Coffee with Architects of Worlds Afar welcomes historical fiction writer Anna Chant. Her debut novel, Kenneth’s Queen, just recently hit the virtual shelves.
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Anna Chant and I live on the English Riviera in Devon, UK. I’m a mum of three boys and when I’m not running around after them I’m a freelance writer, editor, researcher and tutor. I studied history at the University of Sheffield, which has developed into a lifelong passion for this subject.
2. When did you start writing?
I started writing as a child back in the 1980s, but it’s taken until this year to finish a novel and self-publish.
3. Do you recall the moment you first conceived the idea for your novel?
The strange thing is, I have no memory of the moment I decided to write this novel. I was originally trying to research a much later queen of Scotland to write about!
The content of the novel changed while writing. It’s a historical novel set in the 9th century. I originally planned for it to end in the year 862, which was likely to be a significant year for my heroine. However it would also have meant dealing with the deaths of two other major characters and I wasn’t sure if the story could really recover from that or whether I could cope with writing their death scenes! I became very attached to these characters, very quickly. The heroine spends a lot of the early part of the novel in tears, I didn’t want her to spend the end of it miserable as well.
4. Tell us a little bit about your book’s title.
I originally planned to call this book The Nameless Queen, as this woman who must have existed (The King had four children!) has no record in history. However I discovered another book with that title, so switched the name to Kenneth’s Queen. Kenneth is Kenneth Mac Alpin, King of the land that would become Scotland. However he is only called Kenneth on the cover. In the book I use the Celtic name that he would have been known as – Cinaed.
5. Does your story have a moral?
I’m not sure if the story has a moral. Perhaps the realisation of the characters that unity is better than enmity. I think the theme of the story is identity on a number of levels. There is the identity (or lack of) of women of that time and the story explores how the identity of the Scots came about. But also the major characters all struggle with their identities. The heroine, Baena makes a dynastic marriage with her hereditary enemies and has to suppress her Pictish identity. Cinaed, her husband, is of dual heritage and is deeply ashamed of half of it. His brother, Domnall is the rebel of the family who struggles to come out of the shadow of his perfect older brother. Their cousin, Graunt, is comfortable with his identity until something happens to him in the story which forces him to need a new role in life.
6. How do you feel about outlines? Are you for or against them?
I make an outline, but sometimes things change as I write. The first thing I do is make a timeline of known events, then using another colour I add the events of things that happened but we’re not sure of the dates or events I have invented. I need to keep track of what’s fact, as these events have to appear in the story.
7. What is your favorite book genre?
My favourite genres are historical fiction and sci-fi. In some ways I see them as one genre. Both take us out of our own time into how we imagine the past to have been or how we imagine the future will be. So far I have only written historical fiction, but I enjoy reading both.
8. What is your favorite book?
My favourite book is ‘Katherine’ by Anya Seton. It is a historical novel about Katherine Swynford, mistress and later wife of John of Gaunt. I enjoy the way the character’s personal story is interwoven with the tumultuous events of that time. I also like the myriad of minor, but real characters that come into the book including Geoffrey Chaucer. I find this writing and the meticulous research that went into it (pre-internet days!) very inspiring.
9. Any project in the works?
I am currently working on another tale of the Dark Ages, from an even earlier era than Kenneth’s Queen. It’s set among the Angles of 6th century Britain and features a very remarkable woman. The East Anglian setting is one that is very close to my heart.
10. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
I would advise them to just get on and do it. It’s easy to spend too long thinking about it and never get anything written. Write the story you want to tell. Some people will like it and some won’t. The important thing is that you like it.
And now for a game of “Which Do/Would You Prefer?”
1. Books or movies?
2. Summer or winter?
3. Nights out or nights in?
4. Having telepathy or having telekinesis?
5. Being able to travel to the past or being able to travel to the future?
The past – I’d love to go back and meet my characters for real!
6. Making a phone call or sending a text?
7. Travelling by car or travelling by airplane?
Traveling by car
8. Being Spiderman for a day or being Batman for a day?
Spiderman – this one is for my son!
9. To speak using ONLY rap lyrics (from songs released in the 21st century) or to speak using ONLY quotes from Austen’s books?
Speak only using Austen’s books
10. Spending half a day locked in a coffin (there would be a hole for air, of course) or spending two days trapped at the bottom of a well?
Trapped at the bottom of a well
11. Finding yourself caught in the middle of a hurricane or finding yourself caught in the middle of a snowstorm? (Note: in both scenarios, you’d be outdoors and have no access to shelter.)
Snowstorm – it never snows in South Devon, so I’d enjoy the novelty!
12. To never again eat a piece of chocolate or to never again drink a cup of coffee?
Never again drink coffee (I don’t like it anyway!)