Double delight this month! I have the pleasure of interviewing a writing duo with a spark of serendipity between them given they both share the same first and second name as well as a passion for medieval historical fiction. Catherine A Wilson and Catherine T Wilson are the authors of the Lions and Lilies series. You might like to watch this Youtube video where the Catherines explain how they met and began their joint writing journey. Both were born in England but made their way Downunder. Each book in the series has received a first place in their category in the Chanticleer Book Review Awards with The Traitor’s Noose receiving the coveted Chaucer Award Grand Prize for historical fiction for 2017. Congratulations!
Catherine A Wilson was born in London, England, and immigrated to Australia in 1972 to reside in and around the leafy suburbs of Eastwood, Epping and Dundas. Without a particular path in mind she simply took the first job she was offered, which happened to be the position of Layout Artist for a well-known map publisher but changed course and selected a career in nursing. She later enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force, before resigning to a quiet life at home.
She lives in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, with her husband and two beautiful children, several Jack Russells, a large flock of flighty chickens, goldfish and budgies. When not writing (which is not often) she likes to garden, read books, shop, read books, drink copious cups of strong coffee with friends and read plenty of books.
Catherine T Wilson was born in Burnley, England, but moved to Australia when she was eleven months old. She grew up in Elizabeth, South Australia, relocating to Queensland when she was fourteen. She worked in communications, before finally deciding to fulfil her dream as a writer. The raw draft of her first novel, a Viking romance, won an encouragement award of $1,000 from six hundred entries, in a popular women’s magazine competition. She visited Europe in 2006 to witness the annual re-enactment of ʻThe Battle of Agincourt,ʼ and then travelled extensively throughout Britain and France, researching material for Lions and Lilies. In 2016, she returned to Europe for further research in Morocco, Spain, Portugal and France. Her visit to Chartres cathedral to ‘walk the labyrinth’ and then stroll through the medieval old town during its summer light show was an experience she’ll never forget. And the second visit to Bellegarde remains among her most treasured memories.
Catherine T lives on a small bushland property, on a mountain range west of Brisbane and yes, you need only walk into her house to see her first love. Pictures of maidens on horseback grace the walls, and every corner and mantel is filled with knights and battle axes, the bookshelves overflowing with tales of chivalry.
What or who inspired you to first write?
CA – My maternal grandmother was a wonderful story teller and it was she who inspired me to follow in her footsteps. I was also very fortunate to encounter a fabulous English teacher in high school, Ms Toni Hurly, who took me under her wing and encouraged me to put pen to paper.
CT – It sprang from a desire to find my own niche. As a general ‘jack of all trades, master of none,’ I decided I wanted to find that one thing where I could say ‘this is what I do.’ Some friends knitted or sewed, some crocheted, some could paint, sing, be great at sports. I just needed to find and occupy my own space in the world.
Which authors have influenced you?
CA – As a child I my favourite author was L M Montgomery, but I would have to say I enjoy novels by Elizabeth Chadwick, Barbara Erskine, Diana Gabaldon and Victoria Holt. My greatest influence though would have to be my co-author, Cathy T.
CT – First and foremost was a French author, Juliette Benzoni, (when I was fourteen years old). Later came authors like Roberta Gellis, Jean Plaidy, Kathleen E Woodiwiss (The Wolf and the Dove), Elizabeth Chadwick and more recently, Australian author Isolde Martyn.
What is the inspiration for your current book?
CT – The current book, Roar of the Lion, is the fifth in the Lions and Lilies series and my story for this book was inspired by information I came across whilst researching. It also played perfectly into the relationship between three of the characters.
Is there a particular theme you wished to explore?
CA – I want to really explore the political influences placed on Edward III during the later years of his life and how that played out during The Hundred Years War.
CT – Not specifically. It’s more about writing about all the different aspects to medieval life. Have you ever read a book where, at the end, when the characters go home, you just wanted to go with them? Well, Lions and Lilies does just that – takes you into their homes.
What period of history particularly inspires or interests you?
CA – I have always loved English history and have a particular interest in the middle to late medieval periods and the Tudor era. For me, it’s all about the romance – ruined castles, knights in armour, jousting, maidens on horseback, amazing battles and acts of bravery, religious fervour and holy pilgrimages.
CT – Medieval! Anything from the Vikings through to the crusades, all the way to the Renaissance. Then my next favourite is the French Revolution. I fell in love with the medieval period after reading a series of books when I was fourteen. They were set during The Hundred Years War, a bit further on from where Lions and Lilies takes place. The story included Joan of Arc and her demise and I was captivated with the era. I think I became fascinated with the French Revolution after watching ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’ (1982 version with Anthony Andrews)
What resources do you use to research your book?
CA – I use whichever resources I can find – printed books, the Internet, the library. I read extensively, included novels by authors I admire, particularly those set in the same time period that I am interested in. I have travelled to the UK several times and have been fortunate to gather information on each trip. Likewise, Cathy T has also provided me with information when she visited France and the UK.
