From “a brilliant new player in the court of royal fiction” (People), comes the mesmerizing story of Lady Penelope Devereux—the daring young beauty in the Tudor court, who inspired Sir Philip Sidney’s famous sonnets even while she plotted against Queen Elizabeth.
Penelope Devereux arrives at Queen Elizabeth’s court where she and her brother, the Earl of Essex, are drawn into the aging Queen’s favor. Young and naïve, Penelope, though promised elsewhere, falls in love with Philip Sidney who pours his heartbreak into the now classic sonnet series Astrophil and Stella. But Penelope is soon married off to a man who loathes her. Never fainthearted, she chooses her moment and strikes a deal with her husband: after she gives birth to two sons, she will be free to live as she chooses, with whom she chooses. But she is to discover that the course of true love is never smooth.
Meanwhile Robert Cecil, ever loyal to Elizabeth, has his eye on Penelope and her brother. Although it seems the Earl of Essex can do no wrong in the eyes of the Queen, as his influence grows, so his enemies gather. Penelope must draw on all her political savvy to save her brother from his own ballooning ambition and Cecil’s trap, while daring to plan for an event it is treason even to think about.
Unfolding over the course of two decades and told from the perspectives of Penelope and her greatest enemy, the devious politician Cecil, Watch the Lady chronicles the last gasps of Elizabeth’s reign, and the deadly scramble for power in a dying dynasty.
Where do you get your ideas for your books?
As I write about real characters from history, inspiration springs from reading about their lives. But there is always an underlying idea that is more abstract; for example in WATCH THE LADY I was exploring the notion of loyalty and the fact that loyalty can, if taken to an extreme degree, drive a good person to ill deeds.
What aspects about the past do you specifically try to highlight in your novel(s)?
My particular aim is to give a voice to the women whose stories have been obscured in history. So Katherine Parr, of Queen’s Gambit, was not the dull nursemaid of popular reputation but a successful author and a dangerous political operator. In Watch the Lady I explore the adultery that ensured Penelope Devereux’s story was ignored for centuries and shine a light on her controversial political dealings.
I’m interested in women who are rule-breakers, or who in some way show defiance in the face of a culture that limited them to the domestic arena.
Please tell us a little about your latest novel Watch The Lady.
Watch the Lady is set in the declining years of Elizabeth’s reign, when the aging Queen’s intransigence and refusal to name an heir are beginning to destabilize the country. Political factions at court are polarized with the Cecils and the Devereuxs at loggerheads. My heroine Penelope Devereux, sister to royal favorite, the Earl of Essex, and muse to poet Sir Philip Sidney, inhabits the heart of this world and the novel follows her in her mission to ensure that her family is placed to best advantage when Elizabeth finally comes to an end.
Penelope is a woman who refuses to be limited by her gender and finds ways to manipulate her restricted world to suit her ends.
Who is your favorite author or book that you would like to recommend to your readers?
One of my favourite books is BEWARE OF PITY by Stephan Zweig. Set in Germany just before the first world war, it is an extraordinary feat of writing, exploring the idea of pity as a destructive force and describes a class-bound world that is about to be turned upside down.
Sisters of Treason (now in paperback), introduces Tudor court and the Tudor blood being a curse more than a blessing. For those who’ve never read Sisters of Treason, can you speak a little on the Tudor history on how this “curse” has affected their lives in Watch the Lady?
At the opening of Sisters of Treason lady Jane Grey, aged only seventeen, is executed for the threat she poses to queen Mary's throne. She is the Protestant granddaughter of Henry VIII's sister and might easily become the focus of plots to oust the Catholic Queen. Her sisters—Katherine particularly as she’s next in age—live in the shadow of this event, fearful that the same might happen to them.