Today I’m chatting with fellow Sapere author Alexandra Walsh, whose final book in her historical conspiracy thriller series has just been published.
You clearly love history so much, what made you decide to write The Marquess House trilogy as a dual timeline rather than an historical novel?
You’re right, I do love history but, strangely, the Marquess House trilogy began life as a contemporary conspiracy theory thriller with no historical section at all! However, it very quickly became apparent that this style would not work. The present-day characters were having to deliver huge monologues explaining the history, so I restructured it. After a few experiments, it was soon apparent that the best way to tell the story was to the split the action and feed different information into the novel from the different time perspectives. It was exciting because I had never seen myself as an historical author before but the more research I did and as the intricacies of the plot developed, the action wove itself together so the two different time periods worked together to produce all the necessary detail without the book turning into a history lecture.
So had you chosen the Tudor and Stuart periods before you started writing?
For me, everything began with the reveal that is now in the second book, The Elizabeth Tudor Conspiracy, so yes, I always knew I'd be spending a lot of time in Tudor England. Then, in order for book one, The Catherine Howard Conspiracy, to work, I had to go backwards from Elizabeth I, which led me to the court of Henry VIII. Equally, while I was working out the plot, I knew I would have to go forward and this fitted with the events that took place in book three, The Arbella Stuart Conspiracy at the beginning and during the Stuart reign.
You must do a great deal of research. How does research time balance with writing time? And what are your favourite sources?
I begin with research, which can take anything from a month to three months, with writing interspersed. As The Marquess House trilogy covered a wide period of history, I did basic research for all three books before I even began writing to ensure the story was viable. I created huge timelines, endless charts and wallcharts, in order to have handy references and reminders as the story unfolded. Although, no matter how much research you do, you can guarantee the moment you sit down to write the first line, you discover that the particular fact you want to use has somehow slipped through and you need to head back to the archives to check it. I try to have the bulk of the research in place before I start writing, then I only need to break off to fill in any unexpected gaps.
My sources vary. When I began researching the series, I started with published biographies in order to get the facts. Then from there, I consulted the bibliographies in these for further sources. I also read very widely around the main characters to understand the history and the politics, as well as books about social habits and details of everyday life. The Internet was invaluable, especially as so many academic websites have digitised their archives, so it’s possible to read original documents online: The National Archives, the Parliamentary archives, British History online and Tudorwomen.com, were probably the sources I used most. However, genealogy websites like Geni and Ancestry were useful. My local archives helped with the details from Pembrokeshire, too.
And finally, what can we expect from you next?
At the moment, I’m working on a stand-alone, dual timeline mystery, although the time period is different from The Marquess House trilogy. I’ve also incorporated some of my own family history into this one.