Fan showcase: Prue Batten (part 3)

Read how a frivolous tweet in a moment of frustration got me dead to rights — hilarious!

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Below, the third and final part of my interview with Prue Batten, Richard Armitage fan and author of Gisborne: Book of Pawns, which appeared on Sunday. Part 1 of the interview is found here; Part 2 is here. Leave a comment on any segment of the interview for a chance to win a free e-book of this great title; rules of the giveaway are here. Or buy Gisborne: Book of Pawns on amazon for $2.99. And, for another interview with Prue and another opportunity to win a free ebook, go here.

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An image from the Très Riches Heures of the Duc du Berry, the most well-known fifteenth century illuminated manuscript, and one of Prue’s favorite medieval images.

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S: In Ysabel you created a worthy lover for Gisborne, someone with mettle and verve comparable to his own. Why was it necessary to replace Marian?

Prue Batten: I chose to write a non-traditional trope, so nothing from that story had any relevance, least of all the character of Marian. That version of character of Marian annoyed me, personally. Lucy Griffiths portrayed her beautifully, and indeed, she was cleverly written, but I despised her manipulation of Gisborne.

S: What were your sources of inspiration for Ysabel?

Prue Batten: My story required a new female counterpoint to Gisborne, and Ysabel grew out of my imagination. There was no source of inspiration as such. Or if there was, it was utterly subliminal. Sometimes it’s rewarding to see what eventuates when, as a writer, one merely allows one’s fingers to doodle an image on the keyboard. What became inspirational was to allow us to view Gisborne through Ysabel’s eyes. As the author, I found writing the first-person narrative a thrill a minute!

S: Ysabel bathes a lot. I promise to come back to the significance of bathing in medieval England, but first, as an author, why did you integrate bath scenes so centrally?

Prue Batten: I wasn’t aware I had! Even so, this story traces a physical journey as well as an emotional one. Travel by horse and foot is never clean, even now, let alone on dusty medieval roads and tracks. My research indicated that far from the idea of the unclean Middle Ages, Ysabel, as a noblewoman, would have washed, bathed, and generally kept herself clean. The entertainment industry would have us believe that medieval society was filthy, but even the so-called “great unwashed,” the peasants, bathed and/or washed often in streams and rivers in warmer weather. As an introduction to the research into the fallacy of dirt and lack of cleanliness, this quick online reference may be of interest.

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Much (Sam Troughton) enjoys the pleasures of a bath upon return to Locksley in Robin Hood 1.1. My cap.

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S: Another issue with bathing in a historical fiction is circumventing the hokey generic convention of the female protagonist as glimpsed by her lover. You decidedly avoid this, and indeed, on the one occasion I recall that Gisborne sees Ysabel while she washes, something decidedly different takes place. On the whole, your attitude toward eroticism is clearly defined and rather stringent. What kind of sex should readers anticipate finding in a Prue Batten novel?

Prue Batten: I write historical fiction / historical romance, not erotica. My view of my characters’ sexual activity is subtle and as private as a reader’s imagination. I would prefer to titillate a reader’s mind than have my characters’ sexual exploits laid out in blazing color. It’s a personal preference.

S: You’ve mentioned on your blog that writing Gisborne: Book of Pawns brought you back to medieval studies. What about the medieval world attracts you as a fiction author?

Prue Batten: First, the frequent lack of consensus about the period, even among academics and professional historians. The intense, persisting disputes give me room to move with my imagination because nothing is a given.

I also appreciate that the medieval era was nowhere as dark as we were originally told when I was at school; in fact, it was filled with all that encouraged the gestation of the Renaissance. When I studied medieval history at university forty-odd years ago, certain names sowed themselves deep into the subliminal levels of my mind – Abelard, the Venerable Bede, the Knights Templar, Cistercians, Hildegard von Bingen, and so on. I became fascinated with cloisters, with illuminated manuscripts, with troubadour and trovairitz. Once I started writing fiction, a medieval story seemed a marriage destined to be. And yet, had I known back then that I would subsequently write a story set in a medieval timeframe, I would have laughed at the ridiculousness of such an idea.

