Today we are delighted to welcome Emma Campion, author of the newly released A Triple Knot–a novel of the mysterious and dazzling medieval beauty, Joan of Kent–and its previous companion novel, The King's Mistress. As some of you may already know, Emma also writes medieval mysteries as Candace Robb.
Candace, who would become Emma in 2008, was born in the 20th century in North Carolina to parents who had just recently moved from New York City. From a very early age she had a sense of really belonging nowhere, so she could choose. An auspicious beginning for a writer. She grew up through ambitions to be a tap dancer, a singer, a ballerina, a journalist covering the Viet Nam War, a professor of medieval and Anglo-Saxon literature, the author of fantasy and science fiction novels, the author of historical novels, the author of historical crime novels—and that’s how she came to write The Apothecary Rose, the first Owen Archer mystery, which eventually led to changing her name, changing her mind about Alice Perrers, and writing, as Emma Campion, The King’s Mistress. That book, as well as the 10th Owen Archer mystery, A Vigil of Spies, led to the current novel about Joan of Kent, A Triple Knot (originally titled The Hero’s Wife, then Rebel Pawn). Breathlessly, that’s Emma’s story.
A Triple Knot is garnering lots of lovely praise. Joan of Kent, ward of her cousin King Edward III, is destined for a politically strategic marriage. Betrothed to the heir of a powerful family, Joan is haunted by her father's execution and distrusts her royal kin–and so she pledges herself to one of the king’s own knights. Furious, the king forces Joan into another politically auspicious marriage–one that she and her beloved will struggle a decade to dissolve.
“A Triple Knot is a brilliant, tender portrait of a passionate woman in dangerous times,” says Chris Nickson, author of the Richard Nottingham novels. And Diane Haeger, author of The Secret Bride, says: “With a deft eye for detail and a wonderfully authentic evocation of time and place, Campion has delivered what is certain to become a classic.”
I was fortunate to read an advanced copy of A Triple Knot, and loved it. Campion's 14th century is vivid and authentic, with characters that are as convincing as the setting–and Joan, sometimes glossed over in the hstory books as the Fair Maid of Kent and little more, is complex yet sympathetic. It's an exciting, compelling read.
And after reading it, I quickly invited Emma/Candace to visit the blog! Here's her interview:
Susan: Emma, welcome to Word Wenches! I loved A Triple Knot, and appreciated how very well you combined your love and knowledge of English medieval history with a gift for storytelling to explore the story of Joan of Kent, first cousin to Edward III. Writing about “the fair maid of Kent” (a later moniker but possibly founded in truth, with the story of Joan's garter slipping down, the king's comment to save her embarrassment–Honi soit qui mal y pense, essentially "shame to him who thinks badly of it" –and the subsequent Order of the Garter) — must have been a real challenge. Joan's life combined fairytale with soap opera – but not a lot is known about the circumstances and motivations in her life.
How did you approach the historical facts to create such strong, detailed historical fiction?
Emma: I began with the facts that went right to the heart of the matter (I’ll mention only one of the three, so as not to spoil the story for those who don’t know it): Joan of Kent chose to be buried beside Thomas Holland rather than Edward, the Black Prince. I collected all I could find about Joan, Will Montagu, Thomas Holland, and Edward of Woodstock, and began to move them around in my head against the backdrop of what I knew about King Edward III, the queens Isabella and Philippa, the Montagu and Holland families, the years leading up to the Hundred Years War, the foundation of the Order of the Garter, the Black Death, etc., trying to connect the dots by considering motivations and who was where when—essentially, sleuthing.
The biggest challenge, once I was convinced that Thomas and Joan were telling the truth about their betrothal when she was so young, was finding a motivation for their decision to foil King Edward’s plan for her marriage into a Gascon family with the influence and the military might to turn the tide in Gascony. Joan was so very young and Thomas so dependent on the king’s favor, I knew they acted out of desperation, a sense of imminent danger. Discovering the record of a planned betrothal that is never mentioned again was just what I needed. Then it all began to come together. My test was always, how did they feel about this? I let their hearts lead me.
Susan: That works well in the story — emotions are timeless, and that approach can make historical fiction so immediate for modern readers. In The King's Mistress, which precedes Joan’s story, you wrote about Alice Perrers, whose reputation in history is scandalous. What fascinates you about Alice and Joan – and what did you find they had in common?
