The Tudor Roses

The Tudor Roses

The Rose Blog

Interview With Judith Arnopp - Author of Intractable Heart: the Story of Katheryn Parr


Author Judith Arnopp


As part of a virtual tour by author Judith Arnopp to celebrate the publishing of her latest novel, Intractable Heart: the Story of Katheryn Parr, Judith calls in on the court of The Tudor Roses and, as is only fair and right, she is put under the spotlight and asked some important questions!


Judith is a lovely lady and has written many novels previous to this much anticipated one about the life of Katherine Parr, so it is our great pleasure to be hosting her here on our humble blog. We hope you all enjoy reading her responses to her questions and will pop over to her pages afterwards to check out more about Intractable Heart and her other works.


So, without any further preamble, on with the grilling...


Hello Judith and welcome to the Tudor Zone, you will be asked 20 questions! Are you sitting comfortably? Good, then we shall begin.


                What inspired you to write books based in Tudor England?


When I first began to write full length novels I was under the impression that readers were tired of Tudor books. There are so many. The Tudors are also on the T.V, on home wares, jewellery, biscuit tins. I thought they’d been done to death but I had so many readers ask me if I wrote, or had ever thought of writing, Tudor books, that I thought I’d give it go.


You have also written books based in Saxon/ Norman times so what made you jump from that period to the Tudor dynasty and will you be venturing back?


I think my readers would have something to say if I did J Although my Saxon/Norman books are selling better now, that is because people have read and enjoyed the Tudor ones. I receive lovely emails from people telling what they love about my work and what they’d like to see me do next so I have plenty of scope. I am very comfortable with Henry and plan to stay with him a bit longer, providing he doesn’t dispatch me first.


Your new book is called Intractable Heart: The Story of Katheryn Parr and the cover photo, as us Roses know, was taken by our very own Darren - what made you pick that particular photo?


Well, it is lovely, isn’t it? There is something about her seeming solitude, and the peace of the garden that makes me think of Katheryn Parr at peace. We seldom read about the monarchy enjoying quiet times, I always like to include them in my books. In Intractable Heart Katheyrn is often depicted in the garden with her dogs, Rig and Homer, or walking with Henry or Thomas. After her testing experiences she deserves some tranquillity. When I approached Darren and asked to use his lovely photo, I never expected him to agree, I was beside myself with joy.

Intractable Heart: The Story of Katheryn Parr


                If you could meet one person from history who would it be and what would you ask them?


It is difficult to pick just one. I’d want to ask Richard III about who killed the princes in the tower. I’d want to ask Perkin Warbeck, was he really the lost prince or just a bloke from Tournai. I’d have to ask Henry VIII if he really loved the very uninspiring Jane Seymour the best, or was she just the easiest to manage and the one who got away. Oh, and since I am at it, I could find out who actually wrote the plays we know as ‘Shakespeare.’


If you could settle one historical debate/argument what one would it be?


Oh dear, I sort of went into that one in the last question. Who killed the princes in tower – I think everyone on the planet would like the answer to that.


What is your favourite place that you have visited related to history?


I’ve been to lots but it is usually the smaller places that I enjoy the most. Some of the larger castles etc. have become too touristy for me. I have visited some tiny ancient churches in Wales where you can almost feel the worshippers of the past walking with you through the transept. Religion was so absolutely vital to people of the past churches are bursting with historic atmosphere. One in particular, the Church of Merthyr Issui at Patricio in Mid-Wales, prompted me to write a blog post. You can read it here and see why I like them.


Starbucks or Costa?


Ha ha! I live about thirty miles from either and, although I drink a lot of coffee at home, I am not so addicted to it to want to travel that far for a cup. I don’t get into town very often. I am a country bumkin so I am afraid I cannot answer this one.


Who or what was you greatest inspiration to take up writing.


I don’t really know. I have always written, or at least since I was able to hold a pen. I used to make little books and fill them with pictures and stories and read them to my dolls. I wrote all through my teens, love poems and stories that I sincerely hope never turn up with my name on them. When my kids were small I wrote adventures with them as the protagonists. It wasn’t until I studied for my first degree and my creative writing tutor thought enough of my work to suggest I try for publication that I began to take it seriously. I began my first novel in 2004, published it in 2009 and no one was more surprised than me when I began to get good reviews. I haven’t stopped since. It is a real privilege to earn a living doing something you love.


How do you pick the subject of your novels, or do they pick you?


