Last year Katherine Clements arrived on the scene as an exciting new voice in historical fiction. As I knew I wanted to include Katherine’s books in this year’s historical fiction month on the blog, I decided to go for a triptych. So this is the second of three Katherine Clements posts, after yesterday’s review of The Crimson Ribbon and before tomorrow’s review of The Silvered Heart. Katherine chooses to write in a fascinating era of British history, the Civil War, and I was very much looking forward to asking her more about that and about her research. She also shared a surprising tidbit about Kate’s silvered heart pendant in her latest book. Enjoy the interview and don’t forget to check back tomorrow for my review of The Silvered Heart.
Let’s start with the basics. Who is Katherine Clements?
As my Twitter profile says: writer, history geek, costume drama addict. That about sums it up.
My debut novel, The Crimson Ribbon, was published in 2014 and my second, The Silvered Heart, on 7th May this year. You can also find two of my award-winning historical short stories in the Kindle ebook, The Painted Chamber. I’ve had many jobs but most recently I worked for a national exam board, where I led the development and launch of the UK’s first A Level qualification in Creative Writing. I currently live in Manchester, where I write full time.
How would you introduce people to your Wicked Lady in The Silvered Heart?
We first meet Katherine Ferrers, the heroine of The Silvered Heart, just before her fourteenth birthday. She’s an orphaned heiress, on her way to be married to a man she hardly knows. The Civil War has destroyed the privileged, aristocratic life she was born to. She is an extraordinary woman who finds herself in extraordinary circumstances.
The novel is based on the story of notorious 17th century highwaywoman, Lady Katherine Ferrers, otherwise known as the Wicked Lady. No one knows whether the real life Katherine was the highwaywoman of legend, so the book is an amalgamation of the few facts we know about her life and the myths.
Both your novels are set in the seventeenth century around the Civil Wars. What draws you to this period of English history?
It was such an important, exciting, tumultuous time in British history that doesn’t get the attention it should. You don’t hear much about the English Revolution do you? The 17th century saw the beginnings of so many things that are important in modern society, like parliamentary authority and a free press. Some of the things that people were questioning and fighting for back then are still not resolved today.
In The Crimson Ribbon, I wanted to explore some of the aspects of the period that interested me; women’s role in society, new freedoms brought about by the war, new religious sects, radical political thinking and the witchcraft trials. When it came to writing a second novel, I wanted to look at what happened after the wars, to people on the losing side.
What does your writing process look like? Is it hard to put away the research books and sit down to write your story?
When working on a novel I spend a long time researching, reading and planning. I like to know the beginning of the story, the characters’ backgrounds, plot points along the way and where I’m heading. I need these things in mind before I can start writing. I tend to write a very rough first draft and then rewrite a lot. It is hard to know when I’m ready to begin, but I usually get a sense of the characters as they come to life. The research continues throughout the writing, gradually narrowing in on specifics, right up until I submit the final version.
What was the most unexpected fact you uncovered during your research? Were you able to incorporate it into your narrative?
In the first draft of The Silvered Heart (and before it had a title) I’d written about a silver heart shaped charm that Katherine is given by Queen Henrietta Maria. The charm became a significant emblem throughout the story. Later, I found out that Henrietta Maria really did own such an item; a heart shaped charm that was given to her by her mother, Marie de Medici, when she was pregnant with the child who was to become Charles II. Henrietta Maria had suffered a miscarriage the previous year and was worried about losing another heir. She mentions the heart in a letter to her mother in 1630, saying, ‘I always wear it on my neck, for I fancy it brings me such good fortune that I am always afraid when I am without it.’ I altered some scenes to reflect that. It was very satisfying, and surprising to discover such a serendipitous coincidence.
If you could go back and interview one seventeenth-century historical figure, who would it be and why?
I think it would have to be Oliver Cromwell. He’s such a complex figure and very hard to decipher. He’s always going to be someone who divides opinion, even among his biographers, so it would be fascinating to try and make sense of him. Though I’ve a feeling it wouldn’t be easy – I’d have to ply him with wine or something.
What’s next for you? Any appearances or conventions planned?
I’ve got a few events coming up soon. On 2nd June I’ll be at Valence House Museum in Dagenham, where I’ll be talking about the Wicked Lady legend and The Silvered Heart. We’ll also be showing the only surviving portrait of Katherine Ferrers, which has just been restored, so I’m quite excited about that.
I’ll also be at the Weald and Downland Museum in Sussex on 9th June, talking about historical fiction and my own writing inspirations. Finally, on 17th June I’ll be at The Commandery in Worcester, talking about my novels and the Civil War.
Is there something else you’re passionate about other than writing and books?
History, of course! And I watch a lot of costume drama.
As a book reviewer, I’m all about the book enabling; I can’t help but want to make people read all the good books out there. But I can always use help. What are your top recommendations of books we should look out for in the coming months?
I very much enjoyed Karen Maitland’s latest, The Raven’s Head, and am currently loving Rebecca Mascull’s new one, Song of the Sea Maid, which is out in June. I’m also looking forward to Jason Hewitt’s Devastation Road in July.
Finally, I have to stay true to my roots and ask a librarian question to finish off with: Do you shelve your books alphabetically, by genre or do you have an ingenious system?
No system at all I’m afraid. All the non-fiction is together, as are all the classics, but that’s about as organised as it gets!
Bio: Katherine Clements has a passion for history and a degree in the subject. Until recently she worked for a national examination board, where she led the development and launch of the UK’s first A level in Creative Writing. She has enjoyed success with her short stories and won a Historical Short Story Competition sponsored by Jerwood in 2012. The Crimson Ribbon is her debut novel.
You can find Katherine online on Twitter.