Emma: Both Joan and Alice have been dismissed by historians as gold-diggers. Alice did have a talent for accruing wealth, it’s true. But my sense of both was of strong, courageous women who loved with their whole beings and with a steadfastness I think remarkable considering their circumstances. Surely Alice realized long before King Edward’s death that once he was gone she would become the scapegoat for all that had gone wrong in his last years, and risk losing everything. And Joan fought for nine years to be with Thomas Holland, the man she loved, even through a marriage that her mother hoped would provide her with security. It irritates me that historians dismiss Thomas’s petition to the papal court as a lie fabricated by lovers to liberate Joan from an unhappy marriage. The court would tear such an obvious ploy to pieces in a minute.
Susan: You’ve written historical fiction both as Emma Campion and as Candace Robb. When wearing one hat vs. the other, how does your focus change as a writer and as a historian?
Emma: I was quite surprised to find myself in a renewed struggle between historian and novelist when I branched out as Emma Campion. It’s one thing to use history as the backdrop for a crime novel, a tale of my own devising, and quite another to recount the life of an actual person. I constantly reminded myself that I was writing a novel, telling a story, not writing a biography. It’s important to me to be as accurate as possible, but it’s crucial to tell a good story, with artful pacing, so that I give my readers an emotional experience they’ll find satisfying. In streamlining Alice’s and Joan’s stories to keep the story moving forward, I had to choose which came first, the novel or the history. I jettisoned wonderful bits of history!
Susan: That's hard, isn't it, the jettisoning! Yet it's part of creating a great story. What do you love most about writing historical fiction – and what do you find most challenging? How has your approach developed and changed?
Emma: I love the research—in books, in old documents, at historic sites, in conversations with historians and archeologists…. I also love putting the historic figures in motion and learning as I do so what’s plausible and what isn’t. I love being steeped in the period.
Most challenging? With the Emma Campion novels, it’s the limitations inherent in writing about actual historic figures. It becomes a matter of connecting the dots and staying within the lines I’ve drawn, which can be maddening. I have the historian Mark Ormrod to thank for insisting I let go of the idea that William Wyndsor and Alice Perrers were in love. And I wanted Thomas and Joan to have more time together.
I don’t think my research methods have changed a great deal over time, except, of course, for the wealth of primary research accessible online, which was but a dream in the 90s. Of course, I’ve accrued knowledge all along, so now I have more to wade through in my mind and in my office. I can spend a day searching for something in my computer files, in storage boxes, and then discover it the next day tucked into a file on my desk.
Susan: Sometimes we ask our guests to describe their work spaces (or even share a photo!). What’s your writing environment like (most of the Wenches lean toward comfortable creative chaos…)?
Emma: In December I moved from a cramped temporary office in one of our guest bedrooms to the office my talented husband built for me. He combined the cavernous room I’d used as a library, a narrow hallway, and the small room I’d used as an office into one light-filled space with wood floors, built-in bookcases, and a large desk. It’s a dream office (it’s even sound-proofed) with sliding doors out to a lovely courtyard garden. It’s motivated me to stay far tidier than I’ve even been before (though I took these photos after tidying, and I didn’t photograph the desk top in front of my screen….).
Susan: What a gorgeous space! We have serious office envy at the moment. What’s next on the horizon for Emma Campion?
Emma/Candace: I’m not quite sure which of several ideas will be next for my Emma books. As Candace I’m working on the 11th Owen Archer, A Rumor of Wolves. It’s wonderful to return to Owen, Lucie, and their cohort in York.
Susan: Having read your Owen Archer series (I love medieval crime fiction!), this is really good news – I can't wait to read something new from Candace, as well as Emma!
Thank you so much for taking the time to interview here at Word Wenches. Best of luck with A Triple Knot and Owen Archer too — and we hope you'll come by to visit again!
For our readers: What questions do you have for Emma/Candace? Does medieval fiction have a special place on your bookshelves? How about medieval crime fiction? Do you totally love Candace's new office? I know I do!
Emma will send a signed copy of A Triple Knot to a lucky winner chosen at random from among our commenters. So ask away!