As many of you know, MR N and I are big fans of historical fiction, especially when it’s dealing with Britain monarchy. So I was thrilled to meet Vivienne Brereton and her debut novel, A Phoenix Rising. I asked if she’d like to sit down for an interview and she agreed. I loved learning more about her and her writing process. So grab a cup of your favorite beverage and join us. Vivienne, take it away:
Just as your books inspire authors, what authors have inspired you?
My interest in historical novels was already there as a child when I devoured books such as ‘The ship that flew’ by Hilda Lewis and ‘The Wool Pack’ by Cynthia Harnett. This quickly graduated to Jean Plaidy’s ‘Katherine, the Virgin Widow.’ I loved the old Angelique saga, thrillingly told (in translation) by a French husband and wife team, Sergeanne Golon. ‘Catherine’ by French author, Juliette Benzoni was another favourite. I’ve read a very wide selection of authors as an adult and historical fiction is still my go to genre of choice. If I turn around now and look at my bookshelves, I will see Philippa Gregory, Hilary Mantel, Ken Follett, Anne O’Brien, Nicola Cornick, Anya Seton, Isolde Martyn, Tracy Borman, Elizabeth Chadwick…. If I carry on, it’ll be the only question I answer today, so I hope it’s okay to leave it at etc; etc;
Have you always like to write?
Absolutely. Just as I’ve liked to read, so I’ve always had a story that I would rush to put down on paper. Although ‘A Phoenix Rising’ is my first novel, I have several other ‘started but not finished’ versions in my cupboard, of other novels that ultimately did not capture my imagination in the same way as the unforgettable Howard dynasty.
Are you a plotter or a panster?
A ‘panster’ is that same person who left cramming for an exam to the night before, or even during the night before. I did that when I was about sixteen but I discovered that when it came to more serious exams, using the method of flying by seat of your pants was not recommended because they could literally rip apart from right under you. So, I’d say I’m both, but definitely more of a panster. I plot in a fairly rough way with an idea of beginning, middle and end but I like that moment when you sit down in front of the computer screen, lift your fingers like a pianist and wait to see what the day will bring you. It’s like being a reader and a writer all at the same time. Long live pansters!
Is there one subject you would never write about as an author? What is it?
One thing I’ve found is that you tend to write the kind of books you like reading and about the topics you enjoy. So if you enjoy writing about the warts and all parts about medieval life, that’s what you’ll do. I abhor violence of any kind: watching it, hearing about it, reading blood and gore. So I’ll leave that to much braver souls than myself. Pass me the smelling salts please!
What writing advice would you give for other aspiring authors?
Read very widely in the genre you’re going to write about so you are aware of what readers like and want. Then pick up every book you can about the ‘how to’ of writing. Dialogue, plotting, viewpoint, structure…there’s a very long list. The more confident you feel when you start writing that you have the necessary tools in place, the more you’ll enjoy the whole experience.
What are you working on now? What is your next project?
I’m hard at work on the second book in the series: ‘The Lizard lurking in the grass.’ Writing a sequel is a very different ball game really as you already know the characters. It’s very much a case of ‘What Katy did next’. You’re perhaps still tying up more loose ends from Book One, as well as being intrigued to see where those same characters are going to take you this time, flying by the seat of your pants.
Do you write naked?
I absolutely had to answer this one because it was so unexpected and funny. But also fascinating. No, I’ve never tried it but I wonder how it would feel. Skinny dipping is a very freeing, exciting experience, done under the shadows of darkness. I wonder whether writing naked would awaken all your senses, as I tried to do with my novel. Might be a bit tricky as my little office is overlooked by a road winding past the house but I’ll let you know….
Do you drink? Do you smoke? What’s your vice?
Yes to first. No, to second. Chocolate is always very hard to give up. That first sensation when you pop that tantalizing square into your mouth, totally guilt-free because you know it’s only the first and you’re allowed so, so much more than that. One square of dark chocolate is supposed to be good for you, but, hey, nothing wrong with milky double caramel either/hazelnut etc; etc; It wouldn’t be a vice if you left it at just one.
If you had a superpower what would it be?
