Interview with author Isolde Martyn

By Linda Hall

Australian author Isolde Martyn has based her latest historical novel Mistress to the Crown around the very interesting Jane Shore, who was the mistress of Edward IV.

In the book, Jane Shore's husband is apparently impotent and when Lord Hastings enters her husband's shop unexpectedly, she takes a chance that he will be able to help her annul her marriage.

One thing leads to another and before you know it she finds herself before the king of England.

I'm a big fan of historical novels, so I was looking forward to reading Mistress to the Crown. I wasn't disappointed. Martyn has obviously done her homework and readers will find themselves transported back to 1463.

I enjoyed Shore's character, who was in most ways a slave to powerful men, but also had courage and wit.

I asked Martyn some questions:

Jane Shore is certainly an interesting person. How did you first learn about her?

I remember reading Jean Plaidy's novel The Goldsmith's Wife in my teens. Since that book was written, it's been discovered that Mistress Shore was neither married to a goldsmith nor christened Jane.

Her name was Elizabeth and she was the daughter of a wealthy alderman, John Lambard, a former Sheriff of London. Everything I've found out about her made her the perfect heroine - an intelligent woman at the core of political events. Richard III accused her of witchcraft and treason, but she won many men's hearts. Sir Thomas More wrote of King Edward's adoration of her: "Many he had; but her he loved."

What sparked your interest in history?

Going round the Tower of London. Such fabulous legends. A queen beheaded here, a king murdered there.

Delightfully gruesome stuff to inspire a 9-year-old.

How do you decide how much truth and how much fiction goes into your historical novels?

When you're dealing with the second half of the 15th century, very little "truth" is known. I try and keep to what facts have survived and then build from that.

How do you bring your characters to life?

Some of the real people are so fascinating that it's a joy to flesh them out. What they did historically tells me the decisions they made.

As a novelist, it's up to me to work out their motives and why they acted as they did. Researching a real person's upbringing can help me understand why they might turn into a ruthless tyrant or a womaniser.

Using a smattering of phrases and imagery I've come across in literature of the 15th century can help, but I have to be frugal.

No reader wants the hero going "Forsooth!" and "Oddsbodikins!" all over the place. No way.

What do you think is the most important aspect of a historical novel in terms of transporting a reader back in time?

The storytelling needs to contain no words or anachronisms to break the reader's concentration and flick them suddenly into the present day.

Engaging the reader's trust is so crucial.

By the end of the first chapter or even the first page, you want your reader to feel that everything's fine and it's time to just sit back and enjoy the adventure.

Tell us about a typical day when you are in the middle of a novel.

Maybe I can say this: I love it when I wake up in the morning and find my subconscious has been going over stuff I wrote the day before and has some suggestions to make. That's when you know you are really deep in the writing. Sometimes, too, the hero and heroine wickedly surprise me by taking over the plot and doing things their way.

How do you celebrate finishing a book?

Maybe sharing a bottle of Cloudy Bay sauvignon blanc might be the perfect way.

What is the first book you remember reading?

I think listening to my mother sing about The Raggletaggle Gypsies might be the answer here.

Rosemary Sutcliff was my favourite author and The Queen Elizabeth Story about Perdita, a little Elizabethan girl in a farthingale, was my favourite.

What's next for you?

I have a novel about Richard of Gloucester's coup in 1483 ready to put up as an ebook. The story is told by Richard's cousin, Buckingham.

And if the skeleton in the Leicester carpark is King Richard III's, then this is the perfect year to publish.

Three top tips for aspiring writers?

Read your novel aloud. Can you hear the flat bits? Is the dialogue zesty or longwinded?

Is that sentence too convoluted? It's a great way to self-edit.

If you have a sense of humour, make subtle use of it.

If you haven't a sense of humour, don't!

If you can find a critique group that suits you, go for it.

Constructive criticism, encouragement and support in bad times and good are all priceless.


Mistress to the Crown

by Isolde Martyn

Harlequin, $27.99

- Hamilton News

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