Today we welcome debut author Loretta Goldberg whose novel, The Reversible Mask, is set during Elizabeth I’s reign. Let’s just jump right in…
What do you think modern readers will be able to relate to the most about Edward Latham, your story’s protagonist?
What a great question. His unmoored wanderings, as he struggles to find an effective place in a changing world. I hope readers will react in two ways: if their lives are stable, his vicissitudes will be all the more vivid; but if they have any discomfort about compromises they’ve made, if they’ve colored over the edges, hopefully they’ll recognize themselves in him, love him and root for him. I’ve heard both responses from readers.
If you could go back in time and ask Elizabeth I one question, what would it be, when would you ask it, and why?
Whatever I ask she wouldn’t answer, of course. I’d go back to 1593 and ask about her destruction of two documents. The first is the log book from Sir Francis Drake’s three-year circumnavigation of the world 1577-80. Historians pieced it together from other accounts. Her reason was obvious: to allow her to deny Spain’s true charges that Drake attacked their posts in the New World. The other document was one by the man on whom Edward Latham is based, Sir Anthony Standen. When Standen was blown as a double agent and returned to England, Elizabeth demanded an account of his actions abroad before he could be invited back to court. He wrote his account. Reportedly it was delivered but has disappeared. Despite his important service to her before the Armada attack, she was unfriendly toward him from then on. Now, that’s tantalizing! Elizabeth didn’t hide stuff, she got rid of it. But her thoroughness has robbed future generations.
Which research tools do you most recommend to other writers approaching historical fiction projects?
I’m a new writer, so I have much more to learn than to offer anyone else. There are great academic articles; primary documents; art, sport, and literature of the time; law trials. Public libraries with inter-library loan capacities did the most for me in this novel, but being in a community of writers like the Historical Novel Society also brings tremendous resources and ideas. What’s on the internet has to be checked out.
Any chance that you’ll someday indulge us in a tale starring Sir Francis Drake or one of the other Elizabethan sea dogs?
He does figure in my sequel, which revolves around a little known but important action of 1589, the year after the Spanish Armada. But so much has been done on Drake. He used to be a childhood fantasy companion of mine. When we were stuck in daily traffic jams, I imagined him scoffing at all those smoke-belching tail pipes, stuck even through green lights. What amused him was that we’d invented this thing that went 100 mph but didn’t make roads to accommodate them when the need was greatest, going to work and coming home.
Your discography is impressive, especially to someone like me who grew up listening to and performing classical music. What role does music play in your writing, if any?
Music affected my perception quite a bit. As I read about Elizabeth I, who was a good musician, I felt that she acted polyphonically, not linearly, in politics. I always saw three or more moving lines in her manipulations. That was my original fascination with her, what I thought other interpreters didn’t capture, at least for me. I try to convey that side of her in the novel. She saved polyphonic music for England, by adding a clause to The Religious Settlement of 1559 banning the dismantling of endowed choirs. Radical Protestants resented her for it, but composers like Byrd and Tallis wouldn’t have thrived without it. A lot of great music wouldn’t exist without that clause. There are also music-oriented scenes in my novel. Latham’s love for Barbara Blomberg was stimulated by music. Blomberg was the greatest singer of her age, her voice made her Emperor Charles V’s mistress. I make her an amalgam of Joan Sutherland’s voice with a temperament of composers I’ve worked with. And Latham learns about Edmund Campion’s execution, a pivot point in the novel, from church bells and a balladeer’s song.
Readers of my blog know that I’m notorious for my views of how swords and swordsmanship are portrayed in fiction and film. What are your biggest pet peeves about historical fiction and movies?
The sexualization of love. There are many kinds and shades of love; love objects can be ideas or institutions as well as people. I often long for these nuances.
Who are your favorite fiction authors and books? How have they influenced your writing?
Where to begin? We didn’t include a bibliography in The Reversible Mask, but I’d be happy to send it to any interested reader. I could pick out four of my favorite historical novels. The Daughters of Mars by Thomas Keneally is about provincial Australian nurses who enlist in World War I, drawn from diaries in the military archives. The whole experience evolves through their unprepared eyes; no editorializing or explanations. I can’t say enough how much that impressed me. Other books I like are Bernard Cornwell’s second of the Arthurian trilogy, The Enemy of God, with its plausible first person narrator in the warrior/monk Derfel. I love his deconstruction of Lancelot. Then Patrick O’Brien’s Napoleonic series,where the eighteenth century language enfolds us completely. Coming to the present, Adrienne Dillard’s Cor Rotto, a novel of Catherine Carey, is a beautifully unsentimental portrayal of a noblewoman who survived sixteen childbirths.
Thank you so much, Loretta!
Summer 1566. A glittering royal progress approaches Oxford. A golden age of prosperity, scientific advances, exploration and artistic magnificence. Elizabeth I’s Protestant government has much to celebrate.
But one young Catholic courtier isn’t cheering.
Conflicting passions—patriotism and religion—wage war in his heart. On this day, religion wins. Sir Edward Latham throws away his title, kin, and country to serve Catholic monarchs abroad.
But his wandering doesn’t quiet his soul, and when Europe’s religious wars threaten his beloved England and his family, patriotism prevails. Latham switches sides and becomes a double agent for Queen Elizabeth. Life turns complicated and dangerous as he balances protecting country and queen, while entreating both sides for peace.
Intrigue, lust, and war combine in this thrilling debut historical novel from Loretta Goldberg.
About the Author
An Australian-American, Goldberg earned a BA in English Literature, Musicology and History at the University of Melbourne, Australia. After teaching English Literature at the Department of English for a year, she risked all, coming to the USA on a Fulbright scholarship to study piano with Claudio Arrau. Her discography consists of nine commercial recordings, now in over seven hundred libraries. She premiered an unknown work by Franz Liszt on an EMI HMV (Australian Division) album, and her edition of the score for G. Schirmer is in its third edition. Concurrently, she built a financial services practice, which she sold recently to focus on writing. Her published non-fiction pieces consist of articles on financial planning, arts reviews and political satire. She earned an MA (music performance) from Hunter College, New York; and a Chartered Life Underwriter degree from the American College, Pennsylvania. Member of the Historical Novel Society, New York Chapter, she started and runs their published writer public reading series at the landmark Jefferson Market Library.