In Conversation with…Myself

From time to time I dive back into the earlier Owen Archer novels to check what I’d written about a character who is showing up again in the latest book. As I did this on the weekend, and felt I was in conversation with myself, asking what I’d been thinking about years ago. It’s a curious experience. Despite the decades since writing this particular pair of books I found passages that took me back into the moment of first writing them, my doubts, my hesitations, and then that frisson of pleasure when I satisfied myself—yes, this is what I see in my mind, yes. Happily, they’ve stood the test of time.

I also catch snippets of thoughts, Owen’s and other characters’, that remind me of their past troubles, worries, intentions, hopes, joys, sorrows. Over time those slip away, but we all know how easily old moods can be resurrected—a chance encounter, a comment, a scent, a fragment of song. It’s helpful to refresh my memory about my characters’ internal lives. No database of facts about characters can catch this depth—it would be far too long.

Though rereading takes time I don’t consider it a burden. It’s fun to revisit previous episodes and rediscover tidbits that I can use now. There are benefits to writing a long running series. I have the space and leisure to follow characters across books (covering a little over a decade in their lives in many cases) and imagine how their lived experiences have changed them, for better or ill. I can build on encounters in earlier books, or simply return to a character whose story didn’t feel finished. Or I might flesh out an incident mentioned in passing that will deepen a character. I’m fortunate in being fond of most of the characters—actually all in one way or another–even if I’m just grateful that they remain characters I enjoy disliking, providing convenient foils for other characters.

I’ve teased you with the covers of the two books I reviewed on the weekend, the two books, 6 and 7 in the series, set in Wales. I wrote them after spending several months in Wales to get a sense of Owen’s roots. I fell in love with the Pembrokeshire Coast, and particularly St David’s (the photo is an aisle in St David’s Cathedral). Aberystwyth to the north holds wonderful memories for me as well. Once I’d experienced Wales, I simply had to let Owen return for a while.

I know, now you are wondering if I’ve taken Owen back to Wales. No, the next book is set in York and Yorkshire. So why was I reviewing this pair of books? You’ll need to wait to read the book–I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you!

Background on A TRIPLE KNOT: Envisioning Joan

An invitation to be the guest of honor at the meeting of a neighborhood book club who are reading A Triple Knot prompted me to reread the book I wrote…can it be 8-9 years ago?! Yes. I approached it with a bit of anxiety–would I find a zillion things I wish I had done differently? I am happy to report that I finished the reread last night with pleasure and pride. Are there things I would change? Of course. A novel is never truly finished. The biggest change would be to ease readers into all the names crowding the beginning of the book. Had I my current agent at that time (we joined forces immediately after this book was published) she would have worked through that with me. But that’s my biggest takeaway. I’m reposting what follows, originally appearing in 2015. I’d forgotten about it, some scenes I’d played with. You’ll see from the first that I’d fully intended to carry Joan’s story through to her death, but while I was in the midst of writing the book my publisher went through several upheavals and informed me that they wanted the book half the size my original editor and I had planned, assuring me that I would have the space in a following book to complete her story. Alas, that contract never materialized. In hindsight I’m content with what’s happened since. On the day that my new, wonderful agent informed me they were passing on the proposal for the second book Kate Clifford walked into my life, striding between her elegant wolfhounds Lille and Ghent. Well, that was a revelation. I hope you enjoy this peek at some scenes I played with for Joan, early and late. One of my favorite women in history.

In the beginning, I play with characters, trying them out in scenes, testing how they react to events and their fellow characters. With Joan of Kent, I’d already portrayed her several years before the death of her husband, the Black Prince, in A Vigil of Spies (Owen Archer #10), and she appeared at various points before, during, and after her marriage to Edward in The King’s Mistress. Now, for A Triple Knot, I revised Triple Knot_cvrneeded to understand her life in full.

