Nicola Cornick, what prompted you to choose the period that you wrote your first book in?
My very first book was a Regency romance inspired by my enjoyment of Georgette Heyer’s writing more than anything else! However, when I changed genre to write dual-time mysteries, I chose the 17th century, based on the research I had done over many years working as a guide and historian at Ashdown House. Ashdown is a hunting lodge built by the 1st Earl of Craven and originally intended for Elizabeth Stuart, the Winter Queen. Their relationship spanned forty years and the tumultuous period of the Thirty Years War in Europe as well as the English Civil War and the Restoration of King Charles II. There was so much there to inspire me!
What is your approach to researching your novels? Has the process changed over the years?
I start my research for each book by reading around the period and the subject to get a very broad feel for the politics, religion and culture of the era. After that I will focus on the details that relate to the specific story and track down any primary sources I need. This has become a lot easier with the advent of online collections of course, which is great. I also prefer to visit the setting of my books to research in situ if I can. This really helps me connect to the place and its past.
The research I do for the contemporary thread of my dual time books is different and stems from my interest in Public History. There I’m looking at what sort of stories we tell about historical characters in the present and what legends and myths have grown up about them. These I incorporate into the narrative as another layer of history.
Historical fiction is a great introduction to history. Can you recommend any historians to our readers to learn more about your period?
I write across several different periods but mainly Tudor and Stuart. I heartily recommend Nadine Akkerman’s Invisible Agents and her forthcoming biography of Elizabeth Stuart should be equally fascinating. I enjoy Charles Spencer’s books very much whatever the era and I love Ian Mortimer’s Time Traveller’s Guides. They feel light hearted but are packed with extraordinary historical detail. I’ve drawn on them for both of my Tudor-set books, The Phantom Tree and The Forgotten Sister. One of my most interesting reads last year was Michele Schindler’s Lovell Our Dogge: The Life of Viscount Lovell, Closest Friend of Richard III and Failed Regicide. It helped me to shape the historical background to my new book The Last Daughter and threw so much interesting light on the character of Francis Lovell.
What three pieces of advice would you give to a budding historical novelist, looking to write and publish their first book?
Believe in yourself. You need to be self-motivated and persistent. Make sure that you carve out dedicated time to write. Choose a topic you have a passion for because that will bring it to life.
If you could choose to meet any historical figure from your period, who would it be and why?
As a historian there are plenty of historical figures I’d love to meet, but as an author I’d rather preserve the mystery!
When first sketching out an idea for a novel, which comes first – the protagonist, plot or history?
My books are inspired by real historical characters and real historical mysteries so I usually start with the history, plot and protagonist all together. I’ll research the historical framework first; the detail of plot and character will always change and develop as I go along.
Do you have a daily routine as a writer? Also, how important is it to know other writers and have a support network?
I worked a nine to five schedule for fifteen years before I became a writer and I do still try to stick to a structured working day because I helps me to focus. First thing in the morning I will take the dog for a walk as I find I feel creative when I’m walking in nature. Then I will write for the rest of the morning and deal with other writing-related work – social media, interviews, marketing etc – in the afternoon.
I find it very helpful to belong to various different writers’ support networks. Writing is mainly a solitary occupation and it helps to have colleagues who understand the process, pitfalls and high points of a career, who can share market expertise and give advice.
Can you tell us about the project you are working on at the moment?
I’m currently writing a dual time novel set in the present and in the years preceding the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. It focuses on Catherine Catesby, wife of Robert Catesby, and the influence she had on his life and religious beliefs. It’s something of a “what if” book – what might have happened if Catherine had not died at such a tragically young age…