Thursday 16 July 2015


I am very pleased to welcome to my blog the talented historical fiction author, Carol McGrath.

Carol is the author of The Daughters of Hastings trilogy, the first two of which have been hugely successful, the third is sure to do equally well when released later this year.

I believe you are currently working on the edits of the third novel in The Daughters of Hastings trilogy, The Betrothed Sister. Please tell us a bit about this book. Can it be read in isolation, or do you need to read the other books first?

The Betrothed Sister is the story of an exiled princess and how she made a brilliant marriage into the Kiev Rus royal family. Thea (Gytha, eldest daughter of King Harold) first travels with her grandmother to Denmark and exile after the Normans enforce regime change on England. The marriage is not brokered with ease. There are impediments such as jealous Danish princesses, an enemy in Russia in the form of a lady courtier, culture differences between Thea and her beloved prince and dangers from within and without the Rus kingdom. Yes, it can absolutely be read as a stand-alone novel. The other books can also be read out of order. They are about different women in the family. Collectively they show The Norman Conquest and its aftermath from the point of view of aristocratic women. I feel this book is my best. It required particular research in Oxford’s Slavonic Studies Library, informed imaginative writing and has ended up as a thrilling fast paced story.

When is The Betrothed Sister due for release?

It is done and dusted and beautifully edited too with a gorgeous map and family trees. There will now be pre publicity. It will go to selected reviewers and so on. The release date is 22nd October and it is already up for pre-order on amazon.

I am now working on a one off novel set in a later period before returning to the Middle Ages.

When did you decide to become a writer? Did you know that historical fiction would be your genre from the beginning? Did you dabble in any other styles of fiction? Would you consider other genres in the future?

It happened. I have an article in the current Writing Magazine explaining this. I always wrote stories and I always loved history. I studied History at University as my subsidiary subject and English and Russian Studies for my main degree. I taught History at high School level. I have written contemporary short stories. I wrote a lot once for my MA portfolio. I just have never done anything about publishing them.  That was a decade ago. I went onto a PhD programme which I entered at MPhil, though I was told at viva stage that the thesis was of PhD standard and length. However, I just had had enough of Academia and wanted to get on with writing and publishing novels.  I had a publisher for The Handfasted Wife and so rather than fuss around with further thesis edits I wrote the other two books.

Why the 11th century? Did you consider writing in any other historical period? Would you consider it? If so, what other period/place interests you most?

The 11th century was inspired by my fascination with embroidery and The Bayeux Tapestry and the more I delved the more interested I became. My main interest is women’s lives in different periods, but particularly during periods of societal change. I had studied medieval history for my degree but I have studied other periods in depth also, especially the 17thC.  At the moment I am writing a novel set in the early Tudor period. It concerns the cloth trade and a Tudor lady. I shall say no more. It is still in the planning and research stage. I hope you will be surprised Matthew. After that I am back to the High Middle Ages. I also have a bottom drawer Edwardian novel which needs attention and I have a two time novel stowed away which is set in the Second World War and in the nineteen seventies and was inspired by something that happened to my mother during the war.  So no, I am not always going to write medieval novels.

Have there been any surprises for you while writing The Daughters of Hastings series?

Oh yes. I thought I had imagined that Edith Swan-Neck escaped from that burning house shown on The Bayeux Tapestry with her son Ulf. In fact, other Tapestry historians have had this theory, in particular Andrew Bridgeford. I also found out what happened to Ulf whom I describe as ‘a stolen child’ in the novels. The real story is to be discovered in The Chronicle of John of Worcester written close to the events. For these novels I have explored every primary source available, even in Latin! I use Oxford’s Bodleian Library and sometimes Jstor, an online journal resource. The other surprise was when I was contacted by the daughter of Dr Watkiss who translated The Waltham Chronicle who said that she loved The Handfasted Wife. She said her father would have loved it. Descendants of the Godwin boys contact me, not necessarily claiming they are really directly descended from this family, but telling me their family stories. My favourite has a skald who was a close retainer of the family, loyal and who helped the surviving women.  Importantly, when I wrote The Handfasted Wife I had no idea that it would find its readers but it certainly has. That is so appreciated, dear readers, if you see this interview.