CT – I use all the books I have in my library or public library for the first-draft, then as finer details are required, the internet. This can sometimes be tricky to verify the reliability of the source, so I check several places for the same information to see if they match. I also take ‘research holidays’ and visit many of the places that I write about as there is nothing quite like seeing it for yourself!
How long did it take to finish a novel?
CA – It will take Cathy T and me at least twelve months to work on a concept, research and have the first draft down on paper. The first edit (conducted by Cathy T) can take a further two months and we often undertake several small rewrites. A second and third edit ensues and during this time we are also considering the cover design, back cover blurb, tag line, updating the glossary, character listing etc. We aim to have each project completed in eighteen months, but it can run over that time frame.
CT – Usually between 12 – 18 months. There is a lot of research to complete in the beginning, the actual writing, then the editing and re-write phases, however many it takes to get it to where we think it’s ready.
What do you do if stuck for a word or a phrase?
CA – I just keep writing and will go back to that section either later that day or up to a week later. By that stage my brain has managed to work through the issue.
CT – If a bit of researching doesn’t find it, I leave it and come back to it. Usually on the next read-through, it jumps right out at me.
Is there anything unusual or even quirky that you would like to share about your writing?
CT – Going out on a limb here but more than once, I have written a scene before the research or visit takes place, only to find that I have written it correctly. It has happened more than once, even down to finding our characters names on a relevant family tree of 14 children some 18 months after we began writing—born in the same year and one was a nun! I also wrote a scene and when I travelled to France later and found the perfect keep, I located a 13thC church nearby. We walked through the church and cloister only to find the setting I had already described, even down to a piece of ‘unlikely’ furniture in a room at the top of the stairs. The hairs on my arms rose that day!
Do you use a program like Scrivener to create your novel?
CA – We occasionally use Autocrit, which is a great tool for identifying repetitions and spelling errors etc. however, Cathy T undertakes all my editing and she rarely misses anything.
CT – No. I’ve downloaded Scrivener and it looks great, but it’s fairly involved, and I think we’re too far along to change now. We have developed our own system and it works perfectly for us. Besides, the time I would need to get a handle on it, could be spent writing!
Do you ever write in long hand?
CT – No. I am a typist so long hand would be painfully slow for me, not to mention making my hand ache. Anyway, you’d probably only be able to read the first sentence!
Is there a particular photo or piece of art that strikes a chord with you?
CA – I love this image of Corfu Castle in Dorset England by Mark Bauer. Perched atop the Purbeck Hills it is one of the earliest castles in the UK to be built in stone.
CT – Hmm, I have two of equal measure. One is ‘The Lady of Shallot’ (John William Waterhouse) and the other is ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ by Frank Dicksee. Please don’t ask me to choose because I simply cannot! Both show different sides to the ideal of courtly love; the Lady of Shallot for the sheer desperation of the lady’s love for Lancelot for which she was willing to chance death, and La Belle for the devotion shown by the lover to his lady, beseeching her to show him mercy and return his love. Such passion!
What advice would you give an aspiring author?
CA – The only difference between aspiration and accomplishment is the act itself. If you want to be a writer, sit down at your laptop and start typing.
CT – Like any apprentice, learn the tools of your trade; sentence construction, avoiding repetition, consistency of characters, spelling and grammar, etc. Then find your own style and niche and most importantly, never give up.
Tell us about your next book.
CA – Roar of the Lion, Book 5 in the Lions and Lilies series, follows on from The Traitor’s Noose and continues the story of Gillet and Cécile in France and Simon and Catherine in England. This novel explores the political climate in Europe during the late 1360’s and early 1370’s and specifically, the final years of Edward III rule in England and what influence Alice Perrers had on the ailing king’s decisions.
CT – In Roar of the Lion, four years have passed, and we take up the story just as the Spanish war commences with the French/ Castilian forces pitted against the Anglo/Castilian forces creating problems for the Armagnacs and Albrets who have family members on both sides. The outcome of this battle has serious consequences for the Plantagenet rule as well as our beloved characters.
In the war between England and France a medieval adventure begins with a letter. Two sisters, Cécile and Catherine, enter a world of passion and intrigue, separated as infants, rediscovered by chance. Can they unravel a mystery and be re-united? 1st Place Chanticleer Chatelaine Award – 2013
A tale of powerful alliances, deadly plots and royal secrets. In an age when women held no power, Cécile and Catherine must rely on the courage of the knights who are assigned to protect them. 1st Place Chanticleer Chatelaine Award – 2014
A dangerous power play between kingdoms, each must risk their life to foil a plot that could end the reign of one king and send another to war. In the darkest of hours, courage must be found. 1st Place Chanticleer Chaucer Award – 2016
What is worse than an unexpected betrayal? Discovering your darkest enemy lies within. When honour demands the ultimate sacrifice – loyalty, trust, love but you know, in the end, justice will be a traitor’s noose. Grand Prize WINNER Chanticleer Chaucer Award – 2017
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