This morning, searching for a scene I’d written and rewritten and finally discarded, in which she teaches the young Ned (Prince Edward) to dance, I found instead this experiment in first person. I did not intend to use first person for this book, because I wanted other voices at court, but to explore  her life through her eyes, looking back, I played with the elderly Joan in this piece. Her son Richard is now King Richard II, and her sons Thomas and John Holland are adults. The daughter-in-law is Anne of Bohemia.


I lay in bed all night fingering my beads, murmuring prayers.

I am accustomed to dramatic rows with my sons Thomas and John, Richard’s half-brothers. We growl and snap at one another, they shout hateful things, I favor quieter retorts, and the courtiers pretend to avert their eyes, though they hold their breath fearful lest they miss a word. Always, my sons and I come together afterward in loving contrition. This is possible because we have shunned speaking of that which must not be questioned.

Until last night, when John uttered a hateful accusation. A look of horror made a mask of my daughter-in-law’s sweet face. She, most of all, understands the danger if what he said were widely believed. Her husband’s reign rides in the balance. John’s cruel nature has robbed Anne of her innocence.

When she arrived from the court of Bohemia to wed my son, she expected the glorious court of his grandfather, a court celebrating military prowess and chivalry with frequent and extravagant festivals of tourneying and jousting. She found, instead, a more sedately elegant, cultured court barely tolerated by barons lusting for the passion of battle and especially the spoils of war.

And now she has glimpsed the even more dangerous undercurrents threatening her husband’s crown.

Edward’s was a glorious court, but it was so by design. He and Philippa had come to power on the waves of rebellion, his father’s inglorious, forced abdication, his mother’s treason, her lover’s execution. They strove to distract the barons and the commons with the trappings of the ideal royal court, and provide them with a battleground offshore.

I do not remember a time when I did not understand the price we pay for noble birth. I was not yet four when my father was beheaded for his loyalty—albeit belated—to his half-brother. My pregnant mother, my brother and I were spared—kept in Arundel Castle until the young king’s familial affections stirred him to release us.

My parents had betrayed themselves, first supporting Queen Isabella, then King Edward, Father’s half-brother, and so had been betrayed.

The tragic result has been a festering wound all their progeny carry. If it did not smack of blasphemy I would call it stigmata, for we carried it invisibly until some crisis brought it forth, and we were revealed. It was our inheritance. In all my sons it plays out most violently, Thomas and John from within, Richard from without. Two would control with violent emotions, the third with a rigid peace—which I fear will be the undoing of his reign.

* * * * *

The royal court—what a strange and splendid stage in which to be a child, exploring possible roles, testing my strengths. We were privileged players, and all life was a performance in which at any moments marvels might arise to delight us. How exciting to be continually surprised by my surroundings.

Yet sometimes it was an unpleasant sort of excitement. People shifted roles without warning.

I remembered the darkness from which we burst out into the confusing magnificence of the court. Mother chided me, assuring me that I could not possibly remember our confinement in Arundel Castle. She swore as well that I had appropriated someone else’s memories of my father.

But I did not believe that my nightmares were borrowed.

My apprehension did not last long. My cousins Edward and Isabella soon pulled me into their circle of friends. What adventures we had! How privileged we were. I saw the other side of being royal—the fun, the extravagance.

Mother was respected by Kind Edward and Queen Philippa. I understood that we were accepted, secure. As long as the royal couple were secure.


Joan has been my companion through three books–no wonder I miss her. [Update: Ah, but she’s now in Owen Archer’s life, so I do see her from time to time.]

I still haven’t found the dance lesson.


Shop Talk: Juggling

The year is not yet a month old, but very nearly. As my New Year’s resolution regarding social media is to post here more and visit Twitter less I’d planned to post to my blog at least once a month. Some posts, such as this, will be chatty accounts of what I’ve been reading, writing, thinking of late. FYI, I took the photo above on my afternoon walk yesterday. A long walk along the lake is one of my favorite means of getting out of the way of my imagination.

