Shop Talk with Patricia Bracewell, author of The Price of Blood


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On the occasion of the UK (HarperCollins) release of the second novel in Patricia 9780008104603Bracewell’s trilogy about Emma of Normandy, The Price of Blood, I’m delighted to welcome Pat back to A Writer’s Retreat for another Q&A [see the link to her previous visit at the end].

As I wrote for the US (Viking) publication of book 2: In The Price of Blood, Patricia Bracewell proves once more that she is an alchemist. She turns the leaden chronicle accounts of Emma and Aethelred’s embattled kingdom into a narrative thrumming with life, the historical figures heartbreakingly human. The epic battles of the Anglo-Saxon are rendered personal, tragic. The fated characters disturbed my sleep and haunted my walks. You have been warned.

Welcome, Pat! Let’s start with a few questions specifically about this book:

Q: When working on The Price of Blood did you experience anything that felt like a particularly “middle book” issue?

A: My agent and editor were very keen on making sure the book could stand alone, shadowso I had to bear that in mind while at the same time dealing with my own concept of this as the middle section of Emma’s story. I suppose that kind of double perspective is a ‘middle book’ issue of sorts. My critique partners had not read the first book, Shadow on the Crown, so they were very good at pointing out areas where a reader needed more back story to understand what was going on, and that was an enormous help. They made sure that I gave enough information about previous events and relationships between the characters to keep new readers engaged without slowing the story for those who had read the first book.

Q: You mentioned during the author Q&A at Kalamazoo that at some point in writing The Price of Blood you realized you didn’t have time to reach the year you’d intended. Could you talk about that a bit? What was involved in reorganizing the book?

A: I wanted to conclude The Price of Blood in December, 1013 because of some dramatic events that occurred in that year and that would have provided a tense, cliff-hanger ending. But so much happened in that year that I knew it would take me another 100 pages to describe it all, so I had to let go of that idea. As a result, I had to re-think my story arc and invent a new climax. It meant re-working the story so that a particular character – I’m not saying who – played a larger role than I’d first given him. I had to add some new scenes, delete others and re-write what became the final two chapters about, oh, thirty-five times. The story itself didn’t change, but the emphasis on certain characters and events did.

Q: You’ve just completed an extensive book tour for the US release of The Price of Blood, affording you a fresh opportunity to meet your readers. Did you learn anything from them about how your books are received? Did they tell you who were their favorite characters? Did any ask “what’s next for” a character? Or why something happened to a character?

A: That didn’t happen much at book store events – I suppose because we tried to avoid discussing specific characters and incidents for fear of spoilers. It happens a lot, though, when I meet with book groups. I sometimes ask them who their favorite characters were which has resulted in heated discussions about the challenges faced by Emma and Elgiva and the different ways that the two characters handled them. I love it when readers react so strongly to my characters.

Q: Moving into the third book of the trilogy about Emma of Normandy, have you any regrets? Corners you painted yourself into? Characters you wish you had not killed off so quickly? Characters or situations that you wish you had not created/engaged in the first place?

A: I wish I’d made it to the end of 1013 in The Price of Blood so I wouldn’t have so much to write now! Seriously, there are no regrets. Just the opposite. I’m quite grateful that I invented some characters for the second book – characters that weren’t part of my original plan – because I’m finding plenty of opportunities to use them in the book three.

Q: Is there anything you learned with the second that you’re bringing forward into your work on the third?

A: I’ve learned that I have to loosen my grip a bit on my characters and on the scope of the story. It’s still Emma’s book, overall, but it’s broadened. Elgiva has stepped forward significantly, and in The Price of Blood her character took on a life of its own that I’d never intended in my original concept. She went places I didn’t expect, and of course that has opened up more possibilities for the next book. I suppose it’s a matter of thinking outside of the box that I originally created for myself, and being willing to give my imagination free reign to explore ideas that weren’t part of my original plan.

