Sandra Worth is the author of historical novels and currently has six novels out on the Wars of the Roses. They begin with a trilogy on the life and times of Richard III, and conclude the saga with Perkin Warbeck. Her books have (so far!) won 15 awards and prizes. To win one of these books Rose of York: Love & War, which covers the life of Richard III, please see details below the interview.
Q1. As an American, how did you first come to be interested in English history?
A. I’m actually a transplanted Canadian living in the U.S., and as a Canadian I was well-schooled in English History.
Q2. Many apologies, Sandra! <Ahem!> Let's start again ... What period of English history attracts you the most?
A. The Wars of the Roses because it belonged to King Richard III. The hunchback version of Richard fascinated me as a child, and when I grew up and learned about the kind of man he was, the entire period of the Wars of the Roses came to dominate my interest.
The Wars of the Roses has great drama and turbulence. It may surprise some that it is incredibly significant to world history, not just to England. That’s because the laws Richard III bequeathed us in his one and only Parliament flowered into modern Western democracy three hundred years later in the hands of the Founding Fathers of the U.S., and from there was transplanted all over the world.
Besides this critical importance to Western civilization, there’s such richness to the saga. The Wars of the Roses has everything – danger, betrayal, honor, chivalry, love and romance, great deeds and great heroes. It’s an Arthurian tale peopled with extraordinary men and women, and impossible reversals of fortune for kings and magnates alike. The tale of the downfall of the high and mighty, the good and the bad who acted out the story of the Wars of the Roses on this stage inspired Sir Thomas Malory and Shakespeare, and many others, because it has everything a playwright, actor or author could wish for.
Q3. Which of your books gave the most pleasure to write?
A. The one that came easiest to me, that flowed from the pen so-to-speak, was the Rose of York: Fall from Grace, the story of Richard’s reign. I don’t know if "pleasure" is the word to be used here, because there were so many tears, but I felt closest to Richard as I wrote that book.
Q4. How important to your writing are the locations that you feature?
A. Very important! I can’t write a book without first exploring the settings I’ll be bringing to the story. I’ve lost count of the number of trips I made to England, Wales and Scotland in the course of writing my six books on the Wars of the Roses, but I had to make the last one with a girlfriend because my husband needed a rest < smile>
Q5. Is it necessary for you to walk the ground yourself?
A. Oh yes, I walk the ground they walked on. I retrace their steps, touch what they touched if at all possible, read what they read, and look at what they saw. Visiting the places that were important to them always brings them to life for me, and even if to get on that plane to England empty, I return with my mind filled with scenes and dialogue and information beyond my expectation. It is a vital and indispensable part of my writing.
Q6. You have written extensively on figures in the Wars of the Roses. What are your thoughts about the search for the remains of King Richard III currently taking place in Leicester?
A. Yesterday when they confirmed they had found Richard was a very emotional day for me, and it is still, even writing about it now. I’m swept with gratitude to Philippa Langley and the brilliant archaeological team who believed in him, and cared enough to launch the effort that found his remains. Richard was such a good man, and he had such a hard life, and went to such a brutal death, and to know he will have a proper resting place gives me comfort. He deserves a new beginning, and this could be the start.
Q7. If you could meet anyone in history, who would it be?
This is a hard one. I’ve thought about it myself and have tried to choose between the three I would so dearly love to meet. But I can’t, so I’ll give you all three. John Neville, Earl of Northumberland; Richard III of England; and one other who was as brave as Richard, equally heroic, and endured a life of loss. He is a Roman emperor who should be well known, but isn’t, and when he died his civilization fell with him.
Q8. What would you ask them?
A. I would ask Richard if he knew what became of the Princes, because I don’t think he did. I certainly don’t believe he played any part in their supposed murders. Quite the contrary. I believe he smuggled the younger prince, Richard of York, to safety out of the country.
For Lord Montagu, John Neville, I don’t have any questions, but I would thank him for loving Isobel so that his direct descendants, Sir Winston Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt, could be here when we needed them to save our world from Hitler’s tyranny.
And finally, with my Roman emperor, I would ask him if he knows now why Fate didn’t allow him to win that last battle. Our modern world could have been so different today, had he won.
Q9. What is the most impressive castle you have visited?
A. I absolutely loved and adored Bamborough (Bamburgh)! It was incredible. One day I hope to see it again.
Q10. What was so special about it?
A. Windswept, with rolling clouds passing overhead, standing guard on a deserted stretch of beach on the North Sea where the summer sun doesn’t set till late at night, Bamborough was an awesome experience for me.
Q11. Which historical novelists do you admire? Can you recommend a particular title for our readers to discover?
A. I have always loved Anya Seton’s KATHERINE. For those who haven’t read the book, you are in for a rare treat. I first read it at the age of eleven and re-read it four times before losing my copy. I never forgot it though. That book was always my lodestar and, for me, nothing could compare to the story of Katherine Swynford and John, Duke of Lancaster. In my forties, I managed to find another copy and I remember snuggling up to it with a smile, thinking I would finally see what had captivated my childish imagination. And then, to my astonishment, I was hooked all over again and read it multiple times. I have three copies in my library at all times, and I never want to be without it again.
Q12. Many Americans say they are anglophiles, but have little engagement with real medieval history. How do you try to bridge the cultural difference?
A. The cultural difference between England and the U.S. can pose a problem for some writers but I have many English friends and close English relatives, which is extremely helpful. As far as the medieval world is concerned, it’s best accessed by reading and visits to museums and archaeological sites. That is something my husband and I love to do as frequently as we can and it’s helped bring alive not just the Middle Ages for me, but even ancient civilizations as far back as thousands of years before Christ. I would love to write about ancient Greece, for example, but the problem seems to be that the further back we go, the harder it is for publishers to market the book successfully.
Q13. You’ve won many, many awards for your writing. What would you like to achieve, both as an author and a lover of history?
A. This is a wonderful question, Abigail, thank you! As a lover of history, if I could bring alive those historical figures whom I admire so very much, so others can come to know them as I do, that would make me a very happy author. As an author, if my work could generate an income flow that would sustain my agent and publisher in these difficult times, that would be extremely gratifying to me.
Thank you, Abigail, for your wonderful questions! It’s been a pleasure to do this interview with you. I wish you and Lost in Castles continued success.
Thank you, Sandra! We appreciate your time, your books and sharing your thoughts with us today.