Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!
Hello, my name is Judith Arnopp. I live in Wales on the beautiful west coast, where my writing room looks out across Cardigan Bay toward Snowdon. I am the author of eleven historical fiction novels, mostly set in the Tudor period. Two are published by Sharpe Books but the others are independently published. I also run writing workshops and write non-fiction articles and blogs. When I am not writing, I like to make Tudor clothes, hoods and bags which I sell in my Etsy shop.
My books feature people from history: well-known figures like Anne Boleyn, Katherine Parr, Margaret Beaufort, Elizabeth of York, or aspects of Tudor history that are not often covered in fiction. The Winchester Goose is told from the perspective of a prostitute from Southwark, giving voice to her thoughts and feelings about the politics of her time. Sisters of Arden is set during the dissolution of the monasteries when three nuns are turned out of their priory and join the pilgrimage of grace. I present the problems women faced during this time; the oppression, the childbirth, and far too often, the loss of those children; and in most cases the challenges they faced were every bit as dangerous as the battlefield.
You can find my books here: author.to/juditharnoppbooks or on my website: www.judithmarnopp.com
What is/are the real-life story(ies) behind your book(s)?
I’ve been intrigued by the Tudor court for as long as I can remember. For me, it is not so much the fancy clothing or treasures or the fabulous palaces of the era but the psyche of the key members of court. What made Henry VIII the way he was? Why has Margaret Beaufort such a bad reputation? Who was Perkin Warbeck? Why does Elizabeth of York take such a back seat in history? In my novels I explore the characters and the world they lived in from the perspective of the main players. I try to look at the events from their own point of view, and seeing it in this way, has helped me to some interesting conclusions.
What inspires/inspired your creativity?
I can’t answer that. I’ve been writing stories since I could hold a pencil. All I can say is that if I haven’t written in a while I get very growly. I don’t know how to do anything else. To me, writing is as necessary as brushing my teeth and eating breakfast.
How do you deal with creative block?
I rarely find myself sitting staring at a blank screen and wondering how to fill it. My problem is making myself sit down at the computer and actually open the wip. I find other aspects of life get in the way of my writing time and to overcome this, I have to be very stern with myself. Once I have opened the document and forced myself to write a few words, the creative side of my mind opens and I am off again, the words flowing. I know some authors really suffer with writer’s block but thankfully it is the one problem I don’t really have.
What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book?
As a historical fiction author, it would be anachronism or getting the time-line wrong. In my early books I sometimes bent the facts a little to suit the story but these days I try to stick to facts as far as I can. But facts themselves are open to interpretation. We might know that an event took place on a certain date by a certain person but we are seldom really sure of the motivation behind it. Sometimes research provides clues to this but if they are lacking in the record, I enjoy providing possibilities. For example, we will never know who killed King William Rufus in the New Forest and the list of theories is as long as my arm so in The Forest Dwellers I offer a fictional explanation. When I do veer from history, I always make the fact clear in the author’s note at the end of the book.
Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?
I like to keep things simple. I prefer uncluttered book covers with nice clear font so the reader knows what to expect. As a reader I dislike fussy covers and long-winded blowsy writing equally. In fact, if I see a busy book cover I expect the writing will be equally so, and avoid it. I like clear, concise storytelling and a clean, crisp narrative both in the books I read and in my own writing.
How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?
Nobody likes bad reviews, but I take constructive criticism onboard and act on it if I agree with the comments. If it is non-constructive, I just ignore it; the book may not have been for them. I prefer to concentrate on the readers who do love my work. The thing that annoys me most is when reviewers on Amazon say things like ‘This book took ages to get to me and when it did arrive the packaging was torn.” Nothing to do with me, yet they give a one-star review that drags the book’s rating down. I have a one-star review for Intractable Heart: the story of Katheryn Parr that reads ‘excellent!” Clearly, the reviewer has made a mistake but that error has affected the star rating of the book. Infuriating! But I’ve learned there is not much point asking Amazon for a remedy.
How has your creation process improved over time?