On the other hand, my lecturer, Father Rushton, would have been delighted! I would like to pay credit to him here. The way he delivered the story of the Middle Ages quite honestly created that original fascination. His was a generous, unpatronizing enthusiasm.

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New Year’s Day, from the Très Riches Heures. Source: wikipedia

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S: You’ve also wrestled with questions about how much history has to find its way into a novel. What’s your thinking at this point?

My favorite historical fiction writer is the late Dorothy Dunnett, whose novels are crammed with perfectly placed facts. Some readers say that reading them feels like wading through a research paper, but I find it stimulating beyond belief. Those fourteen novels are my “desert island” books. However, I am not Dorothy Dunnett. I write a simple story, paying attention to the time frame, using available research to world-build. But I don’t seek to inundate my readers with layer upon layer of fact. So, whilst I give them enough detail to believe in my characters and settings, I hope they feel free enough to follow the narrative at pace. I suspect that readers whose historical interests are sparked by reading my work will turn to non-fiction to increase their knowledge, anyway. I see myself as writing a historical fiction rather than a docudrama. Purists may reject my work on that basis, but I take that risk in order to tell the story.

S: Speaking as a professional historian of one of your “periods of interest,” who only occasionally reads historical fictions because she “knows too much,” I suspect it would be extremely difficult for novice authors to get everything exactly right, or to predict just which anachronism is likely to offend the historically-minded reader. There’s also the matter of how to deal with not-entirely-accurate stereotypes readers expect, like the “smelly” Middle Ages (see above re: bathing!), which are purveyed in film. On which specific issues did you decide to be very correct in this book?

Prue Batten: The time frame required dedication. It’s an immovable object. One must pay attention to politics, living, food, clothing, horses, dogs, weapons, castles, and so on. And words! Goodness, what words to use and not. Anachronism just waits to stab a writer from behind. For example, I used the word “jot” until my erstwhile editor, John, (and bless him in so many ways) pointed out its genesis in the English language in the early 1500s.

S: And where did you give yourself some leeway?

Prue Batten: I gave myself some leeway with glass. In the age of Richard and John, glass apertures were most likely found only in well-appointed churches and castles of the crown or high nobility. As Ysabel comes from a family of greater nobles, I chose to allow her father, from his position of wealth, to have glassed in some window spaces at Moncrieff. I also placed a glass window in the Priory of Saint Eadgyth’s, because it was a sister house to a large abbey, and of course, in Locksley Abbey. However, at the tiny Priory of Linn on the River Alun in Wales, we encounter only horn in the windows. I also took slight liberty with fabrics. One is constantly reminded in scholarly literature that most people wore wool (in varying degrees of quality) and linen. Ysabel has exposure to itinerant merchants from the Mediterranean, however, and because of the period’s vibrant sea-trade, I decided she and other nobles would have access to varied and beautiful fabrics.

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S: Gisborne: Book of Pawns is certainly not a slavish historical fiction. The literary work that it reminded me of most is Patterns,” an imagist poem by Pulitzer Prize winner Amy Lowell (1874-1925) that was inserted into high school U.S. literature textbooks in the 1970s as an example of a feminist text. I raise this because both imagism and women’s roles are pertinent to your conception of the book. Imagism focused on the qualities that characterized an object in itself, rather than the flowery emotion around them. What images were particularly important to you as you wrote this book – or, what images are particularly important to Ysabel?

Prue Batten: Ysabel is the child of an effete father and a mother reared in the sphere of the courts of Aquitaine. It is therefore a given that she would be sensitive not only to natural but also man-made beauty and atmosphere. If one can imagine leafing through page after page of books on the wonderful artworks of the Middle Ages (from low to high), I wished to create images in readers’ minds of that world. The damp fens, thick forests, rutted roads, castle walls, the feel and look of fabric, the sounds of nuns singing, bells ringing, horses, food, tiredness, rotting smells, the tang of the sea, a man brushing your hand as he strides along beside you … the animal strength of a man in rut!

S: Like the imagist poets, your protagonist, Ysabel, is an unusually sober observer of the world around her, especially considering how brutally some of her illusions are ripped from her. What kind of woman is she?

