Alison Weir is the biggest-selling female historian (and the fifth best-selling historian) in the United Kingdom since records began in 1997. She has published thirty titles and sold more than 3 million books – over a million in the UK and 2.2 million in the USA. She is now working on two concurrent series of books: Six Tudor Queens, comprising six novels on the wives of Henry VIII, and England's Medieval Queens, a quartet of historical works of non-fiction. You can find Alison's books on our catalogue in regular book format or as e-books.
1. Who were your literary heroes as you were growing up and when did you first become interested in history?
As a young child, I loved Enid Blyton, A.A. Milne, C.S. Lewis and Frances Hodgson Burnett. I got into history in a big way when I was fourteen and read my first adult novel, about Henry VIII and his wives. I got hooked overnight. After that, my literary heroes were historical novelists - Margaret Campbell Barnes, Jean Plaidy, Hilda Lewis, Anya Seton and the wonderful Norah Lofts - my favourite author of all time. I loved reading the work of historians, of course - Antonia Fraser was an inspiration. I devoured her biography of Mary, Queen of Scots.
2. What is your writing routine? Do you have a favourite desk and a view? Do you keep particular hours?
I work to office hours. I aim to be at my desk by 9.30am, then I check emails and do admin (there's a lot of it in normal times, when I'm doing events) before getting down to work by 11am. Usually I work on fiction in the mornings, writing five pages on Word, then break for lunch at 1.30pm. From 2pm to 5pm, I work on non-fiction. I then exercise for 30 minutes, and may go back to work until 6pm, when we have supper. Evenings are free. We converted our double garage into a library/study for me, where my desk is surrounded by bookshelves and I can look out of two large picture windows into the close beyond, which is quiet and full of greenery.
3. How have you coped with the whole lockdown scenario? I'm guessing that researching online is nowhere near as good as access to records in person?
I've been doing a lot of writing and am now well ahead of schedule. Fortunately, I had done most of my original research before lockdown began, and I've been going through the books in my library and trawling the internet for sources I can't find.
4. Your new title in May Katharine Parr, the sixth wife recounts the story of Henry VIII's last wife. Can you give Suffolk readers a flavour of that and what it was like to write?
I hope the book gives balance to Katharine's life. People forget that she was married four times, and the focus is often on her relationships with Henry VIII and Thomas Seymour. The Victorians saw her as Henry's nurse, but that is a distortion. She was far more important than that. And she trod a dangerous path, having to keep secret her love for Seymour and her heretical religious views. I think that Henry tried to protect her. His love for her was genuine.
5. Is there anything you can share with us about your latest project?
I'm working on the first of a series of three newly commissioned novels. I can't tell you more about them, as they haven't been announced yet. I'm also working on Queens of the Age of Chivalry, the third book in my quartet on England's Medieval Queens. And there's another book - still unannounced - coming out later this year.
6. Do you have a message for your many Suffolk readers? I can remember watching your presentation at Beccles Library with Kate Williams quite a few years ago now. Do you get to visit Suffolk at all?
I love Suffolk - it's the most beautiful part of the world. I've brought tour groups there and I'm a patron of Red Rose Chain at Ipswich. They do wonderful productions. One of my favourite places is Lavenham, but but there are so many others that draw me. I always jump at the chance to do an event in Suffolk, and am hoping that I'll be able to do another before too long. So, I'm looking forward to seeing Suffolk readers soon!
7. What was your best book read/best music/best TV of 2020?
I loved Ken Follett's The Evening and the Morning, the prequel to The Pillars of the Earth. He writes wonderful books that bring a past age to life. I don't keep up with current music - I don't have time - so I tend to discover it, usually late in the day, or keep to the same artistes. Last year it was Blackmore's Night and Runrig (their farewell concert was sublime). Favourite TV? The Salisbury Poisonings, Des, Ghosts, All Creatures Great and Small, Outlander, Liar, The Trial of Christine Keeler and Call The Midwife.
8. What is the best advice you were ever given?
Never give up!
9. Can you tell us one thing about yourself that your readers may not know
I once worked on a rock biography, mentoring and editing the musicians from a famous 60s group.