Q: With time and familiarity your feelings about some characters may change—understanding deepens, quirks grow either more annoying or more endearing—could you talk about that? (Or am I generalizing something that’s peculiar to me?)

A: I think you’re absolutely right. Not with every character of course. I think the best example of that for me is Elgiva. It’s hard to explain it because she’s almost entirely a figment of my imagination. Whatever she is – I’m responsible for it because we know so little about the real person. The thing is, when I created her she was something of a monster – selfish, bossy, and ambitious. She was so bad that I loved torturing her. But in the second book she took whatever I threw at her and exhibited an admirable resilience. Maybe my subconscious took over and gave her that quality – made her so tough that it became a strength. Even as I write the answer to this question it’s occurring to me that she reminds me now a little of Scarlett O’Hara, but I promise you, she didn’t start out that way.

Q: In a similar vein, I’ve found that characters begin to dictate to me what they’ll do and how they could best be utilized. Do you find this happening, particularly after you’ve written about them in other books?

A: Certainly, as I mentioned above, Elgiva has done that. There are minor characters too – the king’s daughter, Edith, comes to mind – who have grown into larger roles that I found quite useful. In the third book I’ll be revisiting characters in Normandy who didn’t appear in the second book at all, and it will be interesting to see how that all plays out.

Q: Emma of Normandy is clearly the central figure of the trilogy, but you tell the story not only from her point of view but that of others. How do you choose the additional points of view? Are there any steps you consciously take to ensure that the reader remembers Emma’s centrality?

A: I chose the viewpoint characters very carefully, with an eye to telling pieces of the story that Emma could not witness, but also because I wanted to add conflict by playing them off of each other: Aethelred vs. his son; Emma vs. Elgiva. Really, any combination of those four characters squaring off against each other, even though they may not do it face to face. For example, Elgiva is still an antagonist of the other 3 in The Price of Blood, but she never shares a scene with any of them. As for ensuring Emma’s centrality, it’s very low-tech. I actually count the number of each characters’ viewpoint scenes and make sure that Emma has the most!

Q: Is there a particular point of view character you especially enjoy becoming?

Viking (US) cover

A: That would have to be Emma. I believe that the early historians who commented on Emma’s role in history never even attempted to put themselves in her place as a woman, a foreign bride, a mother, a queen, or, eventually, a widow. It’s only in the past several decades, as more and more women have entered the field and have begun to research that period of history that scholars have attempted to imagine the difficulties that Emma faced. Pauline Stafford, in particular, has been instrumental in raising these issues. With her groundbreaking work as my model I try to illustrate the complexities of Emma’s position, to step into her character and imagine the world as she would have known it, the difficulties that she faced and the heart-breaking decisions she was forced to make.

Q: Would you share with us five things that surprised you in your research about Emma’s era?

A: Free schools existed in England at this time, first begun in the 10th century by King Alfred of Wessex. They disappeared at the time of the Norman Conquest and would not reappear until the Elementary Education Act of 1870, almost a thousand years later.

Wives and daughters could inherit and hold property separately from their husbands or fathers.

Women could leave property in their wills, and often bequeathed land, clothing and jewelry.

The two archbishops in England, Canterbury and York, were appointed by the king, not the pope. Nevertheless, upon their appointment they had to make the expensive, arduous trip to Rome to receive their pallium, a white stole that was the symbol of papal authority. There was some grumbling about having to make that difficult journey.

An organ was installed in the Old Minster in Winchester in the year 994. It was the largest organ in England and needed 70 men to operate it.

[Imagine the task of calling together 70 pumpers not only for an event in the minster, but when you wanted to do a final practice!]


Oh, I do so love to talk shop. Thank you for answering all the questions I threw at you, Pat! But perhaps I’ve missed a question you, the reader, are burning to ask about Emma of Normandy. So ask away in the comments, and I’ll forward your questions to Pat.

