Steven Veerapen was born in Glasgow and raised in Paisley. Pursuing an interest in the sixteenth century, he was awarded a first-class Honours degree in English, his dissertation focussing on literary and artistic representations of Henry VIII’s six wives. He then received a Masters in Renaissance studies, and a Ph.D. investigating Elizabethan slander. Steven currently teaches English at the University of Strathclyde.
Your latest book, Succession was published April 2020, can you tell us a little bit about it?
Sure! Succession tells the story of Ned Savage, who is freed from prison to assist Sir Robert Cecil in tracking down a document which threatens the accession of James VI of Scotland. It is set during the harried final few weeks of Elizabeth I’s reign, when it became apparent that she had entered her final illness. Unfortunately for Savage, he is not the only one seeking the mysterious document. A group of plotters led by a corrupt MP are intent on finding it, ruining James, and placing an English candidate on the throne…
What was your first published book? Have you changed as a writer since then?
My first published book was The Abbey Close, a murder mystery set in my home town of Paisley in 1542. However, the first one I wrote was The Queen’s Consort: a novelisation of the life of Lord Darnley (although this was published second). I would say I’ve definitely changed as a writer – I’ve become less self conscious and more willing to experiment with different narrative styles (Succession, for example, features first person, which I’d always resisted, and pastiche writing, as I created excerpts from the missing document which everyone in the novel is chasing).
What intrigues you most about the Elizabethan era?
That’s a good question, and I wish I had a good answer. I’ve always been interested in it and I’m not sure exactly why. I like to think it’s a combination of the personalities (Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots, Walsingham, Essex) and the conflicts. This was a period when modern thinking and modern states were being born and yet incredible and often horrible attitutes and beliefs about women, religion, and medicine persisted.
If you could have a conversation with any individual from history, who would it be and why?
I think it would be Mary Queen of Scots. I’d love to find out exactly what she knew of her husband’s death. For one reason or another, Mary’s story has been bound up in everything I’ve had published (including my PhD thesis!). Also, I could discover whether the little Mary statuette I bought off eBay bears an actual resemblance…
Do you have a historical fiction author you particularly admire? If so, who and why?
It would have to be my favourite author, Daphne du Maurier. Her novels and short stories range from being set during the Civil War to the Georgian period to early-Victorian Cornwall. And she wrote some nonfiction on Francis and Anthony Bacon, and so had an interest in the Elizabethan period too.
You’ve written a couple of trilogies, do you know they’ll be trilogies when you start or does it happen during the writing process?
With the Simon Danforth murder mysteries, I had envisioned them being more long running, but I had other ideas (set in the later period and another country) that I wanted to write (which resulted in the Jack and Amy Cole series). Trilogies seem to have ended up working well for me, but I wouldn’t rule out going back to any one of them and adding more stories.
Favourite book you’ve read so far during lockdown?
Ah, that’s a tough one! I think it might be a nonfiction, England’s Elizabeth: An Afterlife in Fame and Fantasy.
What advice would you give budding authors?
Try and write more than one book before approaching agents/publishers (and the obligatory ‘don’t give up!’)
Name a book you think everyone should read!
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. It’s just such a rich novel.
What’s next for your readers?
I’m planning a sequel to Succession, provisionally titled Coronation. Additionally, I was hoping to write a nonfiction bio of Anne of Denmark but it looks like access to the archives in Edinburgh and London might be a little bit of a problem for the forseeable…
Thank you so much to Steven for taking part, there’s some really interesting answers here. I’m certainly very excited there will be a sequel to Succession. Having read it very recently I really enjoyed it!
You can find Steven on Twitter @ScrutinEye