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Author Interview: Sharon Kay Penman

by Wendy Zollo

Sharon Kay Penman, the author of Sunne in Splendour, the Welsh trilogy beginning with Here Be Dragons and two Justin de Quincy mysteries is one of the most poetic and accurate of historical novelists.

She majored in History at the University of Texas and has a Juris Doctor Degree from Rutgers School of Law. She practiced corporate and tax law for four years. No longer a practicing attorney, she has this to say about her former vocation. "Yes, I have left the profession of law, thank Heaven. I looked upon that as penance for my sins: past, present, and future. I always wanted to write; I just never expected that I could earn any money at it. So there was no choice to be made. When the opportunity arose, I pounced upon it."

Sharon was already captivated by the myths adjoining Richard III during her short career in Law that led to the writing of Sunne in Splendor, her first published work. "I stumbled onto a revisionist history of Richard III while in college. This particular book held him responsible for the deaths of his nephews - the Little Princes in the Tower - but acquitted him of other crimes he has been saddled with by Shakespeare and the Tudor historians. Until then, I'd accepted the traditionalist view of Richard as evil incarnate, and this new image of him as a decent man, who'd nevertheless committed a reprehensible crime, aroused my curiosity. If he were Shakespeare's bottled spider, it is not surprising he murdered his nephews. It would have been surprising if he hadn't! But if he had been a man of honor prior to taking the crown, what had pushed him over the edge of that ethical divide?"

"I wanted to find out more about him," Ms. Penman continued, "and soon discovered - to my amazement and indignation - that his was the classic case of history being rewritten by the victor."

"I spent a few weeks cornering my friends and telling them about the injustice done to this long-dead English king. I got the same reaction from one and all. They'd mumble 'Richard who?' and their eyes would start to glaze over and then they would edge away. So to save what was left of my social life, I decided I needed another outlet for all my Ricardian outrage, and this eventually led to Sunne."

Ms. Penman did exhaustive research into Richard III, gaining assistance from many libraries in both the States and England and the US branch of the Richard the Third Society and its parent organization in the UK. She also spent some months in York, living and discovering Richard's universe.

Some of her readers have described Sunne in Splendor as one of the most vivid books they've ever read. They were enthralled with the rich tapestry of events and the interpersonal relationships interwoven into the plot. One of her many fans had this to say, "I just feel at home with Penman's characters and their world, sharing in their joys and tragedies."


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