Monday, April 25, 2011

A-Z Challenge U = Unveiling the Past with Ann Nibbs

Is historical fiction your genre? I've always thought it was difficult to write. However, if you're passionate enough about your subject, then it'll show through in your writing. Just take a look at this new author and you'll see how she loves her subject. It's fascinating:

Ann Nibbs is an author inspired by history. Just take a look at her website: where you’ll find some fascinating links, not only to historical matters but also to the joys of drinking cider, cats and amateur dramatics.  

Sue - Thank you Ann for joining Lauracea today and for sharing your love of history with us.

Ann - Thank you very much for inviting me, Sue

History at school was always such a daunting subject for me – learning dates and facts by heart. The method certainly didn’t inspire in me any love for the subject for me. Were you taught differently?

Very much so. I was lucky enough to have an amazing A Level History teacher. We studied British and European History 1870-1939 and she made it come alive. She taught us to question everything and to look at ‘why’ events happened, rather than purely at ‘what’ happened. Every week, she would set aside one lesson where we would have to debate a topic drawn from our previous week’s work. It was a form of revision which we all enjoyed and she didn’t pull any punches if she thought we hadn’t backed our arguments up with solid facts. It was no real surprise that with such enjoyable teaching, a number of us (including me) achieved distinctions. I have a lot to thank Mrs Cope for!

Empress Elisabeth of Austria
 I read on your site that you’re fascinated by the Empress Elisabeth of Austria. She has connections with Madeira Island which I hold in my own heart, and many tourists go to the Monte Church to visit the tomb of her husband and to put flowers on her statue in Funchal. My blog Lauracea was named after the endangered laurel forests in Madeira. Can you tell us something about her and why she was so fascinating? 

Empress Elisabeth (Sisi) was mercurial, strikingly beautiful, complicated and difficult. As a result, she is intriguing. She did indeed enjoy many happy visits to Madeira, which she discovered as a result of a recommendation from her brother-in- law, the ill-fated Maximilian. Her first trip there was to recuperate after a mystery illness which some said was tuberculosis and others hinted might be syphilis contracted from her husband, Austrian Emperor Franz Josef. He worshipped her and never ceased to try and please her. He built palaces for her, as well as a stable full of expensive horses (she was one of the most accomplished female riders in Europe ) but Sisi always retained a certain distance and she was a restless spirit, whose travels were legendary. After her love affair with Madeira waned, she went on to develop a passion for Corfu. It seemed, the older she got, the more she needed to travel and, after the tragic death of her son, Crown Prince Rudolph at Mayerling, she rarely stayed at home in Vienna for long. She hated the rigours of the Austrian court and was highly unpopular with members of the nobility, although the common people loved her. Interbreeding was rife in her family (Franz Josef was also her cousin) and it is generally believed that she was not altogether mentally stable. Men adored her (as you might imagine) although, it is unlikely she was ever unfaithful to her husband. She did adore the attention though! She dieted obsessively and bizarrely existed on meat juice and milk. Needless to say, she was very thin! Her tragic death as the victim of an assassination by someone who barely knew who she was, seemed to serve to perpetuate her mystique. I first discovered her in a superb biography by Joan Haslip: ‘The Lonely Empress’, and have never ceased to be drawn to her story ever since. Apparently, I am not alone in this as there have been a number of films and books (biographies as well as novels) written about her over the years

I’d love to know more about your current project. Why did you choose Lady Randolph Churchill?

Jennie Jerome was a remarkable, controversial American who fell in love with and married the second son of the Duke of Marlborough, Lord Randolph Churchill. They had two sons and their eldest, Winston (who adored her), was quite clearly the product of both his parents. Jennie passed on to him her refusal to conform, her fearlessness, wit and repartee. She was one of a collection of much-photographed women who came to be known as the PBs (Professional Beauties) but she was far more than a pretty face. She was highly intelligent and very strong. I venture to suggest that Winston would not have been the great leader he was without her character and influence. She was politically savvy in an age before women had the vote and she would stop at nothing to get what she wanted. I find her fascinating.

Why is historical fiction so hard to write?

Now that’s an interesting question! I don’t know that it is any harder to write than any other genre. True, it involves research as readers are understandably unforgiving if you get your basic facts wrong, and you need to use authentic sounding language. By that, I mean, we don’t want ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ anymore but we also don’t want our Tudor heroine telling Henry VIII to ‘stop messing with my head’! I think, as with any other genre, it is a labour of love. But none of us writes for an easy life, do we? Your story ‘Perfect Score’ is brilliant and I bet you didn’t knock that out in a couple of weeks!

