I’ve invited bestselling author Jenny Kane back onto my blog today. This time she’s interviewing Grace Harper, the protagonist from her latest release, Romancing Robin Hood.
Let’s find out a little about the story first.
When you’re in love with a man of legend, how can anyone else match up?
Dr Grace Harper has loved the stories of Robin Hood ever since she first saw them on TV as a teenager. Now, with her fortieth birthday just around the corner, she’s a successful academic in Medieval History—but Grace is stuck in a rut.
Grace is supposed to be writing a textbook on a real-life medieval criminal gang—the Folvilles—but instead she is captivated by a novel she’s secretly writing. A medieval mystery which entwines the story of Folvilles with her long-time love of Robin Hood—and a feisty young woman named Mathilda of Twyford.
Just as she is trying to work out how Mathilda can survive being kidnapped by the Folvilles, Grace’s best friend Daisy announces she is getting married. After a whirlwind romance with a man she loves as much as the creatures in her animal shelter, Daisy has press-ganged Grace into being her bridesmaid.
Witnessing Daisy’s new-found happiness, Grace starts to re-evaluate her own life. Is her devotion to a man who may or may not have lived hundreds of years ago really a substitute for a real-life hero of her own? Grace’s life doesn’t get any easier when she meets Dr Robert Franks—a rival academic who she is determined to dislike but finds herself being increasingly drawn to… If only he didn’t know quite so much about Robin Hood.
Suddenly, spending more time living in the past than the present doesn’t seem such a good idea…
It sounds fascinating, doesn’t it? Now let’s find out a bit more about Grace. Over to you, Jenny.
Hi Grace, we’ve been lucky enough to be invited over to Karen’s blog today to chat a little about your love of Robin Hood, your new novel, and your best friend’s wedding. So, let’s dive straight in. It’s no secret that I’m something of a Robin Hood fan as well. How did the obsession start for you? Obsession is the right word I take it?
Grace:Very much the right word! Although I didn’t notice quite how much my life revolved around all things Robin Hood until recently. Anyway, it all began for me with an episode of Robin of Sherwood back in the 1980’s.
Me too. Jason Connery or Michael Praed?
Grace: How can you make me chose between my main boys? Umm- Okay, Jason…but probably because I saw his Robin first. Actually, although it started with all things Robin of Sherwood, my love for the legend is all encompassing. I like everything and anything to do with the stories and the history behind them.
You mentioned that you only came to realise that you’d reached obsessive levels of Robin Hood-ness recently. Was Daisy’s wedding something to do with your realisation?
Grace: It was. Until my best friend, Daisy, announced she was getting married I hadn’t really stopped working long enough to notice that other people were getting on with their lives. Daisy was never going to have a boyfriend, let alone get married. Then six months ago she suddenly met Marcus and everything changed.
A whirlwind romance?
Grace: Very much so. Marcus is lovely. They are perfect together. He’s a vet and Daisy runs an animal shelter, so they are very well suited. There is only one snag.
Grace: Daisy wants me to be a bridesmaid! Can you imagine? I’m nearly 40 for goodness sake.
You’ll be fabulous. I’m sure a certain medieval lecturer from Nottingham University will be pleased to see you dressed up in a beautiful dress.
Grace: Ummm…I’m not sure. I feel more at home with men of legend rather than real ones to tell you the truth!
Which leads me neatly to my next question. You’re writing a historical novel aren’t you; can you tell us about it?
Grace: It’s a bit of a secret to be honest. My boss at Leicester University thinks I’m writing a text book, but actually I seem to be writing a story about a 19 year old potter’s daughter called Mathilda. She has been captured by the notorious Folville family. They were a group of 7 brothers from Ashby-Folville in Leicestershire in the 1320’s-30’s. To my mind they were a major influence in the development of those writing the Robin Hood stories.
That sounds great. Is it a crime story based on reality?
Grace: Very much so. Makes a nice contrast to my real life, which is all bridesmaid dress shopping and holding PhD viva’s at the moment.
I look forward to reading it one day. What will you call it?
Grace: The Outlaw’s Ransom I think.
Jenny: Good title. Thanks ever so much for taking the time to chat today. I’ll let you get on with writing Mathilda’s story.
