From my blog...

Celebrating Book Clubs

PegasusIf you belong to a Book Club, raise your hand. See? I knew it. Lots of you.

I have this theory that Book Clubs deserve a good deal of credit for keeping the publishing industry (and their authors) going. Book Club members not only buy and read books, they discuss them and, in doing so, they celebrate them.

My Book Club, the Bookies. A somewhat vintage photo.

My Book Club, the Bookies. A somewhat vintage photo.

I’ve been a member of my neighborhood Book Club for fifteen years. We are not in it just for the hors d’oeuvres, we are serious about books. As a result, the opinions of my fellow members have enlightened and sometimes surprised me, especially when we’ve disagreed about a book. Let’s face it, a lively discussion is the beating heart of a good book group and, in ours, the therapists alone (3 of them at the moment) ensure that no character (or author) escapes a thorough analysis. I love it.

A 2013 Book Group read.

A 2013 Book Group read.

A favorite read from 2012

A favorite read from 2012

We meet monthly, and at the end of each year we choose the books that we will be reading over the next 11 months. Your own Book Club may be pondering that fateful decision in the next few weeks. If so, may I suggest that you consider Shadow on the Crown or The Price of Blood? Shadow has been a popular book club read for two years now, and Penguin has even put together a BOOK CLUB KIT to promote discussion. (My personal scone recipe is included. Bonus!) When The Price of Blood releases next February, Penguin will be putting together a Book Club Kit for that book as well, so you may want to check back here regularly to find out about that.

Better yet, sign up for my NEWSLETTER to stay informed about all my book events, travels and book-related news, or to have a chance to win copies of my books in giveaways that I’ll be promoting over the next few months. There are a number of things coming up that you might want to know about, so don’t be left out.

The very first meeting of my neighborhood Book Club that I attended was held across the street from my home, and waiting there in the living room was the author of the book we were going to discuss. The author!!! I thought at the time that I had just joined the most awesome Book Club in the world. I still think that’s true, but I know that there are other awesome Book Clubs out there as well, and perhaps you belong to one. If your group would like to have an author visit, either in person or via Skype, I can do that.

la book group3

Los Angeles area Book Group

You have only to contact me at We’ll have a blast, I promise. (I’ve been known to bring mead.)

Kind regards to your Book Clubs, happy holidays, and happy reading!

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The Literary Feast at Gladstone’s Library


Gladstone's Library, Hawarden, Flintshire, Wales

Gladstone’s Library, Hawarden, Flintshire, Wales

I am into my second week as Writer-in-Residence here at Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden, Wales. You may recall from an earlier post how this two-week adventure all began; if not, you can read about it here.

Glad13During my time at Gladstone’s I have been immersed in research. Anyone looking at me in the library would see a 21st century woman seated at a small wooden table, but my mind is somewhere back in the early 11th century, pondering events that were cataclysmic for the heroine of my novels, Emma of Normandy. Although her name rarely appears in the books open before me, my imagination is going at full tilt as I try to fit this young queen into the kaleidoscope of events that took place in the years between 1012 and 1017.

St. Deiniol's Church, Hawarden, Wales

St. Deiniol’s Church, Hawarden, Wales

I chatter about it at dinner to complete strangers who make the mistake of asking me what I am doing here; I gnaw over it as I take a walk around the grounds; I contemplate it as I sit in the beautiful little church next door or  gaze into the middle distance at Mr. Gladstone’s vast array of books.

The Library at Gladstone's

The Library at Gladstone’s

Slowly, ideas begin to take shape, but I find that I am still rattling around in the historical record. Until I can completely grasp the documented events, I cannot step outside of them to make a story.  The history is woven into and around and through the story, but they are separate and distinct; they are not the same. I am close to having a grip on the History. I am only beginning to discover the Story.

