- Literature & Fiction
An evocative new novel by the critically acclaimed author of The Handfasted Wife, The Woman in the Shadows tells the rise of Thomas Cromwell, Tudor England’s most powerful statesman, through the eyes of his wife Elizabeth.
When beautiful cloth merchant’s daughter Elizabeth Williams is widowed at the age of twenty-two, she is determined to make herself a success in the business she has learned from her father. But there are those who oppose a woman making her own way in the world, and soon Elizabeth realises she may have some powerful enemies – enemies who also know the truth about her late husband.
Security – and happiness – comes when Elizabeth is introduced to kindly, ambitious merchant turned lawyer, Thomas Cromwell. Their marriage is one based on mutual love and respect…but it isn’t always easy being the wife of an influential, headstrong man in Henry VIII’s London.
The city is filled with ruthless people and strange delights – and Elizabeth realises she must adjust to the life she has chosen…or risk losing everything.
| Author Interview |
Following a first degree in English and History, Carol McGrath completed an MA in Creative Writing from The Seamus Heaney Centre, Queens University Belfast, followed by an MPhil in English from University of London. The Handfasted Wife, first in a trilogy about the royal women of 1066 was shortlisted for the RoNAS in 2014. The Swan-Daughter and The Betrothed Sister complete this acclaimed, best-selling trilogy. The Woman in the Shadows, a best-selling historical novel about Elizabeth Cromwell, wife of Henry VIII’s statesman Thomas Cromwell, was published by Accent Press in 2017. Carol is currently working on The Silken Rose set in the High Middle Ages and featuring Ailenor of Provence. She frequently speaks at events and conferences and was the coordinator of the Historical Novels’ Society Conference, Oxford in September 2016. She regularly reviews for the HNS. Find Carol on her website:
- Where did the inspiration come from for your current book?
The Woman in the Shadows was inspired by Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. I was intrigued by Elizabeth’s ghost and how within the context of this novel it haunted Thomas Cromwell, her husband. He kept seeing her after she had died of the Sweat. I wondered about her, who she was and what her relationship with Thomas Cromwell might have been. I was curious about his family life. I began to research him and, of course, Elizabeth about whom there are few concrete facts. I did not discover a cruel Thomas Cromwell though he was ruthless once he was caught up in a sycophantic court working for an unpredictable King. I wanted to understand Elizabeth as a strong woman, a widow, thus with independence and who, like her family, was involved in cloth. Fabrics and London of the Tudor merchant class feature strongly in the inspiration for this novel. Both Elizabeth and Thomas had connections with trade.
- Do you have a special ritual that you do when you finish writing a book?
I don’t consider a novel finished until all the edits are completed. I tend to clean my study and empty my mind of that manuscript if I can. After a few weeks, I begin to write a new novel. I am currently writing The Silken Rose about Henry III’s queen, Ailenor of Provence. This also has embroidery and fabrics as a theme and I have been working on it for almost two years.
- What has been you favourite read of 2018, so far?
I choose The Coffin Path by Katherine Clements, a ghostly novel set twenty years after The English Civil War. It’s a mixture of Wuthering Heights and Precious Bane. I love it.
- Could you, please share with us a photograph that tells a story?
- If you could pick three books that have influenced your life, what would they be and why?
Dr Zhivago by Boris Pasternak for its excellent writing, characters and narrative drive.
Katherine by Anya Seton has a convincing medieval atmosphere and made me want to write books set in this period.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte has always intrigued me because of its gothic atmosphere and strangeness. It has made me consider including characters in my stories that are unusual and placed in alien situations. Great story-telling.
- If your book had its own theme song, what would it be?
Who Knows Where the Time Goes- Sandy Denny for Fairport Convention.
- If your book was made into a movie who would you like to play the main characters?
Elizabeth would be Maxine Peake. Thomas can only be Mark Rylance.
- Do you have any questions for your readers?
What qualities do you enjoy reading in historical women as protagonists?
Lastly, if you could say something to your reader before they start your book what would it be?
Enjoy the characters and try to step into their world. Remember if you don’t like the choices they make, do try to understand why they make them. What impacts their lives will have different consequences to those we face. Emotions, whilst similar, may play out in a different way to life today. I have to impose a storyline that’s plausible but not necessarily an absolute historical truth to persuade you to ‘read on.’ This is, after all, historical fiction.
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