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Author Interview: Sharon Kay Penman (page 3)

by Wendy Zollo

Having recently visited Wales for the first time myself I just had to question her about some of the sites and a certain person (and quite the character!), I met in Hay-on-Wye who was utterly enthralled with her beauty!

"Hay-on-Wye is the world capital for book lovers, a small Welsh town that offers unlimited opportunities to buy second-hand or antiquarian books. The Castle Bookshop is one of my favorites, (mine also if I might add, most likely for the same reasons as Sharon's), primarily because of Edward Foreman, the owner. He is a Welsh charmer who invariably heralds my arrival with a loud cry of 'And here's the famous American author!' Sharon obviously makes a rather striking impression on the people she meets; she certainly did with Mr. Forman, who during our moderately lengthy conversation continually expressed his admiration for her work, not to mention the numerous times he told me just how gorgeous she was!

Another favorite of Sharon's is Dolwyddelan Castle. "When I first visited it, I had to park my car off the road, ask at the farmhouse if I could see the castle, and then trudge up the hill, dodging sheep. Today there is a large parking lot, a café, souvenir shop, a well-marked path to the castle, and a display in the keep of the Welsh princes. I know there are those who'd prefer to have kept the castle in its uncommercial isolation. But the changes enable many more people to visit Llewelyn's castle, and I think that matters the most. I am also very fond of Rhaeadr Ewynnol, today's Swallow Falls, which looks much as it did in Llewelyn and Joanna's time - except that now you have to pay 40 pence to view it!"

Moving on from Wales, Penman's next journey was to take on the Plantagenets with When Christ and his Saints Slept, the story of Maude and Stephen's fight for England's throne. Deep and richly evocative, filled with sensitivity and struggle, Saints is also a favorite of many of Sharon's readers.

Then she surprised us by turning her hand to the world of medieval mystery with The Queen's Man and Cruel as the Grave featuring Justin de Quincy, her dashing hero and sage sleuth to Eleanor of Aquitaine. Written in authentic Penman style and steeped darkly with the atmosphere of the era, Sharon discovered another world in which to tangle with her imagination.

Still, it is her historical novels her readers crave. There has been a long wait for Time and Chance, the second in the continuing saga of her current Plantagenet trilogy.

Time and Chance revolves around the relationship between Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine.

"You asked about Henry's quote. We don't know the exact words he used, but no contemporary chroniclers reports it as 'Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?' There are several other versions, all rather similar, in which he complained that there were traitors (or ingrates or drones!) who allowed him to be mocked shamefully by a lowborn priest or clerk. Whatever he said, it was enough to motivate four knights to try and win one for the Gipper. This is one of the best-reported events of the Middle Ages. No less than four eye witnesses wrote about it afterward."

At one point Penman stated she was in serious danger of over-dosing on Thomas Becket!

This just attests to her gift for providing her readers with as much historical accuracy as possible.



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