Monday, October 13, 2008

Loaded Questions with "The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn" author, Robin Maxwell

This is a very big week for fans of historical fiction at Loaded Questions. We began the week with an interview with the first lady of Plantagenet historical fiction, discussing her new book and giving us a glimpse of her next novel.

Today we present to you another very high profile historical fiction author in the form of Robin Maxwell, an author who has continually supplied her fans with vivid characters, fascinating storylines and a unprecedented glimpse into the secret lives of the Tudor monarchs. Since Robin's debut novel was released in 1997 she has faithfully written a new novel every two years creating a current catalog of seven novels, her eighth to be released in January, 2009.

My interview with Robin Maxwell, which you will find below, should almost be called a conversation. While securing a time to conduct the interview Robin and I emailed back and forth, chatting about our love of Tudor history (which I am currently working on my Masters in), projects that we have worked on, other movies and novels that have attempted to tackle Tudor historical fiction and generally just having a great time chatting back and forth. Many of the questions I ended up asking I already knew the answer to after our series of emails but I still wanted to ask them so that the Robin Maxwell fans out there can see the answers.

Robin Maxwell is a boisterous, engaging woman who knows her history and tells one hell of a story.

Kelly Hewitt: You write a lot of novels about the Tudors and one can't help but notice that they've become very popular these days with fiction novels, movies, and television. As a master's student studying the Tudors I get this question all the time and so I feel somewhat guilty asking you but, have you watched "The Tudors" on Showtime and what do you think?

Robin Maxwell: I was totally addicted to "The Tudors". Once I got over the fact that 10 years ago I pitched the same idea to television (I'm also a screenwriter) for a mini-series and got laughed out of the room, and also got over the fact that The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn, which was optioned three times (once for a feature film, once by NBC and Hallmark Entertainment, and once by Fox TV and A&E Network) and never produced, I just started watching the Showtime series and enjoying the sexy Henry VIII and the well-cast Anne Boleyn and other characters. I really enjoyed Sam Neill as Wolsey and thought he was very sympathetically portrayed (even though he was a villain in Secret Diary). I'm never satisfied with how any feature film (like "The Other Boleyn Girl") or TV movie portrays Anne, because they never give her enough credit for being a prime mover in the politics of the time, especially the Protestant Reformation. She is always the pawn, or the victim (of her father, for example in "The Tudors", or the evil bitch in "The Other Boleyn Girl."). What I did like about the Showtime series was that with such a long format (20 episodes over two seasons to tell the whole Anne/Henry story) they managed to get so much in. I thought the costumes and sets were fabulous, and all in all, about 10 times better than "The Other Boleyn Girl".

Kelly: Have any of your books been optioned for television or the silver screen?

Robin: The Wild Irish was optioned last year by Australian producer Monica O'Brien, for a feature film. I had already adapted my own novel into a script, so she optioned them both. Since then she's been doing a bang-up job, and now has all the financing she needs lined up, and two "A-list" directors who are very interested in the project. She tells me it will begin shooting in early 2010 (this coincides with the availability of the directors' schedules). I'm VERY excited about this being produced, as there hasn't ever been a heroine like Grace O'Malley, nor so dramatic a backdrop of the conflict between Elizabeth I (in her waning years, when she took on more of her father's murderous characteristics than her mother's) and the Irish people who wanted independence from England. What some call "Elizabeth's Irish War" was one of genocide, in which nearly half of Ireland was wiped out. We jokingly call the movie "Bravetart," and believe that when it gets produced it will sweep the Oscars.

Kelly: Since publishing your first book The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn you have written a new book every two years! Is that by coincidence or do you have a system down?

Robin: It's not really a system. It's just the way my publishing deals were structured. For the first four books I was given about 15 months to deliver a manuscript. Then it takes about 9 months from that point to get published. However, for the last two -- Mademoiselle Boleyn and Signora da Vinci -- I was given much shorter delivery periods. The new "conventional wisdom" is that an author should have a new book out every year (so her readers won't forget her!). It was really too short a time for writing the Da Vinci book, as it was all a new world for me and new characters, after six Tudor and Elizabethan novels, so I was actually late delivering. But I have a wonderful editor, and she was understanding. The downside with delivering it late was that the publishing date was pushed back to January `09. That seems to me a weird time to publish a book, as everybody's kind of "shot their wad" on Christmas presents. And now with this economy looking so dismal, I'm hoping that the new book gets a fair shot once it's on the shelves.

Kelly: I was fascinated to read an article you wrote for the Huffington Post in which you compared Hillary Clinton with Anne Boleyn in the article "Hillary Boleyn: Has Anything Changed in Half a Millennium". Do you have any modern day comparisons for the other Tudor women you have written about?

