Launch: Adrienne Dillard’s Keeper of the Queen’s Jewels: A Novel of Jane Seymour
INTERVIEW BY SUSAN HIGGINBOTHAM
Adrienne Dillard’s previous works include bestselling novels, Cor Rotto: A Novel of Catherine Carey and The Raven’s Widow: A Novel of Jane Boleyn. When she isn’t writing, Adrienne works as an administrative assistant in the financial services industry and enjoys spending time with her son, Logan, at their home in the Pacific Northwest. Her new book, Keeper of the Queen’s Jewels: A Novel of Jane Seymour has just been published.
How would you describe this book and its themes in a couple of sentences?
It’s the story of two very different women—alike only in their mystery and underestimation—who are brought together through their shared grief and trauma. As their king grows more tyrannical and unhinged, his country aflame with religious uprising, the pair must find a way to survive the volatile court without losing themselves entirely. It’s about the difficult choices women must make when their abuse isn’t quite so obvious to the outside world, and how gaslighting and emotional abuse takes its toll.
This is your third novel set in the Tudor court. What drew you to this period?
Many years ago, I had a past-life regression, and it led me to Catherine Carey. I fell irretrievably in love with the women of the era and felt a calling to uncover their stories.
On a related note, although novels set in the twentieth century are now in vogue, the Tudor era remains a popular setting. What do you think is its enduring appeal?
I think people are always looking for an escape and Hollywood has romanticized the time period so much. It’s easy to get lost in their drama and forget our own. Not to mention the fact that the Tudor court is chock-full of the most colorful cast of characters. There is literally something for everyone.
You’ve travelled to England, I know. What was the most special site you visited, as it relates to this book?
Definitely the manor at Wulfhall. Obviously, the structure that remains bears no resemblance to the home where Jane Seymour lived, but you can still feel the energy of the family that once resided on the land. It was incredible to see the various artifacts the archaeologists have uncovered—the chip of Tudor tile found in situ elicited a rather loud gasp from me. Plus, we were invited to take tea with a descendant of Edward Seymour, and let me tell you, it was like seeing the man himself step out of the portrait. They looked so alike. His mannerisms and speech pattern were even exactly as I imagined Edward’s to be. What made it even more lovely was the fact that none of it is open to the public. To be welcomed into Jane’s home by one of her family made me feel as though I was doing right by her. It was a very humbling experience.
Who’s your favorite wife of Henry VIII?
This is such a difficult question for me because I love them all for different reasons. I think they each had something special and were all brave in their own way. I used to think Anne Boleyn was my favorite—and I do still admire her very much—but I think Jane is the one I look most fondly upon now because I feel as if we are the most alike. I, too, have survived verbal and emotional abuse, gaslighting, and manipulation. And because of it, I’ve learned to mask very well. I’ve polished my survival instincts and self-preservation tactics. It’s only been recently that I’ve started being open and vulnerable about my experiences. I’d like to think that, if she were alive today, she might be an advocate for abused and displaced women. She could have done a lot, had she been allowed to use her voice.
Did the research present any challenges to you?
This was the most challenging book to research to date because we know so little about Jane Seymour and Margery Horsman, and what we do know is nothing more than a snapshot. Margery proved the most elusive. We don’t even know where she came from or where she was buried. I cannot even tell you how she got to court.
You work full-time. What are some of the challenges of writing on the “night shift”?
Holding on to the scenes! I get some of my best ideas while I’m doing something else—working, parenting, etc.—so I have to jot them down quickly, before they disappear into the ether. I’ve also had to learn to tune extraneous noise out. I can write in just about any situation now, even with my teenager carrying on in the background.
In your author’s note, you mentioned putting some of your real-life friends into your novel, under Tudor guises of course. What gave you that idea?
When I am unsure, I tend to write what I know and likening these historical people to my friends and family deepens my compassion and empathy for both. Plus, they get a huge kick out of it and are always taken aback by how uncanny the resemblance is. I think one of the greatest gifts we can give is to remind people that they are seen.
What authors have influenced you most (not necessarily historical novelists)?
Olga Hughes has been my biggest influence. She always pushes me to challenge established narratives and eschew the “easy” tropes of exploitive rape scenes and caricature villains. She has made me a far better storyteller. I grew up reading Amy Tan novels until the books fell apart and I can sense strands of her DNA in everything I write. Michael Crichton and Suzanne Collins taught me to never shy away from the ugliness in humanity.
With this novel, you’ve launched a new publishing venture. Care to tell us something about this?
It is a joint venture with author Sandra Vasoli. We are working with The Historical Collaborator for the marketing and have a fabulous graphic designer named Domini. We are a hybrid imprint looking to give authors who are frustrated with the traditional route, but don’t want to self-publish, another option. We’ve published two new titles and re-released three more in just our first year!
What is the last great book you read?
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig.