Author Interview with
Nathen Amin is the author of three excellent books, Tudor Wales, York Pubs and very recently he published the already No. 1 bestseller The House of Beaufort, The Bastard Line that Captured the Crown. Nathen is also the founder of The Henry Tudor Society.
I am delighted to have been able to interview Nathen and thank him for his time to answer my questions.
Could you share with us a little about the process of writing your latest book The House of Beaufort?
It took a while, and truth be told it wasn’t until I was perhaps a quarter of the way through this latest book that I perfected it somewhat, but my writing process involves a couple of steps that I attempt to stay rigid too, otherwise I feel that I lose a bit of control and discipline in my writing.
I have no formal training as a historian, in that I didn’t study it at University, or in how to compose a book, so it has very much been trial by error. My current process, and one which I am using for my next book which great success so far, has been to try and visualise before each chapter what it is that I hope to achieve in this small subsection of the full overall picture. If you’re writing about a topic like the Wars of the Roses, you generally know the basic outline, the big events and what happened when and where. It’s a case of trying to break that down into bitesize chunks that will make it easier for the reader to follow.
So I’ll visualise where I want to go in the chapter, for arguments sake if a chapter I have just finished ends with the arrival of Edward IV’s army in to England in 1471, I know the big events that happened thereafter were that he marched south, won a battle at Barnet and then moved on to Tewkesbury and won another battle. So in my mind, I know this chapter is going to be a few month summary of those events, ending with Tewkesbury. I know who died, I know whose story I want to tell. Nothing else before or after is relevant whilst I focus only on what is in front of me.
I will then refer to a collection of books written by historians on the topic in mind, making notes and trying to understand how others have interpreted events. For the Wars of the Roses, this can be as many as 20 books across the last century, and can be quite heavy at times, sometimes a few weeks of just reading. It gets me focused on the chapter. Again, nothing else before or after is relevant. As you can imagine, reading a few pages here and there in different books means my living room gets quite messy at times.
Then, it’s onto a collection of primary sources. I scour through the Chancery Rolls, Parliamentary Rolls, Chronicles and anything else that is relevant, making notes constantly as I try and put together my own picture. Sometimes I see where perceived opinion from the other historians makes sense, other times things jump to mind that make me take a second look, and perhaps even reject traditional opinion.
And then comes the worst part. Re-read, edit, re-read, edit and repeat ad infinitum. No matter how many times you will re-read your work, there will always be something that jumps out. At some point, you just need to move on otherwise you’ll drive yourself crazy and hope you haven’t missed something major. Hopefully the end product is coherent, makes sense, and links up well with previous and next chapters.
Generally speaking, this will take around a month to put together a chapter, and most of it is simply reading, reading, reading.
What was the most difficult challenge in writing this book?
Time. I foolishly gave myself about 9 months to do it in, but that was soon a regret. I started with a few books, some primary sources, but on a daily basis it seemed I was coming across a new source, or a new book that demanded my attention and I became a bit overwhelmed halfway through. The last few months of the book felt like I was working my day job 9-5, then working from 6pm until 1-2am every night, and full days on the weekends. It completely took over my life and even on the occasional days out, I couldn’t help but think I was just wasting ‘book time’. I learnt my lesson for future books. I tip my hat to those historians who can churn out book after book in quick succession, but there has to be a work-life balance.
Have you traveled much to research your books? If so, which places did you visit?
Travelling is the best part of writing the book as it allows me to include my wife in the process. Luckily, she’s a history teacher so has no issue with being dragged around the country visiting castles, cathedrals and battlefield sites. For this book, many places were visited, in particular a comprehensive tour of Northumberland, taking in castles such as Bamburgh, Warkworth and Alnwick, down to the Welsh Marches and places like Shrewsbury, Ludlow and Tewkesbury, and across the south, wonderful places like Winchester, Corfe and Southwark in London. I basically covered every part of England chasing the Beauforts and reliving history in the very places it happened.
Who is your favourite person of the 15th Century and why?
The obvious answer would, of course, be Henry VII or perhaps Jasper Tudor, but after writing this book, I’d now answer that question with Thomas Beaufort. He was a remarkable man, born only the third son of an illegitimate brood, his prospects didn’t appear too great, even as a son of a great duke like John of Gaunt. Whilst his eldest Beaufort brother John became a nobleman and his other brother Henry became the churchman, both reaching great heights, it was left to Thomas to become the soldier, but he excelled in this field to such an extent its arguable whether Henry V, his nephew, would have achieved such great success during his famous French wars which of course included Agincourt in 1415. Thomas Beaufort served as Admiral of the Fleet and was specifically chosen to hold the Norman castles of Harfleur and Rouen against French attempts to retake them, which would have collapsed Henry V’s position in France, and perhaps that king’s place in history as one of England’s greatest kings. Thomas did so well as a soldier he was rewarded first with the earldom of Dorset, and then with the dukedom of Exeter. In fact, after Henry V died aged only 36 in 1422, leaving his 9-month old son Henry VI as king, of all the men he could have picked in England to be guardian over the child king, it was Thomas Beaufort who was selected. What greater honour could there have been for this man, who in addition to his military skills was also regarded as a chivalrous and charitable man full of honour. One of the last great medieval knights.
What sparked your interest in the 15th Century and the Wars of the Roses in particular?
My interest was two-fold to begin with – Welsh history, those ancient princes such as Llywelyn the Great, The Lord Rhys and Owain Glyndwr, so you’re talking 11-14th century roughly, and then the fascinating figure that was Henry VIII, so the 16th century. Two different interests that gradually combined when I discovered Henry’s dad was a Welshman, born in Pembroke with an incredible rise from exile to become king of England at Bosworth.
