The Interview: Bookbag Talks To HM Castor

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To HM Castor

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Summary: We loved HM Castor's VIII - the story of Henry VIII and we were fascinated by what she had to tell us when she popped into Bookbag Towers.
Date: 20 November 2012
Interviewer: Robert James
Reviewed by Robert James

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We loved HM Castor's VIII - the story of Henry VIII and we were fascinated by what she had to tell us when she popped into Bookbag Towers.

  • Bookbag: When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?

H M Castor: Someone who wants to be told a great story, I think - nothing more restrictive than that!

  • BB: The Tudor period has always been a favourite of mine in history, and VIII is one of the most recent of a large amount of books set in this time that I've really enjoyed. Do you have any other favourite Tudor reads you could share with us?

HMC: It probably won't surprise you if I mention Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies - both astonishingly brilliant books, in my view, and deservedly feted. I am also a huge fan of the six books that make up The Lymond Chronicles, by Dorothy Dunnett. They're set in the mid-sixteenth century, range right across Europe and the Mediterranean and are, both in terms of historical research and literary creation, just breathtakingly good: witty, moving, erudite & maddeningly page-turning - if you haven't read them, you have a huge treat in store.

  • BB: Both Mantels have been on my (huge!) TBR list for ages, really looking forward to them when I finally get a chance to tackle them. The Lymond Chronicles sound fab as well so will definitely keep an eye out for them.

I thought one of the strongest points of the book was the relationship between Hal and his father, Henry VII. What's your favourite fictional father-son relationship?

HMC: Having recently watched the Shakespeare history plays that made up The Hollow Crown on the BBC, I'll have to say Shakespeare's Henry IV and Prince Hal.

  • BB: You mention in the excellent Q & A for VIII that you started martial arts lessons to help with your research for VIII - how good are you?

HMC: Ah, hum. Not as good as I'd like to be - I wish I'd started younger! Last autumn I was a red belt at taekwondo, and working for the first grade of black belt (the next step up). However, some old injuries were grumbling, & then I was hospitalised with pneumonia & during a long convalescence lost fitness. So now, lapsed, I am no good at all. But I watched the Olympic competition on TV with awe & appreciation!

  • BB: I originally come from Wrexham, not far from Jade Jones's hometown of Flint, so was also glued to the taekwondo! I don't think I'd ever be able to try it myself, though.

5. I've really enjoyed reading some of your brilliant posts over on The History Girls - how did you get involved with the group?

HMC: That's very kind of you - thank you. I love blogging with The History Girls and feel privileged to be in the company of so many great writers there. The variety of posts is wonderful, and I'm as keen a reader as a writer of them. The way I got involved was this: Helen Boyle at Templar (publishers of VIII) put me in touch with Mary Hoffman, whose brainchild The History Girls was, just as she was in the process of setting it up. I felt very lucky to be included.

  • BB: . If you could throw a literary dinner party, which six people (authors or characters, or a mixture) would you invite?

HMC: What a deliciously difficult question! I would like, please, to invite three authors (I'm assuming you can bring the dead back to life for me, here), each accompanied by a character of their own creation: Diana Wynne Jones with her great fictional enchanter Chrestomanci (in his Charmed Life incarnation), Hilary Mantel with her version of Thomas Cromwell, and Dorothy Dunnett with Francis Crawford of Lymond, her main character fromThe Lymond Chronicles.

  • BB: I commented when reviewing VIII that I was slightly surprised it's being marketed as YA since it covers Henry's entire life and could see it appealing to adults as well. When you were writing it, did you always think of it as a YA novel?

HMC: I did, yes, but I see the YA and adult categories as (often) overlapping in any case. I first read Dorothy Dunnett as a teenager, but love her as an adult just as much. Ditto the Brontes, Dickens, Jane Austen... Diana Wynne Jones, Alan Garner, Margaret Mahy… And now I'd put, for example, the brilliant Margo Lanagan & David Almond in the same appealing-to-both category, along with many other excellent writers working currently. If VIII is in their company, I'm very happy.

  • BB: I'd always been intending on reading VIII, as a big fan of books about the Tudors, but didn't get round to picking it up until it was chosen for the Amazon Kindle Daily Deal - a real rarity for a YA novel! Were you surprised to have the book chosen and how big an impact do you think that choice has had on the book's success?

HMC: Yes, I was surprised, since I understand it's rare for a YA book to be selected. As for the scale of the impact, I really am in the dark, since I don't know any figures. But certainly some people will have read it who wouldn't otherwise have picked it up, and that's a lovely thing.

  • BB: I know that your next book will focus on Henry VIII's daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, and am really looking forward to it. When you've finished them, though, will you move onto the Stuarts, or would you consider trying your hand at a contemporary novel?

HMC: I find it very hard to look beyond the work in hand, so the honest answer is I don't know. I think there might be something to be explored with Henry VIII's parents, though, so I could be heading in the other direction… My hunch, anyway, is that I'll stay in the past for a while yet, though if an idea strikes, I can't rule anything out!

  • BB: Sounds fab, would love to read more about Henry VII - as mentioned earlier, I thought his relationship with Hal was a really strong point of VIII.

What's next for H M Castor?

HMC: I would absolutely love to be able to carry on doing what I'm doing right now. I've written many books of different types over the years, and have enjoyed the process immensely, but I have never felt so deeply committed to the material I'm working on as I do now. It's as if I've come home at last, and it would be very painful to have to stop. But with the book industry as tightly squeezed as it is, with libraries closing and bookshops disappearing from high streets, few writers can look to the future with certainty. I will plough on, and hope!

  • BB: I hope so as well! Thanks so much for agreeing to do this interview.

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