Today I'm very excited to have Nancy Bilyeau, author of The Crown here at A Bookish Affair for a guest post!
It was at my first bookstore reading that the question came: “Did you know many nuns before you
wrote this book?”
I answered her at once, with the truth: “No, none.”
I’ve written a historical thriller about a young Dominican novice in the reign of King Henry VIII. The
entire story of The Crown is told in the first person, through the perspective of Sister Joanna Stafford.
She is someone who very much wants to be a novice and serve God as a sister in an enclosed priory.
And yet before I wrote this book, I had no familiarity with monastic orders. I am not a practicing
Catholic; my parents were agnostic and occasionally attended the Unitarian Universalist Church in Ann
So what drew me to Sister Joanna and the Dissolution of the Monasteries?
When I set out to write my first novel, I wasn’t sure what kind of story I wanted to tell except for one
thing: It must be set in the 16th century.
I saw the television series The Six Wives of Henry VIII and Elizabeth R as a child and fell in love with the 16th century. I read everything I could. I remember when I was 12 years old, at the public library in
suburban Michigan, trying to check out a book about the divorce of Katherine of Aragon and Henry VIII, and the librarian wouldn’t let me have it because it had the word “divorce” in the title and I was too young! Luckily that didn’t stop me from building my own library of 16th century books. I had my time period, but what sort of book would it be?
I’ve always adored mysteries and thrillers. I decided to fuse my two passions, and write a historical
thriller set in the 1500s.
I wanted to tell a woman’s story. It seemed the shelves were bursting with books written about
medieval and Renaissance queens and princesses. I thought a nun would be interesting, and what could
yield richer drama than a nun in the midst of the Dissolution of the Monasteries?
I spent the next five years researching and writing. I took a series of online courses through Gotham
Writer’s Workshop. I needed the feedback and the deadlines. I didn’t work on my book every day—I
have two children and held fulltime editing positions at various magazines, most recently, InStyle. To
finish my manuscript, I began to get up at 5 a.m. and write my book until it was time to wake up the
children at 7 a.m. We did not travel anywhere for most vacations. I took those precious days and spent
them on research.
The more I learned about a nun’s life in Tudor England, the more it fascinated me.
It is not easy in our secular age to enter the mind and heart of a 16th century nun—or to appreciate the
vital importance of faith in the lives of everyone.
As Eamon Duffy says in his great book, The Stripping of the Altars, “Late medieval Catholicism exerted an enormously strong, diverse, and vigorous hold over the imagination and loyalty of people up to the
very moment of Reformation.” After immersing myself in this very different world for so long, I feel a
great deal of admiration and sympathy for the nuns and monks and friars who struggled to cope with
the Dissolution. And I very much hope that this is what readers will come away with after finishing The
Oh, and I hope the thriller plot keeps them up at night too.
Thank you, Nancy!!!
I'm pleased to be able to give away a copy of The Crown by Nancy Bilyeau!
The Fine Print:
- You must be 13 and over
- Open to US only!
- You must be a follower of A Bookish Affair
- Giveaway ends February 17, 2012!!!