[See Pat’s earlier visit here:]

One last note: if you haven’t yet picked up copies of Shadow on the Crown and/or The Price of Blood, well, I just have to ask, what are you waiting for?! And do check out Pat’s website:

Rough Around the Edges, Barrel-Chested, With a Big Heart


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On the 4th of July, a big day here in the States, I’ll be quietly celebrating the life of IMG_0652my Uncle Ted, on the 25th anniversary of his death. I remember the day he died, hot and sunny here in Seattle. My mother’s voice on the phone was husky with tears. Uncle Ted had been very ill, though not from the cancer that had been in miraculous remission for years (non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma). Still, this was Uncle Ted, my tough, strong-as-a-bull godfather, and I expected him to go on and on. He had calmly said good-bye to the friends visiting him in the hospital the previous night, saying the 4th of July was a good day to die. He loved the 4th. Fire crackers at Coney Island. But no one there believed he meant that farewell. I would have. After I hung up with my mother, I went out to deadhead the climbing roses along our long fence. Hours later I came in scratched and bloodied, my tears spent. My husband had made the arrangements for me to fly to New York City for the funeral.

This year my time with Ted has started early. Gearing up for the re-release of all the Owen Archer and Margaret Kerr mysteries in the US and Canada this summer, I’ve been spot-checking the eBook files and generally rereading passages in all the books in order to write the marketing copy for each. And I keep meeting my godfather, at least aspects of him, in so many characters. Brother Wulfstan in the first five Owen Archers; the innkeeper Murdoch Kerr in the Margaret Kerr mysteries (her uncle); Brother Erkenwald, the soldier-turned-Austin canon in The Riddle of St. Leonard’s (no, Uncle Ted wasn’t a monk). I catch glimpses of him in other characters as well, even Owen Archer, at times, and even women—Bess Merchet, who runs the York Tavern beside Lucie’s apothecary, has more than a little Uncle Ted in her. Of them all, only Murdoch Kerr was planned as a tribute to my godfather. But there Ted is, in so many of my favorite characters.

He’s even in the new Kate Clifford mysteries, the wise and protective Berend, a former…let’s just call him soldier for now.

Uncle TedSo I’ve been wondering just what Uncle Ted represents for me. He was a barrel-chested, muscular, tough talking New Yorker who had nicknames for all his buddies like Ziggy and Moose. He wasn’t handsome in a leading-man way, balding early, with a bow-legged gait from knee injuries suffered in a jeep accident in WWII, and for most of his adult years, until the cancer, he sported quite the beer belly. He was a locksmith/safe installer, and in New York that meant he mixed with an interesting sampling of society. Family whispered that his gangster lingo wasn’t just an affectation. He was my mother’s brother, and she loved him dearly but often muttered a litany of his annoying qualities. When he came to visit us in the summer he entertained my friends—the whole block looked forward to “Uncle Teddy’s” visits. Oh, the tales he would tell, the magic tricks he’d perform, and the blunt, matter-of-fact way he’d talk to us, which made us all feel so grown up. (Magda Digby?) My friends’ parents loved him, too. The patio would buzz with conversations late into the night. He told me I was a great storyteller, and I should be proud of that. And he told me to be true to myself, not bother about what others said. When we went to Manhattan to visit my grandparents, I counted on adventures with Uncle Ted. He took me all over Greenwich Village and into the bars and coffee shops. He bought me things my mother didn’t want me to have and showed me how to hide them in my coat. He got a kick out of beatniks—the bongo drums, the goatees, how they chanted poetry as if they’re dying, and he enjoyed the folk singers in Washington Square Park. We had a falling out later, over “hippies” and “peaceniks”, but he eventually came to agree with me about a lot of my politics. And we agreed to ignore the rest.

