At The Bar with Olivia Hayfield

Or is it Sue Copsey?

Sue Copsey

Last Sunday, we took the guts to ask our fist author (Sue Copsey) whether she was okay to answer a few questions. Of course she would, look at her photo above. She is an absolute gem! This is certainly a privilege that got us a little too excited. The trouble is with email, you have to compose all your thoughts when you conduct the email but on whatsapp you can send as many messages as you like. We could have chatted all day long about the antics of Henry VIII! Book Pub Review presents: At The Bar with Olivia Hayfield

Sue Copsey is also known as Olivia Hayfield. Her pseudonym, Olivia Hayfield, has successfully released her first adult novel called Wife After Wife. Sue Copsey is known for writing several children’s books, including The Ghosts of Tarawera, which was the recipient of a Notable Book Award from the
Storylines Children’s Literature Trust of New Zealand. This was the trouble with the emailing. We were excitedly checking our emails waiting for the reply! She spends most of her time editing other people’s book while in her office at home in New Zealand where she lives with her husband. Whereas, Olivia is likely to be in her writing hut at the bottom of the garden, wondering what well-known historical
characters would be like if they were alive today. If you hadn’t guessed from Wife After Wife, Sue grew up in England, and after university worked in London Zoo’s press office. After taking time off to travel, she became a senior editor at Dorling Kindersley UK.

BPR: What inspired you to write about Henry VIII and his six wives?

SC: I grew up in Warwickshire, close to several Tudor and Elizabethan hotspots – castles and stately homes. My parents would take us to them on Sunday outings, and Henry was always there on the walls, and in the gift shops there’d be Tudor tea towels, Six Wives coasters, Henry mugs – those collossal shoulders, that mean little mouth. There was no escaping the man. Then I went on a school trip to see Anne of the Thousand Days. I was outraged! How could a man order the beheading of a woman he’d loved that much? He knew those charges were lies. But I was hooked. As a teen I read every historical novel about the Tudors in my local library, and I’m still a Tudor junkie. 

Then, at the height of the #MeToo movement, I was pondering on the actions of a certain gingery, powerful American who was in the news for firing people and replacing them with yes men, and who had a bad attitude to women. He’s just like a modern-day Henry VIII, I thought. Closely followed by, But is he? What would Henry be like if he lived today? I saw my opportunity – I could reincarnate Henry, pitch him against modern-day versions of his wives, and give him his comeuppance! And off I went. The story more or less wrote itself.

BPR: How did you incorporate so many characters in your story? What was your planning process?

SC: It was exceedingly complicated! My starting point was obviously Henry and his wives. His mistresses had to be in there, though I missed out one or two as it was all getting very busy. His three children needed to be included, especially Elizabeth and Mary, as they are the main characters in the sequel (I had a two-book deal with my publisher). 

The other usual Tudor suspects who sprang to mind were the two chancellors, Wolsey and Cromwell, and Sir Thomas More. I always felt Henry must have regretted going head to head (sorry – could never resist a pun) with More, so I reincarnated him as a strong woman who acts as the voice of his conscience.

I also loved the story of Henry’s younger sister, Princess Mary, who married the ageing King of France on the condition she could marry a man of her choice if and when the King died. He popped his clogs pretty quickly and Henry sent his best friend, the Duke of Suffolk, to bring Mary home. “He’ll do nicely!” she said. And married him, without her brother’s permission. Suffolk did well not to lose his head.

For planning, I had several sheets of A3 paper with all the characters down one side and their dates – actual, and recreated in modern day – along the top, so I could see who should be doing what and when. It was quite a mission, but a very enjoyable one.

BPR: How did you choose Harry’s background (Rose Incorporations) .. Were there any other routes you were tempted to take?

SC: I felt that a media empire would be a good modern-day parallel to Henry VIII’s power base as King of England and head of the church. The press has enormous influence in Britain, moreso now than the Church, and is headed by those larger-than-life characters, like Richard Branson and Rupert Murdoch. It immediately felt right to have Harry as someone similar. Plus the media can bring people down in the blink of an eye, and I thought it would be appropriate (and fun) to have Harry Rose hoist by his own petard. 

BPR: Have you any background within the print world? Is this how you knew so much?

SC: Yes, my background is in public relations and publishing. I was a press officer for several years, firstly at London Zoo (the minor character Sue, who shows Harry round the zoo – that’s me!). Then I worked for a London publishing house (Dorling Kindersley), and carried on as a freelance editor after moving to NZ, so I know how to put a book or a magazine together. ‘Write what you know’, as they say. It gives your writing authenticity.

BPR: Can you explain Terri’s character to us? 

SC: Terri is probably my favourite character in the book. Harry recruits her as the editor of his flagship current affairs magazine, The Rack, as he recognises her brilliance – and realises that if she’s not on his side, she may well be the one to discover what he’s up to behind his wive(s)’ backs. When Terri gets a sniff of a story she’s onto it like a dog with a slipper – and this is key in the plot as it continues into the sequel.

