Friday, 16 September 2011

So long, summer!

Yesterday I handed in my final piece of work for my Masters degree at Queen's University, Belfast. It was a dissertation on Henry VIII's fifth wife, Catherine Howard, and her household establishment. Basically, the aim was to uncover new evidence about Catherine's short time as queen and to examine if it was her own behaviour, or that of her ladies in waiting, which explained why her life ended so tragically. Definitely exhausting, but also really interesting and it was hard at times to keep an academic (i.e. neutral) tone when talking about something that was sometimes scandalous and sometimes deeply, deeply sad. 

Anyway, it's done now and that means, my MA degree is finished. It feels so strange that after a year it's done. I've absolutely no regrets about doing it, despite how busy this year - and particularly this summer - has been. A big thanks to my thesis supervisor, Dr. James Davis, for working with me this summer. Also, to the people on the MA course, it's been mad banter. I will forever remember that field trip to Cumbria. Sweet Jesus.

Yesterday, as I sat eating the world's best ice cream with Adam, I got to thinking about this summer. All very CB of me, I know. (By the way, the ice cream is amazing. Three types of Ben and Jerry's and HOT sauce in the middle of it. It is not just a miracle of engineering, it does God's work. However, I will leave out the fact that half of the group made the cardinal error of choosing hot fudge sauce over caramel sauce. I judged to the extent I nearly put a hashtag in front of my emotions.) This summer began with the release of Popular in the UK and Ireland on 7 July and since then, it's been released in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. It's been named Tatler's book of the month and it's  been profiled on BBC radio, television and The Irish Times. I also had the opportunity to direct the first ever theatre adaptation of the play in south Belfast, with the wonderful Pamela Mills and a phenomenal cast of twenty-three local actors. But, perhaps most importantly of all, the play created an opportunity for so many house parties that it seems like I've spent a summer bouncing between the library, the theatre and rehab. 


When you've written a book and its sequel, you've kind of lived with the characters for two years. They become real to you in a very strange way and you do care about them, deeply. It's hard to put into words properly how much it all means to you and how much it means when people enjoy the story. To everyone who's bought Popular, read it, reviewed it and been in touch, a huge thank you. To everyone who was in the theatre version - we have lungs full of hairspray, annihilated livers and we horcruxed ourselves during the dress rehearsal. But thank you. It was an hilarious summer and totes beau. Standard. 

Don't get too carried away with my feelings here, either, though. Like Imogen, I could turn on any of you like that

With all the busyness of the summer now over, the geekiest side of the whole thing is that I'm actually looking forward to reading for pleasure again! And I'm beyond excited about; put together a pile of books which I'm going to work through, hopefully by Christmas. I'll bringing at least one with me to America - back to Connecticut for tailgate in November, again, all being well. Also, going to kick up the gym, visit a few schools and interviews to talk about Popular and, maybe (hint), start talking about bringing back Popular for the Irish stage in December or spring. Stay tuned!

After a tactical re-read of the Harry Potter books (standard. Anyone who doesn't like them is probably soulless. Like people who order fudge over caramel #neverlettingitgo), I'm going to work through the following books and I have tried not to buy any more new ones until these ones (some of which I've had for years, by the way), are read. Momentary slip up when I bought Alison Weir's new biography of Mary Boleyn today, along with Greg King and Penny Wilson's new book about Grand Duchess Anastasia. But, can't be helped! (Btw, list is not in order of preference.)

1. Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Shiff

2. Death and the Virgin: Elizabeth, Dudley and the mysterious fate of Amy Robsart by Chris Skidmore

3. House of Treason: The Rise & Fall of a Tudor dynasty by Robert Hutchinson

4. The Warrior Queens: Boadicea's Chariot by Lady Antonia Fraser

5. The Lady in Blue by Javier Sierra

6. Katherine the Queen: The Remarkable Life of Katherine Parr by Linda Porter

7. The Hollow Crown: A History of Britain in the Late Middle Ages by Miri Rubin

8. The Resurrection of the Romanovs: Anastasia, Anna Anderson and the world's greatest royal mystery by Greg King and Penny Wilson

9. The Romanovs & Mr Gibbes by Frances Welch

10. The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional religion in England, c. 1400 - c. 1580 by Eamon Duffy

11. The Last White Rose: The secret wars of the Tudors by Desmond Seward

12. Heresy by S.J. Parris

13. Ungrateful Daughters: The Stuart princesses who stole their father's crown by Maureen Waller

14. The Night's Dark Shade by Elena Maria Vidal

15. Juan and Eva by Clive Foss

16. Mary Boleyn by Alison Weir

17. Dancing to the Precipice: Lucie de la Tour du Pin and the French Revolution by Caroline Moorehead

18. The Pursuit of the Heiress: Aristocratic Marriage in Ireland, 1740-1840 by A.P.W. Malcomson

Wildly over-ambitious maybe. But good not to be reading any photocopied sixteenth century confessions anymore! Or medieval paleography... Banter.

Popular, including the first ever day of school, a day in the life of Hector Colliner, Mariella Thompson's Austrian ski lodge and a dinner between Blake and Cameron which you didn't see in the book!


  1. I am speechless with pleasure to see my book included in this list. Thank you.

  2. And you if you are anywhere near Washington, DC let me know and I'll jump on the nearest metro train.

  3. BTW, I looked up that new book on the Romanovs by King and Wilson, all excited at first, but it does sound terribly disappointing. I did my dissertation on Anastasia, you know.

  4. Really?! I did not know that. I'd love to read it. What have the reviews of the new Romanov book been like? I remember reading John Klier and Helen Mingay's book on the Anastasia case in which they argued "Anna Anderson" was not the Russian Grand Duchess but a Polish factory/skilled actress. Didn't enjoy "The Fate of the Romanovs" much, but though "Resurrection" might be more even handed to the royal family?

  5. My impression from the reviews is that King and Wilson have decided that "Anna Anderson" was indeed the Polish factory worker. In doing so they are ignoring the fact that the two women (Anna and Fransciska) had different heights and different sized feet. Anna had a rare congenital foot defect that F. did not have. Anyway, Boris Romanov had written a grand critique of the book.

    I'll try to find my paper on Anastasia and send it to you.


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