Tag Archives: Lady Cecylee Neville 1415-1495

THE WHITE QUEEN by Philippa Gregory

THE WHITE QUEEN is the story of Elizabeth Woodville (1437-1492), Queen of Edward IV, mother of the Little Princes in the Tower, and also of Elizabeth of York, who married Henry Tudor after he defeated Richard III at Bosworth, and founded the Tudor dynasty.

The novel starts in 1464, when Elizabeth is sent by her family to beg the King for his favor. There has been a war. Her family was on the losing side. She has nothing to give her two sons because their dead father’s estates have been confiscated. She is chosen to go before the King, because she is a beauty and the young monarch is known to appreciate pretty women.

The rest, as they say, is history. Edward IV secretly weds Elizabeth on May 1, 1464. Even more remarkably, he keeps his promises to her by publicly declaring their union in September of that year, horrifying his counselors, his friends, his family, and most of all, his mother Cecylee, Duchess of York, who does all that she can to disturb the marriage.

Philippa Gregory is such a talented writer and this novel is an easy and enjoyable read. Like others, I did not feel that the extended references to Melusina helped the story. A few details here and there, slipped into the text, would have suited me better.

But the real problem with this novel is the ending. It ends in April 1485, before Elizabeth’s nemesis and brother-in-law Richard III is defeated at Bosworth, before her eldest daughter marries the victor and becomes Queen of England, and before Elizabeth’s own disgrace and exile in 1487, and her subsequent death at Bermondsey Abbey in 1492. Philippa Gregory has created such a compelling character, I was sorry to see her abandon the novel so early, depriving us all of the pleasure of hearing what Elizabeth would have said about these events.

–Cynthia Haggard writes historical novels.  She has two completed manuscripts that will be published in the coming year. ONE SEED SOWN, TWO MURDERS REAPED is a portrait of a woman trapped by power, a marriage undone by betrayal, and a King brought down by fear. HE MUST BE SOMEONE is  a novel about identity, forbidden love and family secrets. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

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Book Review: DAUGHTER OF YORK by Anne Easter Smith

Writing historical fiction is not easy, especially if you are writing about a real person. You cannot assume that your readers are going to understand how hard it is, or the difficult choices you have to make.

DAUGHTER OF YORK is the story of Margaret of York (1446-1503), sister to Edward IV and wife to Charles, Duke of Burgundy. In Ms. Smith’s telling of this story, the narrative arc is hung almost entirely on the romantic attraction between Margaret, and Sir Anthony Woodville, brother to Edward’s Queen. So it is unfortunate that Ms. Easter Smith chose to focus on the fictional aspects of the love-story between Margaret of York and Anthony Woodville in her Author’s Note, because some of her readers in their Amazon Reviews said that they felt cheated. What they don’t understand is the paucity of documentation from the Middle Ages that tells you anything about people’s emotions, or psychological states. It turns out that Ms. Smith did have some evidence for thinking that there might actually have been a romantic relationship, the fact that Margaret did stay with Anthony at his estate in Kent during her visit to England in 1480. If I had been Ms. Smith, I would have re-written that paragraph in the Author’s Note to bring that fact forward.

So what about the novel itself? It opens very well, with beautifully rendered descriptions of the London skyline circa 1461, the music that was played during court ceremonies, and the clothes worn. I also found Anthony Woodville’s dialogue to be quite wonderful: “I commend your choice, Lady Margaret. Mine is Lancelot du Lac, for his gentleness, courtesy and courage. If I may be so forward as to tell you, my aim is to model myself upon him. You do know he was also the greatest fighters of all Arthur’s knights, do you not?”

Now I loved that snippet of dialogue, because I think that Ms. Smith has artfully created the illusion of Sir Anthony actually speaking to us from the fifteenth century. But I am British, and I was made to read Shakespeare when I was twelve. Most American readers are going to find that kind of language too turgid, and the lack of contractions too awkward to read. One of the reasons why Phillippa Gregory is so successful is because her fifteenth-century characters talk in language that is considerably more modern and slangy. Which means that there are far fewer bumps for today’s readers.

This is a long novel, at 557 pages, longer than most. It must be clear to readers that Ms. Smith has done an enormous amount of work on researching this novel. But telling a wonderful story that will grip readers and carry them along demands a very different set of skills. Ms. Smith tells us that she went to great lengths to whittle down the research and make it more palatable for her readers.  But I honestly think that this novel would have benefitted from even more whittling down, because it sags in places.