I am faster now. My first book took four years in the making because I had to research and learn everything about novel writing and about the period I was writing in from scratch. Each book one writes becomes easier because there are fewer tricks to master. Writing in one era also lessens the amount of research required. I am now quite comfortable in the Tudor world and just need to research and think about the characters involved, and perhaps the places they visit. This means I can concentrate more on improving my writing skills. I never believe my books are as good as they could be and always strive to be better in the next one.
What were the best, worst and most surprising things you encountered during the entire process of completing your book(s)?
I love writing the first draft, the creative splurge onto the page. Editing is hard on the eyes and back because I sit at it too long at the computer but I still enjoy the creative energy of the process. I love choosing the covers, seeing the finished product and holding it in my hand for the first time. Seeing it in the bookshop is even better than that and receiving those first terrifying reviews, unsure if they are going to love or hate it, is like balancing on a knife edge. The hardest part of being an author for me, is marketing. I was brought up to be quite modest and not ‘put myself forward’ or ‘hog the limelight’ and that is exactly what an author has to do to be noticed. I am so bad at it. I even find social media hard because I lack small talk and can never think of anything remotely interesting to say. It sounds absurd to be tongue-tied in front of an on-line audience, but I am. Every post, or comment I make is agonising unless I know the group very well.
Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?
I write the sort of books I’d love to read so that must mean I write for my own satisfaction. To write merely to please readers would be like servitude. I think my readers enjoy my approach to the different subjects I have chosen; the new perspective I present of a character has often made them change their preconceptions. I haven’t white -washed Margaret Beaufort but The Beaufort Chronicle has made some of my readers rethink what they’ve been led to believe about her. It gives me great pleasure to learn that I have encouraged someone to read more widely on a subject. In my youth, historical fiction introduced me to history and made me want to study it when it was time for university so I am aware of the impact my work might have on a reader. So, the short answer to your question is, I don’t write to please them, I write to try to make them think.
What role do emotions play in creativity?
They can be very helpful. If I am mad about something, I channel it and find my writing becomes much better. Pouring my anxiety into my work makes it stronger with shorter sentences and after a few hours taking out my ire on the keyboard, I not only feel better but have a piece of writing that requires very little editing. When I write in a happy mood, the flow isn’t as good and the writing becomes ‘safe’.
What are your plans for future books?
Well, thankfully, the Tudor period offers plenty of scope. There is a long list of intriguing characters to ensure many future novels. I am currently writing about Mary Tudor, Queen of England and so my time and energy is taken up solely with living her life and thinking her thoughts, which is sometimes rather comfortable. As to the future, well, I have always rather fancied taking on Henry VIII but … we shall see.
Tell us some quirky facts about yourself
I am too old to be quirky. At my age they call it eccentric – ha ha! I do like to dress up though, I call it ‘research’ but I own several Tudor gowns that I wear to events and book fairs. It is not until you are laced into a Tudor gown that you realise how restricted the movements of Tudor noble women were. In my earlier books my female characters move about quite freely but now I know one cannot run easily, or shout or even see your feet, their movements are more sedate. In some strange way, although the clothes draw a lot of attention, I am not shy when I am in them. It is as if I am someone else, someone quite fabulous and stylish.
I live on the coast of Wales, a few steps from the cliff top. I spend a lot of time on the beach, collecting shells and driftwood for my beach garden or tidying up stray bits of plastic from the tide. In my younger days I ranted loudly for environmental change but nobody listened. People called me ‘weird hippy vegetarian’ and took no notice. These days, people are wishing they’d listened but they don’t wish it as much as I do. I am very concerned about the environment; my paperback books are print on demand. I will not buy anything Nestle, avoid products that contain palm oil or are over-packaged. Any plastic packaging I do end up with is sent back to the supermarket’s head office along with suggestions as to what they should do with their single use plastic. To them, I am probably a pain in the neck but if we don’t take action, nobody else will.
Judith Arnopp’s books include:
Sisters of Arden: on the pilgrimage of grace
The Beaufort Chronicle (three book series of Margaret Beaufort)
A Song of Sixpence: the story of Elizabeth of York
Intractable Heart: the story of Katheryn Parr
The Kiss of the Concubine: the story of Anne Boleyn
The Winchester Goose; at the court of Henry VIII
The Song of Heledd
The Forest Dwellers