Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for A Matter of Conscience by Judith Arnopp

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Judith Arnopp to the blog with a guest post about her historical research.

A Matter of Conscience is once more set during the reign of the Tudors, a period about which I know you’ve written extensively. Do you feel comfortable in the Tudor era and can you explain your research process to me, and give an idea of the resources that you rely on the most (other than your imagination, of course) to bring the historical landscape and people of Tudor England to life?

I feel very comfortable in the Tudor era, or at least in the Tudor world I have created, peopled with characters from history. Since we can never visit the past, no author can ever be 100% certain they have got it right so I don’t worry too much, if I can convince my reader, I am happy. 

I’ve enjoyed the Tudor period since I was a young girl, some forty-five years or more. As a teenager I read all I could get my hands on, both fiction and non-fiction, and later when I went to university as a mature student, I learned the importance of thorough research. At the time, I never dreamed I’d ever write a book, let alone be published. A Matter of Conscience: Henry VIII, the Aragon Years is my thirteenth novel set in the Tudor era, so I know the setting quite well by now. 

When I wrote my first Tudor books, The Winchester Goose and The Kiss of the Concubine: the story of Anne Boleyn, I needed to research from the ground up. I examined the living conditions, the law, clothes, historical figures, customs, buildings, and court etiquette. I probably did far more research than necessary, but I wanted to get it right. I spent ages researching and still rely quite heavily on the essays and notes I made then. There is an extensive university library in Lampeter, close to where I lived at the time, and I used that a lot but now I have moved farther away, I can no longer do so. Luckily, the basics are in my head, so I only need to double check the things I am unsure of. Who was where at what time? Birth dates, death dates, things like that, or palaces or castles I’ve not researched before. 

When I wrote The Beaufort Chronicle, I became so wrapped up investigating Margaret Beaufort’s many homes, I fell behind with the rest of my work schedule and had to scramble for the deadline.

As for contemporary sources, they are much easier to get hold of than they used to be. When I first began to write I had to order them via the university library and sometimes it took weeks to get into my hands. British History Online is invaluable for documents and I recently discovered another online resource called Academia that is also proving useful.

I have many key reference books in my own library, and I can’t resist historical biographies. There are a few good historians that I trust to have researched properly and as soon as they release a new book, it goes on my pile.

Each time I begin a new project, I tell myself I will be tidier and more organised but before I am half-way through, the usual chaos has resumed. I make heaps of notes that I often cannot interpret afterwards, which often means I need to look up some things again. I seem to get there in the end though. There is always a pile of books by my favourite historians on my desk for dipping in and out of for reference and another pile I read from cover to cover. For this novel I’ve relied on biographies by Tracy Borman, Alison Weir, Eric Ives, Suzannah Lipscomb, Elizabeth Norton. I think I have all Amy Licence’s books now and her new one, 1520: The Field of the Cloth of Gold was published in timely fashion just as I began work on A Matter of Conscience, and I greatly enjoyed it.  

I also listen to Claire Ridgeway on You Tube while I am sewing in my craft room. She knows all there is to know about Anne Boleyn. There are scenes in nearly all my books of women sewing or embroidering, I can empathise with their sore fingers.

I find it best to absorb a wide variety of opinions and perspectives and then mull it all over and make my own conclusion. But not all the information ends up in the finished book because too much fact in a novel can be dull. I write first person narrative so I don’t tend to over describe the everyday objects they use simply because my character would not have found them extraordinary. My books centre on the psyche, or what I imagine might have been.

When writing in Henry’s voice I must be sure to know only what Henry knew and forget what comes after and the events that occurred behind his back. I live in each moment with Henry, as he lived it. A Matter of Conscience takes place during his childhood, adolescence, and marriage to Catherine of Aragon, so I found Henry quite an easy companion. He might, however, prove harder to live with in Book Two, which will follow shortly.

Do you have a ‘go’ to book/resource that you couldn’t write without having to hand, and if so, what is it (if you don’t mind sharing)?

I use the Tudor timeline as a skeleton so always have a print out of that to hand. Also, my Who’s Who in Tudor England is invaluable for reference. Looking at the pile on my desk at his moment, I’d say I rely on Amy Licence’s books the most. I find her very accessible, concise, and most importantly, accurate. Elizabeth Norton is another name that appears often on my shelves.