The last time I saw my uncle in Manhattan I was there with my husband to spend time with his best friend who was dying of cancer. We were staying with our friend’s girlfriend in Brooklyn, and I didn’t have a chance to get together with Ted until the last night, when we were to catch the subway and meet him at a set time, a set stop. But our friend had a crisis that afternoon, and we stayed to see that he was okay. As we left for the subway I discovered I’d lost the notebook with Ted’s phone number and the subway stop (it had been a while since I’d been to his new apartment). So we were an hour and a stop late (maybe? I wasn’t sure), and I was panicking as we climbed up to the street. But there he was at the top of the steps, watching for us. He did that all the time. He knew how my mind worked? He had a hunch? Who knows? But my Uncle Ted was there, and everything was okay.

New Series Announced in Publishers Weekly!


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It’s official!!!!!

Pegasus Lands New Robb Series

Author of the Owen Archer series, Candace Robb, closed a three-book deal with Pegasus Books for a new historical mystery series set in 14th-century York. The first book, The Service of the Dead, introduces readers to the axe-wielding young widow Kate Clifford, who runs a high-end guest house. Robb was represented by Jennifer Weltz at the Jean V. Naggar Agency; Weltz sold North American rights in the deal.

I am having so much fun with these new characters in a familiar yet slightly later setting (begins in 1399) against the backdrop of rising tension between King Richard II and Henry Bolingbroke, exiled Duke of Lancaster. Kate Clifford is a young widow determined to make her way on her own terms despite her late husband’s tangled legacy. And, yes, she is skilled with a small battle-axe as well as a bow. I can’t wait for you to meet her. I’ll be sharing more about her in days to come, so stay tuned.

Kate’s “guest house” is on High Petergate. I love this photo of the Christmas trees above the crossing of Stonegate and Petergate, taken at Christmas, 1992. It was while I was in York that Christmas season Petergate crossing at Christmas 1992 001that St Martin’s Press made an offer on The Apothecary Rose, but only if I agreed it was the first in a series.  The photo I’m currently using as the banner page photo on this blog, of me at St Mary’s Abbey, was taken the day after I learned the news, as I wandered around the city in a happy daze.

No set publication date yet, but the manuscript of The Service of the Dead is with my editor.

Minsters Preaching, Outlaws Feasting, Ships’ Scribes Trembling


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I’m woefully late writing about this year’s pilgrimage to Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan, for the International Congress on Medieval Studies (Kazoo or Kzoo), so my notes are now a collection of enigmas. But here goes the first installment!

The first session I attended was a roundtable, on the 2014 NEH Summer Seminar for College Teachers in York: Arts, Architecture, and Devotional Interaction. York—that’s why I chose it, and so glad I did. The six speakers described the experience as energizing their teaching, writing, research, while the networking opened doors in remarkable ways. Their research interests included baptismal fonts, alien abbeys, processional shrines, Beverly Minster’s sculpture, the sculpture on Lincoln Cathedral’s Last Judgment porch, and James Joyce and the medieval Eucharist. Each speaker described how exposure to each others’ ideas and interests in conversations in the evenings, at meals, during field trips informed their own research and broadened their outlooks. Unfortunately, the NEH is cutting such programs. A loss to us all.

I particularly appreciated Julia Perratore’s comment regarding Beverley, that “the building itself [was] continually preaching” to the parishioners. Gregory Erickson, the Joycean, had not realized until exploring the medieval churches how deeply this architecture informed James Joyce’s work. As I listened I realized that architecture is a primary source we rarely mention.

I was so taken by all the participants that I gave my email address to one of the organizers and invited them to share it if they were interested in contributing a blog post. So we shall see!

The value of the conference isn’t just the sessions, it’s also the encounters throughout the day. At the end of this first session I was introduced to Anthony Masinton (anthropology/architecture) from the Christianity & Culture group, and we began a conversation about old cemeteries, particularly the crypts at Spitalfields, and how the overcrowded burial prevented the bodies from decomposing, contributing to the cholera epidemics in the 19th century. We continued our conversation the next day when he was giving me a demonstration of the group’s latest product, a thumb drive providing wonderful information about Micklegate Priory, York, in the 15th century (which will figure in my new series). Everything this group does is invaluable. Check out their website.

