The heroine of this novel is a novice at the time of the Norman Conquest. How did you find her character?
Since I spent my schooldays in a convent in the wilds of Yorkshire, I suspect that some of the inspiration may have come from there. One of the main themes of the novel is innocence. This story needed a heroine who had very little experience of men and Cecily, having been sent to St Anne’s convent when very young, is a total innocent. That is her weakness, but also it is the source of her strength, and it is one of the things that attracts the hero to her. Cecily is no cipher. In the convent she finds it a struggle to follow the nuns’ Rule to the letter and she is often doing penance for her sins. Convent life was harsh, but then life was harsh for almost everyone in the eleventh century. What makes St Anne’s particularly hard for Cecily as a novice is that she does not have a true vocation. A life ordered by bells is not for her, and when the chance comes for her to leave the convent she seizes it, even though it means alienating the mother superior. I feel I should add that none of the sisters at my school resembled either Cecily or Mother Aethelflaeda – the characters sprang into my head fully formed when I was developing the novel!
The hero of this novel is Breton, not Norman. Did many Bretons come over with Duke William at the time of the conquest?
Yes, footsoldiers and knights came from all over France to offer Duke William their service before he left for England. (Brittany is the neighbouring duchy to Normandy.) The Breton cavalry was feared throughout Europe, it was famous for its wild charges and startling battle tactics – which sometimes included faking a retreat and then swirling round to bear down on the enemy when they were in disarray. The horsemanship of the Breton knights was second to none, and the hero’s name, Wymark – means ‘worthy of a horse’. Sir Adam was not born to his title, he earned it the hard way, by working his way up through the ranks.
Do you spend much time choosing your characters’ names?
It is a vital part of the research and character development. I love choosing names for my characters, both first and last names. People did not have surnames in the eleventh century as we do today, but they were often given second names to help distinguish them one from another. These last names might be earned as Adam’s was earned, thanks to his skills as a knight. Lady Cecily’s second name Fulford, simply refers to the name of her village, so place names were used too. I guess my own name of Townend must mean that at some time my ancestors must have lived in a house at the end of the town! Sometimes a person’s character might give them a name, such as Eadric the Wild or Alfred the Great. At other times names of occupation might be used, like Eustace the Monk, or Rosamund Miller. Over the centuries, some of our surnames have developed from these names. Proudfoot, Steward, Falco…names are intriguing. Of course the first name is equally important, it must have the right resonance for the character to ‘take’ on the page. As a writer, the novel just doesn’t start to come together properly until the names are right.
On the Cover Blurb it says Wessex Weddings - is this novel one of a series?
The Novice Bride is a stand-alone novel, but it is the first in a mini-series which looks at the effect of the Norman Conquest on various characters in both England and France. In Anglo-Saxon times Wessex, with the city of Winchester at its centre, was at the heart of England. The action in this novel mainly takes place in and around Winchester. The layout of the centre of Winchester - around the Cathedral - is much the same today as it was in the eleventh century. Of course there have been changes, but a visit to the museum just off the Cathedral Close points up the similarities. There is a scale model of Winchester in 1066 and you can see the street layout, exactly as it would have been in Cecily and Adam’s time. My husband took a picture of the model, which came in most useful when Cecily was running up and down the town, trying to hide from Adam. Here is a picture of another model at the Museum, of later in the eleventh century. You can see the Cathedral in the centre. Again the street layout is much the same, but this second model is useful because it shows the Norman castle that was built soon after the Conquest. (The brownish area at the bottom left.) You won’t be surprised if characters in other Wessex Weddings stories – such as An Honourable Rogue and His Captive Lady - find themselves passing through these streets…
Here is the cover for the Australian three book edition of The Novice Bride, An Honorable Rogue and His Captive Lady. The editors have chosen the cover that was used for the UK edition of His Captive Lady.