But my research isn’t all books or written sources, there are also portraits and again, thanks to technology, there is no real need to visit museums and galleries to do this. I build Pinterest boards with interesting Tudor faces and costumes which helps immensely, not just with my fiction but with my non-fiction writing and actual historical sewing too. I visit castles and monastic buildings, palaces, and manor houses. I’m not a great fan of the sites that add waxworks and reconstructed ‘rooms’. I prefer to let my imagination do the work. I am lucky to live in Wales where we have so many castles. I am a founder member of a Tudor re-enactment group called The Fyne Companye of Cambria and we love to dress up in our lovely gowns and ‘swish’ about the castles. All our events were cancelled last year, for obvious reasons and we haven’t booked any this year but are waiting to see what unfolds. We will be so glad when Covid19 restrictions end and we are able to visit them again.

Thank you so much for inviting me on to your blog. It has been lovely.

Thank you so much for sharing your research with me. I can relate to much of it – I am very untidy as well, and never reference anything correctly so always have to find it again.

So, here’s the blurb for the new book. It sounds fantastic. I’ve always been drawn to this particular episode in the Tudor saga.

‘A king must have sons: strong, healthy sons to rule after him.’

On the unexpected death of Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales, his brother, Henry, becomes heir to the throne of England. The intensive education that follows offers Henry a model for future excellence; a model that he is doomed to fail.

On his accession, he chooses his brother’s widow, Catalina of Aragon, to be his queen. Together they plan to reinstate the glory of days of old and fill the royal nursery with boys. 

But when their first-born son dies at just a few months old, and subsequent babies are born dead or perish in the womb, the king’s golden dreams are tarnished.

Christendom mocks the virile prince. Catalina’s fertile years are ending yet all he has is one useless living daughter, and a baseborn son.

He needs a solution but stubborn to the end, Catalina refuses to step aside.

As their relationship founders, his eye is caught by a woman newly arrived from the French court. Her name is Anne Boleyn.

A Matter of Conscience: the Aragon Years offers a unique first-person account of the ‘monster’ we love to hate and reveals a man on the edge; an amiable man made dangerous by his own impossible expectation

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Meet the Author

A lifelong history enthusiast and avid reader, Judith holds a BA in English/Creative writing and an MA in Medieval Studies.

She lives on the coast of West Wales where she writes both fiction and non-fiction based in the Medieval and Tudor period. Her main focus is on the perspective of historical women but more recently is writing from the perspective of Henry VIII himself.

Her novels include:

A Matter of Conscience: Henry VIII, the Aragon Years 

The Heretic Wind: the life of Mary Tudor, Queen of England

Sisters of Arden: on the Pilgrimage of Grace

The Beaufort Bride: Book one of The Beaufort Chronicle

The Beaufort Woman: Book two of The Beaufort Chronicle

The King’s Mother: Book three of The Beaufort Chronicle

The Winchester Goose: at the Court of Henry VIII

A Song of Sixpence: the story of Elizabeth of York

Intractable Heart: the story of Katheryn Parr

The Kiss of the Concubine: a story of Anne Boleyn

The Song of Heledd

The Forest Dwellers

Peaceweaver

Judith is also a founder member of a re-enactment group called The Fyne Companye of Cambria and makes historical garments both for the group and others. She is not professionally trained but through trial, error and determination has learned how to make authentic looking, if not strictly HA, clothing. You can find her group Tudor Handmaid on Facebook. You can also find her on Twitter and Instagram.

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Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the blog tour for A Matter of Conscience.

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Under the Light of the Italian Moon by Jennifer Anton

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Jennifer Anton to the blog, with a post about her historical research. (I love finding out all the details).

Your book, Under the Light of the Italian Moon, sounds fascinating, and the cover is beautiful. Can you explain your research process to me, and give an idea of the resources that you rely on the most (other than your imagination, of course) to bring the historical characters to life? 

Thanks for having me on the blog and thank you for your kind words about the synopsis and cover of Under the Light of the Italian Moon

I started researching the novel in 2006. My grandmother, who grew up in Italy and told me stories of her Nazi occupied hometown, got very ill before she could answer all the questions I had for her. Soon after, I had my daughter and ended up in heart failure. By the time I recovered, my grandmother died, never meeting my daughter. It was then that I decided to research her life and get answers to the questions left unanswered. 