If you could live in any period of history, when would it be and what type of person would you be? 

This is a tough one, Sue. Regency times were elegant, for the privileged few, as were the late Victorian/Edwardian eras. If I have to choose one, I think I would choose the latter, pretty much mirroring Jennie Churchill’s lifespan (1854-1921) but I’m afraid I’m going to chicken out and say I would have liked to have been part of her set. It was a time of great invention and social change, the coming of the railways, electricity, electoral reform bills franchising millions who had never previously had a voice, larger than life characters of both sexes.  Then, in my privileged world, there was the wonderful dinner conversation and amazing people to befriend. I mean, imagine sitting opposite Oscar Wilde over a baron of beef and a vintage Margaux? Exquisite!

The usual question: Invite six personalities, living or dead, to a perfect dinner party. Who would they be?

How’s that for a perfect follow-on? Unsurprisingly, Oscar Wilde (the dinner party would have to fit in with his engagements or it simply wouldn’t happen. I, of course would have my writer’s notebook on my knee, ready to jot down his witty ripostes), Stephen Fry who played him in the film of his life and who is, for me, our modern day master of all things eloquent and witty. Imagine the banter! Jennie Churchill and Lillie Langtry – both women were born way ahead of their time and were noted for their smart dinner conversation. For my last two, I am spoilt for choice but have finally settled on Jim Morrison (the deceased lead singer of The Doors), assuming he’d been through a successful drug and alcohol dependency programme in celestial rehab of course. He was intellectual, erudite an -, I know this is crass - gorgeous! Well it’s my party and I’m entitled to a bit of eye candy aren’t I? (Sorry Jim!). Finally, David Lloyd George, the ‘Welsh Wizard’ and sometime mentor of Winston Churchill. Another sparkling orator, with a very naughty side to him.

I think I would have an unforgettable dinner party with these guests – and enough material for half a dozen books!

I know history isn’t your only interest. Are you working on any novels at the moment of a different genre?

I am tentatively working on a paranormal novel spanning many centuries and centred on a circle of standing stones to which a young woman in 2011 finds herself increasingly drawn. The working title is ‘The Stones of Landane’ and it starts in the Neolithic and involves the age old battle between good and evil down the centuries, but I am also working on some paranormal shorter stories for the ebook market under my new pen name of Catherine Cavendish so watch out for those (she said, hopefully!)

What’s your favorite historical novel?

There have been so many over the years – I love all the Earth’s Children books by Jean M Auel and am just about to start reading the latest. One book I have just read and found unputdownable was ‘The Lady of Hay’ by Barbara Erskine. It was published 25 years ago but for some reason her books have escaped me. A recent visit to Hay on Wye has rectified that though and now I have a pile of her books to read.  I love the way she combines historical with paranormal.

You can find more about Ann here: 

As Ann Nibbs, there are currently:

Twitter = @annauthor
Facebook = Ann Nibbs


  1. Anonymous2:32 pm

    Many thanks Sue!

  2. It's been a real eye-opener. I loved talking to you.

  3. I love reading historical fiction. I'm afraid to write it, though, because of the necessity of getting all the historic details right. I'm not sure I'm that good of a researcher, lol.

    Nice interview.

  4. I don't normally drink cats, but I'm willing to entertain the idea. Hee hee.

    I don't write historical fiction, but I really like reading it. I enjoy the entertainment and education in one wrapper.


  5. Thanks L.G. and Lucy - try drinking cats! I'm scared of writing historical fiction too, but Ann is just the person to get it right.

  6. What a nice way to introduce a friend, an author!

    I am interested in this genre...Thank you!

    Nice to meet you~

  7. I forgot to add; great interview ladies~

  8. Great interview! I'm a history buff and love historical fiction, I'd love to write my own historical fiction story some day. This was really interesting to read, thanks for sharing!

  9. Oh thank you Ella - I really do believe in helping friends and other authors. Lovely to meet you too.
    Julie - that's great that you found this helpful. I hope it inspired you!

  10. I love reading historical fiction--it's such an interesting genre.

    Great interview!

  11. Great interview! It was really wonderful getting to know more about you, Ann! :)

  12. Thanks G.E. Glad you liked it.
    You too Carolyn - the book's nearly finished (fanning madly). Got to the bit where Jace has found out about her...

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