Gladstone's Library, Hawarden, Wales

Gladstone’s Library, Hawarden, Wales

Although much of my time here is solitary, there are many, many opportunities to engage with other writers, with scholars, with travelers and with local folk who stop in for tea. The name of the dining room here is Food For Thought, and it is beautifully apropos because the conversations at table are as delicious as what we eat. And while I’m on the topic of food, let me just say that the chocolate cake at tea time is NOT to be missed.

In this room we had to make do with a pretend Hearth.

In this room we had to make do with a pretend Hearth.

On November 1-2 the autumn Hearth Festival was held here, and I was one of four authors who presented talks or workshops and who participated in two question-and-answer sessions.

Authors and attendees – writers all – mixed and mingled, dining together and sharing their back-stories and their hopes, seeking and offering encouragement. It is what writers do here in those in-between moments when they aren’t writing or poring over books.

Authors Lucy Gough, Patricia Bracewell, Rebecca Abrams & James Runcie. Hearth Festival, Gladstone's Library, November 2014

Authors Lucy Gough, Patricia Bracewell, Rebecca Abrams & James Runcie. Hearth Festival, Gladstone’s Library, November 2014

Recently a friend of mine saw one of my photos of this library and wanted to know where it was. “It’s gorgeous,” he wrote. I agree. Gladstone’s Library is a beautiful place, but it is more than that. It is a retreat from the world and a gathering place, it is a feast for the mind as well as the eye. I am enormously grateful for the opportunity to savor it for these two remarkable weeks.

Gathering beside the hearth at Gladstone's Library.

Gathering beside the hearth at Gladstone’s Library.

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The Splendid Bookshop

“The book shop is just here.” The clerk at the Grande Hotel do Porto penciled ‘LELLO’ on the city map in front of me.

We had arrived at our hotel too early for check-in, and I had asked him to suggest something that we might do in the meantime. Nothing too adventurous, mind you. The little town where we’d spent the past week, Malveira da Serra, was two hundred miles behind us, and just getting to this hotel in Porto today had been something of an adventure already. We had obediently followed our Garmin’s instructions to turn into Rua de Santa Catarina, only to find ourselves immediately surrounded by pedestrians milling about in the street, on the sidewalks, and all around the car. I was convinced that we had just turned on to a pedestrian mall, but the delivery truck on our rear bumper was insisting that we move forward and there was no going back, so my husband drove slowly and carefully ahead. Half a block later the Garmin announced that we’d reached our destination, and now the very friendly hotel desk clerk was suggesting I go to a bookstore.

He did not know that I’m a writer, did not know that bookstores are like comfort food to me, and so I was puzzled. I looked at him, my expression a bit doubtful. Surely all the books would be in Portuguese. Even to me, it seemed that there would be little there of interest.

“Worth a visit,” he assured me. “I promise.”

And so we left the car in the hotel’s tiny garage where the attendant spent his entire day shuffling cars about, poor man, and set out on foot for the bookstore – by way of the market, Mercado do Bolhāo. I wanted a snack.

It was late in the afternoon, and most of the market stalls had already closed.

PortoMarketStill, I found some fruit, and then we set off for the bookstore, the map held in front of me like a talisman. Portuguese street names were not completely unfamiliar to me by now. Nevertheless, getting my mouth around them was still a challenge.

Praça D. Joāo I.
Praça D. Filipa de Lencastre
Rua Sampaio Bruno.

I’m certain that my pronunciation was horrible, but as long as it was only my husband hearing me, I didn’t worry. We were looking for Rua dos Clérigos which would take us to Rua Carmelitas.

Definitely a religious element there, I thought, and sure enough, when we turned on to Rua Carmelitas there was a large church at the other end of the street. Igrejas do Carmo e das Carmelitas.

Yes, well, that’s not what we were looking for. We were looking for Bookshop Lello.

I scanned the storefronts as we passed, and even so I nearly missed it. Its exterior at street level was unpretentious, what Americans would refer to as ‘a hole in the wall.’ Somewhat non-plussed, I pushed open the door. And this is what met my astonished eyes.Lello1

It looked like a little palace for books.
It looked like it belonged in Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley.
It looked like something out of one of Disney’s animated films. I half expected the books to start dancing and singing ‘Be Our Guest’.