Prue Batten: Categorically, Ysabel is a product of her era, defined by the precepts of the time. Whilst women were required to be subservient to their husbands, noblewomen could in fact hold great authority. Their spouses might be away serving their allotted time with their liege lord, or worse, dead, and wives would be responsible for managing estates, handling finances and settling disputes on the domain. Noblewomen did legally inherit property and become wealthy in their own rights, and therefore occupy corresponding status and thus great power. Her powerful personality notwithstanding, however, Ysabel is not a champion of feminism in a medieval world. She is merely a spoiled, naïve noblewoman beset by terrible circumstance. She can either fold like a piece of silk or develop intestinal fortitude. I leave it to the reader to determine if she does either.

S: Gisborne: Book of Pawns ends on a note that leaves the reader panting for more, but thankfully, I hear, the first chapter of the planned sequel is included as a teaser in this publication.

Prue Batten: The idea for the sequel came from a short story called “Gisborne” that I wrote for a miniature book press in America (www.bopressminiaturebooks.com) in 2011. That little piece prompted me to think hard about the ending of what has now become volume 1, and to see that, changed and manipulated, it might lead Gisborne down another, even more convoluted, road. Thus volume 2 (Gisborne: Book of Knights) had its genesis.

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Prue’s miniature book with Bo Press, which holds her story, “Gisborne.”

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S: Audiences who come to Gisborne from your two earlier published novels will know already that Richard Armitage inspired another character: Finnian of your Chronicles of Eirie series, who appears in its third volume, A Thousand Glass Flowers (2011). What’s the inspiration? Is there a connection between that character and Armitage, or are you looking at different facets of his performances for inspiration?

Prue Batten: Without doubt, it’s the latter. It might be from Clarissa, Spooks, Strike Back or even Robin Hood, but in each case I can isolate vocal tones, visual attitude, body language. A friend from the theatre said to me once: “Watch an actor and what he conveys with the least language.” And so I did and my Finnian and my Gisborne began to emerge.

S: Finnian is a Færan, a name that you derive from the Old English for “to terrify, to frighten.” I’m curious as to what aspects of Armitage’s work inspire your perception of terror or fright – how did you get there?

Prue Batten: Anyone who is damaged emotionally has the capacity to react in any number of unknown and frightening ways. It is that unknown threshold, that unseen tripwire that we know exists, that Armitage portrays very well: we see it in Guy of Gisborne, in John Thornton, and in Lucas North.

S: When asked directly, Mr. Armitage has been skeptical, even dismissive, about his role as literary muse. Fans, of course, may know better. Will you let him know about Gisborne: Book of Pawns?

Prue Batten: No. After receiving a copy of the bespoke book referred to above, he sent a kind letter from his home in the UK whilst on a break from filming in New Zealand. Patricia Sweet and I were so thrilled with the way the book sold (and is selling) that we decided he deserved one for being the inspiration. If he wanted, he could always auction it for one of his many charities.

S: Will you continue with the Chronicles of Eirie And when can we look for Volume 2 of the Gisborne series?

Prue Batten: Yes, there are at least two books to go in the Chronicles, one of which is three-quarters finished. As to volume 2 of Gisborne, I would love to have it ready for Christmas release, but I am so slow with my work that it may be this time next year!

S: After reading Gisborne: Book of Pawns, I know a lot of people will be eager for that. Thanks for taking so much time with this interview!

Prue Batten: Thank you and best wishes to you and all your blog readers!

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Prue Batten is a truly globalized personality. Read her own bio here. Judi interviewed her on writing. She talked about her attitude toward historical fiction in an interview supporting Richard Armitage’s Richard III ambitions. You’d think a lady who spends a lot of time on a complicated form of embroidery‘d be sedate, but she participates in those twitter novel projects, proving that she has a wild side. She’s fascinated by a thousand-year-old book. If she could have any superpower, she’d want to breathe underwater. She’s afraid of snakes.

