Alison Weir will teach a writing workshop on Historical Fiction
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Hever Castle, Kent, England – Anne Boleyn’s Childhood Home November 21-28 2012 Abroad Writers Program
My bedroom, Daffodil, is on the cover of the brochure, the double bed with a canopy – and featured in the Hever Castle history book available to all guests. Daffodil a sumptuous and elegant room, with a door latch and a real key; each detail designed to elicit the feeling of royal opulence.
I’ve been home for almost two weeks, and I can shut my eyes and feel the firm warmth of their down comforter, the starched sheets and the exuberant suds of their body wash. I know I didn’t stay in the Castle proper: I know I stayed in a wing designed for guests, a rambling warren-like extravaganza of 1905 Astor-built plush and posh: a mixture of styles: Tudor, Edwardian and Victorian, but a the orchids on the conference table were real, from the Hever gardens.
The wait staff, with spotless white gloves, served us Thanksgiving dinner in the Great Hall. Other meals were as sumptuous, served in a fireplace lit room with silver candelabras entwined with season’s greens. Quail eggs, poached eggs; they served eggs to me over-easy, with a smile at my Americanism.
The writer’s workshop was as rich and delightful as the surroundings. Through the leaded glass we heard geese honking, the moat pool directly outside, like glass mirror reflected our white hot writing; our scribbled words and worked dialogue. We pushed, shoved and moved those sentences. We earned our character development, and the trips to the silver and crystal ladies cloak room.
I am back stateside for two weeks have already read three of Alison Weir’s books on the history of England from that period. She lectured twice, as smooth as if she were gossiping about the affair at the office cooler, a piece of gossip alive, in the political arena three hundred years later.
In the castle I sense the treachery, the sensuality and shrewish nature of Anne Boleyn. When I am reading Ms. Weir’s pages I cast my memory to the small upstairs room that had been Anne’s during her youth, a room she most likely shared with her sister, not the only thing those two women shared.
So, while I was treated like a princess, thankfully my days did not end in the Tower waiting for a swordsman imported from France.
But my writing workshops with Robert Olen Butler, Paul Harding, and Alex Shoumatoff, did end, and reluctantly I turned in my key and folded notebook my pages.
If I work really hard, I have sufficient material to keep me going for at least a year. If I remember Robert’s advice, to forget everything I learned, I still have sufficient molten lava for a good short story, and Paul suggests we press our characters so they earn the right on the page. Alex hopes we praise the world, sing songs of diversity, and he gave me a nickname, Moxie Mary.
I can be a writer with social consciousness. I can find my true story. I can return to Hever Castle in the spring, perhaps, when the flowers are budding and the romance is in bloom. I can be a princess and I will ask for the Daffodil room again.
Mary Pauer –email@example.com
“There was more to the story of Anne Boleyn than sex and murder.”
This is the message that acclaimed historian Eric Ives hopes to convey to an audience of Tudor fans when he takes centre stage at Hever Castle this November.
The man who first drew attention in the 1970s and 1980s to the importance of Henry VIII’s second wife, still believes Anne was so significant to Henry VIII’s story that the debate about her importance “will run and run”.
When Eric first set out his arguments more than 30 years ago, he knew there had been no academic study of her since 1884.
He first set out the premise that Anne was much more important than previously thought.
And his work called into question the way political power operated.
In the face of continuing discussion about Anne’s marriage, alleged adultery, and fertility, Eric believes his view of her is unlikely to alter.
“I don’t expect to change my picture of her unless and until more documentation is discovered,” he says.
“The only new item of importance is a reconstruction of the 1534 portrait medal – the single contemporary likeness of Anne to have survived.”
The lecture series to be staged by Abroad Writers Conference at Hever this November will include a talk by Alison Weir on Anne’s sister Mary, who was Henry VIII’s mistress.
Eric’s view of the relationship between the two sisters is that there was probably tension between them.
He has previously written: “Mary should have been under no illusions.
“As early as November 1530, the king had given Anne £20 to redeem a jewel Mary possessed, presumably one he had given her.
“Anne, the wife, wanted no-one to remember Mary, the mistress.”
Speaking to Abroad ahead of the Hever conference, Eric said: “Mary’s affair with Henry may have been over before Anne returned from France at the end of 1521.