It was lovely, and I wanted it – or at the very least, I wanted a dozen photos of it. Forget the books. I wanted to take this entire room back home with me.

But right there in plain view was a sign in several languages:


Right, I thought. Today is Monday, and we’re here in Porto until Thursday. I’ll come back tomorrow morning and take my photos.

Livraria Lello e Irmão has been in existence since 1906, the building designed by Xavier Esteves. It’s exterior – and you must look at it from a distance to perceive it – is neo-gothic. Its marvelous interior is art nouveau, with a stained glass skylight, a breathtaking stairway, and arching, glass-enclosed bookshelves. It is surely one of the most beautiful books stores in the world. We spent some time just wandering about, gawking, admiring its bones if not its wares.????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

And bright and early the next morningwe were back at the front door of Livraria Lello. Only to find this:

Porto4Imagine my disappointment. No photographs for me! But we would not leave Porto until Thursday, and on Thursday, I promised myself, we would return.

And so we did. We arrived at precisely 9:15 a.m. on Thursday, only to find the book shop door locked against us. There were people inside. They were taking photographs. I wanted to join them. Surely one did not have to be there precisely at 9:00 a.m. to get in! I knocked on the glass door. I was ignored. I knocked again, and a charming young oriental woman on the inside stopped snapping photos just long enough to indicate that she could not open the door. Sorry, she mouthed.

By this time a crowd had started to form behind me, and I finally realized that perhaps visitors were allowed entry to the inner sanctum only at intervals. Sure enough, a few minutes later I saw a woman who was built like a small tank and looked as though she brooked no nonsense, call out “Time!” loud enough that I could hear her voice through the door. The visitors on the inside were ushered out, and when the bookshop had cleared, the next batch was allowed in and the door locked behind us.

We had, I decided, roughly ten minutes to capture this remarkable place on film. My husband and I snapped photos, trying for the best angles and the best light. You see here the results.


If you’re ever in Porto, Portugal, be sure to stop in at Livraria Lello e Irmão because you will be charmed. But if you want to take photos, make sure to get there before 10:00 a.m.


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A Personal Reflection on Fatima

The old basilica at Fatima.

The old basilica at Fatima.

I never intended to visit Fatima when I planned my recent trip to Portugal, mostly because I had no notion of where Fatima was. My husband and I were flying to Europe at the invitation of friends to spend a week with them near Sintra. Although we would be staying in Portugal for a week beyond that, I hadn’t had an opportunity to do much in the way of research before I left home, so I landed in Lisbon with a paper thin understanding of Portuguese geography, history and society.

After our week in the south, though, as I was eyeing a map to familiarize myself with the route we were about to take, I realized that we would drive within a few miles of Fatima. Decision made: We’d have to stop.

I was in grade school when I first learned about the miracle that took place at Fatima.  The story of the Blessed Virgin’s appearance to three shepherd children is one that every Catholic school child hears over and over. It goes something like this:

In the spring of 1917 Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco, aged 9, 7 and 9 respectively, were tending sheep when an angel appeared to them on three separate occasions. They told no one what they had seen, but on May 13, a Lady appeared, brighter than the sun, amid the branches of an oak tree. The children couldn’t keep this to themselves, and when they first spoke about what they’d seen they were interrogated by priests, village elders and church officials. They were accused of lying, of course, but they persisted in their story. The Lady appeared to them three more times, and each time she urged them to prayer and sacrifice for the sake of sinners. She told them three secrets (I was always fascinated by the idea of these secrets), one of which the Vatican kept under seal until 2000. She also promised that a miracle would occur on Oct. 13 so that people would believe that the children had actually seen the Blessed Virgin. So, on that rainy day in October, 1917, over 30,000 people gathered at the oak tree, and at the appointed time the clouds parted, and witnesses swore that they saw the sun whirling in the sky. The sun, they said, danced. It was the Miracle of the Lady of Fatima, and it brought consolation to a war-weary world.