If you want to read both Grace’s story and the novel she is writing about Mathilda, you can find them both within Romancing Robin Hood. (Mathilda’s story – The Outlaw’s Ransom – will also be available as a standalone book from the end of March 2018)
Here’s a short extract from the beginning of Romancing Robin Hood.
Raising a cup of tea to her lips, Grace Harper leaned back against her pine chair and blew carefully through the steam which rose from the liquid’s surface before taking a sip. It was the first cup from the third pot of tea she’d ordered that afternoon. The scalding drink slid down her dry throat, a throat which her friends joked must be coated with asbestos; such was her ability to drink tea down almost directly from the kettle.
Staring through the teashop window, Grace watched the summer shoppers stroll by in a never-ending stream. She’d never seen such a staggering variety of flip-flops, T-shirts, or different lengths of skirts and shorts. It was as if everyone in England had collectively decided to expose as much flesh as possible, just in case the burst of late June heat was the only sun they saw all summer.
Grace drew her wandering attention back to the reason for her weekday escape from the office. With constant interruptions from research students and fellow academics alike, she had been finding it increasingly impossible to marshal her thoughts for the opening chapter of the book she was trying to write.
Two hours ago she’d gathered up the printed sheets of what made up her manuscript so far, and headed for the quiet of Mrs Beeton’s tearooms. She’d read it twice already, and now sped through it again. Adding an additional point to the rough list she’d made of things to check out and expand on, Grace sighed into her cup and turned back to watch the flow of pedestrians pass by the window.
Writing a book in the academic world was a bit like running an incredibly slow race. With your legs glued together. And at least one arm tied behind your back. Everything took so long. The research, the checking, the double-checking, the making sure you were one step ahead of everything else already published on your subject, and then racing (tortoise style), to get your book out there before a similar historian, in a similar office, in a similar university, produced their book on a similar subject in a similar fashion. Then, of course, there were the constant interruptions. Students and fellow lecturers always wanted something. Not to mention the secretaries, who were forever in pursuit of pointless pieces of administrative documentation that the occupants of the ivory tower decreed necessary additions to the mountain of paperwork every academic waded through on a daily basis.
At least, Grace thought to herself as she picked her first draft back up, fanning herself with it in an attempt to circulate some air in the stagnant café, no one else studies what I study in quite the way I do.
Admitting defeat, Grace stuffed her work back into her large canvas bag, which was more suited to the beach than landlocked Leicester, and pulled out a card which had arrived in the post that morning. It showed a guinea pig wearing a yellow hard hat and driving a bulldozer.
The card could only have come from Daisy. Grace read the brief message again. Daisy’s familiar spidery scrawl, which would have been the envy of any doctor, slopped its way across the card, illustrating that it had been written in haste. Grace could picture Daisy clearly, a pen working over the card in one hand, a packet of pet food in the other, and probably her mobile phone tucked under her chin at the same time. Daisy could multi-task with all the prowess of a mother of three.
Daisy, however, wasn’t a mother of any sort. She had long since vowed against having children, human children at least, and after her degree finals had swiftly cast aside all she had studied in order to breed rabbits and guinea pigs, house stray animals, and basically become an unpaid vet. Daisy’s home, a suitably ramshackle cottage near Hathersage in Derbyshire’s Peak District, had become her animal rescue shelter. The base of an ever-changing and continually growing menagerie of creatures, which she always loved, and frequently couldn’t bear to be parted from. Grace smiled as she imagined the chaos that was probably going on around Daisy’s welly-clad feet at that very moment.
The card’s arrival had instantly made Grace think back to her youth. A strange non-teenage hood which had sent her on a journey that had got her to where she was now. A medieval history lecturer at the University of Leicester.
Grace had met Daisy fifteen years ago, when they’d been students together at Exeter University, and they’d quickly become inseparable. Now, with their respective thirty-ninth birthdays only a few months ahead of them, Daisy, after a lifetime of happy singledom, was suddenly getting married.
She’d managed, by sheer fluke, to find a vet called Marcus as delightfully dotty as she was and, after only six months of romance, was about to tie the knot. The totally unorthodox (but totally Daisy!) invitation Grace now held announced that their nuptials were to be held in just under two months’ time at the beautiful Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire. Daisy had then added a postscript saying that she would personally shoot Grace if she didn’t turn up, with some mild torture of an especially medieval variety thrown in if she didn’t agree to be her bridesmaid.
