Yesterday, I reviewed Robert Parry's new novel, The Arrow Chest. You can read my review HERE.
Robert was kind enough to answers my questions related to the novel and I think that the result is a wonderful, very insightful interview.
IRENA: The novel features a delightful Victorian setting that is very genuine, including a number of details. How much research did you have to conduct for the purposes of this novel?
ROBERT: Actually, it occurred to me the other day that, given the fact that the Victorian era ended officially in 1901, that my birth has to be closer to the Victorian period than it is to the present! After I got over the initial shock, I felt rather proud of that. I was lucky enough to grow up in an old part of London, surrounded by places, values and characters that – looking back - I realise now were far more ‘Victorian’ than I would have appreciated at the time. So a lot of the ‘research’ is in fact just experience and recollections – about memories or places – or, as a young man, of chatting to people like my Grandfather. Those are very real and genuine connections to the 19th century that I will always cherish. Apart from that, the rest is all down to the usual grind of historical research – of visiting places, reading books and going online to build up the details, dates and so on. I did quite a lot of study of the Pre-Raphaelites – the wonderful talented painters and the lives of their lovely models – and of course I also had to brush up on my Tudor history a little in order to blend the two ages into one. That was not so difficult, however, since my previous novel was set entirely in Tudor England.
IRENA: How long did it take for you to write The Arrow Chest?
ROBERT: Without taking into account the research stage, it would have been a little over a year. I was fortunate to have had a good run at it without too many distractions. And I felt quiet fired-up about it at that time.
IRENA: The novel is a very original and gripping re-telling of the story of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII. Why did you decide to draw inspiration from Anne and Henry's story in particular?
ROBERT: The story of King Henry and Anne Boleyn is really such a powerful archetypal theme, how can one not be inspired - especially once we add the poet Tom Wyatt as the 3rd corner of the triangle! The mighty King jealous of his Queen and her friendship with another man; the would-be lover resentful of the King; and the poor heroine somewhere in-between being torn apart by her feelings. It’s a story that is probably re-enacted on a smaller scale in countless relationships everywhere. It has also always appeared in literature throughout the ages – King Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot for example. It remains a very powerful framework for any story - and we never really tire of the magic and ‘alchemy’ of it.
IRENA: Art - painting, foremost - is very important in the novel. Amos Roselli, the male protagonist, is a painter and his world revolves around painting and Daphne, his muse. Do you yourself enjoy art? Are there any works of art that you like? Did any of them inspire you when creating Amos's world and his relationship with Daphne?
ROBERT: This is a great question. I have some practical experience in this respect because painting has always been something I have enjoyed doing. (I used to earn a living as a commercial artist, as well). Often a good painting will tell a story. Conversely, every great work of literature usually manages to paint a picture in the imagination of the reader. You look back at your experience of reading a great book, for example, and you somehow see in your mind’s eye a tableau of the story, with all the colours and textures that the author has conjured up. That’s how I often see books, anyway. And yes, I do have my favourites. Along with the Pre-Raphaelites, the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich will always be among my favourites – and much of his work is very gothic in style, as well.
IRENA: A work of art, so to say, that plays a role in the novel is Lord Tennyson's poem "The Lady of Shalott", which, I must admit, is one of my favourite poems. How did you come to include it into the novel? Why did it speak to you?
ROBERT: People have speculated over the meaning of this great Victorian poem ever since it first appeared in 1833, and will probably continue to discuss it for as long as people read poetry. It was a favourite among Victorians, and just the kind of work that the heroine of the story, Daphne, would have adored. If it had been written in Tudor times, perhaps it would also have been one of Anne Boleyn’s favourites. In The Arrow Chest it connects the Tudor aspects of the story to the Victorian ones, therefore, through the narrative of the tragic heroine who is cursed through being unable to reconcile an unrequited love for the knight with the limitations of her own reality. In the novel, Daphne’s marriage is likewise a conflict between desire and duty - (a major Victorian theme). She is like the lady confined to the tower, working at the loom, seeing life only through reflected experience. The ‘mirror cracks’ once she realises her true love for Amos – and from then on the poem foreshadows the events of the story with a certain chilling sense of destiny that everyone ultimately comes to realise.
IRENA: Séances appear in the novel. Why was Victorian society, known for putting propriety above all else, so fascinated with the phenomenon of being able to speak to the dearly departed?
ROBERT: Yes, spiritualism was hugely popular in Victorian times. Perhaps it had something to do with the damage being inflicted on institutionalised religion at the time - during the 19th century with Darwin’s theory of evolution, for example, or the new knowledge of geology which was already dating the age of the earth as being far older than taught in the bible. Christianity was under threat, in other words – just as it was perceived to be in Tudor times with the Reformation – and so people could either turn to science or go in the opposite direction and seek solace in the mysteries of the occult. It could have been their way of seeking some spiritual experience when the Church itself was so full of doubt and uncertainty.
IRENA: The Arrow Chest features elements of the supernatural, which heightens the Gothic tension of the story. Are you a fan of Gothic/supernatural stories? Which authors and/or novels would you recommend to readers who enjoy this type of story?
ROBERT: I am not an expert in this sort of thing, at all - but I would suggest for anyone interested that they always start with the classics - Mary Shelley, the Brontes, Bram Stoker or Edgar Allan Poe – though actually it could be argued that most Victorian fiction has some element of ‘the gothic’ in it, anyway. It is always interesting to speculate on what actually constitutes a ‘gothic’ story. Some people say that, to be genuine, it can only be something written in the past – i.e. in Georgian/Victorian times. I think I might disagree with that. But it probably does require a certain degree of ‘time travel’ on the part of the modern writer.
IRENA: I found The Arrow Chest to be both an entertaining and an intellectual read. How did you combine the two so well? I learned a lot and was also entertained all the while.
ROBERT: That is very kind of you, thank you. I like to think that interesting ideas, no matter how deep they flow through a story, can always be expressed in an entertaining way. The Arrow Chest can be enjoyed on lots of different levels, therefore – it’s a ‘good yarn’ on the surface. It’s a ghost story. It’s a Gothic mystery. And it’s also a tale about Anne Boleyn. Take your pick! It’s all there somewhere if you dig deep enough. I hope so, anyway – and that people will keep on digging.
I have really enjoyed responding to your questions, Irena. Thank you again.
IRENA: Thank you very much, Robert, for doing this interview! I truly enjoyed reading your answers.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Robert Parry is an independent UK writer of historical fiction with special interests in Tudor and Elizabethan history, Victorian Gothic and Pre-Raphaelite art.
You may also visit Robert's website for more information about his work.
THE ARROW CHEST
London, 1876. The painter Amos Roselli is in love with his life-long friend and model, the beautiful Daphne - and she with him - until one day she is discovered by another man, a powerful and wealthy industrialist. What will happen when Daphne realises she has sacrificed her happiness to a loveless marriage? What will happen when the artist realises he has lost his most cherished source of inspiration? And how will they negotiate the ever-increasing frequency of strange and bizarre events that seem to be driving them inexorably towards self-destruction. Here, amid the extravagant Neo-Gothic culture of Victorian England, the iconic poem 'The Lady of Shalott' blends with mysterious and ghostly glimpses of Tudor history.
Romantic, atmospheric and deeply dark.