I’m delighted to be welcoming Catherine Hokin to my hot seat today.
Catherine Hokin is a Glasgow-based author whose fascination with the medieval period began during a History degree which included studies into witchcraft, women and the role of political propaganda. This sparked an interest in hidden female voices resulting in her debut novel, Blood and Roses which brings a feminist perspective to the story of Margaret of Anjou (1430-1482, wife of Henry VI) and her pivotal role in the Wars of the Roses.
Catherine also writes short stories – she was a finalist in the Scottish Arts Club 2015 Short Story Competition and has been published by iScot magazine.
I can highly recommend Catherine’s blog, Heroine Chic, where she writes with humour and satire and never fails to entertain me. Do check it out.
Connect with Catherine
Finally I get to welcome you to Jera’s Jamboree 🙂
Please summarise Blood and Roses in 20 words or less.
Margaret of Anjou: Queen, mother, woman – fighting for the crown and her son in a bloody medieval House of Cards.
What was the idea/inspiration for your novel?
I studied History at university and did a specialism on women, politics and the role of witchcraft as a tool to silence/attack them with – this gave me an ongoing fascination with women whose stories have been forgotten, misheard or mis-represented through the years.
Margaret of Anjou (1430-1482), who was the French wife of Henry VI of England, is one of those strong women who really suffered from history being written by the victors – in this case Yorkist propaganda following the Wars of the Roses which was continued by the Tudors. Contemporary accounts describe Margaret as wise, charitable, strong-laboured and a pair of safe hands compared to her husband – by the time we get to Shakespeare she has become an absolute nutcase roaming round the court with her supposed lover’s severed head in a blood-dripping bag! There was a story to be re-told.
For people who may not know about this time in history, please tell us about the characters.
Margaret is the main protagonist and part of the story is told through her voice. She’s tricky: opinionated, tough, single-minded about power, ferocious about her son and capable of making some ill-judged decisions. But she is also passionate and honest: she knows herself, what she is capable of and why she does what she does and this self-knowledge is what makes her sympathetic, I hope! There is a wealth of other characters, including a very naïve and foolish Jacquetta Woodville, a dark rather than heroic Edward IV, Margaret’s son Edward who grows to manhood during the book and the Earl of Warwick who’s a bit brooding!
The point about all the characters is that they lived in dangerous, turbulent times when your head did not sit safe on your shoulders and the closer to the throne you stood, the shakier it got. I don’t call it a medieval House of Cards for nothing.
What scene did you most enjoy writing Catherine? Why?
Perhaps oddly (and this is historical fiction so it’s not a spoiler), the scene immediately after the death of Margaret’s son when she is presented with his body. It allowed me to bring out different sides of some of the key characters, including Margaret, and is a moment where, no matter what you think of her actions, your heart breaks for her. I have a son of Edward’s age so it felt very real to imagine what she was going through – I have to admit Dan was freaked out as it is not pleasant!
If you could have given your characters one piece of advice before the opening pages of the book, what would it be …
I would have advised Margaret to try and make some friends who could advise her on how best to tackle the English and stay loyal to them. That sounds odd but she was very isolated: she was French at a time when anti-French sentiment was high and her position, made tougher by the state of her marriage, was very different to the culture she was raised in. Insularity plus the need to make fast decisions in a constantly-shifting world is not a great combination.
Who would you cast in the role of your characters if your novel were optioned for a movie?
Ha ha – the favourite writers’ game, trust me, I have played it! Part of me thinks the whole cast of Game of Thrones would be perfect but I’m going to restrict myself to one and have Oona Chaplin as Margaret. She’s got the right combination of soft and grit.
For Warwick, Simon Armitage would be perfectly brooding.
For the rest, it needs to be actors who can switch from charming to dangerous in a heartbeat so Olivia Coleman, Tom Hiddleston and David Tennant are on the wishlist. I can dream!
Do you think movie adaptations do books justice? Do you have a favourite?
It can be a mixed bag, especially if you have a real connection with the novel – it is a very different medium and some things are better in your head!
The most stunning adaptation I’ve seen recently is actually of a play and is the Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard Macbeth – not only did it do brilliant things with the period but the treatment of the text brought it to life in the most meaningful way I’ve seen.
Do you have a most creative time of day Catherine?
The afternoon – I like to go for a walk in the middle of the day when I’ve been doing lots of research and let the stories wander about my head. Then I can come back and start telling them. I’m lucky enough to live in the heart of Glasgow close to a lovely river walk so there’s always lots to look at while my brain is doing other things!
Panster or plotter?
A plotter – I love storyboards, timelines and actual as opposed to virtual pinboards. They are the skeleton that let me start the imagining. Historical fiction requires a lot of research – you have to get the facts right – and also a lot of digging for the golden nuggets which are the bits under the facts where the story gaps lie. I spend a lot of time talking to dead people.
Which authors have influenced your writing?
I love sweeping, multi-layered historical fiction so I am a big fan of Margaret George and also loved Legacy by Susan Kay which I think is the best depiction I’ve read of Elizabeth I. I have to avoid reading my period while I’m writing so I tend to read a lot of magical realism and contemporary fiction – different voices!
Do you have a favourite book?
So hard to choose just one! I’m going to go for Wise Children by Angela Carter which is the story of the twin chorus girls Dora and Nora Chance. It’s magical realism meets Shakespeare in a brilliant family saga, I love it.
What are you currently working on?
I have just completed the final drafts for my second novel which is also medieval and tells the story of the fourteenth century love affair between Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt, son of King Edward III. It is partly told by Swynford’s brother-in-law the poet Chaucer. Poetry, politics, intrigue and mad monks! People are reading it, fingers are crossed!
Finally Catherine, are there any tips you could share with new writers?
Everyone is different but, for me, writing takes discipline – when you are starting out you need to be quite single-minded and give it the time it needs. That can be tough. It is no coincidence that my first novel came out once my kids left home: creativity takes time and space and long hours, it needs you to be selfish. The best tip I could give is make relationships with bloggers – they will be your best friends when it comes to getting the story out about your book and the good ones know the publicity process backwards. Find out what works for them, make sure you meet their deadlines and be grateful for their help – it’s a great community and they will give you so much support if you respect their time.
Thank you for being my guest Catherine.
Wishing you success with all your creative projects.
Print Length: 420 pages
Publisher: Yolk Publishing
Blood and Roses tells the story of Margaret of Anjou (1430-82), wife of Henry VI and a key protagonist in the Wars of the Roses. This is a feminist revision of a woman frequently imagined only as the shadowy figure demonised by Shakespeare – Blood and Roses examines Margaret as a Queen unable to wield the power and authority she is capable of, as a wife trapped in marriage to a man born to be a saint and as a mother whose son meets a terrible fate she has set in motion. It is the story of a woman caught up in the pursuit of power, playing a game ultimately no one can control…
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