A special treat today at Magic of History. Colin Falconer, the author of 40 historical fiction books visits with us. His books have been translated into many languages, but you can find many of them on Amazon. Here’s our Q & A.
1. I’m a big fan of your books. Can you tell me how and why you write so many female-centric novels. Few men do. What made you decide to go that route?
It wasn’t a conscious decision. My first real historical novel was a book called HAREM, about one of Suleiman the Magnificent’s concubines. It did amazingly well, and my agent at the time said: you have to write more of these. The publishers were very specific about what they wanted: ‘it has to be before the 17th century with a strong female lead and she has to be left-handed and bilingual.’ Well, not the last bit, I made that up, but you get the idea.
So in a way I fell in to writing from a female POV as well as a man’s.
Also, I find history from a woman’s POV more interesting; men, we’ve spent the last couple of thousand years just shooting at things with guns or swords.
Women from classical history, like Malinali in Aztec and Cleopatra, just fascinated me. For one thing, they had to be smarter than most men to succeed, because they couldn’t just chop up someone who was standing in their way. And in my modern historical fiction, the women I write about are sometimes based on my own family. Kitty in ‘The Unkillable Kitty O’Kane’ for instance, was an amalgam of my mother and my grandmother.
2. Why did you pick historical fiction, as opposed to, for example,
I’m not sure where the line is between the two. (Though from what I’ve seen on the Amazon lists, to be classed as an historical romance writer, you have to have a bare-chested Scotsman with a kilt on the cover.)
3. What is it about history that appeals to you?
Two things; it’s important and it’s endlessly entertaining.
First, its importance: “Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.” Many people are ignorant of their own histories, the true history of the country they live in, and the wider sweep of the world. This is why we see history repeated all the time, every day, in people’s lives and in national news. “Oh, that was all in the past.” We choose not to remember it, so we don’t learn from it.
The past is vitally important because it is the key to the future.
From a reader’s point of view it is also endlessly entertaining; we can be transported to places we can no longer travel to, see amazing things that no longer exist. The past is the one foreign country you can only travel to in a book or a movie. No matter how rich you are, you can’t buy a ticket to the amazing countries of the past.
4. Tell us about your latest book, A Vain and Indecent Woman.
It’s based on a true story, about Joan of Kent, the woman who eventually married the Black Prince.
When she was young, she fell in love with a knight in the King’s guard, a man called Thomas Holand. It’s the stuff of fairy tales, but not very remarkable, even in an age where love was hardly a prerequisite for marriage.
It is the princess, Joan of Kent, who is remarkable. Forbidden by the king to marry, she does it anyway, in secret. When the King discovers what she has done, he is furious. He has more pressing concerns than love and forces her to bigamy. For ten years he and the nobility and the family try to force her to give up Thomas Holand.
But she defies them all and eventually she gets her way. To do that now would be incredible, to do it in the fourteenth century – just astonishing.
But I wanted to add a deeper layer to this remarkable story, so I told it from her father, Edmund’s, point of view. Edmund can see everything that happens to her – because he’s dead – a ghost. He was executed by his own nephew, Edward III, when Joan was three years old; the same Edward who later forces Joan into bigamy.
It became a very personal and poignant story for me, because in the telling of it I imagined myself as that father and Joan as one of my own two daughters, forced into that position. It’s why I dedicated the book to them.
5. I noticed that, previous to publishing the book, you asked readers if
they liked a cover where the woman’s head was removed. After a number of readers complained, you changed it to a woman with a head. What prompted you to ask this question of readers? Were you trying to buck a trend?
When Isabella was published by Lake Union in 2014, they designed a cover which had a headless woman on the cover and the book was well received. Lisa, who designs these beautiful covers for me, decided to imitate the cover, as it was the sequel. But then she read on an historical fiction fans’ forum, that many readers were tiring of the proliferation of headless women on covers. The Falconer Club response reflected that view, so she decided to change it. I love the cover! (I love all of her covers!)
6. What is the most difficult thing for you in describing female
characters from the past?
Reflecting the changing views of women, from society and of themselves. The Unkillable Kitty O’Kane for example; I had one reader describe Kitty as ‘weak’, because she let men dominate her – though, in the end, she finally stood up for herself and claimed her own identity. Now even in contemporary terms, that judgment was harsh – well, ignorant, actually. In historical terms, women were dominated by men, and for Kitty to finally claim her own place in the world was an incredibly brave thing to do. So that’s the most difficult thing – keeping the milieu realistic while satisfying the tastes of those readers who make contemporary judgments about historical characters.
7. What is the most fun thing about writing female characters from the past?
Because to even have a story, women from the past had to be rebels. Even if they maintained a demure and modest demeanor, they had cores of steel – intriguing characters. Malinali, Khutelun in ‘Silk Road’, Cleopatra, Roxelana – they all had these traits in common. And it was this extraordinary will in the face of the seemingly unbearable pressures brought to bear on her that make Joan of Kent truly remarkable.
That’s it! Many thanks to Colin Falconer. Don’t forget to check out Colin’s latest book — A Vain and Indecent Woman, on sale now.