Debut Author Spotlight: Michelle Diener
Name: Michelle Diener
Book: In a Treacherous Court
Current Home: Western Australia.
Favorite Word: Prolific. :)
Author Icons: I think I have too many to choose. No one author stands out as being my inspiration. I've read and absorbed so many books through my life, it would be impossible. Authors that stand out to me? Salman Rushdie, Iain M. Banks, A.S. Byatt, Barbara Kingsolver, Terry Pratchett, Dick Francis, Mary Stewart. But if I thought about it even a few minutes more, I'd come up with another ten.
Inspiration for writing: I can't really say whether I just always was a storyteller, or my early and deep love of reading started me off. All I know is, I wanted to write from the moment I actually COULD write at age 5 or so.
Writing Trick: If I'm stuck, I'll change the room I'm working in. Sometimes I'll work outside on the patio, or move from my study to the lounge. And I switch off the Internet. That seems to help my productivity a lot. :)
Number of manuscripts hidden under the bed: Five. But all is not lost with some of them. They aren't really hidden. Two of them, in any event, are definite contenders for future publication, and the ideas behind at least two of the other three could probably be reworked.
How long did it take you to finish writing In a Treacherous Court? What was the process for selling it? In a Treacherous Court took a year to research and write. I sent out query letters, as you do when you've finished and polished a book, and managed to get agent interest, and take on an agent. She then went on to send the book out to various publishers and I was thrilled when Gallery Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, bought it, and the second book in the series, Keeper of the King’s Secrets.
What first sparked the idea for your book? Did the story go through any major changes throughout the process of writing it? The whole series was inspired by my heroine, Susanna Horenbout, who was a real historical figure, an artist from Ghent, which is in modern-day Belgium. I came across some information on her, and was intrigued enough to dig deeper. What I found out was that she was already an accomplished artist at the age of 18, and that her father, Gerard Horenbout, who was Margaret of Austria's court painter, sent her over to the court of Henry VIII, presumably to work for him, when she was around 22 years old, by herself. I was captivated by the idea of a woman who was exceptional at what she did, but in a profession that was dominated almost entirely by men. And not only that, she would have been in a foreign country and working for one of the most interesting kings of the Renaissance period, Henry VIII. There was most definitely a story there! As for changes - no. In fact, for In a Treacherous Court, there were no revisions at all, only copy edits. The book is almost exactly the same as the one I sent to my agent right at the start.
How did you get to know your main character Susanna Horenbout? There isn't a lot of information on her. But the best sources I found were the art curators and historians Lorne Campbell and Susan Foister. Their extremely detailed article on Susanna, her brother and her father was like gold to me. And interestingly enough, provided me with the most information on Parker, too, my other main protagonist. I'd have been lost, or at least stumbling in the dark, without their meticulous study of Susanna's life - or what they could find of her life. On a less factual note, I tried to put myself in Susanna's shoes by imagining what it would be like to be the only woman in a male-dominated profession, where jealousy and suspicion of your talent was an everyday event. But at the same time, she was not living in an enlightened time in terms of women's rights. So she would have to grit her teeth and bear much of the discrimination. She was also a foreigner in London. I grew up in South Africa and I speak Afrikaans as my second language. Flemish, which Susanna would have spoken as her mother tongue, is similar to Afrikaans and so I would often think of what she would say in Afrikaans and then translate it to give her a slightly foreign cadence of speech.
What are Susanna’s best attributes? What are her failings? Her best attributes are her courage, her warm heart and her intelligence. Her failings, well, perhaps she is a tad too single-minded, and a little inclined to act precipitously.
Henry VIII has been portrayed many times in both nonfiction and fiction works giving readers a varied view of the king. What tactic did you take when crafting his character? I have to admit that I molded Henry VIII quite closely on the way he is portrayed by Alison Weir in her non-fiction book on Henry VIII, Henry VIII: A King and His Court. I did not think he was evil or good, but rather a man who had grown up knowing he wielded great power, and wanting to keep hold of that power. In In a Treacherous Court he has a very soft spot for my hero, Parker, and that fits with what we know of him. He was capable of great generosity, and great cruelty, of rage and kindness. Weir sets out a good argument for her views of him, with plenty of primary source evidence to back herself up, and I've gone with that.
The king's life is at stake due to an assassination plot. Leaders throughout time have faced similar issues. Could you story have taken place at any other time then in the Tutor Court? Oooh! This is a great question. Most assuredly, it could. Although, part of the problem the characters face in the book in the lack of communication they have. Today, with our cell phones, computers and instant means of getting news, it is a different game. And in Henry's case, his rival is someone he rightly fears, because this person actually has a legitimate claim to the throne.
(Minus any spoilers) What is your favorite scene from In a Treacherous Court? I've been asked this before, and I'll stick with my original choice. My favorite scene is when Parker, who does not like to ask for favours or be in anyone's debt, is forced to ask a favour in front of a lot of other people. He grits his teeth and does it, because to not get what he wants at that point is unthinkable to him.
Can you share a detail from the manuscript you are working on right now? I turned in the revisions for book 2, Keeper of the King’s Secrets, yesterday and I'll just say that it includes a very interesting French assassin.