Hey guys! I recently participated in the Conquest blog tour with my (spoiler free!) book review (which you can read here), and today I’m interviewing the author herself: Tracey Warr!
Here is the blog tour card, so that you can check out the other stops along the way.
Conquest: Daughter of the Last King is a medieval historical fiction and an altogether fascinating read. I enjoyed it immensely, so was thrilled to get the opportunity to interview Tracey herself about the book and her writing process. Keep reading to check out Tracey’s inspirations for Conquest and why she was drawn to Nest ferch Rhys-the medieval Welsh princess!
Tracey Warr. Photo by Tiffany Black.
- Hi Tracey, thank you so much for the opportunity to interview you; could you tell us a little about yourself and your background?
I grew up in north London, studied English Literature at Hull and Oxford. Apart from a brief time working for a publisher, I spent most of my career working in contemporary art, first as a curator and critic and then teaching in universities. In the last six years I’ve been writing and publishing historical fiction. Now I divide my time between living in France and London and writing full-time.
2. When did you decide to start writing historical fiction novels and why?
It wasn’t a decision really. I was living in a medieval house in the south of France borrowed for a few months from a friend who was away in India. It was a freezing cold winter and I just had my cat, the fire, a lot of books and wifi for company. I was researching idly online and came across an extraordinary medieval countess called Almodis de La Marche who was a scandal and a wonder. She was an active participant in the rule of Toulouse and Barcelona, she was literate, married three times and excommunicated by the Pope … I found myself addicted to writing her story.
3. What interests you in writing about the early medieval period?
I like that there is some research to be done and facts to find out but a lot remains that we won’t ever know for sure. I like to speculate, imagine and write into those gaps. My writing is driven by questions arising from my research with medieval chronicles and charters and with contemporary historical accounts. For example: why did Almodis divorce her first husband? and why did the Count of Barcelona kidnap her from the Count of Toulouse risking war and excommunication? My second novel, The Viking Hostage, is about a real French noblewoman who was kidnapped by Vikings, held hostage for three years, and then returned to her husband for a huge ransom. I want to know what happened to her during those three years. We can’t know with certainty, but I enjoy making it up, trying to think what was possible. My lead protagonists are women and I also usually have some kind of female writer amongst the characters – a female troubadour in Almodis the Peaceweaver and a letter-writing nun librarian in Conquest: Daughter of the Last King. I am trying to write into the gaps in the historical record and especially those around the lives of women.
- What drew you to writing about Welsh history?
I lived in Pembrokeshire in Wales for a few years and am still there often, visiting my best friend. The islands of Caldey and Skomer were occupied by Vikings and feature in my second novel, The Viking Hostage. The Pembrokeshire coast is stunning and littered with medieval castles. At one point I was making weekly commutes by train to my teaching job in Oxford. The train line runs across the spectacular triple river estuary at Carmarthen Bay and passes Llansteffan Castle. After looking agog at this view through the train window for months, I had to go and spend days walking along the cliffs near Llansteffan, spending time with the landscape, castles and sea, thinking about the traces of history there. I started writing about the estuary and wasn’t quite sure where it would lead me. I was awarded a Literature Wales Writers Bursary based on the first couple of draft chapters and that helped me to keep developing the story.
- When did you first come across Nest ferch Rhys and what inspired you to write a trilogy about her?
When I was living in Wales, researching the history of Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire, surrounded by the castles of Pembroke, Cilgerran, Carew, Llansteffan and Kidwelly. Nest was the daughter of the last independent Welsh king who was killed by invading Normans. She was held captive by the invaders. She was married two or three times; first to the Norman steward of Pembroke Castle (one of her father’s former strongholds), then to the Norman constable of Cardigan Castle, and probably also to the Flemish sheriff based at Pembroke Castle. She was also the mistress of King Henry I (son of William the Conqueror) and she was kidnapped from her first Norman husband by the Welsh prince Owain ap Cadwgan. It’s a colourful life story to say the least! Nest held symbolic significance for both sides of the Welsh-Norman struggle and has been dubbed the Welsh Helen of Troy. I wasn’t satisfied with the existing accounts. I needed to know more and to imagine my way into the questions about her. How was it for her to live through the events of her life? What were her motivations? How much agency did she have?