Despite its flaws, I think that anyone interested in this period should give it a try, if for no other reason than that the research is impeccable.

–Cynthia Haggard writes novels.  She is currently seeking representation for HE MUST BE SOMEONE,  a novel about identity, forbidden love and family secrets. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

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I get scooped

There are two kinds of historical novels, those which are about a real person from the past, and those which are about fictional characters set into an historical context.  Although agents prefer novels written about real people, the risk you take in writing such a novel is that someone else may have the exact same idea, and beat you to publication.

This has happened to me.

As you know, I have been trying to sell my novel ONE SEED SOWN, TWO MURDERS REAPED, which is about Cecily Neville, Richard III’s mother. On Wednesday, I learned that Anne Easter Smith is to come out with a novel about Cecily titled QUEEN BY RIGHT.

Needless to say, I was very upset. Right now, I am a complete unknown who has failed to get the attentions of an agent, even though I have been trying to do so for a year. How I would have loved it if I had been first!

But this is the difference between being published and unpublished. Ms. Smith has three novels under her belt, which have sold moderately well. She has an agent. She has an editor. She has a publishing house. All she has to do is write, and I have to say she has worked with commendable efficiency to get a 500-page historical out in 18 months.

So what am I going to do about this?

I am going to wait.

I am going to stop promoting ONE SEED.

I am going to start promoting another novel I’ve completed, HE MUST BE SOMEONE, set in 1921 in Georgetown Washington DC, and Berlin Germany, which is a novel about identity, forbidden love and family secrets that takes us into the life of a gifted violinist.

I am going to buy QUEEN BY RIGHT when it comes out on May 3rd, and read it. I will probably write a book review to post on this blog. And I will hope that her novel does well, because if it does then I will have an audience eager to read another novel about Cecily.  Stay tuned.

Image: A photo of the model Heather Hayes posing as Cecily Neville. Photographer: Whitney Arostegui.

–Cynthia Haggard writes novels.  She is currently seeking representation for HE MUST BE SOMEONE,  a novel about identity, forbidden love and family secrets. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.


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I enter the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award

After receiving numerous rejections from agents who’ve passed on ONE SEED SOWN, TWO MURDERS REAPED, the story of Richard III’s mother Cecily Neville, I decided that the time had come to try something different. Last Sunday, I stayed up until just past Midnight, so that I could submit ONE SEED for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. The judges wanted not only the complete MSS, but also an author bio, a synopsis, an excerpt of between 3,000 to 5,000 words and a 300-word pitch.

I spent all day Sunday working away on that pitch, asking friends and family for their help, because that 300 words is all they read to start with, and is crucial to getting you into the second round. If you get there, then they’ll read your excerpt. My excerpt was exactly 5,000 words long and comprises the first two chapters of ONE SEED. Chapter One shows Cecily being sold into a marriage she doesn’t want at the tender age of nine. Chapter Two shows Cecily with her mother and other female relations, chatting, sewing and reading Chaucer. The point of that chapter is to ground the reader in who Cecily is and the influences that molded her before she became famous.

I hope they like reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it. If they like the excerpt, you get into the quarter-final round, where they read the whole excerpt. I’m crossing my fingers that I get into the quarter-final round.  Stay tuned.

–Cynthia Haggard writes novels.  She is currently seeking representation for ONE SEED SOWN, TWO MURDERS REAPED, the story Richard III’s mother Cecily Neville. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

Next: What I’m learning in an online course in Self-Editing and Revision.

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I get a FREE critique of the first 300 words of ONE SEED

As I said in my last post, I recently participated in a webinar given by a well-known agent, who has a reputation for looking after her authors. As part of the fee we paid, we were eligible to have this agent critique the first 300 words of our novels. So I sent in the very beginning of ONE SEED SOWN, TWO MURDERS REAPED.

To my delight, the agent responded within 2 days. Her response was that she wasn’t sure that my protagonist (Cecily Neville) was enough of a name to be able to sell books. On the other hand, she did have some interest as the mother of Richard III. What would make a difference for this agent was how good the writing was.

I would like this agent to represent my novel, but I’m taking her warning about the quality of the writing to heart. I’ve decided to explore some other avenues first before I submit it to her. Stay tuned.

Next: I get rejected by an agent and participate in another webinar.

Image: Castle Raby, near Durham England, where Cecily Neville spent part of her girlhood.

