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Gardner Article

by

Susan Higginbotham

 


 

Are you a Tudor fan? Here's an article I wrote for the May 2007 issue of Solander,
the magazine of the Historical Novel Society. It's reprinted here by permission.

 

Take one king, blend in six wives, and what results is a brew that has fascinated historians, historical novelists, and readers for centuries. In 2005 and 2006, Jove Books added its own concoction to the Henry VIII feast: a series of mass-market paperbacks by the pseudonymous Laurien Gardner, each focusing on a different wife. 

 

Three novels have been published in the series thus far: The Spanish Bride (Catherine of Aragon), written by Julianne Lee; A Lady Raised High (Anne Boleyn), by Jennifer Ashley; and Plain Jane (Jane Seymour), by Sarah A. Hoyt. The three Laurien Gardners are established authors in their own right. Julianne Lee is a writer of historical fantasy. Jennifer Ashley writes romance and mystery. Sarah A. Hoyt is the author of several fantasy and mystery series. 

 

Editor Ginjer Buchanan is responsible for the series. "I have always been a passionate reader of both fiction and non-fiction of the Tudor/Elizabethan era," Buchanan explains. "I read the Jean Plaidys when they were published the first time around and own some of the original hardcovers, along with many other books on the subject. So when Berkley [which publishes the Jove imprint] was looking to develop some series ideas, I suggested historical novels, specifically about the women of Tudor England." Buchanan credits one writer in particular with the rising popularity of historical fiction: "Thanks to Philippa Gregory, the historical, which was very popular in the fifties, has come back into favor." 

 

Buchanan chose to assign the novels to different writers, but picked a single pseudonym so that "that the books would all be shelved together." 

 

The three novels published so far hardly have a formulaic feel: each takes a different approach to the story, and each novel has its distinct voice. The Spanish Bride's third-person narration tells the stories of Catherine of Aragon and her maid of honor, Estrella de Montoya, who age together. A Lady Raised High is narrated by Anne Boleyn's young, naive lady in waiting, Frances Pierce. Plain Jane focuses its third-person narration on the resourceful Jane Seymour herself. Buchanan explains, "With diverse writers, there are going to be diverse voices, of course. However, I made an attempt to pick authors who seem to me to have particular sympathy for the particular story they were telling, and similar approaches to the period. We also had a uniform style sheet for the project, for the use of the copy-editor." 

 

Lee adds, "I was given a general idea of what Ginjer was looking for. I've worked with her for several years, and we pretty much speak the same language stylistically and dramatically. Within the general parameters of her vision, the story was up to me. In fact, when I approached the end of writing it, I found the ending wanted to be something entirely different from what I'd had in the outline. I discussed it with Ginjer, and together we tweaked the alternate ending into something that made us both happy. This sort of thing wouldn't ordinarily happen with my own series, but with a series involving more than one author it's a collaborative effort. It might seem restrictive, but really it was more of a synergy." 

 

Ashley found that the mechanics of having a series influenced her own approach. "I chose to write the three to four years from Anne's rise to her fall, with her coronation—the apex of her success—in the very middle of the book. I did that because I knew there would be much about Anne and the divorce of Catherine in the first book. I wanted to start after Catherine had been already shunted aside. If this had been a standalone book, I probably would have started years earlier, with Anne's childhood perhaps." 

 

In making Jane Seymour and not a fictional character the focal point of her novel, Hoyt took an approach to her queen that differed from those of the other two authors. "I was not told I could/should use a fictional character playing the leading role." 

 

None of the three writers found it difficult to write as Laurien Gardner. Ashley, who writes not only under her own name, but under the pseudonyms of Ashley Gardner and Allyson James as well, explains, "For me, writing under a pseudonym doesn't make any difference to the story. During the writing itself, I'm so focused on the story and the characters that what name I use disappears altogether." Hoyt, who writes under both her married name of Sarah A. Hoyt and her maiden name of Sarah D'Almeida, says, "It's still my work and whatever name it's under, I still feel a vested interest in making it as good as possible." Lee, who has written books as Julianne Lee and as J. Ardian Lee, adds, "Writing under a house pseudonym was rather freeing. The writing was still me, but the process was less stressful." 

 

Interestingly, all three authors, though published in other genres, had never written "straight" historical fiction prior to writing the Laurien Gardner novels. All, however, found the process a natural one. "My fantasy work is just as historically accurate, so all there was to this was dropping the magic and wee folk," says Lee. Hoyt had read "a lot of straight historical fiction growing up." Ashley found it similar to writing her mystery novels. "I do a lot of character study and setting and historical detail. I also put in some romance for the narrative character, so a little romance novel experience crept in there. All in all, I very much enjoyed writing historical fiction and hope to do much more." 

 

The authors came to the Tudor dynasty via different paths. Lee says that Buchanan, her editor, interested her in the Tudor era: "I was asked to submit a proposal for the series, and I jumped on the chance to do something a little different. My area of expertise is Scotland, and previously I'd focused on ordinary folk rather than royalty, so this was a pleasant change of pace and a chance to expand my knowledge of British history. Though I'd been familiar with the general story of Henry and his wives, I had to do some more reading to familiarize myself with the nitty-gritty details of what went on."  