Robin: Not so much Tudor women, but I'm thinking seriously about writing another Huffington Post, comparing George W. Bush to Philip II of Spain. Philip ruled when Spain was the richest country in Europe, with "treasure ships" sailing into Spain groaning with gold from the New World. Yet, in his obsession with a religious war against the Protestants in the Netherlands, and sending his Armada against heathen English, he believed God was speaking into his ear and telling him what to do, he ended up bankrupting his country totally. Twice. Sound familiar?

Kelly: I have heard that you are working on a new novel set in the Italian Renaissance. What can you tell us about the new book?

Robin: Signora da Vinci is about the Itallian Renaissance seen through the eyes of Leonardo da Vinci's mother. C.W. Gortner (previous Loaded Questions interviewee and author of The Last Queen) recently reviewed the book, and rather than trying to explain it myself, I thought I'd let you read what he said about it. I agree with my agent who said that Christopher "nailed it."

"In this exquisite gem of a novel, Robin Maxwell conjures a fascinating account of Leonardo Da Vinci's mother, a bold woman whose adventurous spirit and quest for her own truth captures the exuberance of the Italian Renaissance. Though little is known of the historical Caterina da Vinci, Maxwell's impressive research and keen storytelling skills sweep us into a very plausible account of a young alchemist's daughter whose unfortunate love affair brings her the greatest love of her life - her genius son - as well as the opportunity to escape the restrictions of her gender and enter a seductive garden of philosophy, art, learning, and danger. From the dusty streets of Vinci to the glories of Lorenzo Il Magnifico's Florence and the conspiratorial halls of Rome and Milan, Signora da Vinci is a tour de force celebration of one woman's unquenchable ardor for knowledge and of a secret world that historical fiction readers rarely see.

- C.W. Gortner, author of The Last Queen

Kelly Hewitt: I was interested to read in your biography that you initially moved to Hollywood in order to be a parrot tamer. How did you come to that profession?

Robin Maxwell: I'd been keeping exotic birds (started with parakeets) from the age of eight. I graduated to parrots after college, and they became a passion with me. When I moved from New York City to Los Angeles in 1976 parrot keeping had become "the thing," and when I was trying to find work, I stumbled into a gig taming birds who had just come out of quarantine (that was when birds were still allowed to be imported) and before they were shipped off to pet stores to be bought. In truth, it was a horrible job, because the birds had been so traumatized (and even injured) during their capture in the wild and in quarantine, and because there were even cruel, abusive "tamers." I quit the job after I reported one of these monsters and my boss refused to fire him. Now my husband and I share our lives with an umbrella cockatoo and an African grey parrot, who have been lovers for 25 years. I consider the birds my dear friends and my muses.

Titles featured in this interview:

The upcoming new release, Signora da Vinci
Published by NAL Trade, Jan. 2009

The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn

Published by Arcade, 1997

The Queen's Bastard
Published by Arcade, 1999

The Wild Irish
Published by William Morrow, 2003

Mademoiselle Boleyn
Published by NAL Trade, 2007

More titles from bestselling author, Robin Maxwell:

Virgin: Prelude to the Throne

Published by Simon and Schuster, 2002

"...a riveting portrait of Elizabeth I as a romantic and vulnerable teenager, dangerously awakening to a perilous liaison with the wrong man."

England, 1547: King Henry is dead. Elizabeth's half-brother, nine-year-old Edward, is king in name only. Thomas Seymour, brother to the ambitious duke who has seized power in this time of crisis, calculatingly works his way into Elizabeth's home in genteel Chelsea House. He marries Henry's widow, Catherine Parr, and uses his venerable charms and sexual magnetism to indulge his infatuation for young Elizabeth. Caught hopelessly under Thomas Seymour's spell, surrounded by kind friends and hidden enemies, Elizabeth can only follow her heart to ensure survival.

To the Tower Born: A Novel of the Lost Princes

Published by Harper, 2003

In 1483, Edward and Richard of York—Edward, by law, already King of England—were placed, for their protection before Edward's coronation, in the Tower of London by their uncle Richard. Within months the boys disappeared without a trace, and for the next five hundred years the despised Richard III was suspected of their heartless murders.

In To the Tower Born, Robin Maxwell ingeniously imagines what might have happened to the missing princes. The great and terrible events that shaped a kingdom are viewed through the eyes of quick-witted Nell Caxton, only daughter of the first English printer, and her dearest friend, "Bessie," sister to the lost boys and ultimate founder of the Tudor dynasty. It is a thrilling story brimming with mystery, color, and historical lore. With great bravery and heart, two friends navigate a dark and treacherous medieval landscape rendered more perilous by the era's scheming, ambitious, even murderous men and women who will stop at nothing to possess the throne.


Michele at Reader's Respite said...

What an fabulous interview! Ms. Maxwell sounds so's interviews like this one that make reading an author's works so much more enjoyable.

Thanks to both of you for this!

Amanda said...

Oh I love her writing since I read The Queen's Bastard. I just picked up it's prequel, The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn and will be reading that soon. I will probably read all her novels soon :)

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