This sequel to “The Crown,” Nancy Bilyeau’s debut novel, brings back Joanna Stafford, a headstrong nun faced with a dramatic fate at a young age: to fulfill an unclear prophecy. And Stafford is here to stay – Bilyeau signed on to write a third book last month, making this series a trilogy.
“The Chalice” follows Stafford as she leaves her oasis of Dartford, a small town hours from a major city, to travel to London and abroad in search of answers. Stafford seeks not only to unlock the prophecy, but also whether she should fulfill it at all.
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Major characters of the era appear including, of course, King Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves, all told through the lens of a woman who only ever wanted a quiet life devoted to her faith.
How do you write? How do you transplant yourself into this time?
I’d take my laptop and go to the Cloisters museum, and I would try to write in there because they have recreated 14th- and 15th-century French monastic rooms, and Dartford Priory was built in that period. So as long as my battery would hold up and the guards wouldn’t chase me out, I would sit in various corners and write.
You traveled to England for research – what was that like?
They demolished the priory just like in the book. There is still a gatehouse from that period. I walked the perimeter, and it was very emotional to feel that all these women had been there and lived these lives, and that maybe I would help that they would not be forgotten.
With so many books written about this era, did you feel like you had to have a really unique idea?
I wanted to do a thriller. That was important to me. I thought I wanted to do that more than anything else, and then I decided what period to set it in.
What do you love about Joanna that you wanted to see her through another adventure?
I was very determined to write a woman who was different from most standard historical characters. I wanted her to be independent and intelligent but not perfect. She has a bit of a temper, she’s a bit impulsive. I’ve had people say that they love her but they want to go into the book and shake her. I wanted to create someone who was flawed but who had an urge to always try and do the right thing.
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