Q&A with Robert Parry

Today I’m posting Q&A with Robert Parry, author of “The Arrow Chest” and “The Virgin and the Crab”. Enjoy!

1)   Welcome to Queen Anne Boleyn Website! Could you share with us a little about yourself and your background?

I am an English writer of English historical fiction. My work spans the Tudor, Georgian and Victorian eras – but I like to explore the whole area of dreams and the unconscious as well as the facts and events of history. What people thought and imagined is every bit as important, I feel, as what they actually did – and so I try to convey this aspect of the past as much as possible in my stories.

2)   I have finished “The Arrow Chest” and I was impressed with your style of writing and ability of blending histories. How did you get an idea of writing about Anne Boleyn’s story set in Victorian background?

There are already so many novels and films about Anne Boleyn that I wanted to come up with something fresh.  And because I wanted to explore the psychological and emotional dynamics between the characters that surrounded her during her tragically short life I decided to loosen up and move the whole story forward into a different era. Victorian Gothic (19th century) is a perfect place to put Henry VIII and Anne because the Victorian age has lots of parallels to that of the Tudor periods. There were powerful men – ‘kings’ in their own right. There were beautiful elegant women, and there were the fabulous poets and painters of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. So it was not difficult to find placements for Anne, Henry and for Thomas Wyatt in that kind of environment. But it was also a suitable match because it was a time which underwent its own very powerful crisis of faith and identity – similar to that experienced at the time of the Reformation of the 16th century. The Victorians had the advent of Darwin’s theory of evolution, and the threat this held for the established Church. The horrors of Anne’s execution and the sinister plots that festered in the background at the time of her fall also fit perfectly into a Gothic setting. The author and reader are then both liberated in a sense to explore and speculate about what might really have taken place, not in a sense of dry facts and events, but on a deeper, more fundamental level of raw emotion.

3)  Amos and Daphne are linked to Thomas Wyatt and Anne Boleyn; are they also a combination of other historical figures?

One could draw parallels with a much older generation – of Lancelot and Gwenevere, for example, at the court of King Arthur. There was a strong code of chivalric conduct in those times, or at least in the legend. There was a strict hierarchy in society and a precise way in which one was supposed to behave. In The Arrow Chest, the main protagonist, Amos, strives to find a solution to the situation he finds himself in through embracing the cult of the ‘English Gentleman’ which, in itself, embraced some of the principles of knightly conduct from those much older times. In fact the Victorians were very fond of exploring the realm of medieval culture. The poems of Tennyson, the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelites – all these looked to the past for inspiration as to how to live an honourable and dignified life amid all the distractions and temptations of the contemporary world, which for the Victorians were ones of unprecedented industrialisation and commercialisation accompanied what they perceived as a moral and spiritual decline.

4)   The illustration on the cover of “The Arrow Chest” is very beautiful – it is called “Daphne” by Amos Roselli. But Amos is a fictional character, so who created the cover?

Thank you, Sylwia! Because you have said how much you liked it, I shall claim full responsibility for it myself   ;-)

Robert Parry

5)   It is three years since your debut novel “The Virgin and the Crab” was launched. How do you feel about your writing career now after 3 years and two released books?

Still very excited by it all. I love the whole process of seeing a project through from start to finish (like that cover, for example). It is a wonderful time in the publishing world at present. Quite a revolution going on with e-readers and self-publishing and so on. The author has never had more freedom to express his/herself, and the reader has never had such a wide choice of titles and genres to choose from, from classics to modern experimental – it’s all there at our fingertips to interact with, to enjoy and to explore. I get a huge buzz from running my Facebook page and my blog, as well, and speaking with my readers online. It’s just a miracle, really, and such good fun.

6)   When did you first become interested in writing? 

During my early twenties. I have been writing continuously since then. I enjoy it immensely.

7)   When and where do you write?

I always admire those writers who say they rise at dawn, leap out of bed and type out a thousand words before breakfast. But I just cannot do that. I like to write a little later in the day, and especially at night. The darkness is wasted unless it is used for some kind of creative activity. Best of all, though, come the Summer months, is to work from my ‘outdoor office’ – that is, my bench out in the garden. I love to take the laptop out there, and I have a table too, and write in the fresh air. I suppose most of us dislike being stuck inside at a desk when the sun is shining. I am a very keen gardener, and so in-between paragraphs I often get up and walk around and do a spot of weeding or watch our newts cavorting in the pond.

8)   What kind of research process to you usually undertake before/during writing a novel?

For my first novel, Virgin and the Crab, I had to do things the hard way, visiting libraries and historic sites, because there was no internet then – or at least not an internet as we know it today. For The Arrow Chest, however, it was a little easier to work online for research purposes. I am also fortunate in having lived and worked most of my life in and around London and the South-East of England where so many of the historical sites are still to be found. And I feel I have a strong link to the past through my Grandparents, who were Victorians/Edwardians, in fact. The London I grew up in was still a place that was closely connected in atmosphere and social structure to the London of their times – and even to earlier periods. I hope this gives a certain authenticity to the stories.

9)   How do you organize your facts and plots? Do you have a note-taking system, chart or other means of controlling the information, or is it all in your head?

Always the first serious attempt at writing a story is, for me, preceded by taking up a very large piece of graph paper. I write a timeline along one side of it – all the significant dates of events, battles, kings and queens and so on. And then along the other side, I plot the story itself, as experienced from the perspective of the characters. I like to see the big picture that this provides, and I refer to it constantly during the early stages. That way, too, no one gets stranded in places where they are not meant to be.

10)   What advice would you give aspiring writers?

Everyone has a story inside, and it should be expressed – but not everyone who reads it will find it interesting. Keep going until you can make it interesting. Be modest in your ambitions, therefore, at least at first, and no matter how unlikely it seems, try to recognize that what you write at the outset will most likely not be what you will finish up with many years later. Then, once you have something that you are happy with, keep going and don’t give up.

11)   Are you currently working on any new novels?

Yes, my third novel, which is set in the 18th century England at the time of the Jacobite rebellion. That is the historical backdrop, anyway – but the story is really all about a set of fictitious characters who happen to become caught up in it all. It is very different to the previous two stories, just as they were different to each other. I hope to be announcing the title and cover design soon.

12)   And last but not least, is there anything else you would like your readers to know about you or your upcoming projects?

Just that I hope to keep finding fresh ways of exploring the way people lived and thought about themselves in the past. I believe that is important – because it helps us to understand who we are today.

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