Author Interview with
Toni is a history teacher, a writer and an experienced speaker. She is the author of Medieval Medicine, The Medieval Housewife, Everyday life in Medieval London and her most recent book Richard III, King of Controversy.
I am delighted to have been able to interview Toni and thank her for her time to answer my questions.
How long did it take you to write ‘Richard III, King of Controversy’ and what was the most difficult challenge in writing it?
It’s hard to say how long it took to write the book because I had been researching the subject, on and off, for decades and I never sit in front of my PC and just write. Plus I have teaching commitments, speaking engagements and – dare I mention it – housework to do as well and fit in around my writing. Overall, it probably took a couple of months.
The most challenging things were, firstly, to find a new way of presenting material which has been used so often before, secondly, to explain the complexities of the family tree and, thirdly, to present the changes of loyalty during the Wars of the Roses, particularly that of the Earl of Warwick in 1469-71 in a way that modern readers could understand.
Have you traveled much to research your books? If so, which places did you visit?
In researching this particular book we visited most places in England with any connection to Richard III, but I have two favourite sites. One is Middleham in North Yorkshire, where he spent his teenage years training to be a knight and which became his main residence after his marriage to Anne Neville. The other place is the romantic ruin of Minster Lovell in Oxfordshire, home of Richard’s childhood friend and Lord Chamberlain, Francis, Viscount Lovell.
We’ve also visited Mechelen and Bruges in Belgium, places associated with Richard’s sister Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy, and Tournai, also in Belgium and supposedly the birthplace of Perkin Warbeck, the ‘pretender’ who claimed to be one of the Princes in the Tower.
For Everyday Life in Medieval London the Museum of London was a real treasure trove of fascinating artifacts and information with the Guildhall Library and the British Library being the most wonderful documentary sources.
What sparked your interest in the 15th Century?
My interest and love of 15th-century history probably goes back to my school days. We had the most awful history teacher you can imagine, so Romans were tedious, Tudors were a chore, the Civil War was boring and the Victorians utterly uninteresting and as for the 20th century... I must have dozed off and missed it. But she never mentioned the Middle Ages at all, so I checked that period out for myself. And guess what? I discovered that history is fascinating, intriguing and totally addictive. I’ve even learned to like the Romans, the Civil War and the Victorians. Less so the Tudors and the 20th century.
My History ‘O’ level was the one exam I failed but have been making up for it ever since.
Who is your favourite person of the 15th Century and why?
You can probably guess my answer here – it has to be Richard III. I’ve always loved mysteries and intrigue and he certainly fits the bill. The first two books I read about him set up the controversy: Audrey Williamson’s The Mystery of the Princes and Charles Ross’s Richard III – old stuff now, I know. The first had Richard as a cross between St George and Sir Galahad – just about perfect – the second had him as a Machiavellian schemer, murdering people, especially relatives, without a second thought. So which version was true?
I’ve since concluded that neither book got it right. Richard was a reasonable man but born in violent times. He was human and fallible as any of us but being a ‘celeb’ his mistakes were probably magnified. I’m actually rather sad that his bones have been unearthed in Leicester in 2012 – I preferred him as a ‘man of mystery’.
If you had the power to change the past and re-write anything that happened during the Middle Ages, which event would you choose to change?
This is a tricky question. If I took it seriously, I would have to say I wouldn’t change anything. After all, if it wasn’t for Adolf Hitler, my parents wouldn’t have met and I would never have been born. But theoretically, I prefer the Blackadder version of history when Richard III – cunningly disguised as the famous comedian Peter Cook – won the battle of Bosworth.
If you could ask any historical person a question, what would it be and who would you ask?
You can no doubt guess that I’d like to ask Richard III what really happened to his little nephews. Did I get it right? [download the Kindle edition to see my theory]. If I was allowed to ask a second historical person a question it would have to be King Charles I: ‘Were you really so dim as to think you could force the Anglican Prayer Book on the Presbyterian Scots and not realise it would cause trouble?’
What was the last book you read?