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[Fan showcases are an irregular feature on “me + richard armitage.” These segments seek to highlight the opinions and activities of a cross-segment of the very diverse group of people who have become fans of Richard Armitage. Previous showcases can be found here: bZirk, Eli, LadyKate63, fitzg, Angieklong, khandy, jazzbaby1, Amanda Jane, Jane (part 1, part 2, part 3). I plan to continue this feature intermittently, so if you are interested in being interviewed, please let me know. My email address can be found in the sidebar under “About.” — Servetus]

~ by Servetus on February 29, 2012.

21 Responses to “Fan showcase: Prue Batten (part 3)”

  1. […] Tomorrow: Now you’ve heard about the hero, what about the heroine? Now you’ve heard about the myth, what about the history? Tune in tomorrow, when Prue discusses medieval history, images, and women, and finally answers the p… […]

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  2. I enjoyed these pieces on Prue, and have also enjoyed several of her books! Need to write about that sometime. : D

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    • Thanks Frenz. The really nice thing about doing this interview was that it actually served to realise what my thoughts were on the writing of this book. Up till now, justification for taking Gisborne and remodelling him has floated like a rather nebulous mist, so I have to thank Servetus for pinning me down.
      I’ll have to learn my answers off by heart in case I’m pinned down again. I’m not the most extroverted and glib respondent, I can tell you!

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      • I tend to ask questions that I’d ask myself — or rather, i asked about process because it’s often been suggested to me that I should write historical novels. (I think it may be easier to do that for people who are not professional historians.) So it was interesting for me to learn where the characters came from, why this particular theme was chosen for the novel, and how Prue came to place certain elements in the story and why she thought they were important. I have another book in the queue to review, but eventually I’ll review this one and comment on some more elements that I thought were interesting, particularly Prue’s usage of ecclesiastical vs. secular spaces in her narrative — but I thought the interview got conceptual enough without me pushing it further 🙂

        I enjoyed talking to Prue very much (in case that wasn’t already apparent) 🙂

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  3. Such a good interview series! I’ve enjoyed Mesmered’s blog, in discussing how she writes, what inspires, as well as the practical accounts of publishing – and segueing into historical fiction. Tres riches heures is a favourite of mine too, Prue! For the noble class, bodily cleanliness appears to have been a little less challenging than rich robes of heavy material – no corner dry-cleaners! And of course, lacking adequate plumbing for a long time, at least they could vacate the premises for a few months and move to an alternate estate! A super interview!

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    • thanks Fitzg. I’m glad you read it and yes, i can imagine by the end of summer, some of those rich brocades and damasks may have been a little pungent under the armpits! no matter how often one bathed or washed.
      And the garderobe beggars description, doesn’t it?

      I love Tres Riches Heures, even though it’s way out of timeframe. I love Breughel too, and many of the artists of the later medieval period because they began to move away from religious art and show us in wonderful detail and colour how the populace lived.

      Hope you enjoy the book … my UK publisher said today that it is only days off being e-released.

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      • my friend Didion the blogger just emphatically recommended a movie to me called The Mill and the Cross, all about Brueghel, starring Rutger Hauer of all people.

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  4. The main issue in bathing out of season, as I understand it, is the “wood shortage,” which is occupying all of Europe rather aggressively by the early fifteenth century. I put it in quotes because there’s currently a debate about the actuality of it — indeed there may have been plenty of wood but it was a question of who could put his/her hands on it.

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    • I’d like to see the links to that debate, Servetus, it sounds interesting.
      The whole concept of wood shortage is hard to process in this day and age where all our valuable old-growth forests and habitats are being destroyed. To have been as forested as the medieval age is a luxury we can barely comprehend and yet Ysabel would have noticed a great change through English forests after eight years in Aquitaine.

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      • I’d have to give you scholarly citations, which I’m happy to do (book is sitting in my office). There’s a long scholarship on wood usage, but it’s been raised again recently now that historians are considering environmental issues in the work in a concentrated way for the first time since the 1970s.

