Guest Post with Sarah J Hodder

I’m very excited to introduce Sarah on the blog today. I was lucky enough to read a copy of Sarah’s debut book The Queen’s Sister’s earlier this year and I loved it so I was ecstatic to learn Sarah was releasing more of her work!

Sarah J Hodder began her career as production manager for Shire Publications, a unique niche Publisher that introduced her to an eclectic mix of subjects and encouraged her already well-founded love of books. After leaving Shire to focus on motherhood, she developed a passion for social history, particularly medieval and Tudor, and reads everything and anything she can get her hands on. Her focus is the role of lesser-known women and she counts Elizabeth Woodville as one of her heroines. Seeing a gap in the market around the lives of the Woodville women, led her to write her first book on the subject. She is the author of ‘The Queen’s Sisters’ (Chronos Books, 2020) and ‘The York Princesses’ (Chronos Books, 2021).

The Queen’s Sisters: The lives of the sisters of Elizabeth Woodville was your first book published in March 2020, what inspired you to write about these ladies?

I have always loved studying the lives of women throughout history – how the worlds our female ancestors inhabited changed over the years and what they needed to do to survive. Although throughout the centuries, women would have lived differently to modern women in the UK today, were they really that different? After all we are all living, breathing human souls with hopes, dreams opinions and emotions. That is the aspect I like to take when writing about my subjects – my interest is firmly in social history.

Since my teenage years (almost a historical period in itself!) I have always chosen books that focus on the lives of women – from Boudicca, to the heroines of Jane Austen’s novels, from the witch trials during the reign of James I to the strong and powerful Eleanor of Castille. I have also consumed avidly biographies of all Henry VIII’s queens – the Tudor period has always garnered my interest and Anne Boleyn is someone whose life story I never tire of reading. But it was Phillipa Gregory’s ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ that was, I suppose, an early catalyst that eventually led to my Queen’s Sisters book, although at that point the idea of writing was not even on the horizon. When that was published, I wasn’t even aware that Mary Boleyn had existed. But from there the idea of researching and reading about lesser-known women in history was born – women who were related to some of the main players and lived through exactly the same events as the women we read about, but whose stories were not familiar to us. After Mary (who by now is almost as famous as her sister, quite rightly!) I discovered Katherine Woodville and so began my interest in all of Elizabeth Woodville’s female siblings, who truly have remained in the shadows.

Your next book is out early 2021 and focuses on the York princesses, can you tell us a bit about it?

The book seemed a natural follow up to Elizabeth’s sisters. Elizabeth and Edward had seven daughters, but it was only really Elizabeth of York, their eldest, whose story gets told, primarily because she became a queen herself – as the wife of Henry VII and mother of Henry VIII of course. But all the York Princesses have their own stories – they had the same childhood and experienced many of the same events that Elizabeth of York did, but they just weren’t hugely documented. From Bridget, destined to be in service to God to Cecily, allegedly the beautiful sister who it seems forged a friendship with the formidable Margaret Beaufort; from Katherine who found her own little kingdom on her manor in Devon to baby Margaret, who died within her first year but still has a life story, albeit a short one, they all have their own stories that I wanted to tell in the small way that I could.

Where did your interest in the Woodville’s come from?

My interest in Tudor women quite organically over time took me on a journey backwards to Elizabeth of York as the mother of Henry VIII and then back a generation again to her mother, Elizabeth Woodville. She, like Anne Boleyn, fascinates me. Elizabeth is often portrayed in a bad light; her unprecedented journey from a ‘commoner’ (used in the loosest of terms) to Queen of England, meant that her whole family have been slandered over time and all banded together as upstarts and social climbers. But I see a woman who fell in love with a King and looked out for her family – the Woodvilles always remained incredibly close, unlike Edward’s family whose motto was most definitely not ‘blood is thicker than water’! I am not naïve enough to believe that the Woodvilles were all saints – some of them probably were more unscrupulous that they should have been on occasion. But within any family group there are differing personalities and judging them as a collective seems slightly unfair. Once again, wanting the female story, I became intrigued by Elizabeth’s female siblings, who barely warrant more than a mention in many history books.

Are you working on anything at the moment? If so, are you able to give us a hint?

I am working for the first time on an individual biography, rather than a group of women, which I hope to have finished in the Autumn. It’s a woman who popped up here and there in my research into both Elizabeth’s sisters and daughters and I’m endeavouring to piece together her life from the shadows.

If you could have a conversation with any individual from history who would it be and why?

It would still have to be Anne Boleyn (sorry Elizabeth!). I still need to know whether she wanted to marry Henry or whether her family pressured her into a situation that wasn’t of her choosing. Her demise was so horrifying, when you really think about how you would feel faced with what, in the end, became the inevitable conclusion to her life journey, I want to know if I would like her as person, and whether she did the best she could with the cards she was dealt or whether, as she is painted by some, she was a schemer. Was she the victim or instigator in her life path?

As a new author what have you found most difficult?

My one piece of advice would be to be proud of your work. The Queen’s Sisters was born simply by setting myself a project, around a subject I immensely enjoyed, and seeing if I could make something of it. To have it accepted by a Publisher was a bonus but putting your work out there is incredibly scary because as much as you love it, others might not. Every positive review made my heart sing and every negative review made me doubt my ability. But writing is a journey and any constructive criticism will ultimately help you perfect your craft. So be proud of what you’ve achieved and keep writing! 

Name a book everyone should read

It’s not one but a series of books – The Shardlake Series by C.J. Sansom. Outside of my usual remit, the main characters are men, but the writing teleports you straight back to Tudor England where you can almost live and breathe the stories. My fingers and toes are crossed that Mr Sansom is working on another one.

How do you plan your research?

I begin by finding out basic facts about my subjects. Because the women I choose are not ‘out there’, I find any snippets of information that I can – when they were born, who they married, any notable details about them that are available. It’s then – and this is the bit I enjoy – like being a detective. I search primary sources, books on the families they married into, details of the houses they inhabited and try and piece together a picture of their lives and weave it together into a story.

What are you currently reading?

I’ve just finished The Familiars by Stacey Halls – a page-turner centred around the Pendle Witch Trials. I have the new S.J. Parris book ready to start – the latest in the Giordano Bruno series – and of course I spent a few weeks emerged in the end of Cromwell’s life in ‘The Mirror and the Light’. I also have just ordered The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley. Not my usual genre but billed as a modern Agatha Christie, I am looking forward to jumping back to this century for a while.

Are there any authors you are inspired by? If so, who and why?

Phillipa Gregory – she may be an obvious answer, but I love her ability to traverse centuries and always come up with a gripping and captivating story. If Phillipa told me she had met some of her subjects, I would almost believe her – she brings them to life every time!

I can’t thank Sarah enough for joining me on my blog, I was particularly surprised by the choice of Anne Boleyn as the individual chosen to speak to, I was convinced it would be Elizabeth Woodville!

I was lucky enough to read an advanced copy of The York Princesses but you can preorder your very own copy here

My reviews for both books are below and if you haven’t guessed I am a huge fan and can’t wait to read even more of Sarah’s work!

The Queen’s Sister’s Review

The York Princesses

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