‘A bridesmaid!’ Grace grimaced as she mumbled into her cup, ‘Bloody hell, it makes me sound like a child. If I was married or had a partner I’d be maid of honour, but no, I’m the bloody bridesmaid.’
Swilling down her remaining tea, Grace got to her feet, and carried on muttering to the uncaring world in general, ‘Robin Hood, you have a hell of a lot to answer for,’ before hooking her holdall onto her shoulder and taking the pleasant walk from the city centre, down the picturesque Victorian New Walk, towards the university of, and an afternoon of marking dissertations.
It was all Jason Connery’s fault, or maybe it was Michael Praed’s? As she crashed onto her worn leather desk chair Grace, after two decades of indecision, still couldn’t decide which of the two actors she preferred in the title role of Robin of Sherwood.
That was how ‘The Robin Hood Thing’ as Daisy referred to it, had started; with an instant and unremitting love for a television show. Yet, for Grace, it hadn’t been a crush in the usual way. She had only watched one episode of the hit eighties series and, with the haunting theme tune from Clannad echoing in her ears, had run upstairs to her piggy bank to see how much money she’d saved, and how much more cash she’d need, before she could spend all her pocket money on the complete video collection. After that, the young Grace had done every odd job her parents would pay her for so she could purchase a myriad of Connery and Praed posters with which to bedeck her room. But that was just the beginning. Within weeks Grace had become pathologically and forensically interested in anything and everything to do with the outlaw legend as a whole.
She’d watched all the Robin Hood films, vintage scenes of Douglas Fairbanks Jr and Errol Flynn, Richard Greene, Sean Connery, and Barry Ingram. As time passed, she winced and cringed her way through Kevin Costner’s comical but endearing attempt, and privately applauded Patrick Bergin’s darker and infinitely more realistic approach to the tale. Daisy had quickly learnt to never ever mention Russell Crowe’s adaption of the story – it was the only time she’d ever heard Grace swear using words that could have been as labelled as Technicolor as the movie had been.
The teenage Grace had read every story, every ballad, and every academic book, paper, and report on the subject. She’d hoarded pictures, paintings, badges, and stickers, along with anything and everything else she could find connected with Robin Hood, his band of outlaws, his enemies, Nottingham, Sherwood, Barnsdale, Yorkshire –and so it went on and on. The collection, now over twenty years in the making, had reached ridiculous proportions and had long since overflowed from her small terraced home to her university office, where posters lined the walls, and books about the legend, both serious and comical, crammed the overstuffed shelves.
Her undergraduates who’d chosen to study medieval economy and crime as a history degree option, and her postgraduates whose interest in the intricate weavings of English medieval society was almost as insane as her own, often commented on how much they liked Dr Harper’s office. Apparently it was akin to sitting in a mad museum of medievalism. Sometimes Grace was pleased with this reaction. Other times it filled her with depression, for that office, its contents, and the daily, non-stop flow of work was her life – her whole life – and sometimes she felt that it was sucking her dry. Leaving literally no time for anything else – nor anyone else. Boyfriends had come and gone, but few had any hope of matching up to the figure she’d fallen in love with as a teenager. A man who is quite literally a legend is a hard act to follow…
If you would like to read more about Grace (and Mathilda), then you can buy Romancing Robin Hood from all good retailers, including Amazon.
Jenny has had over 150 publications, including the novels Romancing Robin Hood (2nd edition, Littwitz Press, 2018), Abi’s Neighbour (Accent Press, 2017), Another Glass of Champagne (Accent, 2016), Abi’s House (Accent Press, June 2015), the bestselling contemporary romance Another Cup of Coffee (Accent Press, 2013), and its novella length sequels Another Cup of Christmas (Accent Press, 2013), Christmas in the Cotswolds, (Accent Press, 2014), and Christmas at the Castle, (Accent Press, 2015).
Jenny also writes medieval crime fiction as Jennifer Ash. The novels, The Outlaw’s Ransom and The Winter Outlaw, will both be published by Littwitz Press in early 2018.
Jenny Kane is an experienced creative writing tutor, copy editor and proof reader. She co-runs the writing workshop business, ‘Imagine,’ with Alison Knight. (www.imaginecreativewriting.co.uk )
Keep your eye on Jenny’s blog at www.jennykane.co.uk
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