In the afternoon I attended a session, Food and Feast in Medieval Outlaw Texts. I confess I was so enjoying these presentations that I forgot to take notes (it was right after lunch, after all), so what I remember are the images that inspired daydreams that have stayed with me. Guildhall feasts were more about theatrics than anything else, with many courses. Rituals, the hierarchy and display were most important, and these are parodied in many outlaw tales. Brawls often broke out during processions. Lorraine Stock, a friend who is steeped in Robin Hood, made a fascinating point about post-World War II gender tension (women working in factories during the war, but had to step aside when the men returned home to reclaim their jobs) reflected in a Robin Hood film of that period. (Which one?!) And now I know that the Robin Hood TV show was written by top notch blacklisted writers who worked under pseudonyms!

From outlaws to pirates…. Saturday afternoon I attended a session on piracy in the Mediterranean. It seems it was quite an organized practice, sanctioned by authorities as a means of patrolling/controlling the waters they considered their territory. And now I know that in this context pirate and corsair are interchangeable. I gained an appreciation for the thankless position of ship’s scribe (maritime law required one on each merchant ship). He was the mediator between the ship and the merchant. His account, the ship’s cartulary, was an important legal document meant to keep the captain honest. It was kept in a strongbox on board. But here’s the rub—his neutrality was difficult, if not impossible, because the power once the ship was under sail lay with the captain, not the merchant. A scribe would have his right hand cut off for a false entry. He was often tortured under investigation. Not a profession I would have chosen!

That’s it for now. More to follow!

Coming Soon for US and Canadian Fans of Owen Archer and Margaret Kerr!


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I am delighted to announce that I’ve signed a contract with Diversion Books for the US and Canadian re-release of the Owen Archer and the Margaret Kerr mysteries—in trade more fb books 002paperback and, at long last, E-BOOK (all platforms). This includes the four books never before published in the US, The Guilt of Innocents and A Vigil of Spies (Owen Archer 9 and 10) and The Fire in the Flint and A Cruel Courtship (Margaret Kerr 2 and 3).

Stay tuned here, or sign up on the mailing list on my website for the latest updates. I’m so excited!

As I assembled the files for the production team I caught glimpses of characters I’ve sorely missed or almost forgotten about: Brother Wulfstan in the early Owen Archers, his warm affection for Lucie Wilton, Jasper’s devotion to him; Christiana, Margaret Kerr’s mother, how challenged she was in her mothering, the gorgeous furnishings she took with her to the nunnery.

What scenes or characters from the two series linger in your imagination? I’d love to hear!

Shop Talk: Creativity, Sanity, Deadline


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I have been quiet, working toward a looming deadline. A good friend across country is in a similar space, completing her doctoral dissertation. Earlier this week she asked how I do it over and over again, writing to a deadline and managing to keep my sense of humor and appear so relaxed and engaged with life. Hah! Maybe I missed my calling on the stage…. Another question she posed was how I work through snags in my writing. What follows is the meat of my response to her email. It’s casual, and I’m sure I could improve it, but when I reread it this morning I thought, hm, that’s it in a nutshell.

The deadline now looms so large in my mind, and dancing with that sense of urgency, how to use it but not let it overwhelm me, is my meditation practice. There’s a concept my meditation teacher talks about a lot, about noticing the space around me, around everything and all that I’m doing. This space is where I can breathe, it’s the pause between, it’s always there supporting me. So I keep bringing myself back to that space, finding ways to allow it. This is quite a challenge when the ticking clock is so loud in the room, but a powerful practice. It begins with taking three deep breaths. As Norman Fischer (another teacher, a Zen monk and  poet) says, we need to breathe anyway, so we can certainly afford the time to take those three deep breaths. Often that’s all I need. I’m back in my legs, back in my power. Sometimes I need to move–yoga, walk, dance. Even just a few minutes of movement helps. It’s that close.

