Livi Michael has written four books for adults and began to write for children in 2000 when she wanted to amuse her seven-year-old son over the summer holidays. She started writing when she was seven years old and never stopped! If she hadn’t been a writer Livi thinks she would have been ‘a very sad person or, alternatively, an Arctic explorer’. The Frank titles are special for their humour and originality and appeal hugely to readers of fantasy fiction as well as to animal-lovers.
Succession (Book description)
Succession tells the extraordinary tale of Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII, and how she became one of the most formidable women of her age. 1444. Henry VI is married by proxy to Margaret of Anjou: an unpopular choice that causes national uproar. At the same time, the infant Margaret Beaufort is made a great heiress after her father, the Earl of Somerset’s, death. Everyone at court is competing to be her guardian: she brings with her the Beaufort fortune and an advantageous alliance with her uncle. In the years that follow, English rule in France collapses, Henry VI goes insane, civil war erupts, and families are pitted against each other. And though Margaret Beaufort is still little more than a child, by the age of thirteen she has married twice and given birth to her only son – the future King of England. Succession tells the thrilling, bloody story of the fall of the House of Lancaster and the rise of the Tudor dynasty. Livi Michael has published four novels for adults: Under a Thin Moon which won the Arthur Welton award in 1992, Their Angel Reach which won the Faber prize in 1995, All the Dark Air (1997) which was short-listed for the Mind Award, and Inheritance, which won a Society of Authors award. Livi has two sons and lives in Greater Manchester. She teaches literature part-time at the Manchester Metropolitan University and has been a senior lecturer in creative writing at Sheffield Hallam University.
When I first started this book I have to admit to some concern. I had just finished some fairly well proportioned books that were heavy going. I needed something engaging, initially the style seemed so alien it didn’t work for me. But all of a sudden it clicked and the book took on its own life.
The characters are not just whole, rounded and alive, their emotions pour off the pages. The lives of the great women of the day, from the Duchess of York, a lady who stood up to an army, down to the youngest of girls (eg: Margaret Beaufort), married to great men of their day for property, position, power, and future power; lineage is everything. It can only be this trial by fire from a young age that tempers them into the strongest of steel; and then the power behind their respective men. Its very easy to overlook these women in history, the books i was taught as a child were very male orientated. But clearly in their day, you over looked these women at your peril.
Its this teaching angle that i think is the true power of this book. Every now and again an author comes along that leaves me thinking “I wish you had been my history teacher”. Once again this is the case, this book has elements of the text book about it with its chronicle excerpts, this though mixed with the fictional element makes for (in my humble opinion) a powerful teaching tool. I think books and teaching like this can and would capture the imagination of many children, fire their enthusiasm and educate where other styles had failed.
This book has left me thoroughly entertained and educated, and wanting more, what more could i ask for from an author of historical fiction.
Many thanks for agreeing to answer a few questions:
1) What led you to choose this period?
In April 2007 I was doing some research at Manchester Cathedral . In the roof of the cathedral there are 14 stone angels, each playing a different medieval instrument. They were said to have been donated by Margaret Beaufort.
I had never heard of Margaret Beaufort. I began to look into her, just out of curiosity, but the more I found out the more fascinated I became. The details of her life are extraordinary. She was married three times before she was 15 and gave birth to her only son at the age of 13, (who, on an unlikely chance, became King of England). By the end of her life she was the most powerful woman in the country, a patron of education and the arts who was herself a writer. Also, as the mother of Henry VII she was the founder of the Tudor dynasty. People have been interested in the Tudors for a long time, but they didn’t just come out of nowhere, and the story of where they did come from is fascinating. It’s an epic tale of the birth of a nation, or at least of a recognisably modern England, and it has all the elements of high drama – conflict, heroism, love & betrayal, violence and idealism.
2) The book is a very interesting (dare i say unique) style, how did this come about? was it deliberate from the start of writing? or did it evolve?
History is full of extraordinary stories. The main challenge for the novelist is to do justice to them. There was so much material! Margaret Beaufort lived through the reigns of six kings, and the period of bloody civil war now known as the Wars of the Roses. In her lifetime, the concept of the world, and in fact the universe, changed. England changed from medieval feudalism to a recognisably modern society. She herself was instrumental in that change.
How to convey all, or any, of that?
