Nancy Bilyeau is a rising star in the historical fiction genre. Check out my interview with her here. Buy links for the first book in the series at the end of the interview.
What was your favorite childhood book? My grandmother, Amanda Bilyeau, gave me the series Little House on the Prairie, a new book on my birthday or at Christmas until I had all of them. My grandmother was herself from the South and married very young; she had a hard life. But she always loved her books, her sewing, her cooking and baking, and her church. She used to have little tea parties with me, serving Rose Hip’s tea in her flowery little cups, that were special. I sensed even as a child that she related to Laura Ingalls Wilder in a deep way, and while reading them, I did too, all those years later.
How old were you when you decided to become a writer? I was 8 years old, and I wrote about the trees and the leaves on the ground after a field trip. My third grade teacher gave me so much encouragement that it made me what to keep writing.
Did you study creative writing in school? I did in high school but never in college. By that time, I was set on being a journalist. I studied politics and history. I studied English literature, too, at the University of Michigan, but I didn’t try to write it!
Discuss your path to publication. Do you have an agent? Do you self-pub? It took me five years to write my first novel, The Crown, then I found an agent who loved it and sold it in an auction, which was very exciting. I wrote two more books that followed The Crown with the same protagonist. I’ve not self-published, but I’m a digital editor now as my day job, as well as a social media manager and online strategist, and I’m interested in all the innovation surrounding digital publishing of nonfiction and fiction. It’s quite possible I will try it.
Any particular music you listen to when you write? I always reach that point of uncertainty in a novel, about ¾ of the way through. I’m suddenly overwhelmed and unsure of myself. Music is what pulls me through to the end. On the latest book, there was a lot of Beethoven.
Tell us about your most recent book. The Blue is a historical thriller and a spy story, set in the art worlds of England and France, full of atmosphere and emotion. There’s love and there’s fear. J
Where is it set — both location and time? What draws you to this area and/or time? The novel travels from London to the English countryside, and then out of England altogether, but I won’t say where: No spoilers. J My first three books were set in the 16th century but in this one I leap to the mid-18th century. I’ve always loved that time, it’s ravishing and bawdy and brilliant and dangerous. Everything’s changing rapidly.
Who is the protagonist? Genevieve Planche is a young woman living in Spitalfields, the part of London where the Huguenot refugees settled after they were driven out of France—the word “refugee” was coined to describe them. Genevieve doesn’t fit into her community, though. She’s obsessed with art and becoming a “real” artist in a time when women weren’t permitted to train like the men, which was enormously frustrating.
What is the protagonist’s besetting sin/weakness? Genevieve is a loving and loyal person, but her thwarted ambition and the anger she harbors over that and the losses in her life sets her up to take risks to get what she wants, and some of those risks are ethically questionable and definitely dangerous.
Tell us about your process? Are you a pantser or a plotter? At the outset, I do outline pretty carefully to make sure of the thriller objectives and that the action builds, but then as the characters come to life they start to take over and, well, the outline changes—a lot. There are always surprises.