Posie Graeme-Evans, author of “The Innocent’, “The Exiled”, “The Beloved”, “The Dressmaker”, and “Island House (available in June) answers 10 questions about her favorite time period in history, her favorite figures from history, and the age old question of coffee or tea.
1. If you could go back in time and be any figure from history, who would it be?
Hmmm. The first answer that popped up, without thought, was Eleanor of Acquitaine. What a woman. Queen of two kingdoms, wife of two kings, mother of kings… a beauty, who when that beauty faded still expressed her intelligence, wit and drive as a unique person in a deeply sexist world – even when her husband locked her up! However, when I actually thought about it, I wondered if being John Dee might not have been interesting too. Astrologer to Elizabeth I, when practising astrology (especially forecasting the fate of the King/Queen) meant you could be burned at the stake. He not only believed he spoke with angels but also that they dictated whole books of Angelic knowledge to him in their own language. Spy, alchemist, traveller, he was a remarkable man living in a time of greatness when the map of the world was being redrawn and he knew everyone! But this is just the begining of a looooong list of the people I’d have liked to be. I could go on for days!
2. What year in history would you have liked to live in?
Perhaps the year that Elizabeth I came to the throne in England (1558) – provided I could have been a member of the court and closely observed her first year in office as Queen Regnant. Then I’m also torn between 1461 and 1471 – the years when Edward the IV of England became king of England (twice.) I’ve written three books about Edward because I’m fascinated by him. Would love to go back in history and find out if he really was anything like my imaginings. There’s just a few others as well…
3. You’re having a dinner party and you can invite 5 people from history, who would they be?
Tougher and tougher. Just five? I think a cocktail party would be better. I could invite more people and network! But if I can only have five, there are obvious choices such as the Buddha, Jesus Christ, Alexander the Great, Elizabeth I of England, her father. However, what about a bunch of themed dinner parties ie categories of people: Philosophers like Aristotle, Plato (can hear the arguments now), Confucius, Bertrand Russell, Alain de Botton (though he’s not history yet). Or writers, of course: has to be Shakespeare, and Chaucer too – and Tolstoy (though I’ve never managed to finish War and Peace, that could be embarrassing), Homer (if he was just one person) and then, whoever wrote the Song of Solomon/Song of Songs. And Scientists, and prophets and great women… the list is endless.
4. What castle from the past or present would you like to live in?
One side of my family, the Luttrells, comes from the West Country in England. I’d like to live in their castle, Dunster before it was “made-over” by the Victorians and also before Cromwell “reduced” it to destroy its defences during the Civil War. I’d like to know them all better, these distant people with whom I share such a tenuous, but tribal, connection.
5. Two fellow historical fiction authors you’d like to go on a history themed tour of the world with?
Alison Weir and Anya Seton. If I could take three, the other would be Robert Harris. Just one more. Hilary Mantel.
6. Who was more dashing and interesting, King Henry VIII of England or King Louis XIV of France?
Both such indelible personalities, and both at their best, as monarchs, in the first ten to fifteen years of their respective reigns. Glorious times if you were born into the right bit of society in each country. But poor Henry. So glamorous as a nineteen year old king, such an athlete, so creative, so sunny – but then descending into a minotaur-like monster in his forties. It’s my private opinion that a latent strain of madness – inherited through Henry’s French great-grandmother Katherine (wife of Henry V, and daughter of the totally nuts Charles VI) and, I believe first expressed in the English monarchy in the person of Henry VI, but then trackable to Henry VII in later life (he became stranger and stranger as time went on) – turned Henry VIII towards extreme paranoia and cruelty (possibly complicated by uncontrolled diabetes). And Louis? I admire the man’s will, his dash, verve and panache. And his uncompromising vision for his place at the centre of France: “L’Etat, c’est moi.” Such unshakeable self-belief. Maybe Richard Branson is his nearest rival in this respect! Louis was also interestingly promiscuous and yet deeply religious at the same time (increasingly so), and, in the end an enigma. That’s what makes him so fascinating, I think. That wonderful gossip, Saint Simon, draws the humid inner workings of his later court with such fresh style I was reminded, in the end, of OK magazine, or Hello’s coverage after the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. Nothing really changes. We’re still absolute suckers for royalty, it seems to me. I’m drawn to them both in equal measure…
7. Which of the six wives of King Henry VIII is your favorite?
I think they’re all distinct and distinctly interesting as personalities who were victims of their time – however, the very last of his wives interests me the most. Perhaps because Catherine Parr seems the most ordinary in a human sense; a normal woman placed in an extraordinary situation who did her best, considering she was married to the grumpiest man of all time (by then). And yet, Catherine possessed peerless dignity, kindness and decency, though she chose the wrong man to marry after the king died. No-one knows really knows what happened to her only child (Mary Seymour, daughter of Catherine’s fourth husband, Sir Thomas Seymour. She was two when she is last mentioned in any contemporary records) after Catherine died. I think that a sad thing. However, unusually, Henry’s last queen was the author of two books and the antithesis of the wicked step mother. In a court dogged by paranoia, religious division and conspiracy theorists, she made great efforts to be a good friend to Henry’s three children. I hope she had a little happiness at the end of her life.
8. English monarchy or French monarchy?
For me, has to be English. I’m obsessed!
9. What three novels could you read over and over?
I rarely read books more than once. But perhaps, “Wolf Hall” and “Bring up the Bodies” by Hilary Mantel. For the language. You can savour each sentence. The bible isn’t a novel of course, but again, the language of the great King James version gets me every time. Genesis, and the book of Job. Revelations, too. So very strange, but the words roll like the sea in my head.
10. Tea or coffee when writing?
Tea first thing. Then coffee, coffee, coffee!
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