And as to writing through snags, I’ve been working with that as well, and they seem to happen when–ta da–I’ve become too aware of the ticking clock and I’m rushing. Sometimes it’s just a matter of relaxing into the creative process. Two steps forward, one back, three forward, two back, stall, one step forward. Maybe that’s just the rhythm of this work. That’s often all it is. Nothing. Is. Wrong.

Or I need to ask whether this is truly a fresh idea I might consider, which would mean going back and changing a lot, or whether I’m panicking and my mind is using this to stall me–oh no, I should have done this differently, red alert, red alert, disaster approaching, impact in 3 seconds!

I know that I don’t know all that I’m thinking until I write it out, until I’ve played it out; then I ask myself what else is “in the room” (my metaphor) if I shift my gaze just a little. What thread have I dropped? That’s often when I go off for a walk, or go out into the garden and work for a while.

Questions really work for me. Have I strayed from the tonal quality I was looking for? Have I veered off point? Is that veering something helpful that I just didn’t see until I started writing? Or am I avoiding something, skirting an issue? Do I have my hands over my ears as I hum loudly so I don’t hear what I need to do–like do more research?

Sometimes just randomly writing words in a “cloud” on a blank piece of paper reveals what I’m thinking.

My pep talk: “Remember, you have loads of support all around you. Everyone wants you to succeed. You are respected. Trust yourself. Look at what you’ve achieved. Take a moment to appreciate that.”



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Out on a walk, I watched a couple with a small child approaching. Slowly, oh so 21 July office 001slowly, as the boy would take one or two tiny steps forward, then circle his progress, so he was looping down the street. As we passed, I commented on how he made me smile, and his granddad said, Seems he wants to be a garbage collector. I realized the boy was thumping the top of each garbage barrel as he passed, or the side if it was too tall—yard waste and recycling bins. But it was the circling that had caught my attention.

When I was a child, I would walk circles on the checkered linoleum in the downstairs room while spinning tales for my mother as she ironed or sewed. I often began with something that actually happened to me, then embellished until it was quite the fairy tale or adventure story. My mother would say, You’ll get in trouble someday for those stories. But then she’d ask what happened next.

Later, I skated in circles on the patio while making up stories in my head, often speaking the voices aloud. My parents worried.

Even later, I rode my big bike around in circles on the patio—challenging, the patio not that big, so I was daring myself to lean and not fall. And all the while I was thinking things through, figuring out what was going on by trying to fit incidents into stories so I could understand.

The first dance I choreographed for a class played with circular movement.

In my first house, I would stand in the window watching the boy who lived across the street ride his bike in circles, talking to himself. His little sister liked to walk in circles in the rain, under an umbrella, belting out songs—I think she thought with the umbrella up no one could hear her. This child could sing!

In my second house, the present one, a young girl moved in across the street. She spent hours on a scooter circling, circling.

And now, in my office, I often begin my day doing walking meditation in a circle, slowly. As the day progresses I pace in circles, thinking through a scene.

From the beginning I’ve consciously circled in both directions. So have the children I’ve watched. So, it seems, do cats.

However, I knew a sweet dog who always circled in one direction.

But yesterday, the boy looping. Now that’s fresh. I think I’ll try it.

On the Reburial of King Richard III


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On the weekend, a friend gently teased me about caring where King Richard III is reburied. He said Richard was past caring. Pragmatism. Yes, of course it’s true that Richard is beyond caring. But I’m able to do what I do, bringing the late middle ages to life, because I care, I care about the people of the times as if they were my contemporaries. I cried when writing the death scene of John Thoresby, Archbishop of York, in A Vigil of Spies, a scene I had avoided writing, suggesting to my editor that Thoresby could die in between books. She disagreed, and of course she was right, the entire book led up to that scene. But this man who had begun the series as a villain had become a dear friend by the 10th book.

from the BBC, Richard III's coffin placed in new tomb, Leicester Cathedral

from the BBC, Richard III’s coffin placed in new tomb, Leicester Cathedral

I’ve written before that I believed Richard III should be buried in York. But that doesn’t dim my deep satisfaction in the respect given him by the ceremonies in Leicester. And I am glad that York is celebrating his reburial this week:

I know my friend was merely teasing me, as many do about my fascination with the late middle ages. Fifteen, going on sixteen books set in that time? When are you going to write something contemporary?  I did. A short story, “Karma”. And then I dove back into the period I enjoy exploring. It’s my passion. I write what excites me, what engages me.