“But I think that the repossession of the jewel and Anne’s response to Mary’s remarriage do reflect tension between the sisters and suggest that when Anne became Henry’s intended wife and queen, she was concerned to put distance between herself and Mary, the ex-mistress.”
Hever Castle is famous for being the childhood home of Anne Boleyn and Tudor fans flock to the Kent attraction to walk in the famous woman’s footsteps.
One of the stories told locally is that Henry VIII used to visit Anne at Hever, and Kent was where much of their courtship took place.
Unfortunately for Tudor fans, Eric has investigated these theories and says: “I can find no evidence at all to substantiate any of these stories.”
But his interest is not so much in Anne and Henry’s romance, as the influence on Anne of the French Reformist Movement.
The historian has written extensively about Anne’s taste for French religious literature.
He has looked at her enduring interest in the writings of Jacques Lefevre (1455-1536), a French humanist, theologian and translator whose scholarship stimulated scriptural studies during the Protestant Reformation.
In the early 1500s, Lefevre published his Psalterium quintuplex (five Latin versions of the Psalms), a work which has been interpreted as embodying doctrines of the Reformation and is believed to have had some influence on Martin Luther.
Lefevre later focused on using the vernacular for religious works and translated the whole Bible into French.
So if there was one question Eric could ask Anne Boleyn now, it would be this.
“You cherished the books of Jacques Lefevre. Did you ever meet him?”
And further to that, if there was one question he could have answered about Anne, it would be how her story with Henry began.
“Why did she take the crucial step of sleeping with Henry in November 1532?” Eric asks. “Was it her idea, Henry’s idea or a joint decision?”
History fans will be able to hear Eric’s latest insights into England’s famous queen on 26 November.
A percentage of funds raised from Eric’s lecture will go to the YMCA.
For further details, see our booking information page.
As the train slowly moves south through France from its mountainous centre to its arid plains the colours of the vegetation subtly shift. We pass gardens with neat rows of tomatoes and haricots verts, tables with oilcloths and plastic chairs invitingly waiting under shady trees. Lavender bushes which were still in tight pale green bud in the mountains are in full purple bloom as we approach Nimes. Roses are full, open. The sky is deep blue.
I am met at the station by Nancy Gerbault who has organized a literary event which I am to attend for the weekend en route back to London, lured out of my writing retreat by the promise of spending time in the company of Michael Ondaatje, Andrew Motion and others, with the fantasy luxury of a bed in a chateau with breakfast on a pale stone terrace, with my only duties a screening or two and a session answering questions about screenwriting.
What I did not know about was the garden.
The Alchemists Garden
Next to the hotel (not a chateau, in fact, but a Ferme or farm) is a garden built relatively recently, based on alchemical principles. The next morning, in a soft warm breeze, the sun already slanting, hot, onto the immaculate lawns, I enter the garden through its labyrinth and become absorbed and entranced by what I find there. Lavender beds surrounding olive trees, enclosed by willow trees planted in criss-cross lattice form; herbs, vines, flowers; each bush, plant or tree with an adjacent discreet notice describing its properties, many of them traditionally seen as protective against the evil eye, bad influence, or sickness.
After this gentle tour through the powers of plants, comes the alchemical voyage through three inner gardens. First the alchemy garden, the ground covered in slate, everything laid out in straight lines, the borders metallic, the presence of still water, the mood somber. The alchemy garden has paths covered with white gravel, inset with circles of pale stone, a central stone pond surrounded by beds of white roses. A circular entrance through a hedge leads to the alchemy garden with rust-coloured gravel paths, beds of red roses and orange flowers, a central fountain in a six pointed star.
You can leave the black garden by using your mind, says a notice, but to transit the white garden, governed by the moon, you must open your heart. The journey through the red garden, governed by the sun, leads you to a state of transformation. You leave it ready to begin your life again.
I walk through the gardens three times during the weekend. In between I listen to readings (Michael on the craft of writing, Alan Lightman reading from his book Einstein’s Dreams and talking about his dual life as a writer and astrophysicist, Andrew Motion reading his poems, movingly) gaze at the golden light falling on bleached grasses, relax in the heat, talk, eat.
