Interview with C.W. Gortner, author of The Tudor Conspiracy

Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin

Publication Date: July 16, 2013

Order Links:  Amazon / Barnes & Noble

Synopsis: Hunted by a shadowy foe in Bloody Mary’s court, Brendan Prescott plunges into London’s treacherous underworld to unravel a dark conspiracy that could make Elizabeth queen—or send her to her death in C.W. Gortner's The Tudor Conspiracy

England, 1553: Harsh winter encroaches upon the realm. Mary Tudor has become queen to popular acclaim and her enemies are imprisoned in the Tower. But when she’s betrothed to Philip, Catholic prince of Spain, putting her Protestant subjects in peril, rumors of a plot to depose her swirl around the one person whom many consider to be England’s heir and only hope—the queen’s half-sister, Princess Elizabeth.

Haunted by his past, Brendan Prescott lives far from the intrigues of court. But his time of refuge comes to an end when his foe and mentor, the spymaster Cecil, brings him disquieting news that sends him on a dangerous mission. Elizabeth is held captive at court, the target of the Spanish ambassador, who seeks her demise. Obliged to return to the palace where he almost lost his life, Brendan finds himself working as a double-agent for Queen Mary herself, who orders Brendan to secure proof that will be his cherished Elizabeth’s undoing.

Plunged into a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with a mysterious opponent who hides a terrifying secret, Brendan races against time to retrieve a cache of the princess’s private letters, even as he begins to realize that in this dark world of betrayal and deceit, where power is supreme and sister can turn against sister, nothing—and no one—is what it seems.

Author Bio: C.W. Gortner holds an MFA in Writing, with an emphasis in Renaissance Studies. Raised in Spain and half Spanish by birth, he currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

He welcomes readers and is always available for reader group chats. Please visit him at for more information.  You can also follow Christopher on Facebook and Twitter.

Interview: Q. Please tell us about your current release.

THE TUDOR CONSPIRACY is the second book in my Elizabeth I Spymaster series, which depicts the adventures of Brendan Prescott, a young man with a secret past, who rises to power in the service of Elizabeth. The first book, The Tudor Secret, and this new one, take place in the dramatic and unsettled years after Henry VIII’s death, before Elizabeth became queen. In THE TUDOR CONSPIRACY, Brendan finds himself working as a double-agent in Bloody Mary’s court, where he’s pursued by a ruthless opponent as he tries to unravel a plot against the queen in which Elizabeth may be a willing participant. Fast paced and suspenseful, my Spymaster books offer a different perspective on how Elizabeth came to power.

Q. How did you come up with the idea for your book?

I also write stand-alone historical novels about controversial women of the Renaissance, such as my latest THE QUEEN’S VOW about Isabella of Castile. For the Spymaster books, I wanted to do something a little different, grounded in history, but with a thriller edge. I’m an avid fan of historical mysteries and had read quite a few before I began to work on these novels, so I decided to tackle a part of history that wasn’t already being mined. The reigns of Henry VIII and of Elizabeth in her later years are being written about by other, excellent mystery novelists, but I realized that the time after Henry’s demise, when his lesser-known heirs Edward and Mary ruled, was relatively unexplored. I also wanted to create a fictional character who becomes a reluctant spy in the Elizabethan secret service, one of history’s first sophisticated spy networks. The concept gave me so much to work with, the opportunity to blend fiction with history, real characters with imaginary ones, and to explore the crevices of history, those empty spaces between major events when so much could have happened that we don’t know about and affected how those events came to pass.

Q. Can you tell us about the journey that led you to write your book?

This series was originally conceived over thirteen years ago, after I’d received many rejections for my stand-alone historical novels. My agent at the time suggested I might have better luck breaking into the market if I wrote a mystery. I decided to do this thriller /adventure about a spy with a secret of his own, and of course it didn’t sell, either. So, I self-published it under its original title, “The Secret Lion” and eventually attracted the attention of my current agent. After she sold my first two historical novels, The Last Queen and The Confessions of Catherine de Medici, to Random House at auction, an editor at St Martin’s Press, who’d loved my work for years but been unable to acquire it, bought the first spy thriller and re-titled it The Tudor Secret. He also wanted two more in the series. Just goes to show, you never know when a closed door will open.

Q. If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything about the book?

I’ve just found one mistake in the finished edition that I’d like to fix, but otherwise I’m very happy with it. THE TUDOR CONSPIRACY is a darker, more complex novel than the first one. My lead character matures and must deal with both tragic loss and difficult choices, which always make for terrific stakes in a thriller.

Q. What was the hardest part of writing your book?

An historical thriller is always challenging because of the lack of modern technology and conveniences to help drive the story. Communication is in particular tough, because the characters can’t just pull up an address on a phone or call for help. The research required is intensive, too, in that I had to recreate the dangers of Tudor London and the court in a way that felt immediate and relatable to a modern-day reader without being overly fact-driven or antiquated. Because the story is in essence one of suspense and survival against odds, I also had to make sure the tension between the historical aspects of the story and its roller-coaster thrills were in perfect alignment.

Q. Do you have a musical playlist you listen to when writing? If so, what kind of music?

Sadly, I’ve found I can’t listen to music when I write. I have tried, but it gets in the way of hearing my characters’ voices.  When I’m not writing, I listen to Dead Can Dance, Diana Krall, and classical music.

Q. What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?

I need to warm up first. I can’t face a blank page—it puts me in a bit of a panic—so I always revise the previous few pages before plunging in, even if it’s just rearranging a sentence here and replacing an adjective there. The act of revision helps ease me into the next scenes without feeling as if I’m hitting the writing cold, so to speak.

Q. Do you plan any subsequent books?

I do. I’m currently working on the third Spymaster book, tentatively titled The Tudor Vendetta and set in the first perilous weeks of Elizabeth’s accession to the throne. I’ve also just delivered the finished manuscript of my fourth stand-alone novel, about Lucrezia Borgia.

Q. Please tell us your latest news.

Besides THE TUDOR CONSPIRACY, the paperback edition of my novel THE QUEEN’S VOW, about the tumultuous rise to power and early reign of Isabella of Castile, has just been released.

Q. Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

I’m very grateful to my readers both here and abroad; they have championed my books and their e-mails and messages on Facebook help ease the often long hours I spend alone at my desk. Writers are blind without readers; we need their eyes to bring our stories to life, and I know that in this current economy the choice of which books to buy is a challenging one at times. I’m so appreciative that readers choose my books and I hope to continue to entertain you for many years to come.

Thank you for hosting me here today. It’s an honor. To find out more about me and my work, please visit me at:


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