‘The Lady of Misrule’ by Suzannah Dunn was published in May.
Suzannah writes historical and contemporary fiction. Her historical fiction includes The May Bride, The Confessions of Katherine Howard, The Queen’s Sorrow, The Sixth Wife and The Queen of Subtleties.
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Many thanks to Suzannah for answering my questions.
Why did you decide to write about the aftermath of Jane’s reign?
Sometimes a novel starts for me with a particular image, and that was the case here: I was reading about Jane (I can’t remember why, exactly, on that particular occasion) and was struck by her being ‘divested of her small change’ before she was led away from the throne room into custody. That haunted me.
Why did you choose Elizabeth Tilney as your narrator?
I like to come at a story from an angle, as it were. When I started writing historical fiction, my agent offered me a piece of advice: Don’t just re-tell history. Don’t tell us what we already know (or, at least, think we know!), he meant. One way to do that is to tell it through someone else’s eyes. Elizabeth Tilney is my own creation – the historians think that Jane had perhaps two or three ladies attending her when she was in the Tower, although possibly they attended on a rota (ie one at a time). I have read the suggestion that one of those girls/women was Elizabeth Tilney. (I have another Tilney girl crop up in another of my novels: Catherine, who tells the story in ‘The Confession of Katherine Howard’; the Tilney family lived in Suffolk). And in my novel, Elizabeth has her own reasons for having volunteered for this particular duty; she has her own story (of my invention, I mean), which has brought her to the Tower, and which is gradually revealed in the novel.
Your characters use modern language. Why did you decide to have them do this?
I could go on endlessly about this, but in brief…
…they have to speak somehow, and I have no idea – nor does anyone else – how Tudors spoke. We know how they wrote – or, more accurately, how some of them wrote some things – but writing is very different from speech. I’m not suggesting that they used modern language, because by definition they didn’t… but then what do I do? where does that leave me? Do I try to give an impression that these characters were speaking in a long-ago era? Well, I could do that, but I have a horror of slipping into ‘cod-Tudor’ (which is of course a modern invention, if you see what I mean). A lot of writers do it by giving the dialogue a rather formal edge, which often seems to mean avoiding contractions (so, eg, always using ‘do not’ instead of ‘don’t’)… but why? does anyone seriously think – if they think about it for a moment – that Tudors didn’t use contractions? (I know they probably would have used different ones, but, well, seeing as we can’t know what those were… etc etc)
I am perhaps – and always have been – a dialogue writer above and beyond anything else: I love writing dialogue and if I’m good at anything, writing-wise, then (I think, I hope) it’s that. So, it’s important to me and I’d hate to do it badly – which, for me, would mean doing it in a stilted fashion. (Of course, sometimes conversation is stilted, has to be stilted because of the particular characters and/or a particular situation that they’re in, but that’s a different matter.) It’s important to me to be able to give a sense of flow and naturalness: speech is idiomatic, and if I were to rob or deplete it of that quality, it wouldn’t be effective – wouldn’t ‘feel real’ – as speech.
And above all, I want my characters and the situations they’re in to feel real. I see it as my ‘job’ as a novelist to put my readers right there, with the characters; I don’t want my readers to be observing the characters from a distance (or, as I think of it, down the wrong end of a telescope).
That – all the above – is more about manner than actual vocab. But, thinking of vocab, do you know which of these words/expressions were (as far as we are aware from written sources!) in use in the sixteenth century, and which came later? – tetchy; brat; to wrongfoot; to scupper; to gad about; at sixes and sevens; roly-poly; topsy-turvy; scot-free; to clutch; mesmerised; hush. (They’ve all arisen for me in the past couple of weeks of writing.) Look ’em up! – I think there’ll be some surprises in store for you… What is historically accurate and what we moderns think/feel is accurate are often different. I’m often in the odd position of avoiding using an actual sixteenth century word/expression because I feel it ‘seems’ modern and would throw the reader (eg ‘brat’) (see?! – did that one surprise you?).
Was Jane or Guildford more difficult to characterise and why?
Jane was… and I think that’s because (all the evidence is that) she was very composed, self-contained: she gave very little of herself away. (Nightmare for a novelist!) As far as I’m aware, there’s just about no evidence in the historical record as to what Guildford was like… so I decided to make him the exact opposite! He doesn’t hold back, in my novel, when it comes to giving anything of himself away…
What historical sources did you use for information about Jane’s imprisonment in the Tower?
I relied heavily on Eric Ives’s Lady Jane Grey (I’m an Ives-fan in general). I was surprised how little (in terms of modern academic history books) there is, published, on Jane.
In your novel, Dr Feckenham only visits Lady Jane once. Why did you change this?
It often makes sense, in writing fiction, to kind of streamline: for me, that’s one of the types of alteration of the ‘truth’ (ie of what’s agreed is a matter of the historical record) that’s acceptable, and often desirable. This was a case in point: there would be nothing to be gained, for the reader, in having several visits depicted, when pretty much the same things were being discussed (because, as far as I’m/anyone is aware, Jane and Feckenham were rather going round in circles).
What purpose does Goose serve in the story?
Well, I hope she works on several levels. In a novel which largely features merely two characters in a room, an outsider/interloper can be a relief/refreshing; she alters the dynamic. Also, she can bring news of the outside world. It’s suggested at the end of the novel that perhaps she had another, practical role, too.
By the end of the novel, do you think that Elizabeth has come to understand Lady Jane?
I do, I think, yes! I hope so. They’ve kind of made their peace, I think, haven’t they? I hope so.
Who is the ‘Lady of Misrule’? Is it Jane or Elizabeth of both of them?
Aha! – good question!…