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History Buff is a site for history lovers everywhere. It is also a site very interested in women of the past. Although I (sadly) no longer have time to continue these interviews, here is an archive of Q&As about women's lives in history. And please feel free to stop by History Buff's sister site for archaeological discoveries making news today. Enjoy!

Michelle Moran
Historical fiction author

As an historical fiction writer I am fascinated by news stories featuring the past as it's unearthed and reimagined and brought to life. I spend a
large quantity of time searching for news in archaeology and history. Once in a great while a new archaeological discovery will act as an inspiration for what I'm currently writing. But most of the time the news stories I read are simply interesting tidbits of history. Unfortunately, I have disallowed comments because I travel so frequently that I can neither monitor nor respond to them. But I would still love to share the history that I find fascinating each day. So welcome! And feel free to visit my website at or contact me at authormichellemoran at hotmail dot com.

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Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Q&A With Historical Fiction Author Brenda Rickman Vantrease

* In your historical novel THE MERCY SELLER, you write about a young woman in Prague named Anna Bookman, who makes her living by illuminating books. In your previous novel, THE ILLUMINATOR, Anna's grandfather risks his life to illustrate the English Bible. What was it about the job of an illuminator that fascinated you?
I think it might have been the color--I love color, sometimes I think I could drown in it, especially jewel tones--and the light, exploiting the light buried in those colors, that most difficult of painters' tasks. Of course, the medieval illuminator was not restricted to pigments. He also used gold and silver--that's why they are said to be "illuminated." I have always been fascinated by old, illuminated manuscripts. The first one I saw was The Book of Kells in Trinity College, Dublin. It must have had a much stronger impact on my imagination than I thought for the art to have shaped a fictional character forty years later.

* How much of your novel THE MERCY SELLER is based on fact and how much is fiction?
The character of Arundel, Henry V, Sir John Oldcastle, Jan Hus are all based in history as are the names and the event of the killing of the three young students in Prague. The facts surrounding Sir John's wife and her estate are true, though I could find little about her. Her character is largely drawn from my imagination. Anna, Finn, Friar Gabriel, and Kathryn (as well as the abbey she heads) are fictional. Their stories are fictional, though I tried to make their stories consistent with the roles they might have played in history.

* Tell us something surprising about women in 15th century Prague.
Women in 15th century Prague, or any 15th city in Europe, were in many ways similar to us. They could work at a variety of jobs--not just mid-wife, housewife, teacher, seamstress, poet--but they could enter the trades their husbands practiced and at widowhood become the sole proprietors of same. It was accepted practice that their wages were lower. Because they did not bear arms, they had no political voice, but because they bore children, they could exert tremendous political influence. They could inherit property-- if there were no male heirs--and because they carried a purse, they carried respect. Most from the artisan class and up could read, write, cipher, and some even knew a smattering of Latin. But no matter their social status, their days were consumed with the gathering and preparation--or supervision of preparation, since most had at least one servant--of food. The more things change the more things stay the same. (Heavy sigh)! How did they manage without a deli and take out and prepared meals?! Raise the chicken, wring its neck, pluck its feathers, gut it, put it on a spit on an open fire--all after a day behind the counter in their husband's mill, or armory, or barber shop or...

* In what way does English-born Anna Bookman defy the conventions of her time (15th century) and adopted country (Czechoslovakia)?
In the beginning she does not defy them at all. Because of her grandfather's work with the university, she exists in a little bubble of learning and "free-thinking" people, and she runs her grandfather's household like any other woman of her time. True, she is flaunting the laws of the Church by working with the Bible translations and openly following the teachings of Jan Hus, but the king has tolerated these dissidents until the incident with the burning of indulgences when the Church pressures him to step in. Up until this tipping point, the king has even encouraged the burgeoning cultural interest in developing the Czech language, and the emperor has tolerated it. Every day Jan Hus is preaching to 3000 people in the Bethlehem Chapel in the Czech language while the mass at the Cathedral on the hill is ill attended. So when things go too far and the storm bursts over their heads, Anna is ill prepared to cope. But by the time she returns to England things have changed. She has matured through her suffering and loss, and she is in full flaunting mode.

* What are you working on next, and will your new protagonist be an
No. As much pleasure as that gave me, my next book is set after the invention of the printing press. I am interested in how the English Bible went from being banned to being a required accoutrement of every church and chapel in England within a span of one generation. My next protagonist will be a smuggler and a translator.

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.Copyright © Don Vantrease
Thank you Brenda! And feel free to visit Brenda Rickman Vantrease online for more information about her novels The Illuminator and The Mercy Seller.