14 Jun 2016

Isabella of Angouleme by Erica Laine

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.
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Can you tell us a little about your latest book?
It is a historical novel about Isabella of Angoulême who was married to Bad King John in 1200. I am writing Part 2 now but Part 1 is all about her early life and her marriage at the age of 12 to England’s infamous cruel king.

What inspired you to write it?
I live about 40 minutes for Angouleme in Aquitaine in France and became fascinated by all the stories about her. She was a local girl who became a Queen!

How did you come up with the idea for the cover?

The cover was designed for me but I sent ideas to the designers of various medieval images of Isabella and other pictures of heraldic shields, seals etc. They produced the early map that makes the background plus the quill and sealing wax idea which is so strong and just right for her.

If it was made into a movie, who would you like to play the main characters?
Isabella could be played by Keeley Hawes or Lea Seydoux, King John by Oscar Isaac or Mark Rylance.

Is it part of a series or is it a stand-alone novel?
It is a two part novel, but you will be able to read both as separate books.

Where is the novel set and why did you choose to set it there?
It is set in France and England in the 13th century and the time chose me! It is when these people lived.

What is it about this genre that appeals to you so much?
Historical fiction gives such a sense of excitement and we always learn so much without realizing it. People don’t change over the centuries, all the emotions are there even if society has changed.

What made you want to become an author?
I think I am a story teller rather than an author. I love telling stories and writing them, to write something long and sustained was a challenge.

How do you come up with character names?
All the names are in history and are correct. The characters that I invented like Agnes Roussie, for those I researched for names used at that time and also looked to see what people are called who live here in Aquitaine now.

Do you struggle to come up with book titles? Do they come before, during or after you've written your book?
The title The Tanged Queen just came to me, very early on. I was thinking of the muddle of the English and French royal families and how it was like some kind of barbed wire crown.

Name one of your all-time favourite books?

The PoisonWood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

Who, or what, inspires you?
Strong people who have lived fierce honest lives.

Where is your favourite place to write?
My tiny study at the top of the house, a muddle of books, papers, scribbled notes and a dog sleeping on the rug under the roof light.

What is your favourite movie that was based on a book?
Gone With The Wind

Name two of your favourite authors.
Hilary Mantel and Alan Furst

Tell us a random fact about yourself.

My nickname at school was Rhubarb.

Who would play you in the movie about your life?
Helena Bonham Carter

Tell us an interesting fact about where you live.
The house is a 300 year old converted barn and there are beams everywhere, it is like living in a tree.

What are your (writing) plans for the future?
To finish Part 2 of The Tangled Queen and to consider whether I can write a third book based on her children who left France to live at the English court of their half-brother Henry 111

Tell us one thing that's on your bucket list.
To spend six months visiting and exploring every European capital.

Favourite myth / fairytale?

Icarus and his wings for the myth, for the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast.

Who/What did you want to be when you were a kid?
An actress.

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.
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