 

Ashley, on the other hand, was already well acquainted with the era: "I have a master's degree in English literature, focusing on the literature of the Tudor and Elizabethan times. I've always loved the era and the people in it. I'm also avidly interested in the architecture of the time and have done much research in that direction."

Hoyt, who says that her interest began with a "confluence of movies and books when [she] was around twelve," adds, "The era is inherently fascinating. It stands astride as a transition between the Renaissance and modernity proper. It was a fascinating time when things were changing very fast and in many ways the world was turned upside down—from religion to politics to culture. Those times of ferment are always fascinating to study, if not to live in—hence the Chinese curse about living in interesting times."

 

As Hoyt's words suggest, anyone who browses a bookstore, turns on the television, or surfs the Internet can hardly fail to notice that Henry VIII and his fellow Tudors have become big business recently, and continue to be so. Philippa Gregory's latest foray into Tudor England, The Boleyn Inheritance, continues to sell well, and her novel The Other Boleyn Girl—credited by Buchanan for the resurgence of historical fiction—is to be released on the big screen in December 2007, with Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman playing Mary Boleyn and her ubiquitous sister, Anne. Meanwhile, in the spring of 2007, the cable network Showtime began running "The Tudors," starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers as the much-married monarch Henry VIII. Recently, Alison Weir, noted for her biographies, many of which concern Tudor figures, ventured into fiction for the first time with her historical novel Innocent Traitor, about Lady Jane Grey. Robin Maxwell's novel Mademoiselle Boleyn, about the young Anne, is due out in November.  

 

Asked for her thoughts on the continuing popularity of Henry VIII and the Tudor dynasty, Lee says, "It's a fascinating story of power, sex and death. Henry was arrogance incarnate in his dealings with his wives. He was a towering example of the extremes a monarch can go to in exercising his power, and his actions changed the world. I would think it odd for people to not be fascinated by him."

"The Tudors are all fascinating," adds Ashley, whose next novel about Tudor England, The Queen's Handmaiden, featuring Kat Ashley's niece, will be published in October.  "The stories of the six wives are each tragedies—not one of them lived to be happy. Even Katherine Parr, who survived Henry, died not long later in childbirth, after the husband she loved, Thomas Seymour, had been caught dallying with the teenaged Princess Elizabeth. Their lives and stories are worthy of drama, from Shakespeare to soap opera. Henry had such a strong personality, and the fact that he married six times and never got it right leaves us shaking our heads and wanting to know exactly what happened. Plus, from Henry sprang the remarkable Elizabeth I, after he'd ironically executed her mother for not giving him the heir he wanted."

 

Hoyt says, "Part of it was the age—it was a fascinating, barbaric age, but modern enough that we almost identify. It combines the familiar with the 'horror of the strange.' Part of it is, I think, Henry VIII himself. Beyond being the king and commanding power that way, the man was such a study in contrasts. You can see why these women would marry him. And the contrast between the ardent lover and the deeply dark side of his nature is fascinating. And then, the women were fascinating in themselves." 

 

So what do readers think of the Tudor trend? Rebecca Huston regularly writes reader reviews of historical fiction and other genres for Amazon and Epinions.com and is ranked as a "Top Reviewer" on the latter site. She observes, "Historical fiction in the Tudor period is a hot ticket, so publishers will certainly milk it for all it's worth." The popularity of the era, Huston believes, results from "the combination of glamour, scandal, and personalities. Here you have a dynasty that has reigned through usurping power, starting with Henry VII, and the ending of the feudal system and the beginning of centralized government in England. It also marks the time when England stopped being a middling player in European politics and moved to the big time with Henry VIII, and after the reigns of Edward VI and Mary I, there is the long reign of Elizabeth I, where England simply dazzled—in politics, arts, and the beginnings of imperial rule and the start of merchanting that really was the backbone for later centuries." Huston adds, "I think it's also the fact that there is so much documentation left from the period unlike earlier times—there are portraits, letters, books, archaeological finds." 

 

Another reader, Daphne Risch, came across the Laurien Gardner novels through her interest in the Tudors. "I love to read anything about the Tudor period and the books were recommended by others who enjoy the same." Asked whether she thought there were too many books on the period on the market, she replies, "Maybe a little. But since there is so much that happened, there is a lot of material to work with. I do think some aspects have been more saturated than others—particularly Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth I. I would love to see more novels devoted to Anne of Cleves and some of Henry's other family members." 

 

At Historical Fiction.org, an especially active bulletin board made up of readers of historical fiction, Tudor fiction is well represented among the topics there. The Laurien Gardner series has inspired a thread all to itself, where several readers have wondered if books on Henry VIII's remaining three wives will be forthcoming. Jove's Buchanan says yes, albeit in a different format than the books currently on the shelf: "What we discovered by experimenting with publishing historical fiction in mass market is that people want to read historical fiction in trade! So we are republishing the first three wives in trade in April, June and July of next year. And I will be buying at least two more, hopefully three, to be done as trade originals." 

 

For fans of the Laurien Gardner series and for those who just can't get enough of all things Tudor, that is excellent news. 

 

More about Julianne Lee, Jennifer Ashley, and Sarah A. Hoyt can be found on their websites:

 

http://www.julianneardianlee.com/

 

http://www.jennifersromances.com/

 

http://www.sarahahoyt.com/

 

 

 

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