The screening of YES, in the Papal Palace in Avignon, leads to a long Q and A in which, in response to a question and to my observations of the preoccupations of some of the paying participants, I address the question of doubt, self-doubt in particular, as an important part of the writers’ process. My Self-esteem being an overvalued attribute in my view (you feel ashamed if you don’t have enough of it, adding to the sense of lack) I put forward a case for the celebration of both self-doubt and self-criticism. I have noticed that many students feel bad and anxious about the fact that they don’t feel happy with what they have achieved. They assume that those bearers of more conspicuous success must feel good about themselves.
I hope it is reassuring and energising to hear that feelings of confidence are a bonus and not a necessity in writing a screenplay (or perhaps anything else). The point, really, is to get on with it whatever you feel; to learn to coexist with emotional discomfort or anxiety, not to think there’s something wrong with you because it feels hard or you make mistakes.
(My repeated contacts with people struggling with these and other obstacles on the road of screenwriting and directing, some of them students, some practitioners, and the pleasure I get from being able to be of some assistances perhaps simply by saying out loud the things |I wish someone would say to me when I am struggling and it has led me to decide to offer an open workshop or two some time later this year.
As we emerge from the Papal Palace to a soft pink early evening light, Michael Ondaatje suggests a ride on a carousel. Rebecca Swift and Rebecca Abrams, Michael and I sit on our painted wooden horses, laughing, laughing, and singing, as we slowly turn and turn on our horses as they rise and fall. Later, around midnight, after a feast, driving back into Egaylieres, Michael and I are consumed with the need to find a house we had each stayed in (at different times) some years back. Laughing, again, we stumble about in the dark. This is it. No, here! A light on in the house, a figure moving behind the shutters. Michael shouting up a name into the darkness.
The next morning I visit the alchemist garden one last time and take some photographs with my mobile phone. For the last month I have been gardening in southern central France: a view of mountains in the distance, but my eyes mostly scanning what is close. I have had my hands in the earth, day after day, calloused from digging, torn and bleeding from brambles, thistles and nettles.
I have planted three varieties of potato, two of carrot, four of French bean; tomatoes, leeks, beetroot (red and golden), three types of basil plus thyme, rosemary, mint, dill, tarragon, borage and coriander. The strawberries, when I left, were red and heavy; the roses were starting to bloom. A year ago it was a wilderness, full of choking weeds. Now it looks empty, too clean, but cared for.
Tomorrow, in London, I will be in a meeting about an opera; two scripts now sit in my suitcase, surrounded by uncertainty, budding but not yet blooming.
The next Abroad Writers’ Conference is scheduled for 21 to 28 November 2012 at Hever Castle. Authors teaching workshops are: Robert Olen Butler, Paul Harding, Edward Humes and Alex Shoumatoff along with three lecturing British historians: Sarah Gristwood, Eric Ives and Alison Weir.
Best-selling UK historian Alison Weir will begin the Abroad Writers’ Conference lecture series at Hever Castle this November, with a talk based on her book Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings.
The lecture starts at 18:00 GMT and 20% of our profits will go to local Kent charity, Hospice in the Weald.
Mary Boleyn has gone down in history as the “great and infamous whore”. She was the mistress of two kings, Francis I of France and Henry VIII of England, and sister to Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife.
But in her book, Alison Weir explodes much of the mythology that surrounds Mary Boleyn by carrying out extensive, forensic research to facilitate a new portrayal.
‘Forced to be mistress’
She has concluded that the paternity of Mary’s two children can now be established, thanks to new and overlooked evidence and one was almost certainly fathered by Henry VIII.
Her research has also focused on the relationship between the two sisters, showing how Mary, as the elder of the Boleyn sisters, was soon overshadowed by the more accomplished Anne, and how Mary was more beautiful than Anne, although there is no authentic portrait.
Alison has discovered that contrary to popular belief, Mary did not gain a notorious reputation at the French court, and she probably spent ten years of her life living abroad. But at some stage in her life, Henry VIII forced Mary to become his mistress. However, there is evidence to suggest when their affair began.
Her astonishing and riveting book argues that Mary was entirely undeserving of her reputation as a great and infamous whore, or the calumny that was later heaped upon her, and also shows that Mary’s story had a happy ending and that she was by far the luckiest of the Boleyns.
Hear Alison talk about her research by joining us at Hever this autumn. See our booking information for ticket details.
There is no substitute for travelling to a place of history and seeing it with your own eyes if you want to understand the past, historian Sarah Gristwood says.
