Exploring Actual Locations for Historical Fiction with Tony Riches

Tony Riches has written a superb trilogy telling the stories of Owen (click here for an earlier post on Owen Tudor), Jasper, and Henry Tudor, King of England. He’s also been on the blog talking about writing a trilogy and the unique attributes of historical fiction. I’m delighted that he’s here today discussing his research process.

Exploring Actual Locations During Research for the Tudor Trilogy – by Tony Riches

When I set out to write the Tudor Trilogy I wanted to dig deeper and uncover new insights and details that would bring the early Tudors to life. For the first book, OWEN, I visited several locations including the beautiful island of Anglesey in North Wales, home of the first Tudors, as well as Pembroke Castle, where Owen spent his last years. (It helped that I was born in Pembroke, within sight of the castle, birthplace of Henry Tudor, and have now returned to live in West Wales.)

I had to piece together the details of Owen’s life by cross-checking different sources and ‘fill in the gaps’ from scarce records of the period. For the second book, JASPER, I continued his story in the third-person and was able to begin meaningful primary research, investigating events by visiting more actual locations.

There is only space here to provide a few examples, but one of the most interesting was when I investigated Jasper and the young Henry Tudor’s escape to exile. Pursued by the Yorkists, they had to flee for their lives through a secret tunnel to reach the harbour in the costal Welsh town of Tenby. Amazingly, the tunnel still exists, so I was able to gain access to see it for myself and walk in their footsteps deep under the streets.

Secret Tunnel Under Tenby

 

I was interested to see an ancient fireplace, littered with primitive glass bottles, and had a real sense of what it must have been like for the Tudors. I’ve sailed from the small harbour in Tenby many times, including at night, so have a good understanding of how they might have felt as they slipped away on the perilous voyage to Brittany.

I’d read that little happened during those fourteen years in exile – but of course Brittany was where Henry would come of age and begin to plan his return. Starting at the impressive palace of Duke Francis of Brittany in Vannes, I followed the Tudors to the Château de Suscinio on the coast. Luckily the château has been restored to look much as it might have when Jasper and Henry were there, and the surrounding countryside and coastline is largely unchanged.

Chateau de Suscinio in Brittany

Duke Francis of Brittany, began to worry when Yorkist agents began plotting to capture the Tudors, so he moved them to different fortresses further inland. I stayed by the river within sight of the magnificent Château de Josselin, were Jasper was effectively held prisoner. Although the inside has been updated over the years, the tower where Jasper lived survives and I was even able to identify Tudor period houses in the medieval town which he would have seen from his window.

Chateau de Josselin

Henry’s château was harder to find but worth the effort. The Forteresse de Largoët is deep in the forest outside of the town of Elven. His custodian, Marshall of Brittany, Jean IV, Lord of Rieux and Rochefort, had two sons of similar age to Henry and it is thought they continued their education together.

The Forteresse de Largoët

Entering the Dungeon Tower through a dark corridor, I regretted not bringing a torch, as the high stairway is lit only by the small window openings. Interestingly, the lower level is octagonal, with the second hexagonal and the rest square. Cautiously feeling my way up the staircase I was aware that, yet again, I walked in the footsteps of the young Henry Tudor, who would also have steadied himself by placing his hand against the cold stone walls, more than five centuries before.

When I returned to Wales I made the journey to remote Mill Bay, where Henry and Jasper landed with their small invasion fleet. A bronze plaque records the event and it was easy to imagine how they might have felt as they began the long march to confront King Richard at Bosworth. On the anniversary of the battle I walked across Bosworth field and watched hundreds of re-enactors recreate the battle, complete with cavalry and cannon fire.

Re-enactment of the Battle of Bosworth

The challenge I faced for the final book of the trilogy, HENRY, was too much information. Henry left a wealth of detailed records, often initialling every line in his ledgers, which still survive. At the same time, I had to deal with the contradictions, myths and legends that cloud interpretation of the facts. I decided the only way was to immerse myself in Henry’s world and explore events as they might have appeared from his point of view.

As I reached the end of Henry’s story I decided to visit his Tomb in Westminster Abbey. There is something quite surreal about making your way through Westminster Abbey. I stood on the spot where Henry was crowned and married before reaching his magnificent tomb in the Lady Chapel. His effigy is raised too high to see, so I climbed a convenient step and peered through the holes in the grille. There lay Henry with his wife, Elizabeth of York, their gilded hands clasped in prayer.

I’d like to think all this work and so many miles of travelling will help readers begin to understand the early Tudors – and see beyond the shallow ‘caricature’ of Henry as a miserly and soulless king. I’m pleased to say that all three books of the trilogy have become international best sellers, so I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all the readers around the world who have been on this journey with me.

As a wonderful postscript, on the 10th of June we are unveiling a life-sized bronze statue of Henry on the bridge outside Pembroke Castle, to ensure he is always remembered. Although this is the end of the Tudor trilogy, I am now researching the life of Henry’s daughter Mary and her adventurous husband Charles Brandon, so the story of the Tudors is far from over.

