An exclusive Authorlink interview With Sandra Worth
By Ellen Birkett Morris
The well known adage write what you know might be reworded as write what you are passionate about in the case of author Sandra Worth. Worth has turned her passion for British history into six novels. Her latest, Pale Rose of England, follows the struggles of Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, and his wife Catherine against King Henry VII.
Her career as a novelist is a journey that began with her interest in Richard the Third. She began reading about him and secured privileges at the British Museum in order to sort fact from fiction.
I began to see the novel as a way to rehabilitate the hero. . .
Richard the Third was a man maligned. I began to see the novel as a way to rehabilitate the hero who was seen as a villain, said Worth.
As she has written each of her novels, Worth has seen parallels to today.
These are, and were, very dramatic times. The stakes are enormous. People have to make decisions that impact the lives and deaths of thousands. I am intrigued by the conflict between love and duty and what makes people sacrifice themselves for the greater good, she noted.
Worth earned an honors B.A. in Political Science and Economics from the University of Toronto, and fostered her writing through night classes in novel writing through Rice University in Houston. She took night classes for two years and ended up with a writing group that was a good testing ground for early drafts of The Rose of York: Love and War, the first of a trilogy.
She won the Best of Show prize in the 2000 Authorlink New Author Awards for that novel. The prize, judged by Berkley/Penguins Tom Colgan, ultimately led to a publishing contract with Penguin.
For Worth, novels begin with a character, someone who leaps out of a textbook page and into my heart. She then proceeds to build, build, build until I feel Id recognize them if they came into the room.
Balancing character with history is a challenge for Worth. She once had an editor observe that her love of history meant that she sometimes let the history overwhelm the story.
When I finished my first book I sat down to read it and thought Oh my God, this is a history textbook. . . |
When I finished my first book I sat down to read it and thought Oh my God, this is a history textbook, said Worth.
Over time she has learned to keep the history in the background, serving as a foundation for the stories of love and intrigue that run through the period of The War of the Roses. She works on letting the dialogue between characters and interior monologues reveal history with a lighter hand.
While she spent ten years researching the Rose of York trilogy, Pale Rose of England was researched and written in a year. Her research includes reading and visits to historical sights such as Bamborough Castle, where she looked out at the ocean from the same vantage point as her characters. There she saw an armory that had been left in tact since the 15th century with long narrow windows overlooking the North Sea.
Worth described writing historical fiction as a giant puzzle where there are major gaps.
In the case of Lady Catherine, there were only ten words recorded by history to convey her character. When Henry the VII, who is vying for her attentions, tells her in front of her husband that her husband is no prince, she replies, It is the man and not the king I love. This, Worth notes, shows both her extraordinary courage and diplomacy.
There are conflicting documents that have survived and you ask yourself how all of this hangs together. The goal is to create the most credible version of history so the reader gets a seamless story that they can believe, said Worth. In Pale Rose of England the authors note at the end of the book details events that were omitted or altered and provides further historical context. Worth also includes a select bibliography. While she acknowledges large gaps in history require connecting the dots, she does not admit to embellishing on history.
The story here is so large and so powerful you dont have to invent. . . |
The story here is so large and so powerful you dont have to invent, said Worth.
Her challenge was to keep the reader reading past the point in the book where Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, was executed. His wife Catherine was the answer, as the reader follows her life after the death of her husband.
Once she has completed a first draft of a novel, Worth said her work is 60 percent done. I go back and fix the scenes, fix the prose as much as I can, make sure the transitions work. I go back and heighten the conflict.
She revised Pale Rose countless times. She worked with her editor at Penguin Jackie Cantor to shorten the manuscript by forty pages. When I read Jackies cuts I couldnt tell where she cut it with the exception of one scene. I really wanted that scene in the book and she put it back in, said Worth. She is now hard at work on her seventh book. Worth counts herself lucky in an industry that is in flux.
The whole business is difficult. . . Don't give up. |
Today its not just the writing that is difficult. The whole business is difficult. Publishers are cutting back and authors are expected to do more of their own promotion. Hone your craft, not only in writing but in marketing, said Worth.
Dont give up. This is a tough business but there is always that dream that comes true.
|About Sandra Worth|
Sandra Worth is the acclaimed author of six books chronicling the demise of the Plantagenet dynasty in England. Each is a recipient of multiple awards. Her many honors include four prizes and three Reviewers Choice Awards, as well as a national Best Books. 2009 pick from USABookNews.com.
About Regular Contributor|
Ellen Birkett Morris
Ellen Birkett Morris is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in national print and online publications including The New York Times. She also writes for a number of literary, regional, trade, and business publications, and she has contributed to six published nonfiction books in the trade press. Ellen is a regular contributor to Authorlink, assigned to interview various New York Times bestselling authors and first-time novelists.