Alison Weir: ‘I loved fairy tales from infancy’

Brought to Book Q&A: English novelist and historian on inspiring novels and favourite words

Alison Weir lives and works in Surrey. Her books include several works of non-fiction – Britain's Royal Families, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Children of England, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry VIII: King and Court, Mary, Queen of Scots and Isabella: She-Wolf of France, as well as novels including Innocent Traitor, The Captive Queen, The Lady Elizabeth and A Dangerous Inheritance. Her latest novel The Marriage Game, about the relationship between the young Elizabeth I of England and the dashing but married Lord Robert Dudley, was published in 2014 by Random House.

What was the first book to make an impression on you?

A children’s book called Pantomime Stories. I had loved fairy tales from infancy, and this book held magic for me. I repeatedly borrowed it from our local library, and recently I finally obtained a copy on eBay.

What was your favourite book as a child?


A Child’s Book of Ballet. I adored ballet, and wanted to be a ballerina.

And what is your favourite book or books now?

Anything by Norah Lofts. I think she is one of the great unsung authors of the 20th century.

What is your favourite quotation?

One by Julian of Norwich, the 14th-century anchoress: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner thing shall be well.”

Who is your favourite fictional character?

Mr Rochester in Jane Eyre.

Who is the most under-rated Irish author?

I'd find that hard to say. Oscar Wilde is a great favourite of mine, but he's certainly not underrated.

Which do you prefer - ebooks or the traditional print version?

The traditional print version. I don’t like ebooks.

What is the most beautiful book you own?

Gilded tooled-leather editions of four of my own books, and a stunningly produced edition of the Kelmscott Chaucer.

Where and how do you write?

In my library at home, on a desktop computer.

What book changed the way you think about fiction?

My first novel, Innocent Traitor. I learned so much from the editorial process about the writing and craft of fiction.

What is the most research you have done for a book?

Two lever-arch files packed to capacity with notes and transcriptions, plus a ringlet file full of biographical notes and info on places. That was standard for most of my books until I started incorporating research into an online text.

What book influenced you the most?

The Bible.

What book would you give to a friend’s child on their 18th birthday?

Probably a book on travel (depending on where they wanted to go) and broadening one’s horizons.

What book do you wish you had read when you were young?

Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss. How much more enjoyable grammar would have been!

What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

Never give up!

What weight do you give reviews?

Not much, as they represent just one person’s opinion. It depends on how you rate the reviewer. What they write can tell you as much about them as the book they are reviewing, and so many have an agenda.

Where do you see the publishing industry going?

I hope that with the ending of the recession things will improve for publishers. After all, people will always want to read books.

What has being a writer taught you?

An inestimable amount in regard to the way books are written, and that a book is only a contribution to a debate at a given point in time.

Which writers, living or dead, would you invite to your dream dinner party?

Chaucer and Shakespeare - I couldn’t imagine better or more witty company.

What is the funniest scene you’ve read?

Mavis Cheek’s The Lovers of Pound Hill has so many funny scenes that I couldn’t choose between them, and the same could be said for Philippa Gregory’s Alice Hartley’s Happiness.

What is your favourite word?

Love. When all else is gone, that is what remains, and it is infinitely beautiful.