Last weekend, on a sunny Sunday at the Margate Book Fair - I had the delightful expereince of meeting one of this country's top selling historical writers - Alison Weir. Alison has written twenty-five books - a mix of biography and historical fiction. Actually it's nearer twenty-seven books if you count the two that are yet to be published and there are more in the pipeline. I had been invited to introduce Alsion to the audience and then interview her for a podcast.
Alison is currently writing a series of novels about the wives of Hentry VIII. The talk was about Anne Boleyn, the second in the series. What intrigued me, apart from Alison's extensive knowledge and fascinating insights into this young queen's brief life - was her view that Anne had been part of a group of powerful women in the 16th century who were questioning the tradiitional role of women in society. As a woman who entered my adulthood in the 1970s , I am well aware of the seismic shift that took place at that time enabling women to take their rightful place in society in the world of work and elsewhere. So I was intrigued that well connected women, and queens in particular were also impatient at their lack of influence and power.
As a historical novelist myself, I am also fascinated by women who broke the mould and achieved things that were traditonally considered the preserve of men. The heroine of my first novel 'The Girl with Emerald Eyes' was Berta di Bernardo, who left the money to build the Leaning Tower of Pisa in the 12th century. This 'widow's' significance has been completely overlooked by historians over the years. Without her money and influence, the most iconic building in the world may simply never have existed. The hoerone of my third novel: 'The Silk Weaver's Wife' is a yong woman from Verona who aspires to become a silk designer. This may sound fanciful, especially at a time (the eighteenth century) when women had so little power and were effectively the possessions of their fathers and husbands. My heroine - Anastasia - is ruled by her father and forced to marry against her will. But railing against her fate, she is determined to achieve artistic success. Her story was partly inspired by that of Anna Maria Garthwaite - a famous silk designer based in Spitalfields in the eighteenth century. I was also impressed by the artist Maria Sybilla Merian - a talented painter and entymologist, who sailed to Suriname in South America with her daughter and spent two years in a remote trading post of the Dutch East India Company studying the wildlife of that area and making a remarkable collection of paintings. Her work is currently held in some of the great art collections around the world, including the Kremlin and the Queens Gallery in London. I brought her into my own novel as a character, and her influence on my heroine's life turns out to be catalyst for change.
At the Margate Book Fair, sitting in their pop-up bookshop, I was interviewed by Francesca Baker - journalist and blogger: