25 October 2015

Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Carol McGrath on THE BETROTHED SISTER

This week, we're welcoming author Carol McGrath again, whose latest title is THE BETROTHED SISTER, book #3 of The Daughters of Hastings trilogyOne lucky visitor will get a free copy of The Betrothed SisterBe sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.

It is 1068 and led by Countess Gytha the Godwin royal women are about to set out into exile after the Siege of Exeter. Princess Thea, known to history as Gita is King Harold’s eldest daughter and the book’s engaging protagonist. She carries revenge in her heart for the Normans who killed her father at the Battle of Hastings. Once in Demark her uncle, the king, betroths her to a most eligible prince, his third wife’s nephew, Vladimir of Kiev. Will her betrothal and marriage bring her happiness, as she confronts enemies from inside and outside Rus territories? Will she prove herself the courageous princess she surely is, win her husband’s respect and establish her independence in a society protective towards its women?

**Q&A with Carol McGrath**

Can You Explain a little of the background to The Betrothed Sister?

The Betrothed Sister is the story of King Harold II’s elder daughter. After The Battle of Hastings, we lose track of King Harold’s immediate family. I cannot be sure with whom Harold’s elder daughter lived before 1068 and her exile. She did travel with her grandmother and brothers into exile in Denmark. This is recorded history. Her mother is not mentioned after a reference in The Waltham Chronicle which says that Edith Swan-neck identified her hand-fasted husband’s body on the battlefield of Senlac Hill, known as The Battle of Hastings, by marks only known to her. This was written a half century after the events on the basis of memory. Edith shows up in a mention in John of Worcester as having entered a nunnery. It is my suggestion that Thea-Gytha and thus Gita to the Rus, accompanied the noble ladies of Exeter into exile following William the Conqueror’s siege of that city in 1068. They are documented in The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as having first travelled to Flatholm, an island in the Severn Estuary. Later that year they travelled to Flanders. Thea continued with her grandmother and brothers to Denmark. The journey out is where The Betrothed Sister opens. The Godwin Diaspora is fascinating and its women are the subject of The Daughters of Hastings Trilogy. The books are linked but they are also stand-alone. This one is my personal favourite.

How did you go about researching The Betrothed Sister?

I read Slavonic Studies at University. I have a knowledge of Russian language. I know where to seek out information as a result and researched in the Oxford Bodliean and The Oxford Slavonic Studies library. I found information in The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, more in John of Worcester’s Chronicle and fascinating information about life in Kyiv in the Russian Primary Chronicle. These women are like shadows. At best they get tiny mentions. I looked at secondary source material to fill in the gaps and imagine their lives. I delved into what it was like to be a Rus noblewoman in the 11thC. For example, I discovered that they lived protected lives, more so than their English equivalents, in a palace or kremlin Terem, not to be confused with harem, since Rus princes were generally deeply religious and indeed were allegedly monogamous. Women were very valued as the Rus law codes of the period show. Read the book and find out how this worked. In addition to this research I visited the Viking Exhibition in London. That was informative as was a trip to Iceland, as alas Kyiv was off limits. Books I read on this period in Denmark fed into the story of Thea’s betrothal. Kyiv (Kiev) is on the Dnieper and major trade routes. All this is absorbed into a thrilling adventure historical story.

Any surprises?

Yes, I discovered that Elizaveta, wife of Harold Harthrada who was defeated and killed by King Harold married Sweyn King of Denmark. This information has been researched by Russian Medieval scholar, Janet Martin. Her books are excellent. You can see the connections between the Danish court and that of Kiev post 1066. It was an historical titbit as Thea’s father was responsible for Harthrada’s death.  Harthrada’s daughter was also married to one of Sweyn’s sons. I easily found themes of jealousy and revenge to work out through the novel.

Which part of the research interested you most?

The Viking Exhibition in London and Rus weddings are interesting. The concept of the Rusnyk embroidery fascinated me. Women recorded important events from their lives in embroidery. This also contributed to the Tapestry theme throughout these novels.

What Next?

Before I embark on a new Medieval Trilogy I am writing a stand-alone novel about an early Tudor lady who is another historical shadow. I cannot reveal her identity yet but this novel contains intrigue and the imagined life of a London woman merchant circa 1509-20.

Thank you to Unusual Historicals for hosting me today.

The series is available at Amazon.com and amazon.co.uk and from all good bookshops

Learn more about author Carol McGrath

Follow me on Twitter @carolmcgrath