Writing-wise I am busier than usual, juggling two books at once. I’ve friends who are often finishing one book while beginning another but I’ve never found that doable—until the past few weeks. I didn’t intend to jump into another book, it just happened, and I’m always curious to give free rein to such creative impulses. I’d begun to play with ideas for the Owen Archer that’s due under contract in March 2024, and started jotting notes on one of the white boards in my office, gathering reading material next to the reading chair in here about what’s going on in 1376-77, and then Tom Merchet started popping into my head at odd times and I realized it’s high time I became better acquainted with him. I never really explained why he’s the brewer rather than Bess, women typically doing the brewing at this time in England, and he’s decided to fill me in on how it came about. So books about ale and brewing are also accumulating next to my reading chair.

AND I’m almost finished with a major rewriting of the middle third of an experiment, writing in the genre I abandoned for historical fiction–i.e., fantasy, or, more appropriately in my case, the otherworldly ideas that existed in the medieval period I write about, greatly inspired by Richard Firth Green’s study Elf Queens and Holy Friars: Fairy Beliefs and the Medieval Church (Penn Press 2016). I’ve incorporated this aspect of medieval culture in small doses in almost all of my books, especially in the character Magda Digby but also Christiana in the Margaret Kerr trilogy, Efa in A Triple Knot, and Petra in the Kate Clifford series, and I wanted to see whether I could sustain it throughout an entire book. I’m using a character from the Owen Archer series who I have long wanted to bring front and center—with my agent’s enthusiastic encouragement. It’s much, much more challenging than I’d imagined. I’ve learned a great deal, especially through copious, wide-scale rewrites. I always revise and rewrite as I go, my first draft being what others might consider their 10th or 15th, but this book has morphed and changed as I’ve discovered what I want to say and how I want to shape it. That’s all I’m ready to reveal about it at present, as I don’t know whether I’ll ever deem it ready for publication. But you can see why I’ve been eager to dive into the next Owen Archer—a return to the familiar!

At least I’ve stayed within the century I often feel I know better than the two in which I’ve lived, so both books are historical, set in late 14th century Yorkshire.  


Some reading notes:

I am enjoying Queens of the Wild: Pagan Goddesses in Christian Europe, An Investigation by Ronald Hutton (Yale University Press 2022), learning about yet another arena of historical research in which the Victorians made it up as they went along, a “pagan survival” to suit their own pet theories about folklore, mythology, legends, and archeological sites. He covers Mother Earth, The Fairy Queen, The Lady of the Night, The Cailleach, and, in an epilogue, The Green Man. It’s a delight.

I’ve been rereading The Beguines of Medieval Paris by Tanya Stabler Miller (Penn Press 2014) as background while reading the ARC of a novel based on her research, coming out in April from Pushkin Press. The Mirror of Simple Souls by Aline Kiner. More about that in a future post because I’m not quite finished with the novel, but it is so engaging. It’s reminded me how much I enjoyed Tanya’s study of the Beguines (you’ll remember them from the Kate Clifford series) and her contribution to this blog when it was published. I’ll repost that soon.

Into the Future with Owen & Lucie

Good news! I have a new contract with my publisher for the next two Owen Archer books. I love working with the publishing team at Severn House, and I’m delighted to continue with them. So, more books! I laughed to see the prompt from WordPress (this platform) when I opened the file for a new post — to paraphrase, they asked what is something you hope no one ever says about you? My first thought was, Candace Robb has retired from writing. I simply can’t imagine it, nor can all the characters rattling around in my head.

My current work in progress is something a wee bit different, though still within the world of Owen Archer. I’ll say no more for now because it’s an experiment, and time will tell whether or not I’m happy with it. Meanwhile, I am merrily playing with ideas for Owen Archer 15, which will feature Tom and Bess Merchet. As you may recall, Bess has already played a major role in this series (The Riddle of St Leonard’s, #5) as well as the Kate Clifford series (A Murdered Peace, #3). But Tom…he’s still a bit of a mystery to me and it will be fun to find out more about what makes him tick.

