SYDNEY Aug 4 (Reuters Life!) - When American historical
writer Candace Robb decided to take a break from her usual
medieval mysteries to focus on the life of one woman, she also
decided to make another change -- taking on a new pen-name.
As Emma Campion she has released a debut novel, "The King's
Mistress," based on Alice Perrers, the mistress of British King
Edward III, who was always portrayed as a manipulative woman
taking advantage of an aging, increasingly senile king.
Robb became intrigued by Perrers after documents emerged
that cast doubt on this cruel reputation.
The author, who has written 13 books since 1993 in two
ongoing series featuring medieval sleuths Margaret Kerr and Owen
Archer, started to delve further.
Robb, 60, who has a PhD in Medieval and Anglo-Saxon
literature, said she wanted to put Perrers in a new light. She
spoke to Reuters about the 14th century and writing:
Q: What started your fascination with medieval times?
A: "When I was in college what really caught me was how
Chaucer himself really created such a vivid picture of a
particular time and one of such social change with the plague
and the Hundred Year's War. It seemed so contemporary and
comprehendable that I got very excited about it."
Q: How do you find so much detail about daily lives?
A: "All sorts of ways. I have a lot of friends who are
historians who I drive crazy with all my questions. I spend a
lot of time in England where there are so many wonderful sites
and activities that are hands-on that I need to describe. Also a
lot of research and reading between the lines in medical texts."
Q: Why the change to Emma Campion?
A: "It was my publisher. They felt Candace Robb readers
expected a crime novel and it would be hard to convince them
that it was not going to be that. I didn't really like the idea
at first. I'd been lecturing about Alice Perrers for years and I
cared about this women and reconstructing her life but then I
started to see it as quite fun and liberating."
Q: Why the name?
A: "Emma is a very good Norman name of a beloved queen of
England and Campion is a good Yorkshire name. There is something
very pretty about it. I also always loved Emma Peel in The
Avengers and I always wanted to be her."
Q: What fascinated you about Alice?
A: "I noticed in novels and history that almost the same
words were always used about her. She seemed such a wicked
woman, like a pantomime mistress. But the more I researched I
could not make her character make sense. It really was not
likely that this commoner had the power she was claimed to have
had behind the scenes. Then we found these petitions about her
in which we learned her maiden name and so what we thought we
knew about her was wrong."
Q: Why did you decide to write the book in first person?
A: "I started looking at what made sense for a woman in the
14th century and Alice decided to write the book in the first
person. Here is this woman who never had a voice so I thought
she should finally be able to speak and tell her own story.
Writing in the first person is like tying one hand behind your
back but it gave me a chance to become her and feel what she
felt. Once I got going with it I really enjoyed it."
Q: Why did the king take to her so?
A: "I believe she was a breath of fresh air. She was
business savvy, clever and she must have been beautiful as he
could have picked anyone in the court. She came to court just
about the time when Queen Philippa had a bad accident that made
her unable to have any children so it was not a time when she
Q: Are you going to stay Emma Campion for a while?
A: "Yes, I am enjoying this very much. My next book will be
about Joan of Kent ... but I don't feel finished with Owen
Archer or Margaret Kerr yet. I rather miss them."
Q: Any advice for aspiring writers?
A: "One of the important things is to trust your instinct. I
know that once my characters start moving about on the page and
coming to life that I have to let them show me where they are
going to take me. It kills the book otherwise."
(Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith, Editing by Paul Casciato)