Launch: Keira Morgan’s The Importance of Sons: Chronicles of the House of Valois

INTERVIEW BY M.N. STROH

At the age of five, Keira Morgan received a book about England’s queens from her grandmother. This gift sparked the flame of curiosity in Keira and eventually led her, not only to study Renaissance and Reformation history in university to doctoral level, but to pen historical fiction set in 16th-century France.

How would you describe your book’s premise in two sentences?

Fourteen-year-old Anne married King Charles of France to protect her duchy of Brittany from losing its customary rights. But how can she succeed when Countess Louise d’Angoulême is determined to challenge her?

The Renaissance and Reformation are subjects you’ve loved for some time. When did you first begin to write historical fiction based during this fascinating period?

As a kid in school, I remember spending a lot of time looking out the window doing what I called imagining. This was really making up stories in my head, especially in classes I found particularly boring, such as math and science. It took me years before I wrote them down, though. I did not begin to write until after I left university, when I had free time that I didn’t use to do assignments, to party, or read to escape. My writing was sporadic for many years, especially after I had children and a full-time job.

Of all the rich settings available, what drew you to 16th-century France?

I set my first stories in Tudor England, since my favourite queen was Anne Boleyn. I even wrote a complete novel about her, which lies in a dusty drawer. But at a certain point, I realized Renaissance England was an overcrowded field, and very few people were writing about the same period in France. I read and spoke French since I had studied the period in university and I found it fascinating. Besides, Anne of Brittany intrigued me. So I wrote about her.

I understand you studied the Renaissance and Reformation at university. Do you feel that experience opened certain doors to aid your research for The Importance of Sons?

At university, I studied the Renaissance and Reformation as a pivotal period in European history rather than simply a time of romance and adventure, which it had been to me from my reading of historical fiction. This was fundamental to the direction of my thinking about the era. However, as an aid to research, my studies assist mostly for research techniques and a general knowledge of sources.

By the time I began to focus intense research on the French Renaissance, the digital revolution had transformed access to research materials and their location. The quantities of materials available online means that I can live in Mexico and investigate my period, something that would not have been possible even fifteen years ago.

Are all your characters historical or do you include fictional characters also?

All my major characters and almost all my minor characters are historical. I removed many historical players from the story to keep the plot focused, but most of those who remain lived at the time. I provide a list of characters, and I identify those who are fictional.

For example, Anne had many confessors and spiritual directors throughout her life, but I limited her to one or two. I also took other small liberties, such as reducing the number of Anne’s ladies-in-waiting and rolling all the servants into generic maids and pages. In some scenes, I created fictional names for people who existed but whose status was so low that their names were not recorded. These are the closest to purely fictional characters, since I created the setting, the details of the event, the names and personalities of the participants, and the dialogue. Yet, the record says that the event itself occurred.

Did you feel there was a particular character whose motivations were worth exploring?

I first discovered Anne of Brittany while doing my master’s degree and she stirred my imagination. I realized she was ruling a territory larger than the province I lived in when she was not yet twelve. Everyone who has written about her— historians and chroniclers from the period—agree that she ruled, rather than allowing others to rule for her, though of course she had a council to advise her. I tried to picture a single modern child of my acquaintance, or that I knew of, who could do the same thing and could not.

Ever since, I have studied to learn enough to conceive of the world that existed then. How was it possible for such a world to function? Clearly, people at the time thought it out of the ordinary, since it made it in the historical record, but not improbable or impossible.

To enter the mindset of a period so different from our own is enormously challenging and, to me, endlessly fascinating. What did ruling mean? How did wars operate? How did people at all levels of society live day to day? I learned a lot about what Anne did, but my biggest challenge was to understand why she did those things. My goal is to recreate that world in my fiction and to make Anne and all my characters believable.

What challenges did this novel present to you in the writing process?

My biggest challenge was to decide whose point of view (POV) to use and what character to write the novel from. When I started, I began writing from Anne’s POV in the first person, but I found it too limiting and it failed to generate enough conflict. Her life was full of both internal and external conflict. That is why I switched.

The Importance of Sons is the second book in your Chronicles of the House of Valois. Do you plan to write more books for the series?

Yes. I have two more books planned for the series: The Importance of Wives, and The Importance of Heirs. The latter will be the next one I complete.

What is the last great book you read?

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell.

 

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