Tony Riches is a full time author living in Pembrokeshire, West Wales. He was born within sight of Pembroke Castle, which features prominently in his new novel, the second book in The Tudor Trilogy. JASPER follows the true adventures of Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke, son of Owen Tudor, the subject of book one, who founded the Tudor dynasty.
After writing several successful non-fiction books, Tony decided to turn to novel writing and wrote 'Queen Sacrifice', set in 10th century Wales, followed by 'The Shell', a thriller set in present day Kenya. His real interest is in the history of the fifteenth century, and now his focus is on writing historical fiction about the lives of key figures of the period.
Tony's last three novels have all become Amazon best sellers in the UK, US and Australia, and he is now researching the final book of The Tudor Trilogy, about the life of King Henry VII.
TT: Prior to becoming an author, you had a busy career in management – what drove you to change your career?
TR: I always wrote for magazines and journals and wanted to return to my home in Pembrokeshire, so writing has provided the perfect occupation, allowing me to work whenever and wherever I wish. I was also encouraged by the success of my non-fiction books in the US, which gave me the confidence to become a full-time author.
TT: You have written a number of novels about the fifteenth century.What first sparked your interest in history generally, and that era in particular?
TR: I was born within sight of Pembroke Castle and began to study its history. I also previously studied the Wars of The Roses for the research for my novel about Warwick, which led to researching the life of my wife’s ancestor, Lady Eleanor Cobham.
TT: With so many fascinating characters in the fifteenth century period, how have you selected the protagonists for your novels?
TR: I look for important and interesting individuals whose lives have not previously been explored fully through historical fiction. I was surprised to discover there were few historical fiction novels about the lives of the early Tudors, Owen, Jasper and Henry VII, which is how the idea of The Tudor Trilogy, exploring the three generations, came to me.
TT: Some of your protagonists – Owain Tudor and Eleanor Cobham for example – are relatively obscure – did the lack of material about them help or hinder you in understanding their lives?
TR: Once I started researching Owen Tudor I uncovered a wealth of little known details which provided me with plenty to work with. For example, it is well documented that he was held in Newgate Gaol with his priest and a servant – and escaped, ‘grievously wounding his jailer.’ I was able to find out a great deal about the workings of Newgate and realised it wasn’t so much of a prison as a holding facility - and it would have been relatively easy to bribe the poorly paid guards.
TT: Do you think authors of fiction should stay with known facts, or is it acceptable for facts to be manipulated in novels?
TR: I do my best to ensure my novels are historically correct. I feel the role of the historical fiction novelist is to ‘fill in the gaps’ with a plausible narrative and explore how people might have reacted to often quite dramatic events. I am always disappointed when authors distort or manipulate the known history, and firmly believe history has more amazing stories than anything I would ever wish to invent.
TT: How do you research your work? Is it an enjoyable part of the proces, or a necessary evil?
TR: I really enjoy the research for my books and there is no substitute for uncovering primary sources, even it is means deciphering Latin - or medieval Welsh, as I have done recently. As part of the research for The Secret Diary of Eleanor Cobham, my wife and I visited Beaumaris Castle in Anglesey, where Eleanor Cobham ended her days. We were able to stand in the actual chapel Lady Eleanor would have prayed in, and in the nearby church are effigies of her jailer, Sir William Bulkeley and his wife Lady Ellen, so I was able to look into their faces. I also found detailed transcripts of her trial for witchcraft as well as the better known accounts of her husband, Duke Humphrey of Gloucester, which greatly helped me understand her motivation.
TT: Researching facts about individual lives is one thing, how do you build up enough background knowledge for the surroundings to seem realistic?
TR: I have a wonderful library of books on the fifteenth century, so with each new book I appreciate events of the period in more depth.Over the last year I’ve been collecting every book I can find about the life and times of Henry VII, and for Jasper I was fortunate to know biographers including Terry Breverton and Sara Elin Roberts who have been really helpful. It also helps that when I have a question I am in direct contact with experts like Leanda De Lisle, Anne O’Brien and Alison Weir on Twitter and can usually have an answer the same day.
