J D Davies

How Not to Write a Tudor Novel

A few months ago, I announced my exciting new project – three linked naval fiction stories, set in the Tudor period, which will eventually combine together to be published as one ‘traditional’ book by the splendid new imprint, Endeavour Ink. Since then, in addition to finishing off other projects, I’ve slowly been getting my research materials together, sorting out my ‘fieldwork’ expeditions, beefing up the back stories of the principal characters, fine tuning the plot, and, yes, typing ‘Chapter One’ – or, as it’s otherwise known, ‘the point of no return’. Very soon, it’ll be time to start writing in earnest.


Before I get started properly, though, I suppose I ought to confess my misgivings about tackling something Tudor. Yes, I know the period – studied it at university, taught it to A-level for years, read countless fiction and non-fiction books about it, watched Keith and Glenda in their pomp, etc etc. So to say it holds no terrors is an understatement. But, of course, the Tudors are very much the comfort blanket of historical fiction: it’s the go-to period for many authors and readers alike, and it’s the obvious staple for any lazy TV producer thinking of making a historical drama, a documentary, or, indeed, a drama-documentary. So I’m very aware of the danger of falling into some of the weary old cliches, and the diametrically opposite danger of writing something that goes a bit too far in outraging those who actually love the weary old cliches. Just so we’re all on the same wavelength from the start, therefore, I thought I’d flag up some of the things I’m not going to do in these stories.

  1. There won’t be any wives. (Well, yes, obviously, there’ll be men in the story with wives, and some of those wives will be major actors in the narrative. But they won’t be Those Wives.)
  2. Especially not the second one.
  3. Nor her sister.
  4. No mental picture or word portrait of any of the characters I’m developing could possibly be interpreted in casting directions as ‘teen model’.
  5. People won’t talk like they’ve just strayed from the set of Eastenders.
  6. Or The West Wing.
  7. Or, umm, The Tudors.
  8. Still no.

    There won’t be dialogue like ‘Where the hell is the Spanish Armada? It should have been here yesterday’. (Real recent TV script, anonymised to protect the guilty.)

  9. There will be scenes in Scotland, but they won’t feature That Queen.
  10. Therefore, there’ll be no scene where That Queen has a totally invented meeting with That Other Queen (you know the one, redhead, virgin, bit feisty, blah blah).
  11. Religion won’t be an inconvenient add-on, paid lip service with the odd reference to God and a stray priest or a dodgy nun hovering in the background. It was centre stage for people at the time, and it’ll be centre stage for people in my narrative. (For more of my thoughts on this subject, particularly in relation to my current series of Quinton Journals, have a look here.)
  12. Whether you love it or you hate it, there’s only one Wolf Hall (leaving aside the two sequels, obviously – and could you just hurry up a bit with the second one, Hil? Thanks.) This will be a Cromwell-free zone, although now I come to think of it, there is one character that Mark Rylance would be brilliant for. And it won’t be written like that, either.
  13. Similarly, it’s not going to be Shardlake, so people won’t die in incredibly unlikely circumstances as a result of intricate conspiracies centred around one or more of Those Wives.
  14. …and it’s not going to be a Tudor version of Patrick O’Brian; for one thing, in the Tudor world, any character resembling Stephen Maturin would probably have been burned at the stake before breakfast.
  15. Above all, the cover won’t feature a headless woman in a nice dress. (Unless you’re not telling me something, Endeavour Ink.)

So, then, time to write the first scene in which King Henry VIII makes an appearance.

(Casting recommendation: Danny Dyer.)