On UK publication day of A Conspiracy of Wolves, the 11th Owen Archer, I find myself thinking back to the story that started it all. I’d slipped away from my graduate studies to think about what I really wanted, and moved across country. While job hunting, I spent my days exploring the wonders of the Olympic Peninsula across Puget Sound from Seattle and wrote short stories. In one of those stories—the only one that was neither fantasy nor science fiction!—lurked the kernel of The Apothecary Rose.
Two women of the rising merchant class in medieval York, a taverner and the wife of an apothecary, sharing a secret, one supporting the other in a warm, motherly way. Lucie Wilton is running the apothecary while her husband lies ill, frantic to keep it all going smoothly so that no one notices her husband’s absence. For she is not officially his apprentice, though she has learned everything from him in such detail and depth that she may just pull this off. But for how long? Her neighbor, Bess Merchet, watches over Lucie, coaxing her with food, ale, and watching out for hours at a time so that Lucie can rest. Though she suspects Lucie spends the time pouring over her husband’s records for garden and shop. In the York Tavern Bess talks loudly to her husband Tom about Ambrose Wilton (the ailing apothecary) as if he were up and about, just using Lucie as his public face in the shop. A shadowy figure begins to snoop around, and both women become more desperate. I used it as a backdrop to talk about women’s roles and the power of guilds. The story was “Managing,” and the magazine editors to whom I sent it all said it wasn’t really a short story, but the first chapter of a book they would like to read. Encouraging rejection.
So I wrote a book with Lucie as the central character; the snoop who most threatens her is a man come north on behalf of his lord to find out more about the long-ago death of her mother. This unsavory spy becomes too curious about the invisible Ambrose. Tall, handsome despite a scarred face, he was the predecessor of Owen Archer. A villain in this version, and not blind in one eye. The manuscript was rejected by several agents on the grounds that it fit no particular genre. “A period piece is difficult to sell.” They suggested I rewrite it as historical romance or a crime novel.
I put it in a drawer and stewed about it as I wrote something completely different. A post holocaust story. Long before they were everywhere. And while I fiddled with that, I picked up some crime series and began studying how they worked. Hm… If I could come up with a sleuth… I realized I might already have one—that scarred creature of darkness, if I could find a tormented soul within. I happened to also be reading Robert Hardy’s book on the longbow. Taking the stance of an archer, I realized the left eye was of vital importance. And so the villain morphed into my one-eyed archer.
At any step in the way I might have given up or taken a different direction. But something about the story compelled me to keep trying. Once I met Owen, I realized I’d met his shadow before I’d met the man as he wished to be in the world.
It irked me that my publisher insisted on calling it the Owen Archer series rather than the Owen and Lucie series, but I was too excited about being published to fight hard. And by now you all know how important Lucie, Bess, Magda, and Alisoun are in these stories.
Hard to believe how many years I’ve lived with these characters. I am so grateful to Lucie and Bess for appearing in my imagination and compelling me to explore their stories. And to Owen for showing me that he deserved to be brought out of the shadows and find redemption.
I am so excited that my new publisher, Severn House, has chosen A Conspiracy of Wolves, the 11th Owen Archer, as their Editor’s Pick for April in the UK! They have some wonderful things to say about it, too.
“With A CONSPIRACY OF WOLVES, Severn House is delighted to welcome to the list the highly-acclaimed historical mystery writer Candace Robb who, after a 10-year gap, has chosen to return to the bestselling medieval mystery series that made her name….
“Wonderfully atmospheric and impeccably researched, A CONSPIRACY OF WOLVES reintroduces readers to Robb’s eclectic cast of much-loved characters, including the enigmatic healer Magda, the fastidious Brother Michaelo, and not least the upright, fairminded Owen Archer himself, as he doggedly pursues the truth behind the shocking deaths of Bartolf and Hoban Swann. Real historical figures mingle seamlessly with fictitious: I particularly liked Robb’s portrayal of the garrulous, gossipy Geoffrey Chaucer, who makes for a brilliantly contrasting sidekick to the more sober, taciturn Owen.”
You can read the entire blog post here!
And just in case you haven’t check out my appearances/events page, here’s where you can find me in the UK in May!
UK events in May–I look forward to seeing you!
16 May, Thursday, 6:30-8:00 pm, I’ll be at the Leeds Library, Commercial St., Leeds, in conversation with Chris Nickson and Sara Porter (editor, Severn House)
21 May, Tuesday, 6:00-8:00 pm, I’ll be in York! De Grey Lecture Theatre, York St. John University, in conversation with Chris Nickson and Kate Lyall Grant (publisher, Severn House)
Of course I’ll also rush around York signing all copies of my books everywhere. So stock up!
First signing date for the US is:
17 August 2019, Saturday, noon-1:00pm Come chat with me while I sign copies of A Conspiracy of Wolves (and many other books!) at the wonderful Edmonds Bookshop
(111 Fifth Ave South Edmonds, WA 98020) Make a day of it and explore this beautiful town on the Sound!
A week ago Danièle Cybulskie and I chatted about creating the worlds of my medieval novels. Here’s a link! She’s an Owen Archer fan, so we talk about how it all began with The Apothecary Rose and go on from there, eventually bringing in Kate Clifford and how those books differ from the Owen Archers.
Sorry about how my voice cuts out–my mistake. Never, ever forget the earbuds and mike, folks. Nuff said. But Danièle (aka 5 Minute Medievalist) is a pro and we covered a lot of ground.
If the Medievalist podcast is new to you, be sure to listen to all the other installments. You will learn so much! It’s one of my favorite podcasts. And explore their website.
Now I’m diving back into Owen Archer #12, a scene with Lucie and Magda. Two of my favorite companions.
PS. Early in the podcast I make a subtle mistake in a name. Did you catch it?
As the publication of A Conspiracy of Wolves (Owen Archer 11) approaches I have been meandering down memory lane, exploring the arc of what I think of as the first series, visiting characters confined to one or two books. One such character is Dame Joanna of Leeds, the mysterious woman at the center of my third Owen Archer mystery, The Nun’s Tale, whom I based on a woman I’d encountered in a monograph about Clementhorpe Nunnery in York. Though she was largely my creation, she challenged me–slippery, possibly mad, yet oddly compelling, she haunted me all the while I worked on the book. I still think of her whenever I see Antonello da Messina’s The Virgin Annunciate, which I stared at as I wrote. Those of you who have read the book will recognize the blue mantle, and remember its significance. I am so glad that my editor at St. Martin’s Press agreed to use it for the cover of the first US edition.
You can imagine my surprise when this past Monday I peeked at The Guardian online and discovered an article about “my” Joanna of Leeds!
As I wrote in the Author’s Note of The Nun’s Tale:
“Whence came Joanna? In The History of Clementhorpe Nunnery (R.B. Dobson & Sara Donaghey, York Archaeological Trust 1984, p. 15) is the following item:
“ ‘In 1318 there is mention of [an] apostate, Joanna of Leeds. Archbishop Melton ordered the dean of Beverley to return the nun to her convent… Apparently Joanna had defected from her religious order and left the nunnery. However, in order to make her defection credible, she had fabricated her death at Beverley and, with the aid of accomplices, even staged her own funeral there. The archbishop was prepared to take a lenient view of these excesses. He directed the dean of Beverley to warn Joanna of the nature of her sins and, if she recanted them within eight days, to allow her to return to Clementhorpe to undergo a penance. Melton further urged the dean to undertake a thorough investigation of the case, and to discover the names of Joanna’s accomplices so that he might then take suitable action.’
“The story intrigued me. Was Joanna discovered, betrayed, or did she request to return to St. Clement’s Nunnery? If it was her choice, why make such an about face? She had gone to great lengths to escape and make it permanent.
“I moved the incident to 1365-66, putting it in Archbishop Thoresby’s time, which provided me with a serendipitous relationship—Thoresby’s nephew, Richard de Ravenser, was a canon of Beverley at this time, as was William of Wykeham. Nicholas de Louth is also a real person. Because I moved Joanna’s story in time, none of the participants in the book had anything to do with the real story of Joanna of Leeds.”
Imagine my excitement when I read the article—more information!
“A marginal note written in Latin and buried deep within one of the 16 heavy registers used by to record the business of the archbishops of York between 1304 and 1405 first alerted archivists to the adventures of the runaway nun. ‘To warn Joan of Leeds, lately nun of the house of St Clement by York, that she should return to her house,’ runs the note written by archbishop William Melton and dated to 1318.
“Melton, writing to inform the Dean of Beverley about the ‘scandalous rumour’ he had heard about the arrival of the Benedictine nun Joan, claimed that Joan had ‘impudently cast aside the propriety of religion and the modesty of her sex’, and ‘out of a malicious mind simulating a bodily illness, she pretended to be dead, not dreading for the health of her soul, and with the help of numerous of her accomplices, evildoers, with malice aforethought, crafted a dummy in the likeness of her body in order to mislead the devoted faithful and she had no shame in procuring its burial in a sacred space amongst the religious of that place’.
“After faking her own death, he continued, ‘and, in a cunning, nefarious manner … having turned her back on decency and the good of religion, seduced by indecency, she involved herself irreverently and perverted her path of life arrogantly to the way of carnal lust and away from poverty and obedience, and, having broken her vows and discarded the religious habit, she now wanders at large to the notorious peril to her soul and to the scandal of all of her order.’”
Even better, the article announces that more material from the registers of the archbishops of York is to be translated and published! I can’t wait!