The first place I began was with her sister, my aunt, who had lived with her in Italy. Over coffee, we would sit for hours with my tape recorder and notebook. She then introduced me to people in the U.S., Canada and Italy who could tell me more. I spent hours on the phone and then took many trips to Fonzaso, Italy, where the novel takes place. My daughter accompanied me, first as a toddler, then as a little girl and then as a teenager, as we sat speaking to elderly Italians about my family, life under Mussolini and Nazi occupation. When I spoke with them, their stories came to life in my head. I did not see the older person in front of me, with grey hair and age spots. I saw them as my characters, full of life, surviving and living day to day under difficult times. It was a beautiful experience and every detail they gave me, I tried to include in the novel. 

Researching with Aunt

While collecting first-hand accounts, I was also doing extensive research regarding the time frame. The novel covers a long period: starting in 1914, jumping to 1919 and then to 1923 and beyond. It allows the reader to see the progression of political forces in the background while we experience the life of Nina Argenta, the daughter of a strong-willed midwife who falls in love with a boy who has emigrated to the coal mines of America. I laid out the historical moments under the stories I was told and the other first hand research I was doing. A narrative began to form. 

Do you have a ‘go’ to book/resource that you couldn’t write without having to hand, and if so, what is it?

The most important resources for me were both non-fiction and fiction. From a non-fiction perspective, Victoria De Grazia’s How Fascism Ruled Women and Perry Willson’s book about the Massaie Rurali were critical to understanding life for women during this time. Because the novel deals with a midwife as a central character, women’s reproductive rights, pressures and women in society were important for me to understand. As well, documents from Ellis Island, Fonzaso church records and websites documenting the fascist and Nazi atrocities in the area were incredibly useful. 

But to fill the gaps for the historical fiction narrative, I needed to get into the hearts and minds of the characters. Non-fiction doesn’t help in that area. I sought out books from Bassani and Moravia and found a fantastic book of translated women’s stories from the time from Robin Pickering-Iazzi. This helped me sense check the life I was breathing into my characters for authenticity.

Over a fourteen-year period, I watched every film, read every book and generally filled my hours living in this time period. When I shut my office door, or opened my laptop, I was not in the place I sat, I was in Italy during the interwar years. 

Fonzaso

I hope my novel will also transport you into this time, into the life of Nina Argenta, her mother—a force of nature—Adelasia Dalla Santa Argenta and Nina’s beloved Pietro Pante. Come with me to Fonzaso and experience love and women’s resilience during the rise of fascism and WWII.  

Thank you so much for sharing your fascinating journey with me. It sounds as though your research was both very personal and incredibly interesting.

Here’s the blurb;

A promise keeps them apart until WW2 threatens to destroy their love forever

Fonzaso Italy, between two wars

Nina Argenta doesn’t want the traditional life of a rural Italian woman. The daughter of a strong-willed midwife, she is determined to define her own destiny. But when her brother emigrates to America, she promises her mother to never leave.

When childhood friend Pietro Pante briefly returns to their mountain town, passion between them ignites while Mussolini forces political tensions to rise. Just as their romance deepens, Pietro must leave again for work in the coal mines of America. Nina is torn between joining him and her commitment to Italy and her mother.

As Mussolini’s fascists throw the country into chaos and Hitler’s Nazis terrorise their town, each day becomes a struggle to survive greater atrocities. A future with Pietro seems impossible when they lose contact and Nina’s dreams of a life together are threatened by Nazi occupation and an enemy she must face alone…

A gripping historical fiction novel, based on a true story and heartbreaking real events.

Spanning over two decades, Under the Light of the Italian Moon is an epic, emotional and triumphant tale of one woman’s incredible resilience during the rise of fascism and Italy’s collapse into WWII.

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Bookshop.org (U.S. only):  I am Books Boston

Meet the Author

Jennifer Anton is an American/Italian dual citizen born in Joliet, Illinois and now lives between London and Lake Como, Italy. A proud advocate for women’s rights and equality, she hopes to rescue women’s stories from history, starting with her Italian family.

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Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the Under the Light of the Italian Moon Blog Tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club