Alison Weir on historical fiction and Eleanor of Aquitaine

First aired on The Sunday Edition  (08/08/10)

Alison Weir is one of those authors who has the enviable position of being able to straddle the worlds of fact and fiction, with one foot firmly planted in the realm of historical research and the other in imaginative extrapolation, filling in the blanks history has left behind. She is not only a best-selling author of history books on the Tudor era. She's also written her fair share of historical fiction set in the same period.

Her most recent novel, Captive Queen, is a perfect example of Weir's double-life as a writer. Its subject, Eleanor of Aquitaine, is someone Weir has written about before — only that time it was as an historical study for the more staidly titled Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life.

In fact, it was the process of researching that first book, published in 1999, that lead Weir to want to write historical fiction in the first place.

"I realized that the nature of medieval biography, particuarly that of women, is such that you're piecing together fragments of information to make a cohesive narrative," Weir said in a recent interview on The Sunday Edition. "And there are gaps, frustrating gaps, you know you'll never be likely to fill. And I'm thinking, how can I do this? The only way is to write a novel."

Captive Queen picks up the story of Eleanor of Aquitane as she is nearing her thirtieth birthday. One of the richest and most powerful women in Western Europe, she's been unhappily married to King Louis VII of France for about 12 years. Recently, whether it's due to her inability to bear him a male heir or the exhaustion of their involvement in the Second Crusade, the two have barely been able to stand each other.

Enter Henry of Anjou, the Duke of Normandy who would become King of England. After an electric meeting, Eleanor secures the annulment of her marriage to King Louis and quickly marries Henry, who is 15 years her junior. Thus begins the passionate and often sordid tale of a relationship and power struggle that would eventually see Eleanor imprisoned in a tower for 10 years.

Weir spoke with guest host Kevin Sylvester about the joys and perils of writing historical fiction on The Sunday Edition. Find out how its fans can sometimes be its harshest critics in the interview above.

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