–Cynthia Haggard writes novels.  She is currently seeking representation for ONE SEED SOWN, TWO MURDERS REAPED, the Richard III story told from the point of view of his mother. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

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I sign up for Unicorn Writers’ Conference

As I mentioned in a previous blog, my goal at the end of 2010 was to try and find an agent for my first novel ONE SEED SOWN, TWO MURDERS REAPED. While I had received some expressions of interest, by December 2010, no agent had signed a contract with me. I decided that my goal for 2011 would be to try and get my second novel HE MUST BE SOMEONE to an agent, while continuing to send ONE SEED around.

HE MUST BE SOMEONE is a very different novel from ONE SEED. While ONE SEED is set during the period of the Wars of the Roses, and is the Richard III story told from the point of view of his mother, SOMEONE is set in 1922, and is the story of a young woman who goes to Berlin to study violin (based upon the true story of my violin teacher).

When stylish widow, Angelina Pagano Miller, invites a potential suitor to supper one  evening, things don’t go as planned. To Angelina’s chagrin, the mysterious dark-eyed stranger finds her seventeen-year-old daughter Grace more appealing.  Angelina seeks revenge by trying to find out who her daughter’s suitor is, but her efforts are derailed by her sudden death.

Grace and her sister Violet are hustled out of town, and finally wind up in Berlin, where Grace, a gifted violinist, is accepted as a student by one of the foremost violin teacher of the day. Grace dreams of having a career as a soloist, but inadvertently acquires two other suitors. What should she do? Should she pursue a career as a violinist, or should she marry? And if she does marry, which one will it be?  It is hard for Grace to decide, as she feels drawn to each of her suitors in turn. Finally, she shocks her family (and creates a minor international incident) by disappearing on the eve of her marriage to her aristocratic suitor, Count von Lietzow.  Where is Grace, and why did she flee?

I needed to get some feedback on this MSS, and so I looked around for various writing conferences that occur during the spring, so that I would just have time to fix up the MSS to send off to Squaw Valley, which occurs in August. I stumbled upon The Unicorn Writer’s Conference, which is going to take place in a castle in Portland CT. What I liked about this conference is the fact not only do they have interesting sessions to attend, but for a little bit extra you can sign up for a one-on-one with a speaker, an agent and an editor.  I lost no time in signing up!  The conference takes place on Saturday April 9. Stay tuned.

Next:  Why writing conferences are important.

Image: triobrioso.com

–Cynthia Haggard writes novels.  She is currently seeking representation for ONE SEED SOWN, TWO MURDERS REAPED, the Richard III story told from the point of view of his mother. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

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I do a photo-shoot

After getting that feedback from an agent, I decided to celebrate by doing a photo-shoot of Cecylee to make my novel seem more real. The plan was to shoot some photos that I would like to see as the book cover for ONE SEED SOWN, TWO MURDERS REAPED.

I found Heather Hayes, a talented model who doesn’t just stand there with a blank stare. This lady has control over the expressions on her face. I thought she would be perfect for Cecylee. She found a friend, Whitney Arostegui, a photographer in New York. I found a gown and a wig, and we set off one glorious fall day to photograph in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, New York.

I was thrilled with the images I received a week later. My goal is to make the cover of the novel look so sumptuous that people will want to pick it up. I hope you agree.

Next: I register for the Unicorn Writers Conference

–Cynthia Haggard writes novels.  She is currently seeking representation for ONE SEED SOWN, TWO MURDERS REAPED, the Richard III story told from the point of view of his mother. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

