Tag Archives: Cicely Neville

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.


Filed under About Cynthia, How to Publish Your Novel, News & Notes

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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I fix the MSS and send to another agent

As I mentioned in a recent post, I was extremely fortunate to find an agent who gave me valuable feedback. I read the 120 words she’d written carefully, and then spent a month fixing up the MSS. She told me she had problems relating to the main characters, because I’d written my novel in limited 3rd. So I thought about what I should do. Should I go through my 120,000-word MSS, and change it to first person? Should I write in present tense or past?

My novel is written in four books. The first book deals with Cecylee’s childhood, the second, her love-affair with the archer, the third about her husband’s political struggles with the King of England, and the fourth is about her life as an old woman. It seemed to me that each book demanded a different treatment.

Accordingly, I re-wrote the first book in first person present, to get that fresh voice suitable for young girls. I re-wrote the second book in first person past, to get a more adult voice. The third book, I kept in 3rd-person limited, because the complexity of the material demanded that the story be told from more than one point of view. For the fourth book, I re-wrote it in first-person past to convey a feel for the past, which is where most old people are. Then, for good measure, I added in more interior monologue.

After all that work, I sent it to another agent. I am awaiting her verdict as I type this. (She has promised to get back to me after the holidays).

Next: I do a photo-shoot for Cecylee

Image: penhero.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) 2010. All rights reserved.

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How to Publish Your Novel: The Year of Cecylee

After nearly a year of pitching agents, I thought I would start this blog so that I can write down what I’m learning about this process, both for myself and for the benefit of other people.

The novel I’m pitching is 120,000-word historical novel titled ONE SEED SOWN, TWO MURDERS REAPED. It is the Richard III story told through the eyes of his mother, Cecylee Neville.

I started in February, sending it out to batches of 15 agents. Out of the 42 agents that I contacted, two were interested. The first agent, from a top-notch New York agency wanted in an exclusive. So, in March 2010, I stopped everything dead to give her that exclusive.

It took her 3 months to read my manuscript. In the end, she didn’t take it. When I asked for feedback, she wouldn’t give it. I understand that agents are swamped with material, but I was not happy that my work was dismissed in this fashion. Unfortunately, we writers have the deck stacked against us, and if agents don’t give us feedback, there is nothing we can do except move on.

Next: I almost get representation.

Image: Cecylee Neville, my protagonist, in the summer of 1441, aged 26, when she met Blaybourne, an archer on the Rouen garrison.

Model: Heather Hayes. Photographer: Whitney Arostegui.

–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) 2010. 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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