when I read her will and a letter she wrote I was impressed immensely by her tenacity, her dignity of spirit, and her devotion to her husband. She hadn’t originally been slated to play a major part in the novel, but I came to admire her so much, I knew that she deserved a leading role.
Q: How much historical fact is woven into Her Highness, the Traitor?
A: There’s a great deal of historical fact in Her Highness, the Traitor. All of the characters are based on real people—even Jane Dudley’s green parrot existed, as it’s mentioned in her will. Many of the letters, and all but one of the scaffold speeches, are based on contemporary documents or accounts.
Q: How do you go about researching your novels?
A: I usually start out researching my novels with secondary sources and then use the references in those sources to find as many primary sources—wills, letters, inventories of household goods, diplomatic correspondence, and so forth—that I can. The wonderful thing about the Tudor period is that so much of this material has been put online, I can do much of my research without ever leaving my computer. I still have plenty of opportunity to buy Tudor books, though!
Q: Although your novels cover different time periods, they all focus on English royalty. Why are you drawn to this topic?
A: I’m mainly drawn to stories about English royalty and nobles because they lived such dramatic lives—or at least the ones I choose to write about did! There are characters from other periods and countries that interest me as well, however. For instance, there are a couple of stories from the American Civil War I would like to tell. I won’t say whose, because I may well get to them one day! There are a couple of French women whose stories I would like to tell also, but they’re women who aren’t well known outside of France, and I think I would have to be able to read French sources in order to do them justice. So I’ll stick with England for now! My late mother always wanted me to write about Regency England, but it’s a period I prefer to read about rather than to write about.
Q: Enough of your books—tell us about yourself.
A: In a moment of insanity, I chose to major in political science in college. Fortunately, I spent a great deal of time hanging out at the student newspaper, which was far more beneficial to me as a writer than anything else I did in college. I later got a master’s degree in English literature and a law degree. Both have helped me in my career as a novelist. My English literature courses helped me learn to read critically, while my legal training helped me develop my research skills.
In preparing us to conduct a mock criminal trial, one of my law school professors told us about the defendants who we had been assigned to defend, “All of these people have some good qualities. It’s your job as their attorney to make the jury aware of them.” I think that’s excellent advice for a novelist too—all of our characters have something in them that can appeal to our readers. We just need to show them what it is.
Q: How difficult do you find balancing your writing career and your full-time job?
A: I’m very lucky, because I have a home office and a fairly flexible work schedule, so if the Muse comes calling while I’m at my day job, I can drop everything and go to my own computer and start writing! But the fact that I do have a full-time job means that I can’t write as quickly as some full-time novelists do.
My day job involves writing summaries of legal cases, so by the time I finish for the day, writing my novels is sometimes the very last thing I want to do. It’s all too easy to start surfing online, and before I know it, the time’s gone. Disciplining myself is something with which I still struggle.
We’ve now reached the time in our interview for the let’s-get-to-know-the-author-better, nearly-pointless, sort-of-silly, rapid-fire questions:
Coffee or tea?
Iced tea, but for me, it’s really Coca-Cola!
Ocean or mountain?
Hiking or shopping?
Violin or piano?
Mystery or fantasy?
Darcy or Heathcliff?
Love scene or death scene?
Thanks to Susan for visiting today!