One of our picks for the Best Young Adult Books of May is Katherine Longshore's spellbinding historical novel, Gilt, set in the court of notorious King Henry the VIII. When Catherine Howard catches the King's eye and brings her best friend Kitty along, the girls are drawn into a world of castle intrigue and glamour that is both exhilarating and dangerous. We wanted to know more about this debut novelist and how she came to write Gilt so we sent her some questions and she was kind enough to answer them in this exclusive Q&A--you can see the rest after the jump.
Q: I was surprised to discover that many of the characters in Gilt were real people who had lived during Henry VIII’s reign. What drew you to this story?
A: I fell in love with the Tudor court many years ago, though I tried to avoid seeing it through a Hollywood lens. It was a time of glamour and courtly romance, but also of dubious hygiene. Hollywood might have us believe that everything was elegant and precious and clean – a fairy tale. I wanted to dig a little deeper and find a story about a world in which a real, flawed girl could aspire to be Queen of England – even if it meant marrying a man forty years her elder and of questionable health and character. Henry was not a Prince Charming. But by the same token, Catherine was not a Princess and the Pea. History is not made by perfect people, and it certainly wasn’t inhabited by them. I wanted to discover – and hopefully portray – something that felt real.
Q: The lives of Henry VIII and Catherine Howard are already very well-documented. How did you go about researching their lives? How did you incorporate the historical records of their lives into this story?
A: I started off my research by reading the popular biographies and histories written by Alison Weir, David Starkey, and Antonia Fraser. These are the books that fed my interest in Tudor history in the first place, that brought the world to life for me. When I decided to write about Catherine in particular, I discovered the fabulous A Tudor Tragedy (now republished as Catherine Howard) by Lacey Baldwin Smith. To dig deeper into specific dates and places, I used the Letters and Papers of Henry VIII that have been transcribed and paraphrased online. These are the contemporary accounts of the actual events, including the notes written up by Kitty’s interrogators. Because these stories are so full of detail and are already so focused on the salacious minutiae, it was easy to incorporate them into fiction. My job was to place myself into the character's shoes, and try to imagine what might compel a person to do and say these things. What kind of girl would cheat on a husband who had her cousin beheaded for adultery? How do you get into that mindset? I needed to create a character who could believably make that choice.