BLOG TOUR: An interview with C W Gortner

The Queen's Vow by C W GortnerAs part of the blog tour for The Queen’s Vow (see my review HERE), I asked the author, CW Gortner, a few questions which he was kind enough to take time out of his very busy schedule to answer. Thank you, Mr Gortner!

What was it that drew you to writing about Isabella of Castile?
I’ve always been attracted to controversial personages in history, particularly women. In part, I believe it’s due to the fact that I grew up in southern Spain during the last years of Franco’s regime and was taught censored history when it came to the role of women. I’ve since discovered that often, popular history is, in fact, censored. I learned about Isabella in school, of course, but always found her forbidding— a staid matron blindly devoted to her faith. It wasn’t until many years later, when I wrote my first novel, The Last Queen, about her daughter, Juana, that I discovered an unknown side to Isabella, the rarely told story of her youth and tumultuous rise to power. Her struggle to become a sovereign queen is rife with danger and drama, and shows such a different side to her. I knew then it was a story I had to write. I love working with characters who transform in unexpected ways, and Isabella is one of those. She did not start out as the somber queen she’s so often portrayed as; in THE QUEEN’S VOW, I depict how Isabella evolved into the queen and woman that she was, and how her passions, tragedies, triumphs and doubts shaped her. 

Are there any other characters in The Queen’s Vow from whose point of view you might like to tell the story?
I think the story could have been told from the point of view of Isabella’s best friend and loyal lady in waiting, Beatriz de Bobadilla, who is indeed a strong secondary character in this book. She’s almost like Isabella’s opposite, her effervescent twin sister. Impulsive, rash and opinionated, she spurs Isabella and counters the princess’s caution. I did in fact toy with this very idea, until I realized that one of the main attractions of telling the story through Beatriz is that she’s more approachable, as compared to the controversial aspects of Isabella’s personality. Because of this, I discarded the idea, as it would have resulted in a different novel, not one that focuses on Isabella. Beatriz also had a marvelous life in her own right, and while she remained at Isabella’s side throughout the queen’s life, save for a few brief absences, it would have been a disservice to use her as a vehicle through which to relay Isabella’s story. Beatriz truly deserves her own book.

How long does it take you to research an historical novel, and do you enjoy that aspect of writing?
My research takes years. Bibliographies for each of my novels number in the hundreds, from countless biographies to multiple volumes about the era, architecture, music, costume, gardening, medicine, hunting, etc. I also research in libraries and consult what we term primary sources, whenever possible— the extant letters, ambassadorial accounts, dispatches, and court paperwork. I seek out everything and anything that will help me flesh out the details of a vanished time. I often start researching several years before I’m under contract to write a novel. I “store up” my research, so to speak. In the case of Isabella, I began researching her while writing The Last Queen, though this initial research focused on her later years. Because research is so time-consuming and I enjoy it so much, I have to impose limits on myself. I could literally spend years digging around without ever actually writing a word of the novel, so I only research enough to gain a strong base on which to start writing. When I encounter blocks along the way, I go back, research again, and continue writing. I find it easier to ferret out details later, rather than know everything upfront. It’s a haphazard way to work, for some, but it works best for me.

You seem to be drawn to writing about very strong women throughout history (Juana la Loca, Catherine de Medici, etc), what is it about them that attracts you to them? Are there any others about whom you’d like to write?
I find that I’m drawn to controversy, to characters who made their mark in history with deeds that inspire debate. I’m not as attracted to the easy popular characters, the ones who’ve had simple lives or are plainly “good.” Human beings are complex; it’s our complexity, indeed duality for some, which inspire me as a writer. Juana, Catherine, Isabella— these are quite different women, both in their view of the world and how they lived their lives, yet they share a common trait of not being “model women” for their era. Each defied the rules in some way; each made her own fate, for better and worse. Their passion and strength, fallibility and courage, make them endlessly fascinating. And yes, there are other women I’d like to write about, as well, some of them lesser known yet who also bucked the societal restrictions to carve their own way.

Can you tell us a little about any other forthcoming novels on which you are working?
The second novel in my Tudor spymaster trilogy, THE TUDOR CONSPIRACY, will be released in the UK and the US in July, 2013.

I’m also currently working on a novel about Lucrezia Borgia, focusing on her early years in the Vatican, when she went from being the naïve illegitimate daughter of an ambitious Spanish cardinal to one of Italy’s most notorious women. Her thrust into a dark fame and struggle to define herself as she battles the rapacity of her family is another remarkable story of perseverance and transformation. The book will be published in 2014.

Thank you for having me. I’m honored to be here. To learn more about me and my work, please visit me at my website at

 I don’t know about everyone else, but I’m very excited to hear about those forthcoming novels!

My thanks, again, to Mr Gortner and his PR team for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

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