Yesterday, I reviewed a terrific historical fiction book called THE VIRGIN'S DAUGHTERS: IN THE COURT OF ELIZABETH I by Jeane Westin. I thought the novel was a fascinating look at not only the life of Queen Elizabeth I, but also the lives of her ladies-in-waiting. I am so fortunate that Ms. Westin took time from her busy schedule to answer a few of my questions.
Booking Mama: You began your career as a journalist, how did you decide that you wanted to write books? How did you then make the switch from non-fiction to historical fiction books?
Ms. Westin: I switched to books because I was on an article treadmill, never being able to really get into a subject before I was off to another one. My friends thought I was crazy to quit and write books, but I sold the first one myself and then got an agent and just kept going from there.
After writing six non-fiction books, I got an itch to write what I read and I always read historical fiction.
Booking Mama: Your novel THE VIRGIN'S DAUGHTERS is kind of a unique perspective on the life of Elizabeth I. How and why did you decide to approach your story in this way?
Ms. Westin: I knew I wanted to write about her and I was deep in research, trying to come up with a new approach when I read that she did not want her ladies-in-waiting to marry. She wanted them to emulate her and remain virgins, but quite a few of them rebelled at that. Also, the women's parents who sent their daughters to court in hopes they would add a title and property to the family weren't too happy.
Elizabeth did call her ladies her "daughters" because she thought she took a mother's interest in their welfare, thus the title.
From that paragraph of bio, I got the idea and with further research was able to flesh it out to become the basis for The Virgin's Daughters.
Booking Mama: You obviously conducted a great deal of research to write THE VIRGIN'S DAUGHTER. How long did it take you to research and write this novel?
Ms. Westin: I research as I write...I was already well read in the Elizabethan era. It took a total of about eleven months of long days at the computer and evenings with my nose in biographies and histories. I didn't know it then, but I was also gathering material and ideas for my next novel, which I'm writing now.
Booking Mama: Did you learn anything while writing this novel that surprised you about Elizabeth I?
Ms. Westin: Yes, two things stand out. I came across a list of her illnesses. She was very ill, close to death, many times in her life. From reading this summery of her heath, I concluded she was possibly anorexic and also had a series of nervous breakdowns after a serious crisis.
Also, if you read her speeches and letters about her from foreign ambassadors and courtiers quoting her, you cannot help but come to the conclusion that she was very intelligent, perhaps a genius.
There are stories that she really didn't rule, that it was William Cecil and his son Robert or the Earl of Leicester who made all the decisions. If you read her own words, you cannot help but conclude that she was in charge all the way.
Booking Mama: If you would write about any person from any period in history, who would that be?
Ms. Westin: That's like putting me at eight years old in front of a candy counter. There are so many fascinating historical characters, especially women, that I would like to explore on the page to determine who they really were.
Booking Mama: I read that you are in the process of rehabilitating a two-story Tudor cottage. Would you like to tell us a little bit about that? What has been the biggest surprise you've encountered since you began working on the house?
Ms. Westin: I have a picture of it up on my website at www.jeanewestin.com. I suppose my biggest and continual surprise is how much authenticity costs. My latest project is finding Tudor chimney pots...which I've found, but now the hard part is finding someone who will climb my steep pitched roof to install them. Lighting is the easiest. There are many replicas of Tudor lanterns about.
Booking Mama: I can't help myself because I'm always curious about what books people recommend. I have to know, who are some of your favorite authors and what are some of your favorite books?
Ms. Westin: Some of my favorite historical authors are: Jean Plaidy, Anne Somerset, Philippa Gregory, all of her novels even the early ones, Liza Picard, Elizabeth Jenkins, Daphne du Maurier whose Frenchman's Creek I fell in love with when I was young, Norah Lofts, Rosalind Miles, Alison Weir, Karen Harper, whose wonderful Mistress Shakespeare I just finished, Sandra Worth, Kate Emerson and on and on, so many I can't name them all here. I've just fallen hard for David Liss, a historical writer who has carved out a new niche in historicals with marvelous fiction that explains the beginnings of economics and of stocks, bubbles, etc., but all through wonderful characters.
Booking Mama: What are you working on now?
Ms. Westin: I'm currently writing a book coming from NAL, August 2010, titled His Last Letter: Elizabeth I and the Earl of Leicester.
After writing The Virgin's Daughters where both Elizabeth and Leicester were viewed by others, I wondered what it would be like to get inside their minds and hearts to discover them as real people we could understand. It's wonderful and difficult to try to do that. I'll let you judge for yourself next August if I succeeded.
Thank you for these interesting questions, Julie.
Ms. Westin has a fantastic website where you can learn more about her life, her books and even Queen Elizabeth I. She also has a special page just for book clubs where you will find discussion questions as well as a way to contact Ms. Westin to request an author chat.
I have two copies of THE VIRGIN'S DAUGHTERS to giveaway courtesy of NAL Penguin Group USA. To enter my giveaway, just leave a comment with your e-mail address telling me your favorite fun fact about Elizabeth I. To double or triple your chances, you can blog and/or tweet about this contest with a link back to this post. This contest will be open until September 22nd at 11:59 p.m EST, and I will notify the winners the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. and Canada mailing addresses only -- no p.o. boxes please. Good luck!