The Booktopia Book Guru asks
author of The Chosen Queen
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I was born in St Andrews in Scotland, so definitely consider myself a Scot at heart even though we moved to England when I was only a few months old. Bar lots of lovely visits to grandparents over the border, I’ve been in England ever since, growing up in a village in the Midlands with my parents, and my brother and sister.
I then headed off to Cambridge University to study English literature and from there took a sideways turn into factory management, helping to run an old-fashioned textile mill in Lancashire. In my spare time, though, I was always writing and when I met my husband and gave up full time work to have children, I turned to writing to keep me sane between nappies, as well as to fulfil a lifelong dream.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
Easy – I wanted to be a writer, a writer and a writer! Why, I’m not so sure about – I just have this itch to shape the world into coherent narratives!
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
I think that, in common with many eighteen year olds, I believed it was possible to create a ‘perfect life’. I now know that there’s no such thing really and you just have to make the most of everything that you do have that’s good. Right now, for me, that’s a wonderful family, a lovely cosy house and the publication of my first novel.
Becoming ‘a writer’ has been my dream all the way, so whilst it’s crazy juggling being a wife and mother with my work, I’d still say that it’s pretty perfect in a messy, wonderfully bonkers sort of way!
4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?
I am an avid reader and always have been so any number of books have had a strong influence on me, but my favourite is definitely Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbevilles for its rich sense of journey for poor, brave Tess.
I love music, though I’m no connoisseur and generally like it best for dancing to! One piece that did really inspire me, though, was the slightly obscure ‘Liar’s Bar’ by The Beautiful South from the 90s. I loved this song so much that I wrote a whole novel inspired by it. It hasn’t yet made the light of day but perhaps at some point I’ll be able to go back to it.
As far as art goes, I’m even less of a connoisseur than I am of music. I do, however, have this innate love of pictures with paths leading off into the horizon and as a writer that’s the way I approach my stories – as paths that are going to lead both me and, hopefully, the reader somewhere enticing.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
I didn’t actually start out writing novels. For many years I published short stories. This was mainly because I was bringing up small children so only had the odd hour here and there in which to write but it was also a wonderful way to hone my writing, to find my voice, and to learn the vital skill of pleasing a targeted audience.
I’ve had over 200 short stories published in the English women’s magazines and have loved my time crafting shorter fiction but I’ve also always had a strong pull towards the novel as there is something deeply satisfying about the longer format. It gives you a chance to develop a character and really draw the reader into their world. It also offers so much scope for twists and turns and, when it comes to historical fiction, I love the space that it gives me to bring a period to life and to create a narrative that can lead a reader through a complicated set of events in a coherent and exciting way.
The Chosen Queen is not just my latest but my first ever full novel and I’m so very, very pleased to see it out on the shelves. It aims to tell the tale of the time leading up to 1066 from the women’s side – a long neglected and hopefully engaging way of looking at a year of battles that shaped England’s history forever.
It’s the story of Edyth of Mercia, granddaughter of Lady Godiva, whose family were exiled to the wild Welsh court where she was married to the charismatic King Griffin of Wales. This match catapulted her into a bitter feud with England in which(in my interpretation of her story) her only allies are Earl Harold Godwinson and his handfasted wife, Lady Svana. But as 1066 dawns and Harold is forced to take the throne of England, Edyth – now a young widow – is asked to make an impossible choice that has the power to change the future of England forever…
The Chosen Queen is the first in the Queens of the Conquest trilogy, with the next two following the same period but from the viewpoint of two others – Elizaveta of Kiev, wife of Harald Hardrada, the Viking king; and Matilda of Flanders, wife of William the eventual conqueror. They will come out in 2016 and 2017 respectively.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I really hope that my books will give readers a strong sense of the period leading up to 1066 and allow them to experience life back then through the pages. I also hope they might learn something that surprises them a little, but above all else, I hope that they are just able to get carried away by the heroine’s journey.
Getting the history right is very important to me and I do a lot of research to try and ensure that I do so, but above all else I want to write a good story that involves and satisfies the reader. If readers can come away feeling that they have known and loved Edyth I will be delighted.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
If I can grab readers as those two writers do, I will consider myself successful.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
I suppose I want to be a bestseller. I’d love above all else to be one of those writers whose next novel is eagerly anticipated by readers. I’d love them to rush out to buy it feeling that they can trust me to deliver a wonderful story and I intend to work very hard to achieve that.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Just write. Courses can be good, ‘how to’ books can be good, market research and reading everything that’s out there can also be good, but at the end of the day you won’t be a writer unless you write and you won’t have a book to sell unless you put your head down and start the first chapter, then the next, then the next.
There’s nothing more frightening than a blank page, so just start filling them and enjoy it!
Joanna, thank you for playing.
by Joanna Courtney
As a young woman in England’s royal court, Edyth, granddaughter of Lady Godiva, dreams of marrying for love. But political matches are rife while King Edward is still without an heir and the future of England is uncertain.
When Edyth’s family are exiled to the wild Welsh court, she falls in love with the charismatic King of Wales – but their romance comes at a price and she is catapulted onto the opposing side of a bitter feud with England. Edyth’s only allies are Earl Harold Godwinson and his handfasted wife, Lady Svana.
As the years pass, Edyth finds herself elevated to a position beyond even her greatest expectations. She enjoys both power and wealth but as her star rises the lines of love and duty become more blurred than she could ever have imagined. As 1066 dawns, Edyth is asked to make an impossible choice.
Her decision is one that has the power to change the future of England forever . . .
The Chosen Queen is the perfect blend of history, fast-paced plot and sweeping romance with a cast of strong female characters – an unforgettable read.
About the Author
Joanna Courtney has wanted to be a writer ever since she could read. As a child she was rarely to be seen without her head in a book and she was also quick to pick up a pen. After spending endless hours entertaining her siblings with made up stories, it was no surprise when Joanna pursued her passion for books during her time at Cambridge University – where she combined her love of English and History by specialising in Medieval Literature.
About the Contributor
Andrew Cattanach is a regular contributor to The Booktopia Blog. He has been shortlisted for The Age Short Story Prize and was named a finalist for the 2015 Young Bookseller of the Year Award. He enjoys reading, writing and sleeping, though finds it difficult to do them all at once.
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