Auckland-based British writer Sue Copsey, aka Olivia Hayfield, has written two escapist romps based on the Tudors, moved to a contemporary media setting.
Why the fascination with the Tudors?
It's such a rich vein of history – those larger (much larger) than life characters with their complex personalities and motivations. My obsession began with a school trip to see Anne of the Thousand Days. I was outraged by Henry's treatment of Anne Boleyn. It stayed with me, and I read everything I could about Henry and his wives.
When I explored forward and back in time, it only got better. Mary Tudor's dysfunctional life and her brutal burning of heretics; Elizabeth I's mysterious love life; Henry VII's years in exile, his mother quietly plotting, like some dark queen with a magic mirror, for him to take the throne. Henry VII storming in, killing Richard III, marrying the princess who may have been in love with the king he'd just killed (how did she feel about that?). You couldn't make this stuff up and I didn't have to – it was already there.
Do you have a similar interest in the modern royals?
No, sorry. Not one of the Windsors is anywhere near as fascinating as a Tudor or a Plantagenet. But I do love the Queen.
How much of your book-writing time is given to research? And how do you decide what to use - the Tudors had such a rich history, you could go on for years.
I'd love to go on for years! My research is my bedtime, lunchtime and holiday reading – that's the only way I can fit it in, as there's the day job. Writing happens at weekends and at very dark o'clock in the morning.
Yes, there are so many interesting figures, but for readers to get the most out of my books it's good if they're already aware of at least some of the history, so I choose the better-known characters. With Richard III (due out 2022), I was worried readers might not know his story. For this reason I've made it more of a "whodunnit" than a retelling. I hope it will make readers wonder … where did Richard's evil-hunchback-child-murderer reputation come from? (Looking at you, Mr Shakespeare.)
We do love to hate a media mogul - like Rupert Murdoch or your own Harry Rose. Why do you think that is?
Hate Harry? Why would you?! But seriously, the media moguls are the people with the power now. What Murdoch did, manipulating politics – he was perhaps more responsible for Brexit than anyone and helped put [Donald] Trump in power – this a testament to the awesome (not in a good way) power of the press. Harry Rose is powerful but nothing like Rupert – though I made him pro-Brexit to parallel Henry VIII's split from Rome. Harry may be a Tory and a friend of Boris - but he's all right.
Your books are among a wave of new "bonkbusters" that are meeting with massive success. Those books were out of fashion for years: what has changed do you think?
When I read that I'd "reinvented the bonkbuster", I nearly died laughing. My first draft of Wife After Wife had hardly any sex in it at all. Then my editor gently encouraged me (in margin notes, "Make this steamier!") to write more in. This was Henry VIII, after all. So I had a go and was very pleased when an interviewer said, "You're very good at writing sex scenes." If people are enjoying these books again – big, romantic stories of the rich and famous – it's probably because they're desperate for a bit of escapism. If I'm brightening up someone's lockdown, then that's really nice to know.
Can you describe your writing hut? I am having visions of a pretty wooden shed at the bottom of the garden surrounded by wildflowers ...
It used to be the children's treehouse but then the children grew up and the tree blew down. We repaired it and put it at the bottom of the garden, tucked away beneath the trees, next to the fish pond. Yes, there are flowers. Something magic happens when I go in there; time behaves strangely. I'll think an hour has passed then notice it's dark outside.
What are you working on now?
I'm waiting on notes from my editor on my Richard III retelling, then it'll be the rewrites on that. And I'm wondering who to write about next, reading widely, seeing who leaps out at me. And with Sister to Sister just out in New Zealand and later in the year in the UK and US, I'm also writing mini-biographies of the real people behind the characters, which I put on my blog (oliviahayfield.com). I love connecting with readers, getting their response to the characters. Having expected to be writing mostly about Elizabeth I, it's so far been all about Kit, my Christopher Marlowe character, who seems to have stolen the show. Perhaps Kit should have his own book.
As told to Eleanor Black
Sister to Sister by Olivia Hayfield (Hachette, $35) is out now.