An Interview With Christie Dickason by Sandra Gulland
Christie Dickason writes historical fiction, most of it set in the (broad) 17th century. Her published titles include:
The Principessa — 'A stunning novel of history, passion and politics ... ' —The Bookseller, October 2007
The Firemaster's Mistress —'Atmospheric and impressively researched, it is highly entertaining.' —Elizabeth Buchan, The Sunday Times
... as well as The Memory Palace, Quicksilver, and The Lady Tree.
Her most recent title, The King's Daughter — about Elizabeth, daughter of James I — will also, no doubt, to garner enthusiastic reviews. (See below for more on this title.)
Before I begin with the interview questions, I asked Christie to introduce herself:
I’m both shy and naturally nosy, with a grasshopper mind, so writing is perfect for me. Each book is like living a new experience. And research is a kind of licensed nosiness. In the name of research, I can ask questions I wouldn’t otherwise dare ask. I approach strangers whom I would never otherwise talk to — like a man flying a hawk in Richmond Park. Or a woman walking a pair of stag hounds. (See THE LADY TREE.) I am constantly surprised and delighted by how generous people are with what they know. I find research a wonderful way of making new friends, people with passions, even more obsessed by hawks, or side saddles, or 17th century shoes or plumbing than I am.
"Research is a kind of licensed nosiness": I like that. What draws you to the 17th century in particular?
I feel something familiar in the people of that period. That we would understand each other quite well if we time-travelled. They were dealing with many of the same issues — belief, cultural diversity, gender roles, a changing society, fragmentation. It’s a big subject. They even had their own versions of spin doctors, fanatics and lager louts.
What aspect of the 17th century do you find the most appealing?
The vigorous energy. The rise of self-made men through commerce and education. (And buccaneering.) It was still very hierarchical, but you could earn your place on the ladder, not just inherit it. Even women managed it, from time to time. (But don’t be misled by Elizabeth I into thinking that the 16th and 17th centuries were a time of sexual equality!)
The most difficult?
The ruthlessness. But I can’t see that this has changed much today.
Too true. Tell us about your new novel, THE KING'S DAUGHTER.
THE KING’S DAUGHTER tells the story of Elizabeth Stuart, the only surviving daughter of James I of England and VI of Scotland, and her struggle with her powerful and dangerous father to become more than a pawn in his political games. She must survive the corruption and political maneuvering at court to try to marry a man she loves. To have a real human relationship. But for me, it’s also about fathers and daughters. About growing up. About the child learning to take power in the world. And as a former tomboy who once carried a grass snake around in her pocket, talked to animals and, at the age of ten, wanted to marry a horse called Deacon, I felt a real kinship with Elizabeth, with her 26 dogs and the animal-like acuteness in her own awareness that I have given her.
Very interesting. What did you find most challenging about writing this particular novel?
Too many of the wrong kind of facts. In historical records, Elizabeth is endlessly described in flattering poems, letters and commentaries. Everyone is nice to the king’s daughter. Any dangerous opinions were unlikely to have been published, much less to have survived. She’s locked in to events by report, with no record of what she thought about anything or anyone. And most accounts are of her better-known later life as The Winter Queen.
So, first of all, I had to work hard to create suspense in a plot that was also consistent with where she was said to have been at any given time – not always the most exciting choice. Equally, as a mere girl, she was often not mentioned when I’m certain she was likely to have attended a particular masque, tilt, or banquet. Sickly little Charles, much less important at the time, now gets all the mention because hindsight knows that he grew up to become king.
As a researcher, I'm dying to ask: What are the on-line and print resources you use the most often?
The Great God Google. And the National Archives at Kew, which are conveniently close to where I live. (I sometimes think I live THERE.) But there’s no substitute for the direct sensory input of field research – visiting houses, touching a straw mattress, trying on the clothes, spending time without electricity.
What are you working on now?
DANGEROUS FRIENDS is the working title. One of the characters in THE KING’S DAUGHTER kept sneaking onto centre stage and I kept telling her, ‘Get back in your box! This isn’t your book.’ But it’s her turn now. She’s Lucy Harrington, who was Queen Anne’s chief lady of the bedchamber and best friend. In THE KING’S DAUGHTER, Elizabeth is still young and jealous of this lovely, self-assured-seeming older woman. In DANGEROUS FRIENDS, the two women have become close friends, as they became in real life.
Lucy’s a delightful spendthrift, lively and witty, at the centre of court intrigue and probably the lover of John Donne. She’s also childless and restless, searching for love, easily bored but passionately loyal. A woman who fights off a sense of inner emptiness by getting mixed up in things she shouldn’t, including a plot to assassinate Charles. Watch this space.
I certainly will. It sounds wonderful! (And I like the working title.) Thank you so much, Christie — It has been a pleasure. Sandra Gulland
For more on Christie Dickason and her work, be sure to explore her beautiful website: here. Click here to see all her books on Amazon.com, or here on Amazon.co.uk.