I was recalling this story as we approached Fatima. My childhood belief in the truth of the children’s vision, though, was tempered now – somewhat ruefully – by my 21st century adult skepticism. I would be visiting Fatima as a tourist, not a pilgrim.

Apparently I was not alone in this. The parking lot was sprinkled with picnic tables where families ate, drank, and laughed; where young children played soccer among the cars – clearly on vacation or enjoying an outing. There was nothing devotional in their attitudes. As we drew closer to the new basilica, though, buses disgorged groups that made straight for the church, presumably to attend one of the many liturgies celebrated there every day.

We had come on one of the quiet days. There were only about a thousand people there, my husband estimated, on the esplanade or attending services either in the new basilica or the outdoor Chapel of Perpetual Adoration. Many more thousands would throng the Sanctuary of Fatima on the 13th and 14th of each month, and on the 13th of October each year the crowds would number in the millions.

My first impression of this pilgrimage site was of the new basilica – an enormous, white block of a building that looked more like an auditorium than a church because we’d come upon it from the back.

The new basilica at Fatima.

The new basilica at Fatima.

We had to walk around it before we could get a visual impression of the entire sanctuary – the massive new basilica and the gracious old one facing each other across a vast esplanade. Structures skirted the left and right sides of the esplanade, but my eyes were drawn to the old basilica – a beautiful white church flanked by colonnades that seemed to embrace the pilgrims moving towards it.

We did not stay long at the sanctuary, but several images remain with me from our brief visit: a woman on the esplanade standing beside the statue of Pope John Paul II, gently touching his hand, gazing up at him with obvious devotion, her lips moving in prayer or conversation; a woman making her way to the old basilica on her knees; the faces of petitioners, young and old, lighting long, beige-colored tapers at the inferno, sometimes with the help of a companion, sometimes as many as three or four candles at once, each candle presumably bearing a prayer or a petition.

I also have to confess to a not very pious thought as I made my way from the new basilica to the old. It seemed to me that for a site dedicated to a woman, images of men seemed to be in the majority in the form of statues of popes and of Christ;

Fatima12in the massive crucifix on the esplanade; in another huge crucifix inside the new basilica; and in the men who celebrated the sacred rites.

Fatima1Mary’s image seemed to be confined to a small statue next to the tiny Chapel of Apparitions (built here in 1919), and another in a niche high on the face of the old basilica. Fatima3

I couldn’t find any other sign of her. Granted, she must have had more of a presence in the old basilica (built over the course of 25 years and consecrated in 1953), but that beautiful church was under renovation and I could not go in even though it was what I most wished to see.

And what of the oak tree? And what of the children who saw the Virgin among its limbs?

The tree is still there, set apart from the chapels and the selling of candles and mementos. It was serene there, and that was where I offered my own small prayer to the Virgin.Fatima15

Of the children, two of them – Francisco and Jacinta – would not survive childhood. Within two years they both succumbed to the influenza epidemic that swept Europe after World War I. They are buried in a special chapel in the old basilica (open despite the renovations), their youth and innocence captured in the artwork adorning their resting places. Both were beatified in 2000.





Their companion, Lucia, entered a convent to spend her life in prayer and contemplation. She met popes and heads of state, she saw the first basilica of Fatima, and she wrote several memoirs about her visions. The final years of her life were spent in darkness and silence, for she was blind and deaf due to illness and age. The day that she died in 2005 at age 97 was declared a national day of mourning in Portugal.

Fatima left an indelible impression upon me, and ever since my visit I have been pondering the events that occurred there in 1917. My skeptical self does not know what those children saw in the branches of the oak tree, or what the crowd witnessed in the sky on that Oct. 13. They saw something, I am convinced of that. This was no hoax perpetrated on a trusting world by mischievous children. If anything they were pious, not mischievous. Could it have been a miracle, or did the apparitions spring from their overactive imaginations? A great many men and women, whose faith is stronger than mine, discount rational explanations. They believe that the children saw the Blessed Virgin.