To be able to teleport myself back through time and space so that I could rock up at Henry VIII’s court. On a good day, of course! If he was in between wives, I’d nervously rub my neck and quickly skedaddle up to Scotland to visit the charismatic James IV. Now, that’s a king who could easily charm me into staying. However, if he was out hunting, I’d take myself over the Narrow Sea to see what was going on with that sexy Frenchman, Francois de Valois. That one got up to all kinds of naughty things. Oh la la!
What do you want your tombstone to say?
She was kind.
What were you like as a child? Your favourite toy?
I think I was probably a cross between two of my characters, Cecily and Valentine. Cecily is more sensible, a bit dreamier and has the gift of second sight. Valentine is the type of child who will march around, ordering other children to play her imaginary games. My favourite toy? That’s a hard one. I used to have a whole classroom of toys as well as my pet poodle, Sweep, who’d (‘willingly’) come in for a few lessons, with the bribe of treats from my mum. The things you’re making me remember, Mrs N. Ha ha!
Where is one place you want to visit that you haven’t been before?
I’ve travelled quite a lot and lived in six different countries in my life so the wanderlust has definitely diminished! Peru was on my list of countries to visit at one time. Now, I think I’d just like to return to well-loved places with amazing personal memories. Austin, Texas will always hold a special place in my heart.
On that note, that’s me finished so y’all have a nice day now. And thank you very much, Mrs N, for giving me this opportunity to delve into my imagination and store of memories. It’s been a real pleasure answering your questions.
TITLE: ‘A Phoenix Rising’, Book One in the series, ‘The House of the Red Duke.’
AUTHOR: Vivienne Brereton
GENRE: Historical Fiction
PUBLISHER: Yuletide Press
“If I have anything to do with it, we Howards will live forever.”
Thomas Howard Charismatic head of one of the most powerful Houses in Tudor England. An indomitable old man approaching eighty: soldier, courtier, politician, a ‘phoenix’ rising from the ashes. After a calamitous period of disgrace, the Howards, renowned for their good looks and charm, are once more riding high at the court of Henry VIII.
Set against the backdrop of the extraordinary 1520 ‘Field of Cloth of Gold’, it is a tale of ambition, love, and intrigue, with Thomas at the centre of this intricate tapestry
Will Thomas’s bold vow be fulfilled? Danger stalks the corridors of the royal courts of Europe. Uneasy lies the head beneath a crown. Every other ruler - a fickle bedfellow…or sworn enemy.
The action takes place in England, Scotland, and France. On either side of the Narrow Sea, four young lives are interwoven, partly unaware of each other, and certainly oblivious to what Dame Fortune has in store for them.
“Nicolas de La Barre laid his lute to one side, hardly bothering to stifle a yawn of boredom. Nevertheless, he couldn’t escape the fact he’d agreed to take on a new wife….”
Explosive family secrets are concealed behind the ancient walls of castles in three lands. But… “There are no secrets that time does not reveal.”
I have chosen an excerpt where the fearless Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey, meets his match in an old nursemaid of the King of Scotland’s mistress up in Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh, where he has recently delivered little Margaret Tudor, James IV’s child bride:
“I looked across at the King who began introducing his mistress and another far older woman with snow-white hair who’d just entered the room.
‘This is the favour I mentioned earlier. Lady Gordon is soon to leave for Darnaway but was verra curious to meet a man of whom she’s heard so much. And this is her auld nurse, Mairghread, a woman famed at our court for her gift of second sigh—’
With all my focus up until now concentrated on the considerable attributes of Lady Gordon, I’d hardly acknowledged the new addition. That is, until the old crone began pointing at me and shrieking at the top of her voice in what I supposed must be that heathen tongue, Gaelic:
‘An ruadh diùc! An ruadh diùc!’
Unnerved by the creature and having no idea what she was screeching, I glanced at Janet Kennedy, trying to keep my expression pleasant.
Having the air of one who was thoroughly enjoying the little spectacle, mischief bubbling up inside her until it reached that pair of gleaming brown eyes, the King’s mistress went through the motions of an apology.