Are you glad you chose to write about real historical characters, or would you rather have written about unknown/fictional characters in the historical period? Why have you answered as you have?

I like writing about women who actually existed and whose stories never really come to light. I like writing biographical fiction and shall continue to do so for now. Women in history are shadowy and I love the challenge of giving them a voice. I research deeply around the period, find snippets about their lives and use my imagination alongside research to piece together the known fragments.

What writer or book has had the biggest influence on your work?

Dr Zhivago by Boris Pasternak has had a great influence on my writing. I re-read it from time to time.

What are the best and worst things about being a writer?

I feel I have to discipline myself to work at it. The best thing is finding readers who enjoy the books. The hard thing is marketing. Authors are expected to do so much of this even with a good publisher behind them.

What is the best book you've read in the last twelve months?

Now there is that novel I loved called The Serpent Sword (Matthew: The cheque is in the post!) but I have loved reading Vanora Bennett’s Midnight in St Petersburg, a story based on her uncle’s story and set during The Russian Revolution. It has such heart. I loved the characters, the writing and its depth.

What is the most exciting experience you've had as a result of writing?

Oh dear. I did enjoy being shortlisted for The Romantic Historical Novel of the Year. It brought me publicity and interviews even though I didn’t win. I am not sure that The Handfasted Wife is really a romantic novel!

I understand that you split your time between Greece and England. How does that affect your writing? Where do you get most done and do you think the surroundings influence your writing?

Greece is peaceful. I am living near Paddy Leigh Fermor’s house in Kardymili. There are other writers here and I am part of a small writing group. I am only in Greece during the summer and love my escape to the country away from the demands of home. I can research at home in Oxford and I can write here. I love the surroundings. It is like the west of Ireland but with better weather!

Did you consider independently publishing your novel, or had you decided on the traditional publishing route from the beginning? How hard was it for you to get a publishing deal? Did any part of the process surprise you?

No the publishing deal happened easily enough. I wanted traditional publishing and a small publisher too. Both came my way via an editor who had edited my thesis work and had become a commissioning editor for Accent. Accent are going from strength to strength and have done very well with my books so far. Surprises- well the amount of editing service a good publisher can provide is pure gold in my opinion.

What’s next? Have you got plans for a new series? Standalone books?

I am writing one stand alone set between 1509 and 1525. Then I am working on a trilogy about medieval she wolves- ‘foreign queens with clout.’

And now for the quick-fire questions:

Tea or coffee?
Tea with lemon and honey.

Burger or hot dog?
Burger without a huge bun.

Villain or hero?
I love the villains!!!!

Beer or wine?
Wine, white and chilled.

Movie or TV series?
Both if engaging.

Happy ending or tragedy?
Both depending on the novel. It is all about the journey.

In the car, audio-book or music?
Music and I am usually eclectic in my tastes. Heavy metal does not do it for me, nor does Punk.

Thanks for taking the time out of your schedule to answer my questions, Carol. Best of luck for The Betrothed Sister and for your future projects.

Thank you for having me, Matthew. I very much enjoyed thinking about your questions.

Carol McGrath links:

Facebook: The Daughters of Hastings Series
Twitter: @carolmcgrath


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you and I have to say Matthew is a superb interviewer, writer and editor.

    2. Thanks for stopping by, Annie. Glad you enjoyed the interview.

      And thanks, Carol, for taking the time to answer my questions and for stroking my ego with your nice comments! :-)

  2. Lovely interview, really enjoyed.

    1. Thanks, Deborah. Glad you enjoyed it. I am enjoying all the author interviews. It is a great way to learn all about the writers as individuals, but also to pick up lots of info about the reality of the industry and the craft of writing.

  3. Interesting and informative interview. Thank so much. Wishing you much success :)

  4. Fun reading this. We seem to have so much in common -- including Greece. My retirement home is on Kythera.

    1. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to leave a comment, Helena. If things go well for me, looks like I might be able to look forward to a retirement home in a sunnier clime! :-)