INTERVIEW WITH JOAN SZECHTMAN
This has been Ricardian month on my blog, as I recently interviewed Anne Easter Smith to discuss her new novel about Cecily Neville and today I am visited by Joan Szechtman, author of two novels about Richard III, This Time and Loyalty Binds Me. I haven’t had a chance yet to read Loyalty Binds Me, mainly because of the upcoming Eleanor tour, but I did read This Time and enjoyed it. The premise is very imaginative–snatching Richard from Bosworth Field at the moment before his death and transporting him to our time–and Joan executed it quite well. She dealt with issues that would be bound to come up for a medieval man suddenly finding himself in our time, both the serious (religious intolerance) and the more mundane (cars, computers, etc.) I found her Richard to be believable and likable and I am looking forward to continuing his journey in the 21st century. I am sure he will find voice mail and never-ending political campaigns every bit as annoying as the rest of us do, but he also faces a unique challenge–having to prove he did not murder his nephews!
Interview with SKP
SKP: Before we start, I hope you don’t mind if I ask you how you pronounce your name.
JS: Joan? Just the way it’s spelled—just kidding. Szechtman is easy if you pretend the “z” is an “h” and then pronounce it the way it’s spelled. All joking aside, I’m quite honored to be doing this interview. Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity.
SKP: I understand that Loyalty Binds Me is the second book in this series after This Time. Since this is your first interview with me, please tell us a little about both books.
JS: THIS TIME starts moments before Richard III loses to Henry Tudor on the field of Redemore near Leicester, England on August 22, 1485. In THIS TIME, a team of Ricardians substitutes an armor-clad corpse for the king and brings him into Portland, Oregon. Richard awakens August 21, 2004 to an alien world where even the English he speaks is different.
The story follows two parallel paths: the present where Richard must learn how to adjust to not only the technological advancements but also the more difficult cultural differences; and looking back at the past to solve some of the mysteries that have haunted and maligned his image for over 500 years.
The second book, LOYALTY BINDS ME, continues Richard III’s story. Richard has married a divorcee, adopted her two daughters, and with the help of his new wife, has been able to rescue his son Edward, who had predeceased him in the 15th-century. Richard has lived in the twenty-first century for two years, and his son has been with him for the past year. At the start of the novel, they have just arrived in London, when Richard is brought in by the Metropolitan Police for questioning about the alleged murder of Richard III’s nephews in 1483. Richard must now find a way to clear his name and protect his family while concealing his true identity.
The books are written to stand by themselves; there are no cliffhangers at the end of each novel and there’s enough information in the second book for a new reader to understand the story without boring those who have read the first book.
SKP: I usually don’t read fictional books about one of my characters, but I was so intrigued by your premise of bringing Richard III into the 21st century that I put aside my usual reservations. Why did you bring Richard III into the 21st-century?
JS: One of the things that really got to me about Richard III was that he was so young—only 32—when he died. I felt his story wasn’t finished and I wanted to examine his character in a modern light, without forcing our modern sensibilities onto his 15th-century actions. To do this, I had to let him speak for himself. Admittedly, I could have done something akin to Connie Willis’s Doomsday Book and send a protagonist back in time, but I thought that by bringing Richard into the present day, I could challenge him in ways that I couldn’t by writing a period piece. Additionally, I didn’t feel the need to tell Richard’s life story. You beat me to it. In fact, it was your book, Sunne in Splendour, which put me on the Ricardian path to the point where I felt compelled to write about Richard, but from a different perspective.
SKP: Many time-travel novels ignore language differences, but you didn’t. Yet, Richard was able to adjust rapidly to modern English.
JS: Richard was probably fluent in three or four languages, and although today’s English would have at first sounded foreign to him, I felt that there was enough similarities—based on my reading of The Paston Letters, for example—between Early Modern English and today’s English that he would have been able to understand a lot of what he heard fairly quickly. I also provided a linguist that was able to help him over the inevitable speed bumps.
SKP: Another rapid adjustment that Richard achieved was his ability to absorb and take advantage of today’s technology. It left me a bit breathless.
JS: There have been modern instances of individuals from isolated primitive cultures being brought to technologically advanced cultures. Most of these individuals were able to use the technology quickly. The more difficult adjustment has to do with cultural differences. Such was the case for Richard. Because he was intentionally brought into the future, and not by accident, he had access to people who could help him learn how to use such things as phones, computers, cars, etc.
I also decided to advance his adjustment so that I wouldn’t put the reader to sleep having him learn every single detail that we take for granted. So I tried to show him learn some things and let the reader imagine him learning the rest.
SKP: I understand that not only do you think that Richard did not kill his nephews, but that they may well have survived him.
JS: Yes. Despite the rumors the princes had met an evil end and Tudor’s willingness to parley these rumors to his advantage, extant documentation and contemporary reports show only that the boys disappeared. Setting aside the lack of documentation, I also took into consideration the behaviors of both Richard III and Henry VII. Then, it was standard operating procedure to display bodies to “prove” that their reigns were without credible challenge. Despite the way Henry had Richard’s body mistreated immediately after the battle, he nevertheless had it put on display to show that he was now the undisputed king. I have to think that if Henry had killed the princes or knew where their bodies were, he would have displayed them and blamed Richard for their deaths. If Richard had had them killed, he could have easily first blamed Welles for their deaths during the botched attempt to “free” them from the tower, and then later, Buckingham, when Richard had him executed for treason.
Richard had far less reason to want the princes dead than did Henry. Through “Titulus Regius” parliament declared Richard the rightful king and bastardized all of Edward IV’s children. As bastards, the princes could not inherit any title. Henry VII had his parliament revoke “Titulus Regius” which enabled his marriage to Edward IV’s oldest daughter, Elizabeth Woodville. If the princes were alive, they now had more claim to the crown now that their impediment had been removed. In fact, based on how he handled the man he called Perkin Warbeck, I think he was more than a little afraid that Warbeck was really Richard of York, the younger of Edward IV’s two sons. Interestingly, Warbeck claimed to have been in Edward Brampton’s household in Portugal. Now Brampton was a Portuguese Jew who converted soon after Edward IV first became king and served both Edward and Richard. Among the many awards that Richard gave Brampton, he knighted him in 1484—the first monarch to knight a converted Jew. As much as Richard may have liked the guy, I think there had to have been an extraordinary reason for him to grant Brampton knighthood. I think the reason was that Richard had entrusted Richard of York’s care to Brampton.
SKP: Now that you’ve “saved” Richard and brought him into our time, do you have any more books planned for him?
JS: There is a third book in the works with its own set of surprises. The working title is STRANGE TIMES. This one is partially about Francis Lovel—someone most Ricardians think was close to Richard’s heart.
SKP: Francis was very close to my heart,too, while writing Sunne, for he was the only Francis in a book packed with Edwards, Richards, and Elizabeths. It sounds very intriguing. Thank you so much, Joan, for a most interesting interview about one of my favorite medieval kings.
May 23, 2010