09 March 2014

Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Blythe Gifford on SECRETS AT COURT

Today, we welcome Blythe Gifford, a long time contributor to the Unusual Historicals blog.  Her tenth novel, SECRETS AT COURT from the Harlequin Historical line, has just been published.  (Excerpt here.)  She’s offering a free print copy to one randomly chosen commenter, so leave a comment at the end of the interview for a chance to win.

First, here’s a bit about the book.


Anne of Stamford has long been the keeper of her mistress's secrets, but when Lady Joan marries the king's son, court life becomes ever more perilous. Sir Nicholas Lovayne has arrived to uncover the truth about Lady Joan's past, and Anne must do something—anything—to throw him off….

Longing to escape the intrigues at court, Nicholas hasn't counted on the way Anne distracts him—her refusal to accept pity for her clubfoot touches something deep inside him. Will he be able to follow his duty when every fiber of his being tells him to protect Anne?

After forays into stories set in Scotland and into self-publishing, you are back in 14th century England publishing with Harlequin.  What lead to that?

I never left Harlequin.  The self-publication of THE WITCH FINDER was concurrent with work on this Royal Weddings series.

The court and era of Edward III of England was my romance “home” and the setting for my first four books.  Even HIS BORDER BRIDE, my first to be set in Scotland, included King Edward’s (fictional!) bastard nephew as the hero.  So it was a surprise to realize I have now published five Scottish set stories.  This evens the count!  But seriously, the “Royal Weddings” idea grew out of an English royal wedding, so it belonged there.

This staircase plays a key role in the book.
What was the genesis of the story?

When Prince William and Kate Middleton married, the Harlequin Historical line released a series of short stories that looked back at British royal weddings of the past.  I was invited to participate, but had too many deadlines on my plate at the time.  I loved the idea, though, and I envisioned a full-length book using the premise.  I did consider a wide range of possibilities, including weddings of Queen Victoria’s many children, but the medieval court of Edward III is familiar territory and feels like family.  Unlike most royals, his two oldest children married for love, so that seemed to be a natural fit.

Can you tell us about this story?  

SECRETS AT COURT is set around the wedding of the oldest son of Edward III, also an Edward.  History knows him as the Black Prince.  (As an aside, he was the first Prince of Wales.)  His chosen bride, Joan, the Fair Maid of Kent, had a bit of a scandalous past and they, in essence, “eloped” and married without the church’s consent.  My hero, Nicholas, is charged with untangling the mess they made and getting the Pope’s dispensation for their marriage.  My heroine, Anne, who has been with Joan all her life, is the keeper of her lady’s secrets.  Secrets that, if Nicholas discovers them, could destroy the throne of England.  (For the full historical background, see my post from February, The Prince Who Married for Love's Sake.)

You have always included real history in your books.  What made this one different?
I’ve had real historical figures and events before, but this is the first time the plot revolved around a specific event.  The complexities of Lady Joan’s marriages, and the timelines, were critical to both the plot and my characters’ backstories.  In some ways, it had more in common with an historical fiction plot than an historical romance plot, though it is definitely a romance!

Found a few drawings of the castle during this period.
Was it hard to research the complexities of medieval church laws concerning marriage and the other parts of the story?

Strangely enough, despite the fact that there is no full-scale biography of Joan of Kent, there have been a couple of scholars who delved into her life and marriages.  I even found copies of some of the papal pronouncements, so I felt comfortable with the accuracy there.  Beyond that, my heroine, Anne, was born lame, so I tried hard to be true to the reality she faced, both physically and in dealing with the attitudes of the time.  Even with that, my most difficult research challenge was something quite different.

So what was the hardest part to research?

My research of Windsor's Floor Plan in 1361-62!
Windsor Castle!  You see, King Edward was involved in a massive rebuilding of the castle between about 1350 and 1377.  This story takes place in 1361-1362 and, for the most part, is set at Windsor.  As an author who needs to feel grounded in her characters’ physical world, I spent hours trying to figure out what parts of the project had been completed at that time and which were still to come.  It took several books and much online searching, but the final, most helpful piece was The Royal Guide to Windsor Castle by Sir William Henry St. John Hope, published in 1920 and available via a research library near me.  It has beautiful, color coded floor plans, and I ended up taking dozens of iPhone pictures as notes, which I'm using here.

What’s next? 

I’m finishing up the next Royal Weddings story, WHISPERS AT COURT.  No publication date yet, but I’ll be sure to let the Unusual Historicals family know.

So, readers:  what makes you feel as if you are truly embedded in the historical world of the book?  Is it the physical descriptions?  Attitudes and behaviors that are far from our modern perspectives?  Or something else?  Leave a comment below for a chance to win a copy of SECRETS AT COURT. 

After many years in public relations, advertising and marketing, Blythe Gifford started writing seriously after a corporate layoff. Ten years and one layoff later, she became an overnight success when she sold her first book to the Harlequin Historical line.  Since then, she has published ten romances set in England and on the Scottish Borders.  The Chicago Tribune has called her work "the perfect balance between history and romance."  For more information, visit www.blythegifford.com or www.facebook.com/BlytheGifford or follow her on Twitter @BlytheGifford.