Interview with Claire Ridgway – writer extraordinaire.
Thank you, Claire, for giving me this opportunity to interview you!
WJD: I know you are, like me, a huge devotee of Anne Boleyn. Well – I know why I am one of her devotees, but how about you? How did Anne Boleyn first hook your interest and commitment?
CR: Henry VIII and his six wives hooked me at the age of 11 when I had to do a project on them for school, but Anne Boleyn was a slow grow on me until January 2009 when I had a dream about her. I have the most vivid dreams. Most mornings I’m entertaining Tim with my latest weird dream! This one was horrible. I was a member of the crowd watching the execution of Anne Boleyn at the Tower of London. I can’t remember the details of what anyone or anything looked like, but still today I can remember the feeling of helplessness and the panic that engulfed me when I realised she was going to die an innocent woman. I tried to cry out in my dream, but no sound came out of my mouth. It was horrible, and I was a wreck when I woke up. But what was odd is that I woke up knowing that I had to research her life and start a blog called The Anne Boleyn Files to record my research!
WJD: Why do you think Henry VIII somersaulted from a man who loved a woman so much he would do anything to marry her to a man who would do anything to get rid of her?
CR: Henry VIII seemed to have been able just to switch love off if he felt let down or betrayed in any way. For example, Sir Thomas More was more than just Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor, he was his good friend and a father figure to him, yet when he didn’t support the supremacy and the annulment he ended up on the scaffold. Mary, Henry’s daughter, is another example. She was his “pearl” when she was obedient and submissive, but when she wouldn’t accept her parents’ annulment or sign the oath, then she was not welcome at court, and Henry’s council threatened her horribly. Anne Boleyn was just another that Henry felt let down by. He had pursued her for so long, broken with the church, executed friends and advisers, suffered unpopularity, all for a daughter and a woman who didn’t always agree with him.
WJD: Can you share with us your impressions of Henry VIII?
CR: I don’t think he can be described as just a monster or tyrant, that was just one part of him. He was obviously intelligent and charming, and when he loved you, then he loved you wholeheartedly. The “virtuous prince” of his youth was someone that you could fall head over heels in love with, but there was always an edge to it, always a streak of tyranny.
WJD: When you first started your fantastic Anne Boleyn Files website, did you ever imagine it would one day be where it is today?
CR: Ha! No, not at all. I thought it would just be a record of my research.
WJD: You have now written so many non-fiction books – is there is one that holds a special place in your heart? Why?
CR: They’re all special to me in their own way because of the journey of writing them, but I’d have to choose “George Boleyn: Tudor Poet, Courtier and Diplomat” because I thoroughly enjoyed working with my friend Clare on it. It was a really fun project, and we both learned from each other too.
WJD: Do you have any ambition to write a novel? If no, why not? If yes – any idea what you would like to write about?
CR: Yes! My first love is actually creative writing, and I have so many manuscripts from my teens and student days. I have three fiction ideas: a contemporary romance, a YA novel with a mythological theme, and a historical novel set in the 16th century. I did a creative writing course a couple of years ago and started my historical novel then but then had to put it on hold – one day!
WJD: What are you writing now?
CR: As well as writing articles and talks for my websites, I’m working on “The Fall of Catherine Howard: A Countdown”. I’ve been working on it since 2012 on and off, but am now getting back to it. Like my book on Anne Boleyn’s fall, it will be a day-by-day countdown of the events leading up to Catherine’s execution in 1542.
WJD: Why do you think the Tudors continue to arouse so much passion for readers and writers?
CR: I think it’s because they’re such iconic, larger than life characters. You just couldn’t make up their stories! That piques people’s interest initially, and then I think the passion comes from being drawn deeper into their stories and then being horrified by what happened to some of these people, particularly those who have been maligned or who are surrounded by myths. Those of us with strong senses of injustice want to put things right, to fight for them. I love the passion that history provokes, it stops it being a dead subject in heavy textbooks and makes it a living and breathing subject.
WJD: We know you are passionate about Anne Boleyn. Is there any other historical person you also love? Why?
CR: George Boleyn. He’s not as well-known as his sister, and yet he too suffered at the hands of Henry VIII. I hate that some fiction, and even non-fiction, has portrayed him as a wife-abusing rapist and he hasn’t been as widely rehabilitated as his sister.
WJD: You do intensive research for your work. Have you ever discovered anything in your research that really made you see someone in a different light to how historians have represented them?
CR: When I started researching Anne Boleyn, I was under the impression that her sister-in-law, Jane Boleyn, was a nasty piece of work and did have a hand in bringing George and Anne down. However, the more I researched Anne’s fall, the more I realised that this picture of her just wasn’t supported by the primary sources. I completely changed my mind about Jane. Julia Fox’s biography, and her extensive and meticulous research, really helped me with that.
WJD: Clearly, Julia Fox’s biography is a book I need to read! What is more important to you when reading a novel: historical accuracy or a good story?
CR: A good story. A novel has to draw you in and grab you otherwise you’re not going to read on, however historically accurate it is. I prefer novels where the author has tried to be as true to the real story as possible, but I have enjoyed alternate history novels or ones where things have been different to history. As long as the author takes time in an author’s note section to point out the inaccuracies, then that’s fine for me. That means there’s no confusion.
WJD: Any advice for writers just starting on their own writing journey?
CR: Write, write and write, and don’t give up. Write every day and don’t let writer’s block happen. On those days when you’re not inspired to write for your present project, write about something else. Keep in practice.
Thank you, Claire, for taking the time to answer my questions!