Livi Michael Talks To Bookbag About Why I Chose to Write Succession the Way I Did - or - Whatever Possessed Me?

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Livi Michael Talks To Bookbag About Why I Chose to Write Succession the Way I Did - or - Whatever Possessed Me?

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Summary: Ani was impressed by Succession by Livi Michael and the author popped into Bookbag Towers to explain why she wrote the book the way she did.
Date: 27 June 2014

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External links: Author's website



In April 2007 I was doing some research at Manchester Cathedral. In the roof of the cathedral there are 14 stone angels, each playing a different medieval instrument. They were said to have been donated by Margaret Beaufort.

I had never heard of Margaret Beaufort.

This seems a long time ago now!

I began to look into her, just out of curiosity, but the more I found out the more fascinated I became. The details of her life are extraordinary. She was married three times before she was 15, gave birth to her only son at the age of 13, (who, on an unlikely chance, became King of England), became the most powerful woman in the country, a patron of education and the arts who was herself a writer etc. But her life only makes sense when considered in the context of the historical period she lived through – the political upheavals and disasters that affected her personally.

People have been interested in the Tudors for a long time, but they didn’t just come out of nowhere, and the story of where they did come from is fascinating. It’s an epic tale of the birth of a nation, or at least of a recognisably modern England, and it has all the elements of high drama – conflict, heroism, love & betrayal, violence and idealism. You couldn’t make it up!

I didn’t make it up. I stayed as close to the facts as possible. Or to the written records of the facts, which may be slightly different. But there was so much material! Margaret Beaufort lived through the reigns of six kings, and the period of bloody civil war now known as the Wars of the Roses. In her lifetime, the concept of the world, and in fact the universe, changed. England changed from medieval feudalism to early modern capitalism with a different social structure and economy.

How to convey all, or any, of that?

This is where the medieval chronicles came in – contemporary accounts of life as it was lived then. Initially I read about Margaret Beaufort in modern works such as The King’s Mother (Jones & Underwood) or Elizabeth Norton’s biography, but these all referred to the chronicles and I was increasingly convinced that I needed to go back to the original sources. Then once I started to read them I was hooked. They are so vivid, personal, partisan, sometimes scurrilous – and they really convey the spirit of the time.

I don’t believe that a 21st century novelist can truly convey the spirit of the 15th century – only their own.

I became interested in the difference between the chronicles and the contemporary novel: one is focussed almost exclusively on events and action, the other, potentially at least, offers a more intimate exploration of individual consciousness, feelings and motivation. The chronicles seem to have been written by and about men – women feature peripherally if at all, - but the novel allows us to reimagine the lives of women involved or affected by the chronicled events. The two different kinds of narrative seemed to me to complement one another rather well. And the chronicle extracts allowed me to cut through large swathes of complex history – without them the book might have been five times longer than it is!

Initially I saw my novel as an illustration of the content of the chronicles, but my editor saw it differently – and this was the cause of much redrafting. Succession now exists as substantially my own narrative, which features the personal and intimate moments of the key characters, interspersed by chronicle extracts that move through the history. Hopefully this retains the best of both forms while allowing the relationship between them to create a different kind of historical fiction.

Read more about Succession at my website.