Author Interview: Rosemary Griggs

1. As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up and how did that work out for you?
I grew up on farm in North Buckinghamshire and I think that probably influenced me when I was little to dream of being a vet. Over time that somehow changed into an ambition to go into medicine and I was put in the science stream at school. Unfortunately that meant I could no longer study history, which I now realise has always been my first love. I moved away from science and by a very circuitous route I ended up in the Civil Service which gave me a brilliant career. Now I research and speak about Devon’s sixteenth century history, often wearing clothing of the time which I create, and I write.  

2. Are there any books or authors that inspired you to become a writer?
I’ve always loved reading and in my early teens I discovered historical fiction.  I devoured all of Jean Plaidy’s novels and then found Anya Seton’s Katherine which I return to again and again. I think that’s the one that really inspired me to see if I could bring the past to life by telling the stories of women who lived long ago. 

3. How much research did you need to do for your book?
My first novel is inspired by the life of Sir Walter Raleigh’s mother who I first met when, as a volunteer for the National Trust, I was looking for a character I could bring to life for visitors to Compton Castle, a small fortified manor house in Devon. I have spent years researching Katherine Raleigh’s life, her family, the places where she lived and the times she lived in, searching local and national archives and reading widely.  Actually, my research never stops.  Even when I’m on holiday I’m always on the lookout for clues to past lives. 

4. Have you ever traveled as research for your book? 

 As well as visiting lots of beautiful Devon locations and other Tudor and Elizabethan properties throughout England, I also went over to Normandy to trace the roots of Katherine’s family, the Champernownes.  That trip has also given me lots of insights into the main character of my next novel who spent her early years in France before coming to Devon. 

5. How did you come up with the title for your book?
 My title A Woman of Noble Wit is a gift from the past.  Although Katherine Raleigh left a light footprint on the historical record, she lived to see her name in print. The second edition of Foxe’s book of Martyrs describes how Katherine Raleigh a woman of noble wit and godly ways  visited Exeter martyr Agnes Prest. 

6. How do you develop your plot and characters?
It’s a real challenge for writers of historical fiction who choose to write about real people to weave a good story around things which actually happened. Some of the plot is already laid out in the historical record. Where events are backed up by reliable sources I respect them, but there are inevitably gaps and of course we may only have a few clues to the personalities of our characters and their motivations.  I try to follow the advice Alison Weir gave in one of her talks; its OK to fill those gaps in the record, but always make sure that your characters’ actions are plausible and true to their time 

7.What do you do to get inside your character’s heads? 
I’m really lucky that another interest of mine is recreating and wearing sixteenth century clothing. So I can dress as they did and really walk in their shoes in the places they knew. Sitting for long hours hand stitching a linen shift in poor light gives some brilliant insights into women’s lives. Oh, and I do draw on my own life experience as a mother and grandmother a lot. 

8. What advice would you give to a writer working on their first book? 
You are the only one who can tell your story. Don’t try to copy other writers. Be confident and let your own voice be heard. Know your audience and write for them. My talks have told me just how much interest there is in how women lived in the past, especially among older women readers — an audience I think is often overlooked and underestimated by writers and publishers.  

9. Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say? 
I hear from my readers all the time and it’s just wonderful to know that people are enjoying my book. I’ve had some lovely reviews on retailer sites and posted on my own website which mean a lot, especially those who say things like “I didn’t want it to end” or “I couldn’t put it down”.  A lot of my readers prefer to send me personal messages or tell me face to face when I’m out and about. I’ll never forget the lady who came along to one of my book signings even though she had already read my book because she wanted to thank me for, as she said, “Writing this wonderful story.” 

10. What do you like to do when you’re not writing? 
My appearances as the Lady Katherine and creating her wardrobe take up a lot of time. I’m learning Elizabethan embroidery techniques like blackwork and experimenting with some Tudor knitting.  I also manage to find time for my garden and my allotment — my special place where I find peace and quiet and many plot lines are born. 

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