This is Part II of a three-part interview with historical fiction writer Valerie Anand. In Part I, Ms. Anand talked about how she became a writer. In Part III she talks about writing and the business of writing.
FAITH L. JUSTICE: How would you characterize the Ursula Blanchard series?
VALERIE ANAND: I’ll start by saying what it isn’t. It isn’t dark, grim, violent or unflinchingly realistic (this usually decodes as full of descriptions of torture and disgusting executions but it’s historically accurate so it isn’t porn. Yes, it is!).
Another thing that the series isn’t, however, is ‘cozy.’ Ursula comes up against moral dilemmas, finds herself forced to accept responsibility for violent deaths (although I don’t describe them in detail), and also has to realize that there are times when the needs of a realm must take precedence over private happiness. At the end of Queen’s Ransom, she finds that Elizabeth and Cecil have betrayed her in the interests of England. At the beginning of the current book, she comes, reluctantly, to see their point.
Now to what I feel my Ursula Blanchard series is. It’s essentially a mixture of mystery and Elizabethan espionage and it is more concerned with detection and mystery-solving than with violent adventure. This is one of the reasons why the main character is a young woman.
I decided on that partly because most (though not all) lead characters in this type of novel are male and I wanted to be different. But I also felt that merely because Ursula is a woman, she can’t get out of difficult situations just by knocking her opponents down or felling them with broadswords. She has to use brain instead of brawn, and this is my favorite kind of thriller. I have a weakness for Agatha Christie and this is partly because Hercule Poirot depends on his little gray cells and not on violence, while Miss Marple is even less capable of violence than Poirot and most certainly has to work by thinking. You may be getting the feeling that I don’t like violence. That’s true. I don’t. Of course I accept that to fight in self-defense is legitimate (you can’t have people like Hitler just trampling all over everyone in sight and do nothing about it). But it is intelligence, not muscle, that makes human beings different from the animals.
In Ursula, I have tried to create an intelligent, normally feminine woman who is involved in espionage. She is often handicapped by being female, especially since she lives in the days of Elizabeth I, not Elizabeth II. She has to find ways round that. Her manservant Roger Brockley is there to do the bits which have to involve muscle. I have also tried to keep the tone entertaining. I want people to enjoy my books, to be amused as well as interested. I wish the books to be fun as well as accurate and – I hope – properly plotted and tense.