I no longer have the unshakeable faith in miracles that I had in childhood. I am left only with hope. I hope that the visions witnessed at Fatima were true. And as I consider the challenges that humanity faces – the conflicts, the plagues, and the threats posed by nature that we have brought upon ourselves, I find myself wishing that the Virgin would come again, and that she would bring a promise of peace and consolation to a world still in sore need of it. If she should do so, I wonder how many of us, including me, would believe it.


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Guest Post at English History Authors Blogspot

Ermine Street. Photo: Wikimedia

I’m guest posting at the English History Authors Blogspot, writing 4 consecutive posts about England’s Royal Roads. Part I, The Icknield way appears Sept. 7. I hope you’ll come along for the ride!

Part II, Watling Street. Sept. 8

Part III, The Fosse Way. Sept. 9

Part IV, Ermine Street. Sept. 10.

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The Historical Blog Slog

Whenever I put together a history-related blog post, it’s not something I’m writing off the top of my head even if the material springs from research I’ve been doing for the past nine years. I need to double-check everything to make sure that I have my facts straight. Sometimes I’m writing about something that is only tangential to the novel I’m working on, so I have to research it in as much depth for the blog post as I would if I were going to include it in my book. It usually takes several days, so I do not commit to such a blog post lightly. I am absolutely certain that I am not alone in this. If you’ve read history-related posts on any of the historical sites on the internet, you are probably seeing the results of a great deal of hard work. The website English Historical Fiction Authors a website to which many wonderful historical novelists contribute, is an excellent example.

Sometimes, as in the piece I posted on this site last December about Anglo-Saxon Art, the research material is right on my bookshelf.

A selection of my research books.

A selection of my research books.

Other times I have to go further afield for information. The essay titled Mapping England that appeared on the EHFA website in January, for example, demanded a couple of trips to UC Berkeley to pore over their map collection using books I couldn’t possibly afford to have on my shelf.

The bucolic UC Berkeley campus.

The bucolic UC Berkeley campus.

Once I’ve gathered all the necessary information it has to be distilled and combined into a thoughtful (I hope) essay that is not so terribly long that readers will give up half-way through. I try to keep my posts under 1000 words, preferably closer to 600. (This one is almost 400 words.)

And that brings me to a 4-part series of historical posts that I’ve written for the EHFA website that will appear there on Sept. 7, 8, 9, & 10. The series is about medieval Britain’s 4 royal roads. If I’d combined their fascinating histories into a single blog post it would have been so long that a reader’s eyes would cross. Therefore, at my request, author and web-mistress Debra Brown has given me permission to spread my posts over those 4 days. So, starting this Sunday and continuing through Wednesday, I will be, essentially, hijacking the EHFA website. I will post a link on this page, and I hope that you will come along for the 4-day ride.

Coming Sept. 7: Britain's Royal Roads

Coming Sept. 7: Britain’s Royal Roads

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Into the Woods…Again

OSFThere is a timeless quality to my journey to Ashland every year. Granted, attending six plays over three days sweeps me into a make-believe world, even if the plays haven’t all been penned by The Bard. But there are other elements to the timelessness as well.

Memories of earlier visits hover around me while I’m there, some from so long ago that they seem like another lifetime.

Playing around at OSF in...2003?

Playing around at OSF in…2003?

Lithia Park, my destination every morning before breakfast, appears unchanged from year to year, as if it had been placed under a sleeping spell.

Lithia Park, Ashland

Lithia Park, Ashland

And then there is the 1883 vintage McCall House, the inn that was once a home, where Lydia McCall’s tintype portrait graces the wall of my bedroom and the furniture is as Victorian as a set from an Ibsen play.

Captain & Lydia McCall Room. McCall House, Ashland.

