Genre: Historical Fiction
Release Date: October 2015
Publisher: SilverWood Books
Set in the thirteenth century, the kingdoms of England and France are struggling over territory as the powerful Angevins threaten the French king. In regions far from Paris local fiefdoms disregard all authority.
The Tangled Queen is the story of the little known and very young Isabella of Angoulême who was abducted by King John in 1200. She became his second wife and queen consort, aged 12. He was the most reviled king in English history and his lust for her led to the loss of Normandy and the destruction of the Plantagenet Empire, which then brought about the Magna Carta.
Isabella came of age in England, but was denied her place in court. Her story is full of thwarted ambition, passion, pride and cruelty. She longed for power of her own and returned to France after the death of John to live a life of treachery and intrigue…
Excerpt from Isabella of Angoulême: The Tangled Queen Part 1.
Isabella smiled and yawned – it was time these chattering girls left. She dismissed them, haughty and impatient. Away they sped, some calling back to Isabella, jokes and remarks full of innuendo for her future. She frowned; this was not the way to treat a future queen.
‘Agnes, help prepare me for bed.’
Agnes closed the chamber door, unlacing the back of Isabella’s dress, folding the glorious red and gold silk into the large chest. Tomorrow Isabella would wear the blue gown, the splendid blue and silver fabric showing wealth and also loyalty. If red and gold had shown the power and wealth of the Taillefers, then the blue would mark their obedience and fealty.
Early the next morning Agnes was busy preparing a scented bath. Precious rose oil, drop by drop, turned the hot water cloudy. And then she was busy mixing the rosemary wash for Isabella’s hair. She would wear her hair loose today, and her small gold guirland.
Isabella woke up and saw Agnes looking at her, long and thoughtful, ready to make her stir, but she was already throwing back the covers and standing and stretching. Agnes nodded and together they moved to the bath, and Isabella slipped into the milky, perfumed water and rubbed the rosemary wash into her hair. She felt the water running down her back and shivered. Then she was being briskly dried by Agnes, who was determined to treat Isabella to the most thorough of preparations.
Her mother Alice entered the room and the three of them unfolded the wedding gown and dressed Isabella. Her chemise was soft and light, the dress heavy and cumbersome. Arranged within it, held within it as if caged, her face pale but proud, she moved to the window and looked down onto a courtyard full of people, horses, carts and wagons. A procession was moving through the crowd, with a stately canon and an even more stately bishop in the centre. The clergy were intent on their walk to the cathedral. Isabella clutched Agnes in a sudden fear. Then she rested her head on the window and took a deep breath. It was her wedding day.
ABOUT ERICA LAINE
I was was born in 1943 in Southampton and originally studied for the theatre. I moved with my family to Hong Kong in 1977 and worked and lived there for 20 years, writing English language textbooks for Chinese primary schools and managing large educational projects for the British Council.
Since living in S W France I have been very involved with a local history society and have researched many topics, the history of gardens and fashion being favourites.
Isabella of Angoulême began in 2011 at a writing workshop run by Philippa Pride, the Book Doctor. The story of this young queen was fascinating and although she appears as a character in some other historical novels I wanted to concentrate on her entire life and her importance to the English and the French and the role she played in the politics of power. Part Two is being written now and my head is more or less permanently in the thirteenth century.
Where are you from?
I was born in Southampton, have lived and worked in London and Hong Kong and now I live in South West France. I am retired now but busy with writing, gardening and just being!
Tell us your latest news.
I am just recovering from having a new knee, which means the garden is neglected but the writing will not be. And at the end of June I am going to the St Clementin Literary Festival in the Deux Sevres to speak about Isabella. Alison Morton author of the alternative history novels about a new Rome is going to be there and so is Lemn Sisay the poet. It will be great fun and very exciting for me. In September I am attending the Historical Novelists Society conference in Oxford and among the speakers are Tracey Chevalier, Fay Weldon and Melvyn Bragg. A great line-up is promised.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
When I first held a copy of Isabella of Angoulême, and then saw the book on Amazon with reviews, which meant a lot to me. And when people bought from me directly asked for them to be signed and liked the book.
What inspired you to write your first book?
Discovering this 12th century woman who had lived so near to where I live now and finding out about her life. She had a story I wanted to tell.
Do you have a specific writing style?
I probably am a little formal but this is because I am trying to write historical fiction so I avoid short forms. Some of the vocabulary can be of the time but it musn’t be obscure. I am trying to give a flavour of the 12th/13th century without using lots of pretend archaic language.
How did you come up with the title?
The crowns and thrones of England and France had been all mixed up since 1066 and Isabella was very tangled into the plotting that went on.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
It is not really a message novel but some readers have said how it brought home to them how powerless women were then compared to now.
How much of the book is realistic?
Quite a lot, the everyday medieval life of a castle and a court is real, the descriptions of the clothes and food are real, the power struggles are real. The dialogue has had to be created but often reflects what was documented at the time. Many encounters are created but the facts are true. The character of Isabella was slandered by contemporary chroniclers but I have tried to write her as someone who was created by her experiences and times. She was a difficult person!
Are experiences based on someone you know or events in your own life?
Not really, I have tried to avoid bringing 21st century attitudes and opinions to the book as people thought so differently then. The Church was all important, women were pawns to be used to forge alliances.
What books have most influenced your life?
Anything by the Brontes, Gone with the Wind, The Book Thief, Norse sagas, all of Hilary Mantel and the Dimsie schoolgirl books by Dorita Fairlie Bruce, which I read over and over again. Very dated but their world was real to me when I was 7.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
Margaret Irwin who wrote a trilogy about Elizabeth 1st and blended fact and story brilliantly.
What book are you reading now?
Exposure by Helen Dunmore
Are there any new authors that have grabbed your interest?
Anthony Doerr who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2015 with All the Light We Cannot See, my book for the desert island.
What are your current projects?
Isabella of Angouleme Part 2 where she is back in France, a widow but looking to make her mark as she could never do in England. And remarrying and making trouble!
What would you like my readers to know?
That I enjoy history so much now it is part of my life. I think as you get older history becomes more and more important. When you are young you live in the present and look to the future, as you age looking back to your own history happens whether you like it or not. And then looking back into a country and nation’s history and how all have influenced others is fascinating.
2 ECOPIES OF THE BOOK