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Fiction: Blosmy Bowes

“Who are you?” I demand, twisting around on my knees to face the slender twelve-year-old boy.  I speak in French, the language of the aristocracy.  He should understand, richly dressed as he is, in dark blue velvet with black stockings and shoes. With his pale face and grey-blue eyes, he looks very serious, altogether too serious for me.
He draws himself up and says, “And whom do I have the pleasure of talking to?”
I get up, brush my old blue woolen gown with muddy hands, fling my hair out of my face, and draw myself up.  Mama has sent me out on this fine December day to care for my garden, a small plot of land, which lies between the eastern side of Bulmer’s Tower and the curtain wall that surrounds the castle.
“I am Lady Cecylee de Neville”, I declare, “youngest daughter of the greatest lord in the land, my father Earl Ralph of Westmorland.”171
His mouth opens slightly.
“Who are you?” I repeat.
The boy eyes me carefully. Eventually he replies. “I am Richard, Duke of York.”
I know exactly who he is.  Mama explained that someone called the Duke of York would be arriving soon.  “Why is he coming here?” I asked.  Mama’s mouth crinkled at the corners. “Your father wants you to wed.”
I toss my head and smile. “You don’t look grand enough, or old enough, to be a duke,” say I.  “What are you doing here?”
His eyes widen, but he does not answer.
I try not to yawn, and resist returning to my roses. Eventually, I say briskly, “I’m busy.  I have to put my garden to rest.” I gesture at the tools lying here and there, the roses, and my wicker basket full of weeds.  “You may leave us,” I say grandly, adopting Mama’s manner in dismissing unwelcome guests.  I turn my back on him, kneel, and dig vigorously while I sing.
He does not move.  So I look around.  There he is, staring.
I flush. Then impulsively, I say, “Would you like to help?”
Richard nods his head several times.
“You can do the digging over there.”
Silence falls again.
I say: “Do you like roses…1101What did you say your name was?” I don’t want him to think he’s so important I can actually remember his name!
Richard flushes.  “It’s Richard…my lady.”
I start to laugh.  “You don’t have to be so formal, you know.  We’re very informal here.  My family calls me Cecylee, except for Papa, who calls me Cis.  You may call me Cis, if you like.”
“Well, Cis,” he says, “You may call me Dickon.”  There is another pause, and then he actually says something. “I love roses.  Are all these flowers yours?”
“They mostly are. Mama had them planted for me shortly after I was born, as part of my Garden of Contemplation.”  I smile.  “But Robin looks after them too.”
“Who’s Robin?”
“My playfellow.  Only of course, you can’t see him.  He only appears to girls.”
“Does he?” asks Richard, who now frowns.
“Yes,” say I.  “He appears to tell girls all they need to know about boys, so that when they get married, they know what to do.”
I stare at him expectantly.
But Richard only flushes slightly, and concentrates on his digging.
So I start to sing again.
Richard stops digging to listen.
“Do you know that song, Dickon?”
He shakes his head, and so I take him by the hand and say, “I’ll teach it to you.”  He slowly begins to repeat the verses, which are written in English:

“A gardyn saw I ful of blosmy bowes
Upon a ryver, in a grene mede,
There as swetnesse evermore inow is,
With floures white, blewe, yelwe, and rede…”

Great-Uncle Chaucer wrote the lines.  I made up the tune just the other day, to accompany the words.
“It’s fun to sing with you Dickon,” I say, giving him my sweetest smile.   “What are you going to do when you grow up?”
He is silent for a long time.  Finally he says, “I hope to be like your father, with a large estate to manage and a wife and family to come home to.”  He looks at me.  “You will marry.”
I toss my head and pull my ugliest face.  “Oh, I don’t think so!” I squeeze as much determination into those words as possible.
Richard stares at me wide-eyed.
“I don’t want to marry,” I tell him, “because I don’t like people telling me what to do.  It puts me into a very bad mood.”  I pause for a moment.
He stares.
“That’s the trouble with husbands,” I remark. They boss you around.  My sisters always complain of it.”
There is dead silence.
After a while, Richard says very quietly, “So you mean you wouldn’t get married at all?”
“I might consider it, but only if the husband would let me tell him what to do.”  I fix my dark grey eyes on him and speed up to my normal pace. “It would really be much better that way because I have so many good ideas about things, and I’m so often right.”
A little movement begins around the corners of his mouth.  But he says nothing.
I toss the rose onto the pile of weeds. “But truly, I don’t wish to marry!”
“But Cis,” he says quietly, “Ladies are expected to marry. What are you going to do if you don’t marry?”
I open my eyes wide. “I have thought much on that,” I say.  “I would travel to the Holy Land…” I look at him from under my lashes “…like Queen Alainor of Acquitaine.” 1111
But Richard does not blink at my comparing myself with a powerful Queen, who divorced one husband and outmaneuvered another.  He does not walk off or demand my retraction.  Instead he says, “But you can be married and travel.  I would like to travel too.  You could come with me.”
I stiffen.
“Ladies need a man to escort them around.”
“Well, I do not,” I immediately say.  “I can manage very well without one. A man would just be in my way.”
–Cynthia Haggard writes short stories, novels and poetry.  During the day, she is a medical writer and owns her own business.  For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories.  For more about her medical writing services, go to clarifyingconcepts.  (c) 2009. All rights reserved.

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