I discovered a lovely review of The King’s Mistress on Aimee Krenz’s blog Naked Pages (http://nakedpagereviews.blogspot.com) last week. Of course I love it because it’s so positive, but even better she spoke to the heart of some of the aspects I hold most dear, and that I’m working with as I revise the current manuscript. So with Aimee’s permission I’m quoting part of the review so that I can comment–but do go to her blog and read the entire!
One of the things I love most about this author is that she lets the country serve as a background for her tale without allowing it to overpower the story. The relationships created in ‘The King’s Mistress’ had purpose, which I also enjoyed. I pride myself on being able to see a storyline coming before it actually appears, and I was pleasantly surprised that the intrigue of the connections with each new character were not immediately apparent.
We can’t avoid the times in which we live, and with Alice it was clear to me from the beginning that her story had everything to do with the political atmosphere–the war with France, the tension among London merchants, the plague…. But I also had to restrain myself–Alice was such an outsider she came to understand the politics gradually, and to a dangerous extent too late, particularly the politics of those in power around the king. It was maddening at times to limit the number of historical figures I included to those crucial to Alice’s story. I left out some fascinating scoundrels.
It’s been quite a contrast working with Joan of Kent who was right in the middle of the royal household all her life and had increasing influence. And again I’ve had to eliminate enticing characters.
It’s so lovely to hear that a reader likes the political background–thanks, Aimee! A fan once told me (er, Candace) that her daughters rush past the historical bits in the Owen Archer mysteries to get to the real story. Ouch! But she meant it as a compliment, that my books can be read strictly for the human interest.
In truth, I will likely have to re-read the book, mostly because I enjoyed the depth of the characters, the mystery that surrounded them, and the author’s style of writing. Many historical novelists tend to lose their readers because they try too hard to write as if they were from that time period, which leaves the reader checking dictionaries or Wikipedia to figure out what it is they’ve just read. This is not the case with Emma Campion’s style, which reads like the time period without making me scratch my head.
Two writers who greatly influenced me before I even began to write historical fiction were/are Cecelia Holland and Ursula LeGuin. I’ve just finished rereading Holland’s Great Maria and still find it a joy to read. Her language is direct and clear, her characters’ dialogue in keeping with their characters, but in modern English. I attribute my avoidance of archaic words (except for a few salted in dialogue) to a workshop with Ursula LeGuin years ago in which she impressed upon us how annoying and cutesy “olden-day” style and language are, how they halt the reader and throw them right out of the story, as Aimee suggests in her review. What I learned from closely reading Holland and experimenting on my own was how to remind my readers with the use of more traditional syntax and a vocabulary that’s fairly restricted to modern words that showed up by the 17th century, that this is not a contemporary character speaking. I want my readers to become absorbed in the story–I don’t want them to admire my stylistic flourishes. In describing clothing I did enjoy using some medieval terms, but that felt natural to me.
Thanks for the conversation, Aimee.
A few more comments about Cecelia Holland’s Great Maria: Her descriptions pull me right in, yet they don’t go on and on. To give just one example, the tapestries Maria works on throughout the book are described now and then, but only in progress, as she discusses choices of theme or color, or simply picks a new thread out of her basket. Yet in one brief scene Holland communicates to us through a conversation between Maria and Eleanor, as they work on a tapestry, the contrast between the two women–Maria loves dancing so she picks out a dancing couple in red to draw the eye to them, while Eleanor expresses her disapproval because of the couple’s enjoyment of the dance and because they appear to be nude. A lovely showing. I was also struck by how cryptic the emotions of her main characters often are, suggested primarily by what they do–and despite it’s being first person, which I hadn’t remembered, the reader is often in the dark about just what Maria intends, or how precisely she’s feeling, reflecting Maria’s ambivalence. My Alice is more self-aware than Maria, and has a purpose in composing her story–to explain her life to her daughters, so I did use more introspection.
As I work through revisions this month I intend to post about the experience–I love this part of a book, when I have the “plot” down, I’ve discovered what it’s all about (for the most part), and now I’m smoothing it all out, filling in connections, rearranging, polishing, plumping up some characters. Check back!