‘You must excuse my nurse, Sire, but she’s from Stornaway, up in the far Isles, and is verra excitable.’
James smothered a chuckle. ‘Although our good poet, William Dunbar, describes the way the people there talk as “the roup of raven and rook”, no one can deny the beauty of their poetry, the melodies of the clareschaw, or the pretty pictures they carve on their standing stones.’
<<A pox upon such stuff and nonsense. I’m being cursed by a shard-borne sorceress!>>
‘What’s the woman saying?’ I asked the King, who was wearing an equally amused expression as his saucy mistress. <<Damn them both! >> I suddenly felt mightily uncomfortable in this unfamiliar chilly northern land where the only decent commodities to leave its shores were wool, hides, salted salmon and coarse woollen cloth. No wonder they had to travel to the Low Countries to purchase coloured cloths, cushions, books, silverware and wine, and a hundred more such luxury items, to bring back to a country bogged down in mud and misery. The sun never seemed to set during the summer (for that matter, hardly bothering to rise during the winter months) and strange lights could be seen in the night skies; for instance, if I stepped outside at this late hour, the daylight had failed so little I might fancy myself back in the chamber with the Tudor girl. It was as if I was being pursued down one of Edinburgh’s narrow cobbled streets, heading from West Bow towards the Mercat Cross with no way ou—
‘“The Red Duke”. She’s calling ye “the Red Duke”.’
James said something to the old woman and then looked at me. ‘I told her she must be mistaken for ye are an earl not a duke.’ He motioned for the four of us to be seated at the small walnut table where the chess set lay permanently abandoned. This new game (with its two additional players) seemed to be proving far more appealing to my host than the last.
‘Why don’t ye calm yourself, Mairghread,’ said Janet. ‘And tell this man his fortune.’ She repeated it in Gaelic while putting her hand on the witch’s arm.
Putting one hand up to protest, I slowly lowered it again. I fought to keep my temper in check - or at least, not let it show. I couldn’t believe I was being forced to make a foray into accursed necromancy but knew I had no choice but to accept. My own master, Goose, definitely less colourful but far older and wiser, would never have subjected a foreign visitor to such rough treatment.
The old woman was looking at me with a mixture of hatred and terror in her bright blue eyes while grasping hold of a talisman around her neck and whispering what sounded like curses under her breath. But she’d at least stopped cackling about some confounded red duke. King James handed me another aqua vitae and watched as I downed it in one quick motion. He laughed and pointed a finger at the witch.
‘Best wait to hear what old Mairghread has to say, Thomas, before ye decide to drown your sorrows.’
As he said this, the witch was speaking very fast to Janet Kennedy who proceeded to translate:
‘…She says ye were born when the sun was setting on the Ram. And the goat rising in the East. That ye will have a verra long life, with many offspring from your loins… but your greatest joy will also be your greatest sorrow…’ The King’s mistress hesitated for a moment or two. ‘She says it will be nothing less than ye deserve—’”
Amazon US https://amzn.to/2yaLmO1
Amazon UK https://amzn.to/2N6AzwV
It is also available to order through bookshops everywhere.
I’m one of the authors participating in the Trick or Treat Binge-Read Giveaway and you can win one of two signed print copies of A Phoenix Rising.
Runs October 1 - 31 and is open internationally.
Winner will be drawn November 1, 2019.
Born near historic Winchester in the UK, Vivienne Brereton has been passionate about the Tudors for as long as she can remember. This led to a degree in medieval history at university where she met her future husband. Three sons later and six countries she called home, she finally felt ready to write a novel.
Words have always played an important part in Vivienne’s life whether it’s been writing, editing, teaching English to foreigners, or just picking up a good book. In preparation for her novel, she read intensively on the skills needed to write well and did an enormous amount of research which she greatly enjoyed. Having three sons was helpful when she came to write about the characters, Tristan and Nicolas. All those squabbles she had to deal with came in very handy. She also used her husband and sons as guinea pigs for her Tudor cookery attempts with varying degrees of success (abuse).
Seeing ‘A Phoenix Rising’ in print for the first time was a moment of great joy for her and she hopes you enjoy reading it as much as she enjoyed writing it.
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