And personally speaking, as someone into rough and tumble sports such as rugby and boxing, there is no competition between the subtle court politicking of Cromwell, Wolsely and the Boleyns and the violent, bloody, visceral battles that were fought in the Wars of the Roses. Once you’ve read about what happened at Towton or Tewkesbury, or how Henry Tudor somehow managed to claim a throne against all odds and with no experience, how does one return to any other period of study. The Game of Thrones hasn’t become popular by accident. It’s based on the most exciting, fascinating period in British history.
If you had the power to change the past and re-write anything that happened during the Wars of the Roses, which event would you choose to change?
I can’t say I’ve ever thought about it. History happened as it did and nothing we can do can change that. Revisionism to satisfy modern sensibilities is not really something I’m about. To answer the question, however, it would be to have Owen Tudor not die by a swing of an axe at Hereford in 1461, but to somehow survive on into his eighties and witness his young grandson Henry become king. How bewildered he would have been!
If you could ask any historical person a question, what would it be and who would you ask?
Richard III – ‘why did you truly act as you did in 1483? Fear? Self-preservation? Naked Ambition?’
Do you have a favourite ‘Wars of the Roses’ related place?
Pembroke Castle, particularly since the new Henry VII statue has been installed nearby. The view on a small bridge overlooking the quay in the shadow of a vast castle in which the first Tudor king was born is breath-taking.
What was the last book you read?
I am constantly reading 10-20 books concurrently as part of my research, but the book I am currently reading that isn’t related to my research is ‘Black Tudors’ by Miranda Kaufmann, which is released next month (I have an advance review copy). It’s fantastic, looking at those figures of colour who lived in 16th century England, their lives, their stories, their experiences. It’s completely unique and I’m really enjoying learning new facts, which when you’ve been around this subject for several years can sometimes be hard to find. Who knew, for example, that Englishmen couldn’t swim very well, if at all, and Africans were recruited to act as divers, and on one particular episode even attempted to retrieve the sunken Mary Rose, some 400 years before its eventual rediscovery.
What is your favourite book?
The Making of the Tudor Dynasty by Ralph Griffiths and RS Thomas. At the time I read it, it was really the only book that explored the Tudors’ Welsh origins and the book that truly got me hooked to this whole subject. Without that book, I wouldn’t be giving this interview right now.
What three new skills would you like to learn?
Paleography, the ability to read medieval records, and also Latin, both of which would allow me to check out documents for myself and not necessarily rely on the transcribing of others. The other is perhaps more confidence in Public Speaking, to give more talks and perhaps even on camera.
What do you like to do outside writing?
I enjoy watching football, rugby and boxing, visiting historical places and drinking copious amounts of craft beer and real ale
Describe for us a day in your life when you are writing?
My day would always begin with looking over what I had previously written during my previous session, and quickly getting myself reacquainted with what I had written and where I intended to go next with my work. I would visualise what my objective is in this current chapter, and make sure I have the books I need nearby.
Depending at what stage I am at, research or writing, I would simply plough on, probably taking far too many pauses to watch TV, check my phone or get something to eat. If I could ever bring myself to stop taking these breaks, I’d probably be far more productive.
If I am researching, it’s a case of flicking through the material, whether in physical book form or PDF form, taking constant notes on a small application on the laptop known as Sticky Notes (think a digital version of an actual sticky note). Once my research is complete for a section, I will then write a quick draft version of what it is I want to get across, the narrative if you will. I will then gradually bulk this up using my notes and primary source material to support my narrative. This process can sometimes be reversed, the primary source goes in first and I write my narrative around it, but generally this is the process.
I always try and keep going until I reach a natural break in the narrative before ending for the night, as it makes it easier to restart the following session. The process is always the same, the only thing that changes is the amount of writing done. Sometimes I may not get more than a paragraph down, other times there can be pages. I guess it depends on how focused I am that day, and what precisely I am writing about. Some topics will always take up far more research time.
A quote by Dan Jones always come to mind, where he says he once put weeks of research into writing a single sentence about Barking Abbey. I can relate to that. Readers will sometimes never release the sheer effort that has gone into writing a sentence they may only ever glance over.
What does your writing space look like?
Wherever my laptop is set down! Coffee House. Pub. Kitchen Table. In Bed. All have been my writing space at various times, but generally speaking it’s in my chair in front of the television surrounded by any one of my four cats and with a small coffee table covered with books and a drink, ideally beer.
The House of Beaufort was published several weeks ago, are you presently working on a new project?
I have signed a new contract to tackle the enduring enigmas that are Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck, the so-called Pretenders who tried to take Henry VII’s throne. I am not looking to get too bogged down in ‘were they the Princes in the Tower’, for I can’t see how that question can ever be answered in a way that satisfies everyone, but I am certainly looking at documenting both pretender’s rebellions against Henry VII, and for the first time, in one dedicated book. I will also be looking at the lesser-known third pretender, Ralph Wilford, who was executed in 1499. Just what was his story. It will be due out in 2019.
Nathen Amin grew up in the heart of Carmarthenshire, West Wales, and has long had an interest in Welsh history, the Wars of the Roses and the early Tudor period. His first book Tudor Wales was released in 2014 and was well-received, followed by a second book called York Pubs in 2016. His third book, the first full-length biography of the Beaufort family, the House of Beaufort, was released in 2017 and became an Amazon #1 Bestseller for Wars of the Roses. He is currently working on his fourth book, Pretenders to the Tudor Crown, for release in 2019.
Nathen is also the founder of the Henry Tudor Society and has featured discussing the Tudors on BBC radio and television, as well as in print and online media across the UK. He has a degree in Business and Journalism and now lives in York, where he works as a Technical Writer.
Social Media Links:
Nathen's author website
Nathen's author Facebook page
The Henry Tudor Society website
The Henry Tudor Society Facebook page