Author Interview with Karen Heenan

Mariajauthor/ November 4, 2023/ Author Interview/ 0 comments

Hi everyone, today on the blog I’m excited to interview historical fiction author Karen Heenan. Without further ado, let’s get into the interview!

Karen Heenan – Introductions

  1. Introduce yourself! Tell us who you are, where you are in the world and what you like to write.

KH: My name is Karen Heenan, and I live in Lansdowne, Pennsylvania, a little town directly outside Philadelphia. I write mostly historical fiction – at least, historical is all I’ve published to date. The other ideas haven’t clarified themselves yet, and honestly, I don’t pay a lot of attention to them.

2. Have you always wanted to write?

KH: Ever since I was little. I grew up with a father who could barely read (but loved stories) and a mother who read constantly. As soon as I realized that someone had to write those books, I decided that someone could be me.

3. Where do you normally do your writing?

KH: All over the place. Because I wrote for years while at a day job, I’m able to write in tiny snatches of time, either at my desk, in front of the TV, at a coffee shop, anywhere. I prefer to work at night, but it’s not necessary. And quite a lot of my first drafts are dictated into a notes app on my phone while walking around town.

4. Do you ever get writer’s block?

KH: I don’t think of it as a block. If I can’t go on with what I’m writing, it means that something’s gone wrong with the piece. I let it sit for a day or two and work on something else, to give my head some distance, and then I come back to it and read it over to see where it’s gone wrong. Once I figure that out, I can usually get back on track pretty easily.

5. What would be a perfect day off?

KH: Either going someplace far away with my husband, wandering the streets and looking at everything, stopping in cafes for wine or coffee, or taking a long walk out in nature to hear the voices in my head. Both are excellent.

The Tudor Series

6. What inspired you to write your Tudor series?

KH: A lifelong interest in the time period. I watched the 1970s BBC Six Wives of Henry VIII series when I was a little kid (in the 1970s). I’ve never lost my fascination with the era, although my interest in kings and queens has faded. I never wanted to write about them directly; my stories are always about ordinary people in proximity to power.

7. Did you know from the start it would be a trilogy?

KH: I still don’t know if it’s a trilogy! No, I thought Songbird was a stand-alone book because I’d sorted out the main character’s arc by the end, but then I started thinking about a different character. This led to the idea of a series of linked standalones, with a new character taking over as the main with each book.

8. What led you to write about ‘ordinary’ characters who interacted with royalty, rather than having the main focus on King Henry VIII himself?

KH: Hasn’t Henry had enough screen/page time by now? Really? But also because I really wanted to explore the period, and the king of England wasn’t going to have a wide view of what the world was like, was he? My characters are minstrels, court secretaries, minor ladies-in-waiting. Because people say and do things in front of servants they might not with people of their own class.

MJ – Agreed! Henry VIII has definitely had plenty of screen time and I love the particular focus of your novels.

9. What was it like to do the research?

KH: I started researching Songbird pre-internet, because it was a project to keep me sane when I came home from my day job. Lots of reading. Lots. And there weren’t the same number or quality of documentary programs that we see these days, either. When the internet came about, it was wonderful – I was able to find out what happened to a somewhat obscure (but real) character on the first attempt, when he’d never been mentioned in any of the histories I’d read because they weren’t about the tiny niche I wanted to peer into.

The Depression Era series

10. What inspired you to write your Depression Era series?

KH: I grew up listening to my dad and my great-aunts’ stories about living during that era (my dad was born in 1912, so he was a young, unemployed man during the Depression, while my aunts were trying to keep their households together). I thought it was an interesting time to explore through the view of women, because so much of what we see about the Depression is lines of unemployed men, or men at soup kitchens, or hobo stories of men riding the rails. Whereas women mostly stayed put and tried to hold everything together, sometimes successfully, sometimes not so much.

11. How much of this series was based on your own family history?

KH: Their stories helped me build the world, but none of my characters are based on relatives. I do have two great-aunts who were 3 years apart and had a somewhat prickly relationship, and the wealthier one’s husband was named Harry, and my grandmother had a history of loss before giving birth to my mom, but it was more the details of their stories that lodged in my head and allowed me to make up new stories.

12. How different was it researching and writing your Depression Era series compared with your Tudor series?

KH: Well, we have newspaper archives, which was an enormous help for day-to-day life, how things were priced, what movies/books my characters might have been interested in. The main thing I found difficult to face was actually the issue of poverty. In Tudor times, even though the king’s life was luxurious compared to that of his people, no one had indoor plumbing or electricity or central heating, they just had better or worse versions of the same thing. The stark differences between Ava and Claire’s lives, and their proximity to the present day, made for some uncomfortable writing.

Keeping in touch with Karen Heenan

  1. What are you planning to write next?

I was planning on taking a short break between books, because I’ve put out 5 books since the beginning of the pandemic and I started to feel a little crispy around the edges, but my brain had other ideas. I’ve gone back to the Tudor era and picked up my series with book 4 (which means that ultimately there will be books 5 and 6, so I can have another trilogy). This one involves Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots, spies, intrigue, and the French wars of religion. It’s been fun so far.

  1. How can we stay in touch with you?

KH: The best place to find me is my website. You can also sign up for my newsletter and receive a free prequel and epilogue to my 1930s series.

I’m on Twitter/X, Instagram, Threads, and BlueSky under Karen Heenan, and on Facebook as Karen Heenan Writer.

Book Links

  1. How can we get your books?

KH: My paperbacks are available everywhere. Currently my ebooks are exclusive to Amazon and are also in Kindle Unlimited. Songbird and A Wider World are also available in audio, with the third book coming some time after the new year.

Links to Songbird, book 1 in the Tudor series (there is a daily Kindle deal on today 8th November, so why not grab your copy?

Links to Coming Apart, book in the Despression Era series:

Thanks so much for reading

Thanks so much for reading! Hope you enjoyed the interview with Karen Heenan and that you’l will check out her books!

While you’re here you can check out my other blog posts and my published books.

Why not sign up to my newsletter? You’ll get a free historical mystery romance novel, The Oak Tree Calls, when you subscribe.

Till next time,

Maria 🙂

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