Nothing historical. I love who-dunnits and thrillers. I’ve just finished Charles Cumming’s A Colder War, a new spy thriller as my ‘reading during the TV commercials’ book. My ‘waiting for buses and trains’ book is Tony Parson’s The Murder Bag and my bedtime reading is Scott Mariani’s Forgotten Holocaust, both are who-dunnits but there is a historical back story to Mariani’s of the 19th-century Irish potato famine.
What is your favourite book?
That’s a hard one to answer. My favourite classic has to be Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. It was a school set book and I hated it at the time. Only as an adult was I able to appreciate the author’s wonderful dry sense of humour. I don’t read many novels more than once but P&P is an exception.
More recently, I really enjoyed Anthony Horowitz Moriarty. It is so clever and the twist at the end when it is revealed that... no, I won’t spoil it for you, in case you want to read it.
What three new skills would you like to learn?
I wish I was good at Latin; that would help my research so much. My level of ‘graveyard’ Latin i.e. RIP on gravestones, etc. hasn’t developed, despite doing a course – and passing – with the Open University and completing an online National Archives Latin course. Otherwise, I would love to recover some skills I used to have before becoming too disabled. These include drawing, painting, embroidery, singing and playing the piano. Yes, I know that’s more than three. Oh, and I’d like to be a good swimmer too.
What do you like to do outside writing?
As you can see from the above, most of my hobbies have been set aside but we love the countryside, walking in the woods, photographing wildflowers and birds – my husband takes the pictures as I can’t. Pet Guinea pigs are another joy.
Describe for us a day in your life when you are writing?
There is no set pattern and it sounds very boring anyway. 8am-10ish is usually chores, then a cup of coffee while I find the books/files etc. that I’m working on, reading, checking references, searching the internet….. If it goes well, it’ll be passed lunchtime before I think about another coffee and food. If it doesn’t go well, then I have more coffee breaks. If I finish something and I’m pleased with it, I’ll celebrate with a well-deserved coffee, if not, I might well drown my sorrows in –you’ve guessed it – a cup of coffee. At 4 o’clock I feed the guinea pig, Ellie-May, because she can tell the time so accurately that she starts twittering at me at 3.55 to tell me she wants her tea. About an hour before my husband gets home, I think about dinner. Sometimes, when I’ve got a deadline looming thinking about it is as far as it goes and we have takeaway. I spend the evening winding down from all that coffee, reading and watching rubbish TV. This is NOT a guide for healthy living so I don’t recommend it, but you did ask.
What does your writing space look like?
Intimate, bijou, full of books and I share it with Ellie-May the guinea pig. It has a great view of our wildlife garden so, if the writing isn’t flowing, I can watch the birds on the feeders, the foxes and the very annoying neighbours’ cats which scare the birds and have Mexican stand-offs with the foxes.
Are you presently working on a new project? And if so, could you tell us a little more about it?
I teach history to adults in Gravesend and Rochester so I am always researching and writing new courses; we also have a monthly supper club Hungry for History where I give a talk followed by a delicious meal cooked by our son James at his coffee shop La Torretta in Rochester, so I’m currently writing the talks for our new season. Otherwise I have a few new projects on the go. I have been commissioned by various online magazines and hard-copy journals to write articles, in some cases a regular series. I would really like to publish some fiction. I have a selection of historical novels and short stories in the drawer but I’m too lazy to send them off, over and over, in the hope of striking it lucky with a publisher. Ebooks, like Richard III: King of Controversy would seem to be the answer, although that was published as a paperback in the first instance. Look out for Warriors a collection of short stories and poetry, from Agincourt to Afghanistan, and The Death Collector, a novella about a Victorian detective.
Toni Mount is an active member of the Richard III Society research committee and a library volunteer where she leads a Creative Writing group. Toni earned her research Masters degree from the University of Kent through the study of a medieval medical manuscript held at the Wellcome Library in London. Her BA (with First-class Honours) and Diploma in European Humanities are from the Open University and her Cert. Ed (in Post-Compulsory Education and Training) is from the University of Greenwich. Recently she completed a Diploma in Literature and Creative Writing with the Open University.
Her website is at www.tonimount.co.uk and you are welcome to visit her popular social media pages, each linked to her books: