Historian Tracy Borman on new book The Fallen Angel
- Credit: Archant
The book is the last in the New Malden author’s historic trilogy about the witch hunts of King James I
With a distinguished career embracing roles with key heritage organisations, several television series, authorship of eight history books and more, historian Dr Tracy Borman is better versed than most on the many influences which shape lives. Status, education, marriage, rivalry, money, health, the weather... a variety of elements have dictated the outcome of events. And as Tracy knows from personal experience, a little serendipity can determine outcomes, too, as exemplified by an enticing new career path which evolved from a fortuitous meeting a few years ago.
“I was at Harrogate History Festival to talk about my non-fiction book on witchcraft, when I had a chance conversation with a book editor,” explains Tracy. “He asked if I’d ever considered writing fiction and I said that if I were to write a novel, I would base it around the witch hunts of King James I. I read historical fiction all the time for pleasure but writing it was always just a pipe dream, because it involves a lot of imagination - not necessarily a natural skill for an historian. But he encouraged me to write something and it just went from there, really.”
And thus, the spell was cast for Tracy’s best-selling trilogy which began with 2018’s The Kings Witch and concludes with The Fallen Angel, published on November 5. It’s a fitting release date for the book, rooted in the years surrounding the Gunpowder Plot. Successful fiction requires jeopardy and heroine Frances Gorges is a closet Catholic, navigating the treacherous royal court of King James I. More pertinently, she is a skilled healer, a practice synonymous with evil in the eyes of the witchcraft-obsessed king.
“I fixated on this real melting pot of an era,” says Tracy. “You have the transition from the Tudors to the Stuarts and the whole religious issue coming to the fore again. People’s hopes are being dashed that James would be more tolerant towards Catholics, which then sparks the Gunpowder Plot. And, of course, James I is the most notorious royal witch hunter in history.”
“The Fallen Angel centres around the later years of James’ reign and introduces his greatest favourite George Villiers, the ruthless Duke of Buckingham, who utterly beguiles the king. Buckingham was a most dastardly villain, but James was completely blind to his faults. After I handed in the first draft of the book, my editor said, ‘That’s a bit far-fetched, we might need to tone that down,’ and I replied, ‘No, that’s what actually happened!’ Buckingham is an absolute gift for a novelist.”
Little is known about the real Frances Gorges, the daughter of one of Queen Elizabeth I’s favourite ladies. Frances’ fictional interpretation required Tracy to flex her imagination, a process helped by her familiarisation with the country’s finest historic royal buildings. The Tower of London features in the trilogy as does the fabulous Hampton Court Palace where, as joint chief curator of Historic Royal Palaces, Tracy has the enviable claim of an office.
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There has been no respite for Tracy since completing The Fallen Angel. She has filmed a new series of Inside the Tower of London for Channel 5 and started work on a new broadcast project on one of her favourite historic characters, the subject of her acclaimed biography, Thomas Cromwell: The Untold Story of Henry VIII’s Most Faithful Servant. She is also writing a book on the history of the monarchy, scheduled for launch ahead of The Queen’s 2022 Platinum Jubilee. Steady progress has been made on this mammoth commission, courtesy of lockdown-enforced writing days at her New Malden home this year.
“I originally moved to London soon after finishing my PhD as I knew I wanted to work in the heritage sector and this is where all the big heritage organisations are,” explains Tracy. “I initially lived in north London but then back in 2001 I visited friends in Surrey for a barbecue and I absolutely fell in love with the area. It was greener and more peaceful and on the strength of that one Sunday barbecue, I was sold!”
Surrey retains a special place in Tracy’s heart as the county where she met her husband and gave birth to her daughter. It was also where she formerly enjoyed ‘an absolute plum role’ at the National Archives, for which she is now a trustee.
“The location of New Malden is just superb, and especially handy for my office at Hampton Court Palace, which is total luck in that I lived here long before my current job, but obviously I had my eye on working there! I was born and raised in a small village and New Malden sort of has that sort of community feel for me. I just couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.”
The Fallen Angel (Hodder & Stoughton, £16.99) is published on November 5. Find out more at tracyborman.co.uk.