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Author Interview with
Amy Licence

Amy Licence is the author of many books on the 15th and 16th Century, including Elizabeth of York, Cecily Neville, Anne Neville and Richard III, to name a few. Recently she wrote two children books, ‘All about Richard III’ and ‘All about Henry VII’, published with MadeGlobal Publishing.
I am delighted to have been able to interview Amy and thank her for her time to answer my questions.

Could you share with us a little about the process of writing your latest children books ‘All about Richard III’ and ‘All about Henry VII’?
Yes, the writing of these books was different from writing my full-length adult books, but there are similarities. Most importantly in this case, I was writing to a tighter structure. So I had all my research and material to hand, then I had to carve it up into 16 pieces and decide which facts were to be emphasised and what aspects of their rule to include. With such a narrow focus, it was difficult to be selective and sustain a narrative without leaving key elements out. The books are only a couple of thousand words, so it was like creaming off the best facts. I took a long time drawing up different plans, chapter by chapter, but once I was happy with my plan, I stuck to it and the writing was comparatively swift after that.

What was the most difficult challenge in writing these two books?
It was the problem of presenting material that could be controversial in such a way that made it easy to understand by children. I was also aware that some of the questions that surround these two monarchs remain unanswered and that they do divide people; some love them, some loathe them. I didn’t want to present one view or the other, but simply to offer the known facts and the possible interpretations, to allow children to make up their own minds. I had to do this while making the information accessible and interesting to children of different ages. So really, the challenge was getting the tone right.

Have you traveled much to research your books? If so, which places did you visit?
I travel as much as I can, with small children, time and finances permitting, and I’m lucky that the majority of my books cover a similar span of time, so no visit to a medieval or Tudor location is ever wasted. I live within fairly close distance to some important locations like Dover Castle and Leeds Castle, with the Tower of London and Hampton Court also within range. Last year, I did go up to Leicester, to see Bosworth Field, the Cathedral and a few other locations associated with Richard III’s last days, and also to Wales, to visit Raglan Castle, where Henry VII spent part of his youth and Brecon Castle, associated with the Duke of Buckingham. I’m going back to south Wales again this summer and will be taking in more locations. I’ll be writing about Mary I soon and I recently visited Framlingham Castle in Suffolk, from where she launched her claim to the throne. I’ve been to St Albans a few times too, and Cecily Neville’s home of Berkhamsted Castle and I’ll be back there again in the summer, for the St Albans Literary Festival. I do like to visit as many locations as I can, to bring me as close as possible to these people and their times.

Who is your favourite person of the 15th Century and why?
This is a difficult one, as I try as hard as possible to remain objective and look at people’s motives from more than one perspective and give them the benefit of the doubt. Most people were just trying to survive as best they could, and I’m interested in human relations and motivation, so I find fascinating every person I research. However I am only human, and I can’t deny that I particularly enjoy writing about Richard III and Edward IV; Richard because there are so many unanswered questions about his reign and Edward because I think he has been hugely underrated by subsequent historians.

What sparked your interest in the 15th Century and the Wars of the Roses in particular?
I started off, as a child, being particularly interested in the Tudors. I read and researched about them for years, and they still fascinate me, but I wanted to know more about where they came from and the legacies they inherited. So I pushed back my research, generation by generation, and found that I felt very much at home in the mid-fifteenth century. I also recall being twelve years old in 1985, on the 500th anniversary of Bosworth; soon afterwards we were given a case study about Richard in a history lesson, in which we had to examine a few sources and decide whether or not we believed him responsible for the deaths of the Princes in the Tower. That really opened my eyes to the possibilities inherent in their being few clear cut answers in 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 wouldn’t change anything, because for good or bad, events evolved as they did and we know from the butterfly effect, that the slightest ripple somewhere can have huge ramifications elsewhere. Even if I popped up at court and straightened Edward’s crown, the potential effect of interference from outside is immense. Of course there are things that happened which I regret, but those regrets belong to a twenty-first century paradigm, and my job is to present and interpret what actually happened, instead of altering or improving elements of it. The power I would most wish for, is time travel, but even if I could go back and witness it all, I’d have to force myself to sit back and not interfere.

If you could ask any historical person a question, what would it be and who would you ask?
Ah, that’s a very easy one to answer. No question. I’d ask Richard III to talk me through his thought processes between April and July 1483. I want to know the stages of transition he went through, from the accession of his nephew, to his own coronation. What were the turning points and what provoked them? Who did he trust and who didn’t he? There was so much going on that he knew about that we don’t today.

Do you have a favourite ‘Wars of the Roses’ related place?
Yes, it would have to be Bosworth, for the significance of the site. I also like its simplicity; for all the castles, cathedrals and important buildings, the simple mood of Bosworth is quite a contrast. There’s something very poignant to me about such a decisive event taking place among the fields, in the mud, I think the medieval mind would have appreciated the sense of mortality associated with nature and the cycle of life.

What was the last book you read?
I usually have about 4 or 5 books on the go at the same time, and while I’m researching a medieval book I do like my bedtime reading to be something completely different, so I’ve just finished “Women of the Raj” about the wives, mother and daughters in India under British rule, by Margaret McMillan. I’ve been fascinated by the Raj for years and would love to write about it some day, although perhaps from the perspective of Indian women, if I could ever find enough source material.

What is your favourite book?
This has varied over time, in different phases of my life. I guess it’s the books I return to over and over again and re-read and still find new things in them. As a child, I loved Michael Ende’s Neverending Story, as a young woman I loved Jane Austen and Elizabeth von Arnim. I have many favourite authors: Nabokov, Dostoevsky and Gorky, but I also love poets, so I’ll always return to T S Eliot, John Donne, Hopkins, Chaucer and others. I have a particularly special relationship with books I have taught as well: Lord of the Flies, Hamlet, the Great Gatsby in particular, and the play Journey’s End. My favourite poem of all time is Eliot’s The Lovesong of J.Alfred Prufrock and if I had to choose just one author, whom I think stands as a monolith in modernist fiction, it must be Virginia Woolf. And just one book? Woolf’s The Waves. It’s complex and difficult, like reading a poem in verse, more about moods and rhythms than a story. I have a copy by my bed for inspiration and I open it at random pages just to read the rhythm of her prose.

What three new skills would you like to learn?
The secrets to life, the universe and everything.
What do you like to do outside writing?
Writing pretty much fills my head; if I’m not actually typing, I’m mulling things over, thinking and planning. I’ll be composing the start of my next chapter or working out a structure, so I never really switch it off. I like reading and travelling, but those things are work-related. I’m also being a parent much of the time. The only thing I get to do outside that, really, is sleep!
Describe for us a day in your life when you are writing?
It’s not very exciting I’m afraid and it is determined by the school routine! I’m up around 7, to get my children ready; we’re out of the door by 8.30 to get my elder son to school. I’ll be at the computer by 9, often with my younger son sitting beside me, drawing or playing games. The next six hours are a balance of me writing for half an hour or so, playing with him, reading and researching. I have to try and snatch time in which to work but it only happens in small chunks. If it’s nice weather, we might go to the shops or walk into town. I pick up my elder boy at 3 and we might chat to friends or go to the park for an hour or two, then I’m back at the computer again. My husband gets back around 6.30, so I’ll try and get an hour or so of work done if the boys play happily together. Then it’s dinner and the bedtime routine starts. I might get some more done in the evening provided riots don’t break out.

What does your writing space look like?
I write on our only table, so there are piles of books pushed to one side and I often have two small boys sitting on either side. There are more books piled up around me on shelves, within arm’s reach. I like to have a vase of fresh flowers on the table if I can, and a scented candle burning. Plus lots of tea.

Your most recent books ‘Edward IV & Elizabeth Woodville, A True Romance’ and ‘Red Roses, Blanche of Gaunt to Margaret Beaufort’ were published earlier this year, are you presently working on a new project?
I’m currently working on a biography of Catherine of Aragon, as I’ve found she often gets presented as a victim, or defined in relation to Henry, or Anne Boleyn, or in her inability to bear a surviving son. She gets cast too often as a pathetic character, deserving of sympathy and I think she would hate that. I’m presenting her as a Humanist Queen, the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, a tour de force in her own right.

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Her website can be found HERE​

For her Facebook page click HERE

Amy Licence is an historian of women's lives in the medieval and early modern period, from Queens to commoners. Her particular interest lies in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century, in gender relations, Queenship and identity, rites of passage, pilgrimage, female orthodoxy and rebellion, superstition, magic, fertility and childbirth. She is also interested in Modernism, specifically Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group, Picasso and Post-Impressionism.

Amy has written for The Guardian, The TLS, The New Statesman, BBC History, The English Review, The Huffington Post, The London Magazine and other places. She has been interviewed regularly for BBC radio, including Woman's Hour, and made her TV debut in "The Real White Queen and her Rivals" documentary, for BBC2, in 2013. She also writes literary fiction and has been shortlisted twice for the Asham Award.

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