TT: Your subtitle for Warwick was ‘the man behind the Wars of the Roses’. Can you tell us what you think his motivation was for changing sides in 1469?
TR: Good question. Some would have us believe it was because he was furious at the Woodville marriage, but it is of course much more complex. I explored the idea he was prepared to do whatever it took to see one of his daughters on the throne – and was ultimately successful, if only briefly. Warwick pops up as a villain in my new book, so it was fun to see him from Jasper Tudor’s point of view.
TT: Would you draw any parallels between the politics of the fifteenth century and the corporate jungle of the twenty-first?
TR: If I can paraphrase John Galsworthy, while clothes and social conventions may change, human nature does not. I would like to think we’ve learned from the lessons of the past – but doubt it.TT:Do you think that a writer needs to like/admire the main protagonist to write convincingly?
TR: Yes, although once you start digging it’s easy to appreciate even some of the less immediately likable characters. For example, look at Thomas Cromwell in Hilary mantel’s ‘Wolf Hall’. I must admit it was easy to like Jasper Tudor, who always seems to find himself facing the choice of almost certain death or running away from battles!
TT: In your new novel about Jasper Tudor, do you speculate on why he remained unmarried so long?
TR: I found out quite a bit about Jasper’s affairs, which I explore in the new book. Having studied Margarete Beaufort I‘m convinced he saw her as a sister, although he did spend a lot of time with Margaret of Anjou, who was only a year older than him. Perhaps he was saving himself for the grand wedding in book three of my Tudor trilogy?
TT: Which historical novelists do you admire most, and what have you learnt from them?
TR: I’ve already mentioned my favourites, and am currently enjoying CJ Sansom’s ‘Lamentation’ and the way he evokes the tensions of the last days of Henry VIII. Terry Breverton has a wonderful breadth of knowledge about the Tudors, so I’m looking forward to see what he makes of Owen.TT: Are you a full time writer with your books and your blog, or do you have to juggle writing with other responsibilities?
TR:I could earn more as a management consultant but am pleased to say my books have done so well I don’t need to. I don’t miss commuting or office politics, and once I’ve met my writing target for the day I enjoy sailing and sea kayaking around the Pembrokeshire coast.
TT: What is your writing day like?
TR: I like an early start, and try to deal with emails and social media in time to catch readers in the US and Australia, then read through a few pages of the previous day’s writing to remember what comes next. There is always a huge pile of research books for cross-checking facts, so there’s a lot of reading to do.
I keep a spreadsheet to track my word count, so I usually review progress on the chapter before setting a target for the day.I write on a high specification laptop which I chose for its excellent speakers and like to have music playing while I’m working.
TT: You often publish articles on your blog about the process of writing.As your writing has matured, is there one outstanding piece of advice that you would give the many aspiring fiction writers?
TR: I read somewhere once that a page a day is a book a year, so even if you still have to juggle other responsibilities, write something, every day, until it becomes a habit, which it will.
TT: What is your next project?
TR: Book three of my Tudor trilogy explores the life of Henry Tudor, so I’m already deep into the research. Henry was born in book one, and book two takes him up to the Battle of Bosworth, so the final book will follow his life from there to his death at Richmond Palace on the 21st of April 1509.It will be published in the spring or early summer next year. After that, I would like to tackle another trilogy, as trying to fit the whole of Richard Neville’s life into one book was quite a challenge.
TT: Are you planning to attend any events during 2016 where our readers might be able to hear you speak?
TR: A group of us are actively promoting the Tudors in Pembroke, and planning a Tudor Heritage Centre and a life-sized statue of Henry Tudor to be sited near the castle. I expect there will be plenty of talks in the coming year as part of this.
Thank you for inviting me to this excellent site. Details of my books, including video trailers, can be found at my WordPress site https://tonyrichesauthor.wordpress.com/ and my popular blog The Writing Desk is at http://www.tonyriches.co.uk.