Spotlight on Isabella of Angoulême by Erica Laine

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I’m delighted to be supporting Brook Cottage Books in spotlighting Erica Laine’s historical novel Isabella of Angoulême which was published by Silverwood Books on 30th October 2015. Isabella of Angoulême is available for purchase on Amazon UK and Amazon US.

Not only can you read and extract from Isabella of Angoulême, but Erica Laine has written a guest blog all about why she writes historical fiction and at the bottom of this blog post you have the opportunity to enter to win one of two e-copies of the book.

Isabella of Angoulême

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Set in the thirteenth century, the kingdoms of England and France are struggling over territory as the powerful Angevins threaten the French king. In regions far from Paris local fiefdoms disregard all authority.

The Tangled Queen is the story of the little known and very young Isabella of Angoulême who was abducted by King John in 1200. She became his second wife and queen consort, aged 12. He was the most reviled king in English history and his lust for her led to the loss of Normandy and the destruction of the Plantagenet Empire, which then brought about the Magna Carta.

Isabella came of age in England, but was denied her place in court. Her story is full of thwarted ambition, passion, pride and cruelty. She longed for power of her own and returned to France after the death of John to live a life of treachery and intrigue…

Read an extract from Isabella of Angoulême

Excerpt from Isabella of Angoulême: The Tangled Queen Part 1.

Isabella smiled and yawned – it was time these chattering girls left. She dismissed them, haughty and impatient. Away they sped, some calling back to Isabella, jokes and remarks full of innuendo for her future. She frowned; this was not the way to treat a future queen.

‘Agnes, help prepare me for bed.’

Agnes closed the chamber door, unlacing the back of Isabella’s dress, folding the glorious red and gold silk into the large chest. Tomorrow Isabella would wear the blue gown, the splendid blue and silver fabric showing wealth and also loyalty. If red and gold had shown the power and wealth of the Taillefers, then the blue would mark their obedience and fealty.

Early the next morning Agnes was busy preparing a scented bath. Precious rose oil, drop by drop, turned the hot water cloudy. And then she was busy mixing the rosemary wash for Isabella’s hair. She would wear her hair loose today, and her small gold guirland.

Isabella woke up and saw Agnes looking at her, long and thoughtful, ready to make her stir, but she was already throwing back the covers and standing and stretching. Agnes nodded and together they moved to the bath, and Isabella slipped into the milky, perfumed water and rubbed the rosemary wash into her hair. She felt the water running down her back and shivered. Then she was being briskly dried by Agnes, who was determined to treat Isabella to the most thorough of preparations.

Her mother Alice entered the room and the three of them unfolded the wedding gown and dressed Isabella. Her chemise was soft and light, the dress heavy and cumbersome. Arranged within it, held within it as if caged, her face pale but proud, she moved to the window and looked down onto a courtyard full of people, horses, carts and wagons. A procession was moving through the crowd, with a stately canon and an even more stately bishop in the centre. The clergy were intent on their walk to the cathedral. Isabella clutched Agnes in a sudden fear. Then she rested her head on the window and took a deep breath. It was her wedding day.

Why I Write Historical Fiction

A Guest Post by Erica Laine

As a young reader I fell in love with the books of Henry Treece, Geoffrey Trease and especially Rosemary Sutcliffe. They were far more satisfying than the straightforward school stories or the Enid Blyton books that were on offer in the late 40s and 1950s.

They were closer to fantasy but had so much truth in them too. And I learnt a great deal without really noticing. Information was just absorbed. Other books about the Arthurian legends were exciting and so were Tales from Troy. Later I moved onto adult historical fiction and enjoyed all that those books brought with them, people who lived lives that were full of danger and excitement but these were not fantasy, these people had lived and there was a thread running back to them.

When I moved to Aquitaine in France in 1997 and began to study the history of France and Europe through our local history society I discovered the extraordinary complex history of England and France that had shaped where I now lived. I am surrounded by medieval castles and forts, watchtowers, Roman roads and remnants of their towns and artefacts. There are towns like Bordeaux and la Rochelle that the English and French fought over time and time again. And even further back places where the Visigoths invaded, Poiters where the Moors were driven back by Charles Martel, abbeys and churches founded in the early 9th century, burial sites for the Franks who had come south as the Romans retreated;  all to be visited and wondered over.

When I came across Isabella of Angoulême and her story I was struck by how little she appeared in our history textbooks although she has been a character in some historical novels and indeed Jean Plaidy wrote her as a main protagonist in The Battle of the Queens.

But I wanted to thoroughly explore her life and times and try to give her a context that would be full of detail: manners, social conditions, clothes, cooking and food, transport, politics, power play. The list was endless and so was the research. And I love the research! I can spend far too long tracking down something I need to know, for example why were so many almonds being ordered and bought for the kitchens? Because they were used to make almond milk, as cows’ milk didn’t keep or was not available. I may not use that but now I know it helps me to keep my head in the 13th century.

I was cross that so many books said that John and Isabella were married in Bordeaux when he was known to be in Angoulême on the 23 August and they were married on the 24th. In 1200 you couldn’t possibly ride to Bordeaux in time to be married there the next day. So looking at distances covered on horseback was another piece of sleuthing that made me happy about a date and place I was going to use.

But it’s not all historical fact, the conversations people have, the encounters that are made, the journeys that can only be in the mind’s eye, the clothes and the jewellery worn, this weaving together of what we know and what we can only imagine, the creation of a world that is real but not dry facts, this is something I enjoy more and more as I continue to delve into and discover the past.

And it all lives for me, as the books that I read more than 50 years ago lived for me. Living history, that’s what it’s all about.

About Erica Laine

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I was born in 1943 in Southampton and originally studied for the theatre.  I moved with my family to Hong Kong in 1977 and worked and lived there for 20 years, writing English language textbooks for Chinese primary schools and managing large educational projects for the British Council.

Since living in S W France I have been very involved with a local history society and have researched many topics, the history of gardens and fashion being favourites.

Isabella of Angoulême began in 2011 at a writing workshop run by Philippa Pride, the Book Doctor.  The story of this young queen was fascinating and although she appears as a character in some other historical novels I wanted to concentrate on her entire life and her importance to the English and the French and the role she played in the politics of power. Part Two is being written now and my head is more or less permanently in the thirteenth century.

You’ll find Erica on Facebook and you can follow her on Twitter. Isabella of Angoulême has a dedicated page on Facebook too.

Click here to enter to win one of two e-copies of Isabella of Angoulême.

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