Terri’s the only female character (apart from Ana, for a while) who’s immune to Harry’s charm, and who calls him out on his behaviour. She’s also from Yorkshire and intensely dislikes those over-privileged upper class English schoolboy types. So it was great fun to pitch this gritty northerner against Harry Rose, the ultimate Hooray Henry. I can’t wait for readers to find out what happens with these two in the sequel!

BPR: Why did you decide for Harry to try online dating through a video game rather than an app?

SC: I wanted Harry to meet someone online, with an avatar or a misleading profile pic, to mirror the fact that he married Anne of Cleves based on her portrait. I decided Harry wouldn’t use a dating app, with all those women lining up in real life! So instead he begins playing an online virtual life game with his nieces, as a distraction while he’s getting over Janette (Jane Seymour)’s death, and almost by chance meets Anki from Cleveland. I had a lot of fun with their conversations and it was something a bit different plotwise.

BPR: What character stood out for you? Why?

SC: Ana (Anne Boleyn) was the most intriguing of the wives. I’ve always been fascinated by her. Was she a victim, manipulated by her father and uncle? Or was she ruthlessly ambitious, holding out for that ring on her finger and crown on her head? I’m a big Anne fan, so I loved pondering on her character while I was writing that section of the book.

The big surprise to me, though, was Catherine Parr (Clare Barr) who I’d always thought of as the afterthought who was good at looking after Henry’s bad leg and not much else. How wrong could I have been! She was fascinating – the first woman to have a book published under her own name in the English language, and she only narrowly missed going the same way as poor Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, as her reformist views made her the target of Catholic conspirators.

And, of course, lovely Eliza, Henry’s daughter, who argues with him about the #MeToo movement and takes him to task for his treatment of her mother and step-mothers. The sequel is her story.

BPR: What character was the most interesting in the book?

SC: Harry! I started off loathing Henry VIII, as you do. I mean – wife-murdering tyrant! But when I started researching him properly, I soon realised there was a lot more to this man than the two-dimensional stereotype we love to hate. When he was young he was a golden prince. Six foot two (this height was very unusual for the time), good-looking, charismatic, athletic, well-read, a deep thinker. It was only later in life when he morphed into that terrifying tyrant. Henry VIII continues to fascinate me, and the big question I asked myself as I developed the character of Harry Rose was, what turned Henry VIII from that golden prince into the monster he later became?

BPR: What other influences are hidden in the book?

SC: Although this is mostly a light-hearted book, or ‘the ultimate sunlounger read’ as my publishers are calling it, it’s also a feminist novel and I hope readers take that away from it, as well having a good chuckle. It was the rise of the #MeToo movement that inspired me to write it, to give this man his come-uppance in modern day. One magazine reviewer wrote that I’ve ‘reinvented the bonkbuster, giving it a modern twist’. I think I’m okay with this, because of the ‘modern twist’ part. I mean, you can no longer have the handsome rich dude with the sweet pretty heroine. That won’t do at all! It’s all about strong females now.

BPR: What book are you reading now?

SC: Hilary Mantel’s Bringing Up The Bodies, and also a large pile of books, fiction and non-fiction, about Richard III and the disappearance of The Princes in the Tower, as I’m partway into writing a modern retelling of this intriguing whodunnit …

BPR: What book would you recommend?

SC: If you’re interested in Henry VIII and the Tudors (why wouldn’t you be? Truth is stranger than fiction!), Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell trilogy are a must. Brilliant! Also I love Philippa Gregory’s novels on the Plantaganets and the Tudors. She plays fast and loose with historical facts but her research is impeccable, and she’s a wonderful writer. For something non-Tudor, I enjoy J.K. Rowling/Robert Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike books and am looking forward to the new one.

BPR: Will we see any more books from Olivia Hayfield? Who will you write about next?

SC: The sequel to Wife After Wife is called Sister to Sister and is due out in the UK in June 2021. It follows Eliza (Elizabeth 1st) in her early years at Rose Corp, battling it out with her sister Maria (Mary Tudor – Bloody Mary) who has a very different vision for the company from Eliza and Harry. We also see Harry continuing on his journey to redemption, through his relationship with his daughters. It’s a lot of fun but maybe a little more serious than Wife After Wife, as Eliza, like her Tudor counterpart, has to make the ultimate choice between love and her career.

I hope to continued writing more modern retellings; there are so many fascinating characters in history who just leap off the page. Richard III is my current obsession.

BPR: What made you branch out as Olivia Hayfield and inspired you to write a modern take on history?

SC: I’ve been a children’s author for many years and hadn’t thought too hard about writing adult fiction, but when the idea took hold of a modern retelling of Henry VIII’s story, I just had to give it a go. Happily, Little Brown UK loved the idea and so Harry Rose was unleashed. They asked me to come up with a pseudonym to differentiate between my children’s books and my adult ones (and also because my real name wasn’t ‘glamorous’ enough!), and so Olivia, who is far younger and naughtier than me, began to take Sue over.

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