At the moment I’m following on my deep research into Joan of Kent with a foray into the beginning of the 15th century, beginning in 1399, the months leading up to the deposition of her son, King Richard II, and then the uneasy reign of his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, who crowned himself King Henry IV. What caused Richard’s downfall? How is it that his subjects were so willing to crown his Lancastrian cousin? And what was the effect of this political upheaval on the citizens of York? If you know this history, you know that I have a wealth of material to work with, and a new archbishop, Richard Scrope. Yet another unfortunate Richard.

Shop Talk: Tweeting re My Work-in-Progress


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I am fascinated by the creative process, my own and others’. I know writers who begin with a beautiful first sentence and build a book from that, never changing that first sentence. I know others who begin with an interaction among characters, essentially a daydream that intrigues them, and start asking questions—who are they? Why are they arguing? What’s their history? I know writers who do elaborate outlines and character sketches before they ever begin to flesh out scenes. Others who just start writing and see what happens.

York Minster from the city wall

York Minster from the city wall

My process is a little of everything. Of course, with the Emma Campion books, I began with the research, with what I’d been able to glean about Alice Perrers and Joan of Kent and their circles. But the outline then evolved as the scenes brought up new questions. With mysteries my process is looser. I have the historical backdrop, some actual historical figures and the real settings, but most of the characters, the mystery, the investigation, the revelations all arise from my imagination, and all of this evolves and changes as I write.

I’ve been occasionally tweeting about my writing process on a new project. Just for fun, I collected my shop talk tweets for the past few months, and here they are. (If you want to follow me, my handle on Twitter is CandaceMRobb  )


Slightly modified morning prompt from a workshop with Peter Beagle. “What are my character’s first thoughts on waking?”
added second tweet
And how does this change by the end of the book?

Thought the scene was finished. Last night, her feelings vs what she says aloud had me scribbling. Must add!

Someone said they couldn’t work at home, too many distractions. I thought, Not once the story takes off.

Stomach’s tight with fear, heart’s pounding. Had to take a break and breathe. It’s tough inhabiting a character in danger.

My characters are taking up their roles and expanding them, guiding me. To revise outline as I go or abandon it?

So far this week, 6575 words. Yes!

Characters in charge now, leading me along, revelations so intriguing I look forward to the day. I love this part!

Saturday morning yoga class. I meet my edge and inspiration jolts me. Scenes resolve, characters clarify.

Appreciating the wisdom of my characters as I compare old and new working outlines. So much better with their input!

Shifting recent scenes around for maximum impact, improved pacing. And so she can rip into him.

Phone rings and I realize I have to blow my nose before I answer because a character’s been crying, and so have I.


You see, I do have an outline, but once I begin to write, I see the flaws in the plan and relax, permit new characters to appear, get curious, play with them. I consider how I feel about where I’m now heading—more interesting? Does it use incidental material that’s built up as I work? I note something in a room that seems innocuous, then ask, what if it were important? What could it mean? This is how I stay engaged. If I know everything’s that’s coming, why bother? I have a general idea of my direction, but I’m open to the potential inherent in the story as it unfolds. My outline becomes more of a record of the latest structure with vague suggestions for moving forward.

How about you? Are you working on a project? Are you a planner, do you just start and see where you wind up, or????