- Can you tell us a little about your research process?
There is often very little material available on the lives of ordinary early medieval people and a little more on the lords, ladies, princesses and kings. Even the lives of medieval queens are often poorly documented. I research as much as I can about my protagonist and all the other real people in the story. I use objects in museums, places including castles and landscapes that may not have changed significantly, maps, to help me create a world for my characters to live in. I keep copious notes and compile a timeline of what’s happening to my characters. Sometimes I stick big pieces of paper on the wall or a desk to help me plot out visually what is happening in the story and give me new ideas.
The Witham Pins, late 8th century silver gilt linked dress pins, found in Lincolnshire. © Trustees of the British Museum.
7. How has your teaching influenced your writing?
I very much enjoy discussing the writing process with other writers in teaching situations. I’ve given guest talk and workshops to various Creative Writing courses and writers’ groups in the UK and France. Next summer I’m teaching on a week-long residential course in France for A Chapter Away [www.achapteraway.com] alongside my publisher, Richard Willis, from Impress Books, award-winning novelists Natalie Meg Evans and Rachel Hore, and agent Alex Hammond. Teaching means I have to articulate things about my own writing process to other people and that’s useful to me as well as, I hope, for them.
8. Do you have any specific music you like to listen to while writing?
No, I like to write with silence or quiet, at least.
9. What was the hardest thing about writing your latest book?
Finding a way to see and write Nest as something other than a mere victim of men’s actions and decisions.
10. Do you have a special time of day you prefer to write in? Or how is your day structured?
Mornings are definitely prime writing time for me. I refer to it as working with my ‘morning head’. My afternoon head is not much use, and my evening head is even worse. So I have to use that self-knowledge, get cracking as soon as I wake up.
11. Which writers inspire you?
Elizabeth Chadwick, Winston Graham, Jane Austen, George Eliot, and many, many more.
12. As I have a lot of aspiring authors reading this blog, is there any advice or words of wisdom you’d like to give them?
It is absolutely true that writing is 90% editing and 10% inspiration. Generating your first draft is the beginning of writing. Then you have to work away, editing and rewriting over and over to make it shine. Writing a novel is a long haul so take any support you can get. If you can find a writers group and a readers group with good chemistry for you that could be invaluable. Doing a writing course or an MA is another way to do that. Entering competitions is a good way to make you finish something and if you get shortlisted, it gives you encouragement. Always carry a notebook – you will constantly see, hear, think things and words you can use. I once saw a couple parting at a bus stop when I was on a bus. I jotted down a description and then recast that as the Count of Barcelona leaving Almodis at the medieval harbour of Narbonne.
13. Is there anything else you would like to add that I haven’t included?
No, thanks very much for your good questions!
Thanks everyone for reading! And a big thank you to both Tracey and the lovely Impress Books for giving me the opportunity to read and review Conquest, interview Tracey and participate in the blog tour!
If you guys are interested in checking out Conquest, (which is out now!) or would like to read more about Tracey and her writing, then have a look through the links below.
- Website & Blog: http://traceywarrwriting.com
- Twitter: @TraceyWarr1
- Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/traceywarrwriting
- Amazon UK Author Page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tracey-Warr/e/B0053YDVPE/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1475151239&sr=1-2-ent
- Amazon US Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Tracey-Warr/e/B0053YDVPE/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_2?qid=1475151292&sr=8-2
- Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/16786.Tracey_Warr
- Publishers Website: http://www.impress-books.co.uk/
“She has spirit, this little Welsh girl!”
-Tracey Warr, Conquest.