For an interview to be published next month in Historical Times (an online site) I was asked some wonderful questions, my favorite, because of what I realized as I answered it: How did you choose the characteristics for your detective, Owen Archer, and was it tricky getting into the mindset of an ‘ex-soldier and sometimes spy’? It’s curious that I don’t recall having been asked that specific question before, and at first I was stumped–how did I choose Owen’s characteristics? As is my wont, I took a long walk in the woods and along the lake while I thought this through. Here’s my response: Once I had the image of a half-blinded captain of archers at the beginning of chapter 2 in The Apothecary Rose, Owen Archer was there for me in the flesh, in the torment of his lost career. Being an archer, I knew he would be strong, as a Welshman he would ever be a stranger in England, and it was his relationships with others in the book that set him for me—his attraction to Lucie, a strong woman, his gentleness with Brother Wulfstan, that Magda chose to engage with him, his grudging admiration for Potter Digby, his resistance to Thoresby… I knew him through his relationships. I worked hard to get in the mindset of an ex-soldier and feel validated whenever a veteran tells me how much they enjoy him. But in all honesty, most characters write themselves after a bit of a nudge from me.

And I’m thrilled to report that A Fox in the Fold is holding strong at a 4.6 rating on Goodreads, my best yet. I am so grateful for your support and enthusiasm. Thank you!


For those who follow me on Twitter, I am not spending much time there at present, and may freeze my account if things continue to go downhill–too much chaos. But you can find me happily engaging at Mastodon: I also recently added an Instagram account, CandaceMRobb and one on Post.News, also CandaceMRobb, but so far Mastodon has my heart.

Celebrating Owen Archer 14

Publication day for A FOX IN THE FOLD is just over a week away. I’m excited for you to read this book, which shines a light on a life-changing moment in Owen’s past. Returning to that momentous event after so many years moved me deeply. I hope you feel the same.

On publication day, 4 October, I will be talking about the book with Barbara Peters, Poisoned Pen Books, on Facebook and Youtube Live at 5:00 pm PDT/MST. It’s a free event. Below is the link to log on and also to order a signed copy–as you can see, they sent quite a pile for me to sign!;event=73606013;instance=20221004170000

If you’re in the Seattle area, come join me at Third Place Books, the Ravenna store, at 7:00 pm, 18 October. I’ll be in conversation with Alice Boatwright (the Ellie Kent mysteries), fellow member of the Medieval Women’s Choir and a gifted writer. It should be fun! AND I will be signing books. Here’s the link to save your space for this free event:

AND there’s a Goodreads Giveaway (US only)! From 26 September-24 October you can enter to win an ebook of A FOX IN THE FOLD –50 copies available from Severn House. Here’s the link:

Finally, I am thrilled to share this starred review from Publishers Weekly:

“In Robb’s excellent 14th Owen Archer mystery featuring Capt. Owen Archer (after 2021’s The Riverwoman’s Dragon), Archer, an experienced soldier and a devoted family man, seeks to keep order in 14th-century York. The first sign that a new danger has come to York is the discovery of a dead man just outside the city gates, naked and covered with stab wounds. When Archer learns the murdered man was one of a party coming from far away Winchester to deliver special stones to a Benedictine convent, he suspects there are some serious agendas at work. One of the men Archer must now contend with is William Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester, who’s been “a catalyst for death in the city.” But even worse, other newcomers to York include an enemy from Archer’s past, from a time long before he became captain of the bailiffs. What makes this entry a standout are the supporting characters, all of them carefully nuanced, and the emotions boiling up in Archer, who must fight to protect his wife and children as they become targets of violence. This is a mystery with both high stakes and a layer of true feeling. Robb reinforces her place among the top writers of medieval historicals.”

Thank you for reading!