Many thanks for being on the blog, Tony, and for the support and encouragement you’ve given me. Wishing you great success with your latest novel.

Tony Riches is a full time author of best-selling fiction and non-fiction books. He lives by the sea in Pembrokeshire, West Wales with his wife and enjoys sailing and river kayaking in his spare time. For more information about Tony’s other books please visit his popular blog, The Writing Desk and website www.tonyriches.com and find him on Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches. The Tudor Trilogy is available on Amazon UK  Amazon US and Amazon AU.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union on August 16, 2016. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

What I’ve Learnt From Writing The Tudor Trilogy by Tony Riches

Owen-and-Jasper-by-Tony-RichesIf you’re thinking of writing a trilogy (or for that matter a book with a sequel), Tony Riches has some excellent advice for you. Tony is the author of four novels and has recently released Jasper, book two of his Tudor Trilogy. Over to you, Tony.

What I’ve Learnt From Writing the Tudor Trilogy

Although I was born within sight of Pembroke Castle, I only began to study its history when I returned to the area five years ago. I was amazed to find there were no books about Owen Tudor, the father of Sir Jasper Tudor, the Earl of Pembroke, who once owned and lived in the Castle. I found several accounts of the life of Henry Tudor, Jasper’s nephew, (who later became King Henry VII and began the Tudor Dynasty) but there were no novels that brought his story to life.

I’d just reviewed Pat Barker’s Life Class Trilogy for my blog and was reading Conn Iggulden’s impressive Wars of the Roses trilogy, when the idea for the Tudor Trilogy (unsurprisingly) occurred to me. I realised Henry Tudor could be born in book one, ‘come of age’ in book two, and rule England in book three, so there would be plenty of scope to explore his life and times.

I started with a year of research, as I do my best to ensure my novels are historically correct, and feel the role of the historical fiction novelist is to ‘fill in the gaps’ with a plausible narrative and explore how people might have reacted to often quite dramatic events. I am always disappointed when authors distort or manipulate the known history, and firmly believe history has more amazing stories than anything I would ever dream up.

The first book of the trilogy was my fourth novel, so I had a good idea about the structure, and it had a ‘natural’ and dramatic end point (not wishing to give anything away for non-Tudor aficionados). In book one, OWEN, a Welsh servant of Queen Catherine of Valois, the lonely widow of King Henry V falls in love with her and they marry in secret. Their eldest son Edmund Tudor marries the heiress Lady Margaret Beaufort, and fathers a child with her to secure her inheritance. Unfortunately, Lady Margaret is barely thirteen years old and the birth of her son, Henry, nearly kills her. When her husband dies mysteriously without even seeing his son, his younger brother Jasper Tudor swears to protect them.

This all takes place during the Wars of the Roses and in book two, JASPER, (published 25th March), Jasper and young Henry flee to exile in Brittany and plan to one day return and make Henry King of England. In the meantime, King Richard III has taken the throne and has a powerful army of thousands – while Jasper and Henry have nothing. Even the clothes they wear are paid for by the Duke of Brittany. So how can they possibly invade England and defeat King Richard at the Battle of Bosworth?

I am currently researching the final book of the trilogy, HENRY, and plan to explore how he brought peace to England by marrying the beautiful daughter of his enemy, King Edward IV. I also want to understand how their son, who became King Henry VIII, became such a tyrant and transformed the history of England forever.

Now I have some experience of writing a trilogy, I’m convinced it is something any historical fiction novelist should consider, for the following reasons:

  • If you write a book like CJ Sansom’s 640 page Lamentation (which I’ve been reading since Christmas) you may be able to sell it for double, but I was able to promote book one while writing book two (and it became a best-seller in the UK, US and Australia.)
  • Readers actually contact me to ask when the next book in the trilogy is going to be available, which is encouraging, as I’ve already managed to build an international reader base of Tudor fans.
  • Although I’ve tried to make sure each book works as a ‘stand-alone’ I expect people reading them in the wrong order will be at least tempted to buy the others. As a reader I know I always do.)
  • As a writer, there is a liberating sense of space and freedom, as ideas previously hinted at can be developed and explored over the three books. The complex relationship between the Tudors and the Woodvilles is a good example!
  • Amazon (and other retailers) are happy to promote and market a trilogy (or any series) as a discounted single purchase, which is good value for readers and means your books are more likely to be ‘discovered’.

Owen-and-Jasper-by-Tony-Riches

About the Author

Tony Riches is a full time author of best-selling fiction and non-fiction books. He lives by the sea in Pembrokeshire, West Wales with his wife and enjoys sea and river kayaking in his spare time. For more information about Tony’s other books please visit his popular blog, The Writing Desk and his WordPress website and find him on Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE is set in WWI France and is available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. Her debut novel, UNRAVELLED: Two wars. Two affairs. One marriage. is also available from these retailers.

Mary can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.