Captain & Lydia McCall Room. McCall House, Ashland.

Toss in an outdoor theater that resembles, however vaguely, Shakespeare’s Globe, and it’s no wonder that I feel like I’m in Never Never Land.

Elizabethan Theater, Ashland. Photo:

Elizabethan Theater, Ashland. Photo:

I love arriving. I hate leaving. We book our room two years in advance, just to make sure we can come back.

McCall House B&B. Full.

McCall House B&B. Sorry. Full.

And what about the plays? A few words about this year’s highlights:

Brent Hinkley, John Tufts, Mark Bedard. Photo:

Brent Hinkley, John Tufts, Mark Bedard. Photo:

The Cocoanuts: Two years ago the OSF production of the Marx Brothers’ vehicle Animal Crackers had me laughing so hard I was in tears. The same actors – none of whom, in real life look like Groucho, Harpo or Chico, but on stage…!!!! – returned for this production and once again they were brilliant. The story was completely silly, the music (early Irving Berlin) was gorgeous, the performances exceptional, and the ad-libbing and audience interaction had everyone in hysterics. Some poor man whose phone rang in the first act took some verbal ribbing and a long, cold stare from Groucho. The poor guy took it in stride. Then the phone rang a second time (!!!!). All three actors climbed into the audience and after merciless banter, they confiscated his phone. An added spark of genius: they worked his phone into the closing lines of the play.

Rachael Warren, Miles Fletcher, Javier Munoz, Robin Nordli, Jennie Greenberry

Rachael Warren, Miles Fletcher, Javier Munoz, Robin Nordli, Jennie Greenberry

Into the Woods: This was the outstanding production for me this year. It’s one of my favorite musicals, and everything about this OSF production was exceptional and magical. The director and cast made this play their own. Standout performances, especially, by some of my favorite actors here: Anthony Heald (Mysterious Stranger), Miriam Laube (the Witch) and John Tufts (Rapunzel’s Prince). But really, you know, every performer was awesome. (And yo, OSF, I caught the nod to Maleficent.) If I could I’d drive to Oregon tomorrow and watch it again and again.

Crab, played by Picasso; with actress K.T.Vogt

Crab, played by Picasso; with actress K.T.Vogt. Photo: OSF

Two Gentlemen of Verona: An all female cast made this play intriguing. I’ve seen female actors take on male roles before – Helen Mirren as Prospero, for example, but this was a first. I enjoyed it, and had no problem translating the female actors on stage to men. I have to tell you, though, that the huge white dog who played Crab stole every scene he was in, with actress K.T. Vogt’s help.

Kate Hurster, Dan Donohue. Photo:

Kate Hurster, Dan Donohue. Photo:

Richard III: This was the final play that we saw, and it was a perfect ending to our stay in Ashland. It was very, very well done. Only the wooing scene between Richard and Anne Neville did not quite work for me, but since IT NEVER HAS I fault Shakespeare, not the actors.

Do I want to go back and do it all over?
I wish—- ♫

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Interview with Emma Campion, Author of A Triple Knot

A Triple KnotToday I am delighted to welcome my good friend, the critically acclaimed author Emma Campion, to discuss her newest book, A Triple Knot. This is a novel set in the 14th century, and it’s about Joan of Kent, renowned beauty and cousin to King Edward III. She is a young woman who is destined for a politically strategic marriage arranged by the king, except that Joan has other ideas. She secretly pledges herself to a knight, one who has become a trusted friend and protector. When the king—furious at Joan’s defiance—prepares to marry her off to another man, she must defend her vow. To complicate matters further, the heir to the throne—a man who would be known to history as Edward, the Black Prince—has his own plans for his beautiful cousin. The result is an enthralling story of political intrigue, personal tragedy, and illicit love.

1. Emma, I’m intrigued by the epigraph at the beginning of your novel—a quote from Tom Stoppard’s play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead: There must have been a moment, at the beginning, where we could have said—no. But somehow we missed it.
Would you explain the thinking behind that choice, and how it sets the theme for your book?