This is where the medieval chronicles came in – contemporary accounts of life as it was lived then. Initially I read about Margaret Beaufort in modern books but these all referred to the chronicles and I was increasingly convinced that I needed to go back to the original sources. Then once I started to read them I was hooked. They are so vivid, personal, partisan, sometimes scurrilous – and they really convey the spirit of the time.
I don’t believe that 21st century novelists can truly convey the spirit of the 15th century. They run the risk of sounding artificial, or of overloading their narrative with the research.
I became interested in the difference between the chronicles and the contemporary novel: one is focussed almost exclusively on events and action, the other, potentially at least, offers a more intimate exploration of individual feelings and motivation. The chronicles seem to have been written by and about men – women feature peripherally if at all, – but the novel allows us to reimagine the lives of the women concerned. The two different kinds of narrative seemed to me to complement one another rather well. And the chronicle extracts allowed me to cut through large swathes of complex history – without them the book might have been 5 times longer than it is!
So now Succession is substantially my own narrative interspersed by chronicle extracts. It should be obvious which bits I’ve made up – which I know is sometimes a problem for readers. Hopefully the relationship between the two kinds of writing might generate a new way of reading historical fiction.
3) I have personally read 3 books in this period this year, and each portrays the major personalities in their own unique voice, how did you develop the personalities of Henry, Suffolk, Margaret, York etc?
Interestingly, although the chronicles don’t focus on the interior world of their characters at all, personality traits do shine through. So the Duke of York, for instance, comes across as a capable commander, but someone who did not go into war lightly, especially against his king. Most of the chronicles portray Henry VI as a deeply religious, possibly holy man, but some of the writers evidently see him as a fool. It seemed to me that the two things weren’t necessarily incompatible – he was neither worldly nor aggressive enough to rule. These days he would probably be diagnosed as suffering from a mental illness. Margaret of Anjou is warrior-like, and much defamed, but now we can see that she did have a lot to put up with, and Margaret Beaufort comes across as tough, shrewd, pious and ascetic. It’s all there really!
4) If you had been a player in the times, which side would you have backed? (removing your knowledge of victory).
When I first started Succession I didn’t think I had a bias. My family is almost exactly divided between Yorkshire and Lancashire & I have always lived on the borders of these two counties. In some ways the House of York is more colourful. But I do feel that the Lancastrians have had a bad press, even though they were ultimately successful. Henry VII, for instance, gets far less attention than either Edward IV, or Richard III, and certainly than his own son, Henry VIII, but he really laid the foundations of everything that followed. Henry VI is remembered, if at all, for being mad or feeble, and the chronicles have nothing good to say about Margaret of Anjou. Margaret Beaufort tends to be portrayed as a shrewish ascetic, ruthless and manipulative. I just think their stories are more interesting than that.
If I’d been a player at the time, though, who I supported would have depended on family connections, or whose retainer I was, or, if I was ambitious, what I thought I might get out of it!
5) What’s next for your writing skills?
Well I will certainly be writing the sequel to Succession – which will take a similar form and follow the characters through to the Battle of Bosworth. I do have other ideas for the future, but this is taking up all my time and energy at the moment.
6) Right its soap box time…. sell your book to the readers, give us the blurb for the jacket in your own words… so in your best Del Boy….
This is what my son said about it:
Folks, my Mum’s latest book is out this week – her magnum opus! As accurate a telling of that rollercoaster of English history, the Wars of The Roses (pt1), as you’ll find! Begun long before the current spate of similar novels on bookstore shelves, it’s had more incarnations than there were Kings of England between 1455 and 1485, and it’s finally arrived, in Tudor-like grandeur!
7) And a bit of fun; you have a dinner party and can invite anyone from history, pick the top 4, who and why?
I would certainly invite Margaret Beaufort. For one thing it would be wonderful to have her perspective on events and especially to learn the truth about what did happen to the Princes in the Tower. I have my own take on that of course!
I remember being asked this question a long time before I’d even heard of Margaret Beaufort, and I said Elizabeth I then – her great granddaughter. They have a lot in common – both sharp independent women who knew everything there was to know about politics and the arts. I think they’d make an interesting combination. Especially in view of the religious upheaval brought about by Henry VIII – they might have opposing views on that.
Karl Marx, just to give us a slightly different perspective on royalty…
And possibly Simone Veil 20th century Jewish, later Christian mystic. So we’d have the main fields of politics, religion, philosophy and the arts covered.
I’m sure we’d be too busy arguing to eat!
many thanks again, and i hope the book is a great success.