Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Interview with Michelle Diener

Last month I gorged myself on Michelle Diener's Tudor series featuring a Flemish painter and her courtier husband: In a Treacherous Court, Keeper of the King's Secrets, and the newest novel, In Defense of the Queen.  While I still need to write reviews of the first two, I wrote a rather swoon-y review of In Defense of the Queen and I'm still sighing over our hero and heroine.  I'm delighted to share my second interview with Michelle Diener, who talks about the source of her heroine, some details about this newest book, and what she's been reading recently.  Enjoy!

Was In Defense of the Queen the original title of your book?

It wasn't :). In the very beginning, the first book in my series was entitled Illuminations, not In a Treacherous Court. But after the ARCs had already been printed, my publisher decided Illuminations didn't tell the reader enough about the content of the book. It worked as a title, because my heroine is an illuminator and artist, and she uncovers a conspiracy, but they were right, that was only meaningful if you'd actually read the book, not beforehand. So before the change, all the titles were different, one word titles similar to Illuminations. But once we had In a Treacherous Court, the other books had to change title, too. And I like In Defense of the Queen way better.

Where did the character of Susanna Horenbout, the court artist, come from? Is she inspired by a real figure?

She is a real figure! She was my inspiration for the whole series. I stumbled across a reference to her, and was completely captivated by the idea of a woman artist at Henry's court. Art historians had previously focused on her very famous father and brother, but then a marriage register came to light that showed Susanna married John Parker, one of Henry's courtiers, at least a year before her brother came to work at Henry's court. The inference must be that she was sent to work for Henry ahead of Lucas, her brother, but the records for that no longer exist. She was given a golden cup one Christmas by Henry for help offered the throne, and he sent her, as one of his court who spoke Flemish, to accompany Anne of Cleves to England for her marriage to Henry. She was a respected member of the Tudor court, and I am so sorry we don't have more information on her. There is one piece of art that art historians are more or less convinced is by her, a plaque, commemorating Susanna's mother. You can find it at All Saint's Church in Fulham. On Susanna's death, a number of Italian master painters commemorated her as one of the finest illuminators of her time. Which means she was working as an artist for many years. It's an unbelievable loss that we don't know what work she did. In the books I have her working on a number of portraits (her brother, Lucas Horenbout, is credited with being the artist who brought the art of the miniature portrait to England) and even based what she's working on on real paintings and drawings that are not attributed to anyone. And one illumination I describe her working on in Keeper of the King's Secrets was originally attributed to Lucas Horenbout, but it confused art historians because it was done before he was officially in England, and I think it is at least possible, given that Lucas and Susanna were trained together under their father, Gerard, that it was by her, instead. She was certainly in England at the time it was created.

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

The scene with Jean when he grabs her in the Tower. I really didn't know which was it would go. There had been an underlying tension between them in Keeper of the King's Secrets which went beyond the obvious conflict they had. I felt then that Jean was drawn to her sexually, but was professional enough to set that aside and get on with his job. But when he's finally off the leash, as he is in In Defense of the Queen, he has no such constraints. Obviously, Susanna was always going to reject him, but I wasn't sure until I was writing the scene whether he would broach the topic or not.

This is the third book featuring Susanna Horenbout and John Parker. Had you intended to write a series when you started? Has the series progressed as you expected?

When I wrote In a Treacherous Court, it was most definitely as a stand alone. But then my agent read it and told me I couldn't stop there. And I realized she was right. I don't think I had any expectations. I just knew there was a lot of material I could use, and I have thoroughly enjoyed researching this fascinating time to come up with credible historical facts to fuel my imaginary plots.

I interviewed you in April of this year and you shared you like to bake when you're not writing. Was there a particular recipe, meal, or baked good you associate with your time writing this book?

Orange and almond muffins. Orange tarts were one of Henry's favorite dishes and I always seem to think of baking with oranges when I write my Susanna and Parker books. I think I also made some orange marmalade.

Read any good books recently?

Yes, a really fun cozy mystery novel by debut author Laura Morrigan. It's called Woof at the Door. It's about animal behaviourist and vet Grace Wilde, who gets caught up in a murder investigation. The only thing is Grace has always been able to talk to animals, Dr. Doolittle style, and the only witness to the murder is the murdered man's Doberman. I really loved it. Laura is not only a writer, she's my cover artist, and she skilfully negotiated getting my cover out for my release day with her own debut book release.

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My thanks to Ms. Diener for her time. You can learn more about her and her books by checking out her website, or connecting with her on Facebook and Twitter.


  1. I am so glad you continued Michelle :)

  2. I love how Michelle's characters inspire her baking choices. How fun!