This comes at the very end of the play when Guildenstern’s fate is clearly sealed, and I end A Triple Knot with Joan coming face to face with her fears about Ned’s (Prince Edward’s) true character. She might voice the same lines, but in first person singular. And just as it’s not at all clear that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern ever truly could have refused a summons by the King and Queen of Denmark, I intend the reader to doubt that Ned would have accepted a definitive no from Joan. Deep down she’s known that all along, but refused to see it.

2. Your earlier novel The King’s Mistress about Alice Perrers was written in the first person. For this novel, though, you’ve used the third person shifting viewpoint, and we see into the minds of several of the characters. Why did you choose this structure for the book?
Alice was an outsider at court, so it felt right to tell her story from her point of view. And my editor at Century felt first person would inspire my readers’ empathy, combating her difficult reputation.

I wanted to tell Joan’s story from multiple viewpoints to convey a sense of the wheels within wheels turning around her, influencing her choices and her fate. And, to be honest, I felt horribly limited in first person; I’ve always written from several points of view except in one short story. I enjoy shifting perspectives.

3. You have written a dark edginess into the relationship between Edward the Black Prince and his cousin Joan. Did you base this on evidence that you discovered about Ned through your research, or was it a purely creative decision?
Prince Edward was ruthless in war; his raids across Gascony in the mid 1350s BlackPrincewere so destructive that one wonders what he thought would be left for his father to rule. And though we now have a letter proving that Froissart’s account of a massacre of the people of Limoges was an exaggeration, his troops did wreak significant damage to the town, including the cathedral. Reading between the lines, I’ve always felt he modeled himself after his great grandfather, Edward I, who took pride in being “the Hammer of the Scots” and also spent a fortune fortifying Wales against the Welsh after he’d done his best to break them. Prince Edward’s style of rule in the Aquitaine is wildly inconsistent, with bursts of violent suppression. He turned a deaf ear to his most experienced counselors. I mixed this with how long he’d delayed marriage (quite late for an heir to the throne), the suddenness of his wooing Joan (within a few months of Thomas’s death), and Joan’s choice to be buried not beside him but beside Thomas, and came up with the character of Ned in my book. I love his complexity, I love the edginess.


Joan of Kent. Photo credit:

Joan of Kent. Photo credit:

4. How long did it take to write this novel, and did you face any significant challenges in putting Joan’s story together?
Three years, which is a long, long time for me, considering I write my series books in 9 months to a year. At first it was Joan who eluded me, which was a surprise, as she’s a strong secondary character in both A Vigil of Spies (Owen Archer #10) and The King’s Mistress. But in both books she’s a mature woman, and her singular act of disobedience is well behind her.Now, in telling the story of her knotty marital situation, I needed to understand her motive in disobeying King Edward when she knew full well the danger—her father had been executed for displeasing Edward’s mother.  The fierce Plantagenet temper was a point of pride. What could drive a twelve-year-old to take such a risk? Joan must have known she was being raised in the royal household for the very purpose of making a marriage that would benefit her cousin the king. So what drove her to disobey him and choose her own husband? Historians for whom I have great respect shrug off the story of her clandestine marriage as a lie that she and Thomas made up so she might escape an unhappy marriage. But the papal court believed their story, and I just did not find it plausible that the pope would be duped by such an obvious ploy. So it fell to me to find her motive. Once I found the proposed betrothal I felt confident I had a story.

And then…I learned about seven months before the book was due that my publisher wanted the book considerably shorter than my editor had originally indicated. She thought she’d told me…. So after a week of panic, I proposed ending Joan’s story just after her marriage to Edward, Prince of Wales and the Aquitaine. My editor loved the idea. The crisis was averted, but it meant starting over, because now the pacing was all wrong.

