New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Karen Harper’s latest historical thriller, The Irish Princess, twines an adventurous young woman’s quest for revenge with her longing for forbidden love. Publisher’s Weekly says, “Harper is in fine form, using strong-willed Irish noblewoman, Elizabeth (Gera) Fitzgerald, to explore the court of the aging Henry VIII and the brutal political struggles of the time.”
In The Irish Princess, Gera’s family, ‘the uncrowned kings of Ireland,’ are devastated by the orders of King Henry VIII—most imprisoned or executed. Vowing revenge, Gera works her way into the Tudor court and plans to kill the king, but she did not plan on falling in love with one of the king’s men, the Lord High Admiral of England. Nor did she expect to meet her match in the wily Princess Elizabeth Tudor of England.
Recently, I chatted with Karen about her latest work and remarkable writing career.
You have set many of your historical Tudor-era mysteries and historical novels, including The Irish Princess, on the British Isles. What, in addition to your Scottish and English roots, inspired you about that geographical setting and the 16th-century time period?
I’m never sure how to answer the question of how I became a rabid Anglophile or caught the disease of Tudormania. Perhaps because I had an English pen pal from 6th grade on. Or because I majored in Brit Lit, have a Masters Degree in English Literature and taught it for years at the high school level. Of course, I fell in love with England through many trips there both for pleasure and research. And why the Tudors? What a turbulent era with a ruling family so over the top. Six wives? Beheadings? A virgin queen? I couldn’t begin to make all that up. The Tudors come with their own thriller stories.
In The Irish Princess, and in many of your works, you mix fictional and well-known historical characters—provocative figures such as the Irish noblewoman Elizabeth (Gera) Fitzgerald, known to history as the Fair Geraldine, Henry VIII, Sir Anthony Browne and Edward Clinton, Lord High Admiral of the king’s navy. What was your approach to weaving your fictional story with historical facts?
First of all, I do not change history to suit my plot, unless it is a minor thing and I ‘fess up’ to the reader in my Author’s Note. However, Tudor research often conflicts on dates and details, so that allows author privilege. Sometimes research is sketchy enough that I have to construct a historical character through small but ‘telling details.’ An example of such: Gera was once (briefly) sent to the Tower for ‘plainspeaking to the queen.’ That gave me a great glimpse into her personality—honest, daring. Yet the queen soon had her back at court which spoke to their friendship.
Gera is raised in a family at the center of the struggle for Irish home rule. Young Gera flees to England as most of her relatives are imprisoned or executed. She seeks revenge against the powerful Tudors and reinstatement of her family—her primary motivations. How do Gera’s motivations evolve as her story unfolds?
I love protagonists who have great character arcs; that is, they learn and change in the course of the story. Gera is out for revenge against the Tudors and their cronies, but learns she must judge people individually. Worse, to her way of thinking at first, she falls in love with a Tudor loyalist, Captain Edward Clinton, and becomes fast friends with the Princess Elizabeth, who was also treated cruelly by Henry VIII at times. But Gera never changes her mind about her loyalty to her beloved Ireland.
After entering the king’s court and serving as lady-in-waiting to Henry VIII’s doomed fifth queen, Gera married highly placed courtier Sir Anthony Browne. But Gera harbors a secret attraction to seagoing Captain Edward Clinton, Lord High Admiral of England. How does Gera reconcile her respect for her husband and his position with her desire for Edward Clinton?
Honor really meant something in Tudor England, although the times were still rife with betrayals and deceits. Gera’s marriage to Sir Anthony, a boon companion to the king, was a calculated move to gain better access to the king in her hopes to find a way to revenge. Although she and Edward are attracted to each other from an early age, he is married also. Nothing spices up a book more than forbidden love, and, in this case, the fact that the two lovers struggle to resist consummating their passion. But I’ll leave the rest of how that plays out unsaid at this point.
You currently write historical mysteries/thrillers and contemporary suspense. How do you balance your time and creative energy between the two genres?
I know readers (and publishers!) like to pigeonhole books, but I find I’m always writing a blend of thriller/suspense/mystery. My historicals usually cover a longer period of time than a typical thriller, but my contemporary novels take place in a brief time span. Balancing the two genres is a challenge, but both voices come fairly easily to me, perhaps because I’ve read and taught both genres for years. Of course, the cultural backgrounds, vocabulary, even sentence structure vary greatly between books set in Tudor England and small town America. (I’m pleased to say Down River, set in Alaska, was just nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark Award.) I’m currently writing a suspense/thriller trilogy set in Ohio Amish country, and The Plain People have a unique culture, even though they are living in modern times. Each novel, historical or contemporary, must be true to its characters and culture.
Karen Harper is a former college English instructor (The Ohio State University) and high school literature and writing teacher. A lifelong Ohioan, Karen and her husband Don divide their time between the midwest and the southeast, both locations she has used in her books. Besides her American settings, Karen loves the British Isles, where she has set many of her historical Tudor-era mysteries and her historical novels about real and dynamic British women. Karen’s books have been published in many foreign languages and she won the Mary Higgins Clark Award for 2005.
Visit Karen online at www.KarenHarperAuthor.com.