Background on A TRIPLE KNOT: Envisioning Joan


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In the beginning, I play with characters, trying them out in scenes, testing how they react to events and their fellow characters. With Joan of Kent, I’d already portrayed her several years before the death of her husband, the Black Prince, in A Vigil of Spies (Owen Archer #10), and she appeared at various points before, during, and after her marriage to Edward in The King’s Mistress. Now, for A Triple Knot, I revised Triple Knot_cvrneeded to understand her life in full.

This morning, searching for a scene I’d written and rewritten and finally discarded, in which she teaches the young Ned (Prince Edward) to dance, I found instead this experiment in first person. I did not intend to use first person for this book, because I wanted other voices at court, but to explore  her life through her eyes, looking back, I played with the elderly Joan in this piece. Her son Richard is now King Richard II, and her sons Thomas and John Holland are adults. The daughter-in-law is Anne of Bohemia.


I lay in bed all night fingering my beads, murmuring prayers.

I am accustomed to dramatic rows with my sons Thomas and John, Richard’s half-brothers. We growl and snap at one another, they shout hateful things, I favor quieter retorts, and the courtiers pretend to avert their eyes, though they hold their breath fearful lest they miss a word. Always, my sons and I come together afterward in loving contrition. This is possible because we have shunned speaking of that which must not be questioned.

Until last night, when John uttered a hateful accusation. A look of horror made a mask of my daughter-in-law’s sweet face. She, most of all, understands the danger if what he said were widely believed. Her husband’s reign rides in the balance. John’s cruel nature has robbed Anne of her innocence.

When she arrived from the court of Bohemia to wed my son, she expected the glorious court of his grandfather, a court celebrating military prowess and chivalry with frequent and extravagant festivals of tourneying and jousting. She found, instead, a more sedately elegant, cultured court barely tolerated by barons lusting for the passion of battle and especially the spoils of war.

And now she has glimpsed the even more dangerous undercurrents threatening her husband’s crown.

Edward’s was a glorious court, but it was so by design. He and Philippa had come to power on the waves of rebellion, his father’s inglorious, forced abdication, his mother’s treason, her lover’s execution. They strove to distract the barons and the commons with the trappings of the ideal royal court, and provide them with a battleground offshore.

I do not remember a time when I did not understand the price we pay for noble birth. I was not yet four when my father was beheaded for his loyalty—albeit belated—to his half-brother. My pregnant mother, my brother and I were spared—kept in Arundel Castle until the young king’s familial affections stirred him to release us.

My parents had betrayed themselves, first supporting Queen Isabella, then King Edward, Father’s half-brother, and so had been betrayed.

The tragic result has been a festering wound all their progeny carry. If it did not smack of blasphemy I would call it stigmata, for we carried it invisibly until some crisis brought it forth, and we were revealed. It was our inheritance. In all my sons it plays out most violently, Thomas and John from within, Richard from without. Two would control with violent emotions, the third with a rigid peace—which I fear will be the undoing of his reign.

* * * * *

The royal court—what a strange and splendid stage in which to be a child, exploring possible roles, testing my strengths. We were privileged players, and all life was a performance in which at any moments marvels might arise to delight us. How exciting to be continually surprised by my surroundings.

Yet sometimes it was an unpleasant sort of excitement. People shifted roles without warning.

I remembered the darkness from which we burst out into the confusing magnificence of the court. Mother chided me, assuring me that I could not possibly remember our confinement in Arundel Castle. She swore as well that I had appropriated someone else’s memories of my father.

But I did not believe that my nightmares were borrowed.

My apprehension did not last long. My cousins Edward and Isabella soon pulled me into their circle of friends. What adventures we had! How privileged we were. I saw the other side of being royal—the fun, the extravagance.

Mother was respected by Kind Edward and Queen Philippa. I understood that we were accepted, secure. As long as the royal couple were secure.


Joan has been my companion through three books–no wonder I miss her.

I still haven’t found the dance lesson.

For a few more days (through 8 March), the ebook version of A Triple Knot is on sale for $1.99 in the US. Just so you know…!


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