I think they pick me. My first, Peaceweaver, was suggested by my university studies but after that the ideas came from things picked up while researching for other things. I am always finding little snippets that pique my interest, so many roads to lure me off track. If I find something intriguing I am very strict with myself and make a note to revisit the subject later. Sometimes I forget but sometimes the ideas nag at me and a story begins to grow at the back of my mind. It can be very annoying.


Once you have chosen a subject for your books, what is the process you follow in terms of planning, research and structuring the chapters, etc?


Once I can ignore the germinating idea no longer I begin to read in depth. I research all the people involved, decide if I can use them, how I can depict them, how they will fit into my story. There are so many different opinions and versions of events that I have to pick one. It isn’t a matter of being ‘factual’ but more a matter of perspective. I also read around the subject, the politics, the customs, clothes etc. I have to know the world very well. I don’t go into a great amount of detail in my books but I have to have a sense of place.

One problem I do have is that since I don’t believe in good or evil my characters are usually a mix; differing shades of light and grey. There are no villains and no saints. The challenge with this is making ‘normal’ and, I hope, very human, people interesting without resorting to melodrama.

I usually write an intro first. This is often discarded later but if it works and I feel I can enlarge on it then I know I have something worth pursuing. The best one for me was the introduction to The Kiss of the Concubine when the ghost of Anne Boleyn is waiting at Henry’s death bed to torment him. the rest of the book doesn’t involve her spirit again until the very end but the idea worked as a guide and was a great benefit to me as a writer.

In the past I have sketched out the plot and mapped the path I am supposed to follow but, once I was deeply involved, I failed to stick to it. The characters insist on telling me what they want to do. As long as they don’t stray too far from known fact I let them go ahead.

The first draft floods out really quickly and then I have to go back and fix it all later. I find the editing the hardest part. Research takes the longest and continues throughout the writing and editing process, creating the story is the shortest bit, and the editing doesn’t take quite so long as the research.


Who so far has been your favourite historical person to write about and why?


Anne Boleyn, I think. She has been so badly treated by her contemporaries, historians and especially novelists. I wanted to strip away all the crud (pardon my French) and try to find the real person beneath. The hidden part that we all keep buried away behind a persona of who we’d like to be. In The Kiss of the Concubine Anne is very complex but ordinary, uncertain, and she makes mistakes – just like we all do.


Think desert island discs but turn it into desert island historical persons and tell us which three historical people would you choose to be stranded on an uninhabited island with?


Ooh, I could have Richard III, Henry VII and Henry VIII and watch them fight – ha ha, but that might be dangerous. Erm, let me think …Geoffrey Chaucer to read me stories, Elizabeth I to further my education, and Thomas Wyatt to read me his lovely poetry and maybe flirt a little.


Given the choice of any historical text, manuscript, book, pamphlet, etc, which one would you choose to own and why?


The Book of Durrow. It is an illuminated gospel book dating back to the 7th century, the oldest existing complete Insular medieval manuscript. It is absolutely stunning; the lavish carpet pages in particular. What makes this one special for me is that the value of it lies not just in the artistry of composition but in the story it can tell. How it has survived so long is anyone’s guess but at one point a farmer held it over a cattle trough and poured water over it to create holy water to cure his cattle!

The Book of Durrow


You’ve just been regressed by a hypnotist, who would you most want to find you were in a previous life?


Someone who didn’t suffer too horribly. I am a great one for creature comforts and get very tetchy if I can’t shower at my regular time, so I am not very adventurous. I suppose it would make a nice change to be someone courageous and worthy like Queen Aethelflaed, the lady of the Mercians, or Joan of Ark – apart from the end bit L or maybe it would be better to be a man, someone clever like Erasmus – oh dear, I think he died of dysentery, beheading might be a better death.


Who is that particular historical figure that most deserves the ‘Dislike’ button treatment for you?


Henry VII. I have recently mellowed toward him after reading more balanced accounts of him but, compared with the Plantagenets and Henry VIII and Elizabeth I he does seem to have been rather lacking in splendour. If you are going to be a medieval king, you should do it properly.


Having written books based around Henry VIII, his court and his wives, what are your feelings towards him; is he this complex prince with many sides and faces or is he just the tyrant he is often portrayed as?


Well, I don’t believe in good or evil so the evil tyrant explanation doesn’t work for me. I think he was deeply complex, perhaps even ill. There are some theories that suggest he suffered brain damage in 1536 after a fall from his horse and his deterioration seems to date from that time. In the early part of his reign there are no detrimental reports of him at all; he was a golden renaissance prince whose behaviour was very much in-line with contemporary kings. After 1536 his crimes (as we see them) begin to mount up, beginning with the fall of Anne Boleyn, of course and escalating quickly out of control. It is as if he was on a constant quest for perfection, but never found it. He failed in almost all of his goals, apart from fathering Edward. I think if he could have imagined the great queen Elizabeth would become it might have made her even greater because she would have had the required training. Or perhaps her upbringing moulded her into the woman she became, in which case, Henry did her a favour. Oh dear, I have gone off track. I think Henry was deeply complex, suffering individual.