5. One of the difficult things about writing a novel centered on a historical figure is the decision an author must make about where the story should begin and where it should end. A Triple Knot covers only part of the fascinating life of Joan of Kent, albeit a very gripping part. Did you know exactly where the book would end when you began writing?
Hah! See my answer to the previous question! Once I’d found the betrothal I had a date at which I felt Joan and Thomas’s story began. I was tempted to end the story with Thomas’s death. But I felt I needed to play out Prince Edward’s obsession. So I tried out the ending with my editor and she loved it.

6. I suspect that most writers can point to a favorite scene in each of their books – either a scene that was a pleasure to write, or one that was so challenging that the finished product, after a great deal of effort, was enormously satisfying. Do you feel that way about any particular scene in A Triple Knot?
What comes to mind is the scene at the Round Table tournament where Joan witnesses her father-in-law Earl William collapse, and she watches as his wife Catherine lies down on the pallet beside him, trying to coax him awake. When King Edward enters the pavilion, Catherine rushes to stand in respect, her garter slips down, and Edward retrieves it. This is a variation on the rumor spread by the French that the symbol of King Edward’s “noble” order of the garter had been inspired by something so silly (and scandalous) as the Countess of Salisbury’s garter, which fell down while she and the king were dancing. After lengthy debates about “whose garter?” my friend Laura Hodges encouraged me to come up with my own story. And so I did.

7. Can you tell us a little about the title, A Triple Knot? Was there an earlier working title?
Third title’s the charm in this case. First came The Hero’s Wife, when I envisioned a much longer book in which Joan’s earlier marriage(s) served as a long prelude to her becoming the wife of Edward of Woodstock, the hero of Crécy and Poitiers. When the latter marriage was relegated to a possible follow-on book, I chose Rebel Pawn as a working title. I had some fun with that, creating chapter headings relating the action to a chess game. But I never warmed to the title. One day, as I was organizing my notes for the third (and final!) draft, I realized I was describing a triple knot—Thomas, Will, Ned.  And there it was.

8. I know that you have been to Britain several times for research. Was there a site that you visited that helped you envision a particular setting?
Although Windsor Castle has undergone significant renovations since the 14th century, the bones of the earlier castle are clear enough that scenes set within it are a gift, easily envisioned. For most of the royal palaces and noble residences I cobble together written descriptions with old drawings/paintings as well as bits and pieces from my frequent treks through medieval sites in England, Scotland and Wales. But Windsor is still a royal residence, so alive.

Emma-Campion-204x300Emma Campion did her graduate work in medieval literature and history, and has continued to study the period while working first as an editor of scientific publications and now for some years as a freelance writer. She was born in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, grew up in Cincinnati, and has lived most of her adult life in Seattle, which she and her husband love for its combination of natural beauty and culture. Emma enjoys walking, hiking, and gardening, and practices yoga and vipassana meditation. She travels frequently to Great Britain.

Emma’s current passion is exploring fuller and more plausible interpretations of the lives of women in the 14th century than are generally presented.A Triple Knot

Learn more about Emma and her novels at her website,, on her Facebook page, and on Twitter: @CandaceMRobb.

You’ll find A Triple Knot available for purchase at your favorite bookstore or on-line retailer.


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Ask The Author on Goodreads

QuestionsGoodreads now has a new feature on every Goodreads Author Page called ASK THE AUTHOR. It’s an on-line tool to promote interaction between authors and readers, so I’m joining in.

Readers rarely get an opportunity to question an author unless they attend a bookstore or book club event, but this is an chance for readers and writers to engage. So if you’ve read SHADOW ON THE CROWN and want to ask me a question, or if you have a question about the upcoming sequel, THE PRICE OF BLOOD, or questions about the historical characters in my books or about research/writing/publishing, or about my Oct/Nov residency in Wales, or anything else that strikes your fancy, post your question here

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#BookadayUK 30: Would Save If My House Burned Down

It’s dog-eared and tea-stained, it’s scrawled in and it’s back nearly broken but–

The play’s the thing.


Copyright 1968

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