An Interview with Kathryn Lasky about Elizabeth I: Red Rose of the House of Tudor
- Grades: 6–8
About this book
Richard F. Abrahamson, Ph.D. & Linda M. Pavonetti: You've written several highly praised books in the Dear America series, but this is the first book you've written in the Royal Diaries series. Did the process of writing a Royal Diaries book differ in any way from what you did in creating your Dear America books?
Kathryn Lasky: In actuality no, although some might find this surprising because the person I was writing about was real — really had lived. In all the other Dear America books the characters were fictional — I made them up, but of course based on tons of historical research. Some people might think this would be easier, dealing with a person you had made up, somehow less constricting. But it isn't. My responsibility as a writer for authenticity and accuracy does not vary whether the character is real or fictional.
RFA & LMP: When you write historical fiction about such a famous person as Elizabeth, how do you balance information and story to keep the book interesting?
KL: Well, I have to remember that my character is just about twelve years old and my readers are around that age, too. So although I did a lot of research and read quite a bit about, for example, how Henry VIII financed his campaigns against France and at one point de-valued the English coin to help his war chest, I know that a lengthy discussion of the Tudor treasury and economics is not going to entrance my readers. So I try to stick to the bugs, the baths, the squalor and the jealousies and intrigues. But even the information that I don't use directly in the book is helpful to me. It gives me a grounding, a kind of bedrock knowledge about the period and the people that helps me tackle the task of writing the book with more confidence.
RFA & LMP: What surprised you most in your research on the life of Elizabeth?
KL: I think there were three things. First of all her intellectual acumen. I knew Elizabeth was smart, but I didn't realize she was that smart. She had an amazingly probing and subtle mind. This of course presented a problem because I didn't want her to appear to be a nerd to the readers. Secondly, how alone she really was. She had her governess, Kat, but she spent vast time periods alone, separated from her family in an independent household. Yes, there were always servants around but still she essentially was alone. Thirdly, that she developed such a deep and significant religious tolerance. She was way ahead of her times in thinking that religion is people's private business.
RFA & LMP: The fear of being poisoned runs throughout Elizabeth's diary. Why?
KL: Poisoning was one of the most effective methods of getting rid of someone without immediate detection. The court was very corrupt at that time. People were always vying to get closer to the King's inner circle, to get more perks etc. It was an atmosphere ripe for crime of all sorts.
RFA & LMP: In Elizabeth's diary, she comes across as intelligent and talented. What one word do you think best describes her?
RFA & LMP: What can the readers of Elizabeth I, Red Rose of the House of Tudor learn from Elizabeth's life or the lives of other kings and queens? Is there any connection to their own lives?
KL: Yes, I think there are connections. Mainly, I suppose, there is a truth that runs through all of our lives. Whether you are a twelve-year-old princess or a twelve-year-old regular kid you need to know you are loved and respected. Also, as a princess, you can have all the jewels and titles in the world, but you need to have a best friend. And finally I think you really need to be educated. If you are not educated, as a princess especially, you can become the dupe of others.
RFA & LMP: Do you have any authorial tips for young people who are interested in using their love of history to follow your example and learn to write historical fiction?
KL: I think they should just keep reading — reading history, reading historical fiction and other fiction as well. I believe that reading widely is the best preparation for writing, And then if you are writing historical fiction you must have a somewhat uncanny ability to divorce yourself from present times and not view things through the modern day lenses of our biases and what ever is trendy and politically correct and really appreciate those historical times for what they essentially were.
RFA & LMP: What is one question you would like to ask your readers after they have finished reading Elizabeth I, Red Rose of the House of Tudor?
KL: I guess it is the question that Elizabeth asks at the end of the book when she writes, "Would I trade my title for a bird's life, a palace for a nest, a realm for the sky?" Was it worth it? Worth suffering the inconstant love of her father, the fears of imprisonment, exile, the beheading of her own mother, the adjusting to four stepmothers — was all this worth it?
Interview conducted by Richard F. Abrahamson, Ph.D., Professor of Literature for Children and Young Adults, University of Houston, Houston, Texas and Linda M. Pavonetti, Ed.D., Assistant Professor, Oakland University, Department of Reading and Language Arts, Rochester, Michigan.