        There’s a paradox. In the beginning of his important work on the history of the European population Jan de Vries quotes another famous historian (I forget who, at the moment) saying that a squirrel could have gone from Paris to Moscow in 1500 without touching the ground if he wanted to — and yet the normative sources of the time constantly complain about wood shortages, price increases, etc. The issue is almost always who holds the rights to use the wood, and this issue is at stake in peasant revolt after peasant revolt because the commons are often bare of trees. Because land tenure systems are different all across Europe, though, it’s really difficult to generalize in any meaningful way. The Mediterranean is to some extent an exception simply because many of the the wooded areas of the Mediterranean were already underforested during the early Hellenistic period — in other words, the Greeks are already complaining of it. Wood was necessary for shipbuilding and other construction tasks. A lot of the wood for shipbuilding by the fourteenth century all over Europe has to be imported from Scandinavia. The other thing you learn when you study European history is that the first question you have to ask is always whether English data isn’t an exception to the rule. So many of the big generalizations about the rest of Europe in every area simply don’t apply. I was talking about the inquisitorial justice system last night in lecture and I had to do a whole extra segment of research on its divergent development in England, for instance.

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  5. Please excuse the occasional lack of capitals. Unless I remember to press the shift key superhard, I have lapses!

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  6. The wood issue is interesting. I think ship-building was something of an issue. If memory serves, (not that I was there) the great forests of Ireland were much denuded in building the English fleets. The great forests of England were largely in the possession of the Crown, which set limits on wood-gathering by the populace. Prue, you inspire me to back and do more detailed reading on the 11th-15th centuries. And look for the complete book on Amazon UK.

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    • I was reading last night that wood availability around the Mediterranean (Middle Sea) became critical, so that the building and maintenance of merchant and military navies became drastically expensive.

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  7. Thank you, Prue and Servetus, for a very interesting series of interviews; I shall certainly buy the book when it is available on Amazon UK (if I don’t win the giveaway!). Enjoyed ‘The Sheriff’s Collector’ so I am sure the full novel will be even better. Glad Prue is following historical facts (unlike the TV series) – without them,”where are the links of the chain … joining us to the past?” (Dorothy Dunnett, Checkmate)

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    • To see the name Gelis made me think of one of the most fascinating and frightening women I’ve ever encountered in my reading. Sometimes I still wonder how Niccolo could have loved her in the final outcome. Or was it admiration for the way she matched him in pure cunning?

      Historical facts? I try, within the parameters of academic disagreement.

      For example, I have just had a comment (not a review) from a person who disputes the whole bathing issue and believes I used bathing as a fictional plot device. Not so or if so, unintentional. But that’s for another time…

      Dorothy Dunnett’s comment is apt and dear to my own heart. I hope you enjoy the book and do let me know!

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      • yes, that is where the name comes from! DD is my favourite author, tho’ Gelis not my favourite character … of the female heroines, her name was just quick to type … but she is very interesting. I too struggled with N and G’s relationship. I think he admired her strength, but he pitied her too, for the bleak angry place she had trapped herself in.

        I shall certainly let you know re Gisborne – I do read your blog but I am very reticent about commenting online – this is the only blog where I do, actually!

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        • I hope that you will feel less reticent about commenting on Mesmered. Especially now that you have found another person who claims DD as HER favourite author. Her books take pride of place in my fiction shelves.

          I do like the point you make that Niccolo may have pitied Gelis … Iong to read the series again but maybe after G2 is written. My favourite DD heroine is Phillipa, although Katelinje Sersanders is a pretty close second. And of all books ever read and all movies and TV shows ever seen, Gabriel is THE villain par excellence.

          Lovely to meet a DD aficionado!

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        • I’m honored, Gelis! But Mesmered really is a safe place and I feel like the conversation there is usually a slightly higher-toned affair than here 🙂

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          • Servetus – I clearly need to “get out more”! Prue – I feel we are en rapport because I too love Katelijne Sersanders, “the other element in [Niccolo’s] life”. Looking forward to reading Gisborne.

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  8. While you may still comment here, entries for the contest have now closed.

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  9. […] khandy, jazzbaby1, Amanda Jane, Jane (part 1, part 2, part 3), and Prue Batten (part 1, part 2, part 3). I plan to continue this feature intermittently, so if you are interested in being interviewed, […]

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