The powerful, evocative new novel by the critically acclaimed author of The Handfasted Wife, The Woman in the Shadows presents the rise of Thomas Cromwell, Tudor England’s most powerful statesman, through the eyes of his wife Elizabeth.
When beautiful cloth merchant’s daughter Elizabeth Williams is widowed at the age of twenty-two, she is determined to make herself a success in the business she has learned from her father. But there are those who oppose a woman making her own way in the world, and soon Elizabeth realises she may have some powerful enemies – enemies who also know the truth about her late husband…
Security – and happiness – comes when Elizabeth is introduced to kindly, ambitious merchant turned lawyer, Thomas Cromwell. Their marriage is one based on mutual love and respect…but it isn’t always easy being the wife of an influential, headstrong man in Henry VIII’s London. The city is filled with ruthless people and strange delights – and Elizabeth realises she must adjust to the life she has chosen…or risk losing everything.
Guest Post: My Favourite Historical Novels
Thank you Nicole for hosting me on this my fourth hop on The Woman in the Shadows Blog Tour. Today I am delighted to write about historical novels I love, many of which I find inspirational for my own writing.
My all-time favourite historical novel is Katherine by Anya Seton. This novel is about Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt. It tells the true story of a love affair that lasted for decades. I read it when I was studying Chaucer for A level. Katherine’s sister, Philippa, was married to the poet. I adored this novel and knew after I had read it that one day I wanted to write Historical Fiction. Many years on, I have realised that dream. Katherine also inspired my interest in The Middle Ages which I studied at University. I have never lost my passion for The High Medieval Period.
An epic novel that has influenced my writing is Dr Zhivago by Boris Pasternak. I studied the novel at University where I read Russian Studies as well as History and English. I have read this book at least four times. It is set during The Russian Revolution which is also on my list of historical events to write about. The Betrothed Sister, my third novel is set in Medieval Russia. Zhivago is beautiful with a wide political scope, personalising these dramatic events through a famous love triangle: Yuri, Lara and Tonya. I love its emotional pulse. It is possibly the most moving Historical novel I have ever read.
I was, without doubt, influenced by Hilary Mantel’s eloquent Wolf Hall when I decided to write a novel about Elizabeth Cromwell. I wrote about Wolf Hall on my MPhil thesis, analysing the touches of romance that tempered realism in the novel. By this I mean the Gothic touches, the romance structure, many descriptions, rather than a romance between two individuals. The parts in Wolf Hall that I was interested in were those concerning Thomas Cromwell’s family and I wanted to know more. I wanted to imagine more too. My research journey began then and I think that The Woman in the Shadows is very different to Hilary Mantel’s work. It is the portrait of an early Tudor woman who was a cloth merchant and a housewife. Through Elizabeth I examine Cromwell’s early career before the fall of Thomas Wolsey and I examine what I suspect their marriage might have been. I take a further glimpse at their family life.
I love The Queen of Subtleties by Suzannah Dunn. It is told by and is about two women, Anne Boleyn, and Lucy Cornwallis, the King’s confectioner. Lucy made the centrepieces for all the King’s feasts. Mark Smeaton is another link between Anne and Lucy. It is a wonderful novel with superb characterisation and brilliant witty dialogue. It is a very unusual take on an old story. I thought it unique, though I would have liked to see more praise for this fabulous story. Moreover, I was honoured when Suzannah both read and gave me comment for The Woman in the Shadows. I also love The Confessions of Katherine Howard by Suzannah Dunn. This is an exceptionally poignant and beautiful novel, delicately told.
The Visitors by Sally Beauman is a recent find. It is an intriguing novel filled with secrets, the tale of intertwined lives, set in Egypt in 1922 and is about one of the twentieth century’s most famous archaeological events, the amazing search for King Tut’s tomb. It looks at these events through a child’s eyes, one as precocious as Masie in Henry James’s excellent What Masie Knew. It is also about growing up through major events during the twentieth century. I loved it for its masterful narrative tension. I learned much about layered characterisation and the building up of narrative that covers large swaths of time from reading this book. I shall re read it.
Finally a mention for a few other books that I have enjoyed reading and re reading this year. Jane Johnson’s Court of Lions about the fall of Granada to Isabella and Ferdinand has captivated me as do her previous novels set in Morocco. She is a mistress of the two time narrative in a novel with two interrelated stories, always beautifully told. I love Karen Maitland’s The Vanishing Witch and her book Company of Liars set during the Plague of the fourteenth century. I highly recommend The World is Not Enough by Zoe Oldenbourg, an intricate picture of twelfth century France, at the time of the third Crusade. It is another classic Historical Novel.
A writer of Historical Fiction can hone her craft by reading other writers widely. I am grateful to all the fine writers I have read this year and in the past for their treasury of great stories. The best of these are always inspiring and illuminating.
Carol McGrath has an MA in Creative Writing from The Seamus Heaney Centre, Queens University Belfast, followed by an MPhil in Creative Writing from University of London. The Handfasted Wife, first in a trilogy about the royal women of 1066 was shortlisted for the RoNAs in 2014. The Swan-Daughter and The Betrothed Sister complete this best-selling trilogy. The Woman in the Shadows, a novel that considers Henry VIII’s statesman, Thomas Cromwell, through the eyes of Elizabeth his wife, will be published on August 4th, 2017. Carol is working on a new medieval Trilogy, The Rose Trilogy, set in the High Middle Ages. It subject matter is three linked medieval queens, sometimes considered ‘She Wolves’.
She speaks at events and conferences on the subject of medieval women, writing Historical Fiction, The Bayeux Tapestry, and Fabrics, Tapestry and Embroidery as incorporated into fiction. Carol was the co-ordinator of the Historical Novels Association Conference, Oxford in September 2016 and reviews for the HNS. Find Carol on her website: www.carolcmcgrath.co.uk.
Many thanks to Carol for this fabulous guest post. I absolutely loved Court of Lions myself and I now have more than a few new books to add to my wishlist. Thanks everyone for checking out my stop on The Woman in the Shadows blog tour, and be sure to check back in a few days for a review of this gorgeous book!