INTERVIEW WITH PRISCILLA ROYAL
I am very pleased to welcome Priscilla Royal to my blog for
a discussion of her newest novel, The Sanctity of Hate. In the interest of full disclosure, I want to
reveal that Priscilla is a friend of mine.
She is also a very talented writer.
She has an impressive understanding of the medieval world; while reading
one of her novels, you never doubt that her characters are men and women of the
thirteenth century. No Plantagenets in
Pasadena in any of Priscilla’s books!
Her people are wonderfully three-dimensional, too, with all of the
virtues and flaws of people everywhere.
Stir this mix with a suspenseful plot line and the result is always a
book almost impossible to put down—at least for those of us who are fascinated
in history, who understand that our past was someone else’s present. (Thank
you, David McCullough, for that) So….here is Priscilla Royal.
Tell us about your
The Sanctity of Hate
will be out soon, early December, in trade paper, hardcover, audio, and
e-reader formats. Prioress Eleanor and Brother Thomas are back at Tyndal Priory
after the events in A Killing Season.
It is the summer of 1276 and quite bucolic, until the body of an unpopular man
is found floating in the priory mill pond. No one mourns this death, and the
villagers do not want one of their own found guilty. Coincidentally, a Jewish
family is stranded at the inn, refugees under the relocation provisions of
Edward I’s Statute of Jewry signed in late 1275. The wife is about to give
birth and is in obvious distress. Concluding that the rumored crime details
conform to the usual anti-Semitic myths, the villagers decide that a member of
this family is the most likely killer. Prioress Eleanor, Brother Thomas, and
Crowner Ralf are not so easily convinced but must act swiftly to find the true
murderer before the family is simply condemned by popular choice.
prevalent at the time. How did you deal with this?
Not easily! But I wanted to recreate the complexity of the
moment while respecting the era. To do that, I kept one thing in mind which my
research did support. The farther we are from an historical incident, the more
we tend to simplify it. We forget or lose documentation of so many opinions and
nuances of the time. Some things are never even recorded. As a more current
example, I’ve heard some insist that the internment of Americans with Japanese
ancestry during WW II was necessary, unavoidable, and everyone agreed with it.
Fortunately, we still have documentation proving otherwise. But in five hundred
years, how will we see this event? Will we lose the evidence that many
protested the injustice, or will we forget the unthinking panic that created
the law? No matter what, we will simplify the circumstances and see that event
as more one-sided than it was. Medieval anti-Semitism is similar. Relations
between Christians and Jews were not simple Yes, there was an overriding
prevalence of anti-Semitism, but there were also Christians who tried to
protect Jewish families against mobs, respected their education and skills, and
befriended them. Nor was conversion all one way. There may not be a lot of recorded
instances, but Christians did convert to Judaism, often because of
intermarriage. The most interesting convert was a priest, not of Jewish
ancestry, who was then persuaded to recant, went back to Judaism, and was
finally burned at the stake when he utterly rejected Christianity.
How did your primary
characters respond to Jacob ben Asher and his family?
I wanted them to show a range of reactions. Prioress Eleanor
had the hardest time. She’s a true believer and grieves that this family cannot
“see the error of their faith”. Brother Thomas, as an outsider and one who
freely argues with his deity, feels a kinship with the family although he, too,
never doubts that Christianity is the right belief system. A difficult birth
tends to bring good women together no matter what their faith. And Crowner Ralf
doesn’t care what anyone claims to believe. He just wants to hang the right
person. In deciding how each of these characters would act, I considered their
psychology, history, and the nature of their faith. It’s also important to
remember that we’ve always found justification for what we want to do or what
we think is right within the tenets of our belief system. During the debates
over slavery in this country, we used Christianity to support the conclusion
that slavery was wrong as well as the argument it was God’s will. Prioress
Eleanor and Brother Thomas find a way, within the logic provided Christians at
the time, to act with the compassion their nature demands.
You have said that
each of your books presents you with a different challenge. What was it in The
Sanctity of Hate?
Writing from a Jewish perspective. Although I did not grow
up in a church-going family, my ancestral heritage is also not Jewish. That
means I probably have blind spots and assumptions, many quite subconscious.
While I was thinking about this book, I read Mitchell J. Kaplan’s historical
novel, By Fire, By Water, which deals
with the expulsion from
in 1492 of Jewish families. In one scene, he describes the refugees on the roads
to the ports that might take some to family members abroad while others had no
idea where they were going. Despite all the WW II films I’ve seen, documentary
and otherwise, and personal stories I have read of survival, near-misses, and
tragedies, I found Kaplan’s description uniquely powerful. Here were people
whose ancestors had suffered so much uprooting and violence for hundreds of
years that the knowledge of it must almost be stamped on the DNA. So I wanted
to create a family in that kind of situation, knowing that they can never
completely trust the world to be safe. And I wanted to do it with the respect
the experience deserves. Hopefully, my fictional family conveys the humor,
courage, creativity, and resilience that such survival requires.
What was the most
enjoyable part of writing this story?
The research required on Jewish history in medieval
fascinating. I won’t list the books because they are in the bibliography, but I
still have a stack on my bedside table that I can hardly wait to get into. The
other fun bit of research was medieval beekeeping. I have a friend who is a
local beekeeper, answered all my dumb questions, and loaned me books on the
history of honey harvesting. I learned that the medieval English bee was dark,
hairy, and larger than the black/gold one we are most familiar with. I found
that utterly charming!
What are you working
I just started putting ideas together for a medieval spy
story. There were spies at the time, but the organized system put together by
I did not seem to exist. Of course, Brother Thomas has done his stint as a mole
for the Church, but this next story involves secular ones. As I often do, I
came late to the spy genre, but I fell in love with Le Carre’s novels about
Smiley and Alec Guinness in Tinker,
Tailor, Soldier Spy. No title yet, but I am having fun thinking about
How can readers
Should anyone have questions about my books, they can reach
me through my website at www.priscillaroyal.com.
And I am one of several mystery writers blogging on The Lady Killers at
Thank you so much,
for inviting me to post on your blog. You have taught me so much about
research, and your beautifully written books have long been an inspiration. I
am very grateful.
Thank you, Priscilla, for agreeing to this interview. It has been a pleasure, as usual. And I forgive you for causing me to lose
precious sleep this past week. Until I
finish A King’s Ransom, the only time I have for reading is after I’ve gone to
bed. I am two-thirds of the way through
The Sanctity of Hate and I’ve found myself reading later and later into the
night, thinking “One more chapter, just one more.” Of course I pay the price for that the next
morning, but The Sanctity of Hate is worth it.
November 24, 2012