Author Interview: Candace Robb
JMR- Hello Candace, welcome to the Books Delight, thank you for being here. Tell our readers where you live? What do you do for fun? What does the perfect day look like?
CR-Thank you for inviting me! I live in Seattle, Washington. I’m surrounded by lakes, woods, and walkable neighborhoods, so walking is one of my favorite activities, as well as gardening, or just sitting on the deck staring at trees, lakes, mountains, fabulous clouds, and a variety of birds. A perfect day? Writing, reading, walking, gardening, playing with my kitten, long conversations with my husband and friends.
JMR-You describe yourself as a Writer/Historian. Some people are great writers, some people are great historians. What does it take to blend the two and become a successful writer of historical fiction?
CR- What would it have been like to live this history? That question sent me down the rabbit hole. It’s that simple.
JMR- I am going out on a limb here and guessing that your favorite time period is the 14th century. What is it about that time that fascinates you?
CR- I was drawn to the 14th century by Chaucer’s poetry, which led to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Piers Plowman, the Pearl Poet; such a burst of poetic genius made me curious about the history and culture of the period. I discovered a time of immense change with the strengthening of the merchant class, hastened by years of poor crops followed by pestilence, and the beginning of a long, complex series of upheavals in the government of the realm we now call the Hundred Years War. A rich backdrop for fiction.
JMR- Kate Clifford is a very independent woman for her time. How do you find a balance between 14th century societal norms and a main character who pushes boundaries and still make them believable?
CR- Strong, independent women have always been the backbones of any community, raising the children, healing the sick, teaching, working the fields, running the households. The more challenging the conditions of the times, the stronger the women needed to be. But some 21st century readers think that in earlier times communities survived despite all the women meekly cringing in men’s shadows. So I take care to provide a backgrounds for Kate Clifford, Lucie Wilton, and Margaret Kerr that explain why and how they developed their particular skills and knowledge, and arrange their lives so that their independence comes of necessity. I also make it clear the patriarchy tolerates them as long as they “behave.” And, of course, they have no model of it being otherwise.
JMR- Powerful women often got a bad rap which lives on through time. I’m thinking about Isabella of France, Empress Matilda, and Margaret of Anjou, women who stood up for themselves. You wrote about Alice Perrers, another woman with a bad reputation. Why are these women so maligned and misunderstood? Is that perception changing as more women explore their lives?
CR- In the past 30 or 40 years we’ve seen an explosion of interest in the history of women, with a plethora of excellent scholarly publications. It’s a challenging undertaking, because women are largely absent from the obvious records. What records we do have are often clerical accounts of women’s transgressions—murderers, thieves, heretics, and royal or noble women who refused to toe the line. To uncover the truth requires going beyond the sketchy reports and delving into the political and economic situation that led to their accusations. The Church’s misogyny provided a convenient hook for men seeking to discredit women or steal their wealth—Gemma Hollman’s new book Royal Witches is all about this. Strong women who knew what they wanted and how to achieve it terrified many clerics; so they demonized these women. Unfortunately, not all the historians have been conscientious about returning to primary sources and digging for the truth, instead just repeating the old, familiar gossip, especially if the women were simply side notes, not the primary topic. In the case of Alice Perrers, her greatest detractor, Thomas Walsingham, resided at St. Alban’s at a time when the abbey was at law with Perrers regarding the rights to valuable property. His scathing account of her was long the primary source of details of her life, now mostly discredited. But yes, our knowledge of women’s lives is improving; however, the public’s perceptions are difficult to correct.
JMR- Who is your favorite historical female and why? If you could ask them one question what would it be?
CR-I can’t possibly name just one. I’ve written about two who intrigued me, Alice Perrers (The King’s Mistress) and Joan of Kent (A Triple Knot) as Emma Campion. My question for Alice would be, when did you realize you’d made a mistake remaining by King Edward’s side? For Joan, am I right about why you chose to be buried beside your first husband, Thomas Holland, and not Prince Edward?
JMR- Good Choice! I bet there is a very interesting story there!
JMR- Your descriptions of York are wonderful. I was lucky enough to visit it years ago and it remains one of my favorite English cities. Is there a particular spot where you feel closest to your characters? Where do you go for inspiration?
CR-Thank you! York is my favorite English city as well, no surprise. The entire city within the walls brings me close to my characters and inspires me, but particularly St. Helen’s Square, down Stonegate, and into the minster area. I love walking through the city in the early hours or in inclement weather when the streets aren’t too crowded. During lockdown would be a fabulous time to walks the streets. I also love standing on Lendal Bridge looking upriver and dreaming of Magda Digby.
CR- In mid December, 1374, Alexander Neville is to be enthroned as the Archbishop of York, successor to John Thoresby. His election to the seat was orchestrated by his ambitious brother Sir John Neville, Lord of Raby, Admiral of the North, and the king’s steward, and the event is drawing representatives of all the noble families of the North to York. The dean and chapter and the city authorities are in a state of high alert. When two bodies are discovered in the grounds of York Minster, and a flaxen-haired youth with the voice of an angel is found locked in the chapter house, Owen Archer, captain of the city bailiffs, is summoned to investigate. Tension deepens when an enigmatic figure from Owen’s past arrives in the city. Why has he returned from France after all these years - and what is his connection with the bodies in the minster yard and the fair singer? Before Owen can make headway in the investigation, a third body is fished out of the river – and the captain finds himself with three mysterious deaths to solve before the all-powerful Neville family arrives in York.
I enjoyed writing about medieval music in this book. I modeled the character of Marian after our soloist in the Medieval Women’s Choir. At a fundraiser for our choir I raffled off the chance to be a character in my next book and she won! It’s challenging to turn a friend into a medieval character, but we both love the result.
JMR- Tell our readers how to find you on social media and the web.
Website which also includes my blog and a place to sign up for my very occasional newsletter.
JMR-What question were you hoping I’d ask, but didn’t?
CR- I’ve gone on long enough! Your questions were wonderful. Thank you!
JMR- Thank you Candace for being on the Books Delight! Readers, if you haven't read Candace's books, I'm here to tell you, you're missing out. I've read both series; Owen Archer and Kate Clifford and they are great. I've included a link to help you find them.
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