Writers will walk in the footsteps of the Tudors at Hever Castle this autumn and hear a series of talks about the castle’s famous residents – Anne and Mary Boleyn – and Anne’s daughter, Queen Elizabeth I.
But what people get from the experience of standing where they stood has nothing to do with “vibes” or “atmosphere”, Sarah says.
“We’re not talking about anything as abstruse as vibrations and even atmosphere may well have changed over the centuries. But some things don’t change – like the very lie of the land. You can see how history worked itself out much more clearly.”
Hever Castle is famous for being the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, and Sarah’s lecture, given with fellow historian Alison Weir, will offer an insight into the lives of both Anne and Elizabeth I.
Anne was the second wife of King Henry VIII. Their marriage in 1533 led him to break with the Roman Catholic church and bring about the English Reformation. But Henry’s ultimate aim was to father a legitimate male heir to the throne.
In the year she married, Anne gave birth to Queen Elizabeth I. But a year later, she had a miscarriage, and two years after that she gave birth to a stillborn male child. In 1536, she was committed to the Tower of London on a charge of adultery and even incest and was beheaded 17 days later.
Sarah says: “The whore and the virgin are two popular perceptions of Anne and her daughter.
“Alison and I will be asking how much truth there is in the legends, and how much these two very famous women really had in common – what legacy Anne bequeathed to her daughter.”
Both Anne and Elizabeth captured people’s fascination at the time they lived and in the present day and Sarah explains their enduring fascination.
“I think part of Anne’s fascination is that she was a great self-inventor; a not particularly beautiful girl who managed to make herself one of the great romantic prizes – something that was also true of Elizabeth in a way,” Sarah says.
“That, and the fact that opinions about her – even during her own lifetime – varied so wildly.”
Sarah’s view is that while Anne Boleyn suffered a horrendous early death, she only made a trade-off that many men have been prepared to make right through the centuries.
If she could say one thing to the young Anne, it would not necessarily be “don’t do it – don’t marry Henry”.
“Anne suffered a horrendous early death but she had won the highest rank and changed the future of her country,” says the best-selling Tudor biographer, journalist and royal commentator
“And, had she known it, she had given birth to a monarch who would be perhaps the greatest in Britain’s history.”
The Abroad Writers’ Conference lecture series at Hever will begin on 21 November, when Alison Weir will give a talk about Mary Boleyn, based on her best-selling book, Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings.
The author and historian will look at the tangled web of relationships that developed between Henry VIII and the two Boleyn sisters – one his wife and the other his mistress.
Alison’s work has led to her exploding much of the mythology surrounding Mary Boleyn.
She has also presented compelling new evidence that almost conclusively determines the paternity of Mary’s two eldest children.
The lecture by both Sarah and Alison will take place on 22 November and will be followed by a special Thanksgiving dinner.
A while ago, we wrote our Hever Castle writing conference would be a first for us on many levels – our first conference in a castle, our first conference in autumn, and the first time we have combined history with literature.
But there’s another first for us. We are opening our doors to the public.
In the past, we met dozens of fellow writing types at our workshop events. But this time we hope to meet hundreds, because we are also staging a series of lectures.
Dress up, come and have dinner with us and a glass of wine, hear our speakers, get your book signed, meet like-minded writers and have a chat with our experts.
They will be talking about the Tudors – particularly Anne Boleyn who lived at Hever Castle – the state of publishing today, literature and journalism for our time, along with the art of simply putting words together and crafting your stories. If you’ve been following our blog, you’ll already know some of our speakers.
Here are the details of our lecture evenings. Each dinner will raise money for a locally-based charity. Those organisations will receive 20% of our profits.
21 November – Historian Alison Weir, in support of Hospice in the Weald
22 November – Historians Alison Weir & Sarah Gristwood, in aid of Kent Air Ambulance (This lecture is followed by a special Thanksgiving dinner)
23 November – Pulitzer prize winning author Paul Harding, in aid of Action for Children
24 November – Pulitzer winning author Robert Olen Butler in support of the Dogs Trust
25 November – Vanity Fair contributing editor Alex Shoumatoff, in aid of WWF
26 November – Historian Eric Ives in aid of the YMCA
27 November – Pulitzer prize winner Edward Humes in support of the Wildwood Trust
Tickets are £115 or $184.00 for one lecture and dinner with wine.
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