Monday, February 13, 2012

Interview with Anne Clinard Barnhill

Last week I read Anne Clinard Barnhill's exploration of Anne Boleyn's reign in her novel At the Mercy of the Queen. Inspired by her real-life ancestors and her interest in the Tudors, her first novel is a coming-of-age story in a time and place fraught with dangers.  I'm excited to share my interview with her; read on the learn more about her, her writing, and what she does when she's not writing!  (Plus, there's another opportunity to win a copy of her book!)

What was the plot of your very first piece of fiction?

Oh my, that's a tough one--I've been telling stories since I was quite young. I'd say my very first story was about a young girl who discovers an old ring in the farmland surrounding her new Virginia home, takes it home, cleans it up and begins to wear it. As she wears it, she begins to change--she stays in her room, reading about history, particularly the Civil War. She dresses strangely, in longer and longer skirts. The ring haunts her and her identity becomes confused with that of the original owner. Basically, a ghost story.

Do you have any writing rituals or routines?

Absolutely! I try to walk everyday and eat healthy foods, especially when in the middle of a book. Though AT THE MERCY OF THE QUEEN is my first novel, it's not my first book. In 2007, I wrote a memoir, AT HOME IN THE LAND OF OZ: Autism, My Sister and Me, which Fred Chappell called "a story filled with suspense, humor, empathy, frustration, triumph and heartbreak--her words will go to the heart of every reader." For that book, I ate a lot of fruits and veggies, staying away from sugar and white flour. I have this strange sense that when I write, I need to be in the best possible shape, mentally, spiritually and physically.

In 2009, my short story collection, WHAT YOU LONG FOR, came out, "a cause for celebration" according to Julianna Baggott. Before I even began writing those stories, I played three, and only three, games of 'spider solitaire' on my computer. If I go beyond my limit, I fritter away the whole morning!
To get into the right spiritual/emotional frame of mind, I meditate and write in my journal--venting all the negative emotions so that the stories can come out unfettered. While I was writing AT THE MERCY OF THE QUEEN, I surrounded myself with research materials--literally. I would read before bed and then sleep with the books, hoping I'd absorbed and retain the knowledge by osmosis! I prefer writing in the mornings from about 8:30 until around 1:00 or 2:00 in the afternoon. Then, I do the domestic duties required, walk, read for pleasure, etc. I'm not nearly as compulsive as all this makes me sound. I struggle to maintain any semblance of routine.

Was At the Mercy of the Queen: A Novel of Anne Boleyn the original title of your book?

No, I had called it 'The Queen's Whore' but the editor didn't like that. I'm very happy with the title as it now stands. The other title sounds a bit harsh.

As you were writing At the Mercy of the Queen, was there a particular scene or character that surprised you?

I'm always surprised by one character or another--I hadn't expected Arthur Brandon to show up on the page, but there he was, cocky and sexy and handsome. And he wouldn't go away. He kept popping up, demanding my attention. He sort of took over as the romantic lead--not what I'd thought would happen. But this is my first attempt at historical fiction--I have a lot to learn about this genre.

According to your website, you're working on a second novel set in Tudor England. What about the Tudors or that era grabs you?

I've always been a Tudor fan, or obsessed might be a better word. I am not sure there is any one thing that grabs me--as a lover of Shakespeare's plays, I very much enjoy the language and the drama of the age. If a writer wrote a story that followed all the stuff that happened in the Tudor court, no one would believe it. But because it's history, we know it happened and it's just chocked full of all the good emotions for a riveting story: passion, love, jealousy, ambition, betrayal--and, since it is the beginning of the modern age, we have much in common with that time--struggles with religion, struggles with gender identity (think of Shakespeare and al l those cross-dressing characters) struggles with human rights versus the powers that be. It's all there and it's all here, too.

When you’re not writing, what do you like to do?

I love to read and hike in the woods. Enjoy dancing when I can get my husband to agree--not often! I like ballet and the symphony and scouring consignment stores to find really great deals and unusual stuff.

Read any good books recently?

Right now, I'm reading Sere Prince Halverson's The Underside of Joy, which I am really loving. Just finished The Iguana Tree by Michel Stone which is not yet out--I'm reading that one for review. Also just finished Marilyn Robinson's Home and Alison Weir's Mary Boleyn: Mistress of Kings. I have a huge stack by my bed of books clamoring to be read! I enjoyed The Crown by Nancy Bilyeau--also set in Tudor times.

*** *** ***

My thanks to Ms. Barnhill for her time and answers. You can learn more about her at her website, and follow her on Twitter. Check out the blog tour for At the Mercy of the Queen and follow along on Twitter: #MercyOfTheQueenVIrtualTour.


I'm thrilled to be able to offer a copy of At the Mercy of the Queen to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/CA readers, ends 3/2.


  1. Nice interview :)
    I hope you get your husband to dance more often ;)

  2. I would have loved to read the story about the ring and the Civil War. That sounds excellent. Great interview today!

  3. I like her book recommendations and I would love to read that ghost story she wrote...a ring that haunts a girl and the civil war...those are the types of civil war books I'd read.

  4. I enjoyed this interview a lot. the ghost story sounds neat!

  5. I love hearing about characters that just pop up and even though not planed they take over the novel. I think it is so strange! Great interview questions.