Thursday, February 5, 2015

Interview with Daniel Diehl, NOTHING LEFT SACRED

Your latest novel, ‘Nothing Left Sacred’, is an historical novel, but would you describe it as a romance, an adventure story, or what?
I would describe ‘Nothing Left Sacred’ as a political thriller; an epic tale of greed, betrayal, corruption, social upheaval and, finally, civil war.  ‘Nothing left Sacred’ takes the reader on a panic-filled journey driven by dark political paranoia similar to the roller coaster turmoil found in Umberto Ecco's 'The Name of the Rose'.  If you love history, social conflict on an epic scale and a tightly woven mystery then ‘Nothing Left Sacred’ is definitely for you.

That sounds impressive.  Can you give us a short synopsis of the storyline for ‘Nothing Left Sacred’?
Sure. As almost any history buff knows, England’s King Henry VIII was outraged when Pope Clement VII refused to grant him a divorce from his wife of 18 years, Katherine of Aragon. The main storyline in ‘Nothing Left Sacred’ deals with the result of Henry’s fury over the pope’s refusal to comply with what Henry felt was a simple request.  The outcome of the fat king’s rage was a decade-long war against both the church and his own people which led to the destruction of England’s entire thousand year-old religious structure and claimed the lives of 150,000 English men and women.

It all sounds pretty thrilling but maybe a little heavy.  Is there anything to take us away from all the violence and nightmarish political maneuvering?
In my answer to the last question I mentioned the main story line, there are also two sub-plots, both of which deal with love affairs.  Like the events portrayed in rest of the story, these love affairs stand in stark contrast with one another, one very sweet and innocent, one horribly destructive.  The first of these is Henry’s mutually destructive fixation with Anne Boleyn and the political fallout that results from it.  The other is the relationship between a sixteen year-old novice monk and a young girl in the town where he seeks refuge after fleeing the destruction of his own monastery.

What made you chose this particular incident to write about?
Henry VIII is one of the best known monarchs in history and unquestionably the most famous king in the English speaking world.  And while there have been dozens of books and movies dealing with his life and reign almost all of them have concentrated on his six disastrous marriages.  While divorces and beheadings might be fun stuff, Henry’s love life has nothing to do with the importance of his reign.  The thing that makes Henry important to history is his war with the Catholic Church and the brutally enforced conversion of the English people to the new church which Henry invented to suit his own whims.  Henry’s creation of the Church of England was, to put it bluntly, the theft of church property and money on a scale unmatched in human history.

How, exactly, do you define a historical novel?
Historical novels come in a number of different sizes and shappes.  The vast majority of them deal with a purely fictionalized series of events – usually either a love story or an adventure story – which takes place at some particular time in the past.  How accurate the depiction of that past is varies tremendously with the author and the particular story they are telling.  A lot of what are loosely termed ‘period romances’ (referred to in the trade as either bodice rippers or chic-lits) are usually long on fancy costumes and swooning women but pretty slim on historical fact.  Others follow closely with some particular historical incident – like the American Civil War or the Napoleonic Wars – and weave a completely fictionalized storyline into it. 
Unlike both of these examples, ‘Nothing Left Sacred’ is more like 90 percent history and about 10 percent fiction.  All of the main incidents actually took place and all but a very few incidental characters were real people.  In fact, I prefer to think of ‘Nothing Left Sacred’ as fictionalized history, rather than historical fiction.  When the historical record is as rich as this one, creating fictional stories is completely unnecessary.

How accurate is the historical aspect of your story?
As I said, all of the main incidents described in the story actually took place and wherever the historical record provides specific dates for these incidents I have adhered to those, as well.  I have no way to tell exactly, but I think that somewhere around twenty percent of the conversations in the book are actually adapted from historical chronicles, letters and personal diaries - the words in the book are not always spoken by the person who originally wrote them, but I have remained as true to the original texts as possible.  One particular example is a line from a love letter that Henry VII is writing to Anne Boleyn.  This particular line is real; I found it when I was researching the original copies of Henry’s letters in the British Library.  To me, things like this help bring the story – and the lives of people who lived five hundred years ago – dramatically to life.

Can you tell us a little bit about your literary background and how it brought you to write ‘Nothing Left Sacred’?
‘Nothing Left Sacred’ is my twenty-fourth book.  My first twenty books – co-written with Mark Donnelly – were all historically based nonfiction.  Prior to ‘Nothing Left Sacred’ I have also written three novels and they are also grounded in historical events.  I have to admit that my Merlin Chronicles series is a complete fantasy, but the character of Merlin and his back story follow closely to both the Arthurian legends and the story of the real-life, historical Merlin.  And, yes, Merlin was real and while he certainly wasn’t a wizard he was believed to have had the power to see into the future.

What drew you to the characters in this story?
We have a tendency to see people in the past as being somehow different than we are; vague shadowy characters dressed in fancy clothes who are almost cartoons – entirely good or entirely evil.  I think Hollywood has to take a lot of the blame for this distortion of history: according to Hollywood the vast majority of pirates are fun guys; kings are either old and wise or conniving tyrants, cowboys were all honest, straight-shooting guys and so on.  Having been a working historian for almost half a century I promise you this childishly simplified view of the past is a load of crap.  People are the same now as they have always been; part good and part bad, weak and strong, loving and vain and generous and greedy.  And while almost all of us are some combination of these qualities, the characters in ‘Nothing Left Sacred’ seemed to me to be somehow larger than life; those with good qualities struck me as astoundingly brave and moral people and those who were bad were shockingly weak, greedy, cruel and manipulative.  I’m not going to give away any of the storyline by telling you who was naughty and who was nice, but suffice it to say that King Henry was definitely not one of the good guys.

Do you see any kind of historical parallel between the events in your story and the present day?
When Edward Gibbon published his famous ‘Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’ in 1776 he saw it as being both an accurate account of the final years of classical Rome and also a parallel to the British Empire of his own time.  Similarly I see ‘Nothing Left Sacred’ as a fully realized, stand-alone story about Henry VIII’s war with the Roman Catholic Church and at the same time a cautionary tale about the dangers of intertwining politics and religion; a situation which has become far too common in modern America.
Book Blurb:
Nothing Left Sacred takes the reader on a twisting, panic-filled journey through the secretive corridors of power surrounding Henry VIII and the glittering Tudor court. This taught political thriller carries us from the grandeur of the royal palaces to the seldom-glimpsed resistance network that rose in opposition to Henry's radical religious reforms which would create the Church of England.

When the mounting panic created by the King’s emotional instability combines with the twisted machinations of a corrupt justice system, they collide head-on with the leaders of England’s fantastically wealthy, yet tragically naïve, monastic community. The struggle between these opposing forces creates an atmosphere of claustrophobia and dark political paranoia not found in an historical novel since Umberto Ecco's 'The Name of the Rose'.

Amazon buy link: 

Daniel Diehl has been an author, writer and investigative historian for thirty-five years. For nearly twenty years Diehl has been involved in writing for publication and documentary television production. Mr. Diehl’s work has won awards from the Houston (Texas) Film Festival, the National Trust for Historic Preservation (US) and the City of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Arts Foundation. Working alone and as a part of the multi-award winning team of Daniel Diehl and Mark Donnelly, Diehl has produced work in two main categories; trade publication and television documentary scripts. His canon of work includes twenty non-fiction books (which have been translated into ten foreign languages), one previous work of fiction and scripts for more than one hundred and seventy hours of documentary television primarily for A&E Network, The History Channel, History International, Biography Channel and Discovery Network.