I am delighted to be helping to launch ‘Blood and Roses’ by Catherine Hokin, published on 13 January 2016 from Yolk Publishing. It is also my pleasure to bring you a guest post from the author, Catherine Hokin. You can buy ‘Blood and Roses’ here in the UK and here in the US, and from all good bookshops.
About ‘Blood and Roses’
Blood and Roses – a novel of Margaret of Anjou and her pivotal role in the Wars of the Roses by Catherine Hokin.
The English Crown – a bloodied, restless prize.
The one contender strong enough to hold it? A woman. Margaret of Anjou: a French Queen in a hostile country, born to rule but refused the right, shackled to a King lost in a shadow-land.
When a craving for power becomes a crusade, when two rival dynasties rip the country apart in their desire to rule it and thrones are the spoils of a battlefield, the stakes can only rise. And if the highest stake you have is your son?
You play it.
‘Blood and Roses’, a work of historical fiction, retells the story of Margaret of Anjou (1430-82), wife of Henry VI and a key protagonist in the Wars of the Roses. This is a feminist revision of a woman frequently imagined only as the shadowy figure demonised by Shakespeare. ‘Blood and Roses’ examines Margaret as a Queen unable to wield the power and authority she is capable of, as a wife trapped in marriage to a man born to be a saint and as a mother whose son meets a terrible fate she has set in motion.
The story opens in 1480 with Margaret as an unwilling exile in France and is structured as a reflection on the events of her life and the relationships that shaped it, primarily her son Edward, her husband Henry IV, Anne Neville and the Earl of Warwick.
The novel spans 1435 to 1480. The dynastic conflicts around the throne, known to a modern audience as the Wars of the Roses, are the main backdrop to the story including the battles which were some of the bloodiest ever fought.
The main conflicts in the novel reflect both the issues of the age – the challenge of holding onto a crown in a kingdom riven by dynastic struggle in which loyalties shift like quicksand – and the personal price to be paid by being a woman outside her time. In trying to resolve her marriage and its desperate need for an heir, shape her son for a dangerous future and reconcile her ambition with her lack of power, does Margaret become the author of her own fate?
A key issue for historians has been the relationship between Margaret of Anjou and her husband Henry IV (who suffered from what has been described as narcolepsy, resulting in long periods of what are best described as coma) and the paternity of her son, born 8 years into what was a seemingly barren marriage. Blood and Roses offers a solution to the paternity question rooted in Margaret’s political acumen and her relationship with Jacquetta Woodville – a friendship which ended in a betrayal that has never been fully explored.
This is a novel about power: winning it, the sacrifices made for it and its value. It is also a novel about a woman out of her time, playing a game ultimately no one can control.
A Guest Post from Catherine Hokin
Until relatively recently I taught English to teenage boys – there’s probably a book in there but I shall leave that one for now – and, like much of teaching, the curriculum was heavily compartmentalised. One half-term it would be short stories, the next it would be non-fiction, then novels and so on. When I imagined myself as a writer (which I did and often, particularly when faced with a pile of year 9 stories to mark), I also thought in that compartmentalised way: I am going to be a novelist, short stories are what short story writers do. The reality, I am glad to say, has been quite a different tale.
The novel writing began first: ‘Blood and Roses’ was born out of a lifelong love of History and a particular fascination with the medieval period which I specialised in at University. It is a very rewarding process, from the research stage, when I am looking for the gaps into which I can weave my narrative, to the writing process itself where the length of a novel allows me to explore characters and dilemmas in great depth.
Conversely, it can also be a very frustrating experience. It is difficult to get feedback – I am not someone who wants to submit chapter by chapter to a writing group – and novels, at least the ones I seem to write, are very long. You can be 85,000 words down the line before you submit and realise it has all gone rather wrong! This is where short stories come in.
I started writing short stories about a year ago to give myself another outlet for writing when the novel, as all they do at some point, had me spinning in circles. What I hadn’t realised was how much I would learn about my craft when I had only limited words at my disposal. The beauty of short story writing is that there are lots of competitions and, for a very small fee, they give feedback – I have entered stories to get pointers on character development, setting and structural devices that, although the short stories all have contemporary timeframes, I then wanted to use in my novel. It has been a fast, invaluable and cheap learning curve I would recommend to any author.
There are challenges. I am wordy by nature, in short stories you have to strip everything back and one carefully picked word must stand for ten. And they can only be snapshots: the reader enters a short story very often in the middle of the action but still expects the writer to deliver a rounded character or two and a sense of some kind of resolution. In 3000 words if you are lucky but, more often, in 1500 – I haven’t dared flash fiction with its 500 word limit yet. So what do I love about them, apart from the feedback? The sense of achievement of something finished and whole; the way the format lets me play with structure and character in a way an historical novel can’t and, being really honest, the fact I’ve won competitions and just had my first paid commission. Nothing says writer like your name in print and a pay cheque!
Ultimately I suppose, my short stories and my novel (and my blog) are the same: I write about feisty, interesting women. More than that, they are all strands that have led to the best sentence I’ve ever heard – I went to collect some printing the other week and the assistant said, “it’s that author, come for her stuff.” I may have kissed him, let’s draw a veil…
About Catherine Hokin
Catherine is a Glasgow-based author with a degree in History from Manchester University. After years of talking about it, she finally started writing seriously about 3 years ago, researching and writing her debut novel, ‘Blood and Roses’, which will be published in January 2016 by Yolk Publishing.
About a year ago, Catherine also started writing short stories – she was recently 3rd prize winner in the 2015 West Sussex Writers Short Story Competition and a finalist in the Scottish Arts Club 2015 Short Story Competition. She regularly blogs as Heroine Chic, casting a historical, and often hysterical, eye over women in history, popular culture and life in general.
Social media links:
You can find out more about Catherine Hokin and her debut novel, ‘Blood and Roses’, with these other bloggers.