This post was originally published on The Writing Desk.
The sixteenth century French court dazzles on the surface. But beneath its glitter, danger lurks for those caught up in its flux. Based on actual historical events and characters, this riveting story will keep you turning the pages until the end. It is also a timeless tale of envy, power and intrigue pitted against loyalty and the strength of women’s friendships.
I’m pleased to welcome author Keira Morgan to The Writing Desk: Tell us about your latest book.
Set in the sixteenth century French court, The Importance of Pawns is based on real historical events and characters. It pits envy, power and intrigue against loyalty and the strength of women’s friendships. The French court dazzles on the surface, but beneath its glitter, danger lurks for the three women trapped in its web. The story begins as Queen Anne lies dying and King Louis’s health is in declines. Their two daughters, Claude and young Renée, are heiresses to the rich duchy of Brittany, and they become pawns in the games of power.
When Anne accepts she is dying, she knows she must choose a guardian for her girls. She names Countess Louise d’Angoulême who has envied the dying queen for years. Because of Louise’s family’s dire financial problems, she schemes to marry wealthy Claude to her son. This unexpected guardianship presents her with a golden opportunity, but only if she can remove the girls’ protectress Baronne Michelle, who loves the princesses and safeguards their interests.
As political tensions rise, the futures of Princess Renée and Baronne hang in the balance, threatened by Countess Louise’s hidden plots. Timid Claude, although fearful of her mother-in-law, must untangle the treacherous intrigues Countess Louise is weaving. Claude and her friends encounter one roadblock after another as they contrive to outflank the wily countess. Their goal is to protect young Princess Renée.
As the crisis nears, faced with frightening consequences, Claude struggles to overcome her fears and find the courage she needs to defend those she loves.
What is your preferred writing routine?
On a practical level, I prefer to write in the mornings until we eat at midday. In Mexico we have comida, the main meal of the day, between 2:00 and 2:30 p.m. If I have other writing related tasks, I take care of them after comida. Otherwise, I run errands, visit friends or relax, read or whatever. During these times of the pandémia, my activities occur via internet and Zoom or some similar application.
I write an outline before I start my first draft. I mix writing and research. Although this may not be efficient, it is part of my process. Say I start a scene having decided that my character will take a walk through the market in Blois. I could make a note that says, ‘check the names and routes from the Château to the centre of town or marketplace c. 1500.’ Sometimes I do. But usually, I search the internet there and then for the information.
In the process I will probably stumble upon images of French village markets, schemata, maps or pictures of various medieval or Renaissance city centres and other bits and pieces. These images and details feed my visual imagination so even if I don’t find the exact facts I am searching for, I develop a picture of the scene — the sounds, sights and smells my character would encounter, the topography of the area and the feeling of the ground underfoot.
When I return to the page, the setting for the scene has come alive. The words usually words flow more smoothly as I settle into the character.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Take formal writing classes and join your local writer’s association. Take part in a writing group and get accustomed to letting other people critique your stories. Attend writing conferences — they don’t have to be the big expensive ones, but the nearby local ones. The idea is to write, to practice writing, to show your writing to others, to learn from others, to see yourself as a writer and most of all to develop the thick skin necessary to keep on improving.
You are not your writing, just as you are not your sewing project or the bread you bake or anything else you do. But at first, for most writers, our work feels like a part of ourselves or at the very least our first-born child. Speaking for myself, it was only when I could see my words as separate from my being that I could hear and accept the feedback that allowed me to improve my craft.
What have you found to be the best way to raise awareness of your books?
Well, as a newly published author of my first book, this is a topic I am actively exploring. I am not ready to make any judgments yet. One thing I have concluded, though. Acting like a hermit or a prima donna and waiting for the world to come to you is not an effective strategy.
Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research.
My most exciting and satisfying discovery was an error in the historical record. Historians who believe that Michelle de Soubise was dismissed in 1515 are wrong. Since most people don’t consider the fact important enough to do original research, they simply quote the historian who wrote the original article. So, the misinformation spreads and spreads.
If I had still been working on my thesis, I could probably have turned that finding into a whole dissertation. As it was, I wrote a post about it that perhaps five people have read. Maybe one day I will post it to academia.edu. But it gave me the idea for the conclusion for my novel, and that was enough for me. In fact, it was a breakthrough.
What was the hardest scene you remember writing?
The hardest scene to write and to get right was the bedding scene between François and Claude. There were so many elements that made it challenging. It was such an alien situation: being an innocent fifteen-year-old royal virgin on my wedding night, accepting as normal that I had a duty to perform with witnesses in the room.
It took a lot of digging inside myself before I could imagine what Claude might have felt during her preparations for the bedding, during her entry into the enormous chilly bedchamber, and while being stared at by the assembled court during the public blessing ceremony. I wondered how she felt as she lay there reflecting on her cheerless wedding, replete with mourning symbols for her beloved and recently deceased mother. I rewrote that scene so many times I lost count. Fortunately, my relentless writing partner would not let me get away with anything less than putting my tearing my heart open again and again until she told me she believed the emotions in the scene.
What are you planning to write next?
I have started my next novel. It doesn’t have a title yet, but I have bits and pieces written. It will be a prequel to this one, a word that offends me as a language purist, although it serves a useful purpose.
When I finished The Innocence of Pawns, the novel had left me with several questions. In the story, Anne made Louise guardian to her precious girls despite their enmity. Why, I wondered, would she do that? And how had their enmity come about? What events had occurred for it to become so deep and rancorous? When and how had Baronne Michelle become so important in Queen Anne’s life? And, if François was the heir to the throne, why was his family so poor? These are the questions that underlie my next novel.
The chief characters are the young Anne, Michelle and Louise. They are already actual people to me, and I know their past almost as well as I know my own. My factual historical research is complete. Now I am working on the plot outline.