Monday 18 January 2016

Q&A with Catherine Hokin, author of Blood and Roses

Can you sum up for us what Blood and Roses is about?

The novel retells the story of Margaret of Anjou (1430-82), wife of Henry VI and a key protagonist in the Wars of the Roses. Margaret is frequently imagined only as the shadowy figure demonised by Shakespeare, my novel re-examines Margaret as a Queen unable to wield the power and authority she is capable of, as a wife trapped in marriage to a man born to be a saint and as a mother whose son meets a terrible fate she has set in motion. It is essentially a story about power: winning it, the sacrifices made for it and its value. It is also a novel about a woman out of her time, playing a game ultimately no one can control.

Where did the inspiration for this book come from?

As a child my family – and especially my father who was a member of the Richard III society – lived and breathed History, especially the Wars of the Roses so the people at the heart of the conflict (and the prejudices around them) were very familiar to me. Among all the characters they argued about (and they argued a lot), it was Margaret of Anjou who most captured my interest because they all loathed her! That led me to the Shakespeare version which depicts her almost as a devil – as a contrary teenager, anyone who could engender this much fury (especially among men) was definitely worth my attention. Then, at University, as part of my History degree, I wrote my thesis on medieval politics, superstition and propaganda with a particular focus on women. I think you could say Margaret has long been an itch I’ve wanted to scratch.

What made you want to write in this particular genre? What stands out about it for you?

I am fascinated by the past, not just for the differences in the way people lived (although that has its own fascination) but for the similarities. Plagues, wars, tyrants – they are still with us and, although the tools we have to respond may change, the way people react doesn’t. The joy for an historical fiction writer is in finding the gaps in the facts – a disputed parentage, a charge of witchcraft – and starting to weave the story that just your characters and your research justice.

If you could co-write a book with any other author, dead or alive, who would it be?

A brilliant question and an easy answer: Angela Carter. I absolutely love her books and would like to try writing a novel that weaves together history, folk tales and magical realism. She did that to an extent with Wise Children so we have something to work from!

What would be some of your best tips for aspiring writers?

Get a website and a social media presence – whatever works for you. I have had a lot of success with twitter and Facebook (I’ve tried Pinterest but I’m still confused) and with my blog Heroine Chic – everything drives interest round the novel writing. But – and this is a big but – don’t be over-promoting and transactional, make relationships.

Where did your love of writing come from? Is it something you’ve always wanted to do?

I’ve always been an avid reader and I love stories – I’ve been scribbling on and off for years but decided to take it seriously about 3 years ago, carving out a day a week. It’s taken a long time to find the space but it’s been worth it!

What is your preferred method when it comes to writing? Planner or do you like to go with the flow?

I’m a planner and then a planner! I like plans and frameworks and reams of research – I have sheets of A3 paper all over my study and notebooks and computer plans. Once I have a sense of direction, then I can let my imagination play.

What’s next for you? Anything exciting you’re working on or any cool plans?

Another re-telling of a medieval woman who has had a rather 2-dimensional portrayal to date, although as a romantic heroine rather than a villain: Katherine Swynford, mistress and then wife to John of Gaunt and sister-in-law to Geoffrey Chaucer. It’s full of political spin, set against a backdrop of plague and rebellion and hopefully does Katherine justice – I’m descended from her so family honour is involved here! I’ve just found out that I have been accepted on to the Scottish Book Trust author mentoring programme to develop this novel – it’s a huge honour and starts 2016 with a bang!


Blood and Roses is out now.

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