We’ve noticed that you have used a different spelling of Katherine for Parr rather than the two common ways of spelling her name, Katherine (sometimes Catherine) or Kateryn, why the seeming merger of the two to get Katheryn?


Katheryn Parr signed her correstpondence, ‘Kateryn, the queen’ and I wanted to use that. The first draft was written that way. It made it easier, both for me as a writer, and for readers, to distinguish her from the three or four other Katherine/Catherine’s that appear in the book. But when two out of three proof readers questioned it and said it made them falter in their reading and question if it was a error, I altered it to Katheryn. There is no point having a small army of editors if you don’t listen to them. I hope it doesn’t offend anyone.


Staying on the theme of the book, Katherine Parr, what are your personal feelings as to what become of Mary Seymour, her only child, fathered by Thomas Seymour.


Unfortunately we will never know. It is very sad but so many children died in infancy during the period but I tend to think that is what happened. After Seymour’s execution she was put into the care of Katheryn’s friend, Katherine Willoughby (there, you see, another Katherine). Mary fades from the record after 1550 so we can only assume she did not survive the rigours of 16th century life.


Leading on from the mentioning of Thomas Seymour, did he love Katherine or was she just a way to gain the power he craved, even maybe indirectly through using her closeness to Princess Elizabeth to get close to her himself; we all know the rumours and conspiracy theories and the way he behaved with Elizabeth?


 Despite his alleged behaviour I have a soft spot for Thomas. I think he was suffering from a severe case of sibling envy and his destruction lay in his uncompromising bid for power and status. Marrying Katheryn did get him closer to Edward, but I’d have thought, not close enough to make the marriage strictly a political move. I think she was unfinished business.

Thomas always wanted what he couldn’t have and Katheryn had already been snatched from under his nose by Henry once before. I think Tom grabbed her before he thought it through properly.  Perhaps he wasn’t the sort of man that should marry.

His flirtation with Elizabeth is another area where we have to tread carefully (unless writing fiction of course). We don’t know how far things went between them and I don’t think we should judge either of them too harshly. Sexual attraction is a powerful thing and can make the best of us act rashly. After all he wouldn’t be the first man to be intrigued by a young girl.

I don’t think it is an indication that he didn’t love his wife. I think it is more a case of him once more desiring that which he couldn’t have. I don’t see it as child abuse either. To view it like that is to judge them from our 21st century perspective. Elizabeth was old enough to marry, she wasn’t a child and young women can be very sure about what they want, and determined to get it, especially if it is bad for them. I think the affair (or whatever it was) and Seymour’s execution affected Elizabeth profoundly. As David Starkey points out, as she grew older all the men she ever favoured were strikingly similar to Seymour.


We couldn’t let you get away without asking what’s next for you? Have you got any new books lined up? If so, what can you tell us about them?


I went from The Kiss of the Concubine straight into writing Intractable Heart without taking a break. The sale of our house had fallen through and to keep my mind from the disappointment I buried myself in work. I should have had a break from it and I am desperately in need of one now. Sitting down all day is exhausting.

However, I do have a thing nagging at the back of my head. Sometime ago I wrote a short story about Elizabeth of York and Perkin Warbeck (was he or wasn’t he?) and I have an idea for making it the subject of a much longer piece. The idea is there, nudging me but I am ignoring it until I am properly rested. You can read the short story The King is in his Counting House free on my webpage.



Thank you for answering our questions Judith, we enjoyed your answers very much. We know you are back with us in the near future with another blog article about Intractable Heart and we cannot wait for that; keep an eye out for that article people.


Also, as part of Judith's visit to us on her tour she is very kindly giving away a copy of Kiss of the Concubine, one of her very popluar novels, as a compeition prize for one lucky winner.

Kiss of the Concubine


All you have to do is answer a simple question: Kiss of the Concubine is about which of Henry VIIIs wives?

Answers are to be emailed to us at and answers given by any other means will be disregarded as we will have no way of contacting you if you win. The closing date for entries is 30th June 2014. Entries after this date will not be included in the random draw to pick a winner from the correct answers. The winner will be contacted by email to arrange the delivery of the book.

Please take time to visit Judith's pages and cast your eye over the wonderful novels and short stories she has written.


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