I may be a medical anthropologist, but I am also a longstanding history buff. As a freshman in highschool I discovered the books of Jean Plaidy. Jean Plaidy wrote historical fiction, and I became hooked on the genre. Some of my favorite books by Plaidy, including Katharine of Aragon and Murder Most Royal, were about the wives of King Henry VIII. The interest in Henry’s wives infected me with a lust to know more about Henry himself, which was followed in short order by reading nonfictional works about him written by professional/academic historians like J.J. Scarisbrick and amateur/lay historians like Alison Weir. I maintained this curiosity about Henry VIII and continued to gobble up fiction and nonfiction books about the Tudors.
2. What made you decide to research and write "Blood Will Tell?"
A lot of people have wondered why a medical anthropologist wrote a history book. It started when I was complaining to Dr. Catrina Banks Whitley that everyone thought that it was Henry VIII’s wives, not the King himself, who were the reason for the shortage of surviving offspring in his marriages. I had done quite a bit of research about male-mediated negative reproductive outcomes in graduate school, so it was natural that I would see Henry as the source of the tragedy. Within twenty-four hours, Dr, Whitley had found a potential reason why the King only had four living children (in spite of six wives and a least three mistresses and multiple pregnancies for some of his sexual partners). If Henry had a Kell positive blood type, then any fetus conceived after the first pregnancy that was unfortunate enough to inherit the Kell blood type would be attacked by the mother’s antibodies, and would not survive. Moreover, if Henry had a Kell positive blood type then he may have also suffered from McLeod syndrome, which would have explained his radical personality change after his fortieth birthday. Together we spent two years collaborating on a paper outlining this theory and the historical evidence which supported it. The result was the article “A New Explanation for the Reproductive Woes and Midlife Decline of Henry VIII”, which was published in the December 2010 issue of The Historical Journal. I felt there was still so much of the King’s story left to tell in connection with the theory that I decided to write a book to share more of the information with anyone who was interested.
3. In your opinion, what is the most interesting part of your book?
Personally, I liked the Tudor Medicine stuff the most, but it would be natural for me to like the medicine bits the most, wouldn’t it? I also tried to squeeze in some humorous phrases hither and yon. Hopefully no one hithered and yawned.
4. What is your writing process?
I have Asperger’s syndrome so my process is a little different. It’s like a distillation. I read TONS, and then boil it down to the things I find most fascinating, and then pare that down to the fascinating things that are actually applicable to my work, and then weave my opinions around the facts that are left and connect the dots. Someone in a writing class I was guest-speaking in once asked me if I had a research staff. I had to confess that like most people on the spectrum I had just shunted the normal stuff (Where are my car keys? What was my maiden name? ) out of my brain and used the clear space for storage. If I could do this in physics, people would think I was brilliant. Alas, it will only work with things the Aspy truly loves, so I can’t just “study” any topic this way.
5. Are you currently working on any other books? (If so, can you give us a hint?)
Yes I am, and Anne Boleyn gets her own chapter! The book is about the slut shaming of historically infamous queens, and how much of the stuff said and written about them is hooey to fit social narratives about good vs bad femininity.
6. Who are some other historical figures you're interested in writing about?
I’m doing research on Jezebel, Cleopatra, and Catherine the Great -- as well as more on Anne Boleyn -- for the next book. After that I’ll have to see what my brain decides to obsess about. I would also like to try my hand at fiction. (Famous last words …)
7. What is the best part about being a published author?
Honestly? It is that people think you are way smarter and and grown up than you really are. I’m in my forties with a husband, mortgage, three daughters, and pets but I am still waiting for the Adulthood Fairy to leave me Common Sense and the Ability to Get Things Together under my pillow.
8. What is your overall opinion of Henry VIII?
Personally, I think he was egotistical but a fairly decent human being who went batcrap crazy after 1531. If it turns out he didn’t have McLeod syndrome, then I’d change my opinion to ‘he was a monster’. I need a DNA sample to know for sure.
9. If you could ask Henry VIII one question, what would it be?
May I please have a cheek swab?
10. What is one thing you'd like your readers to know about your book?
I researched the bejesus out of that sucker and if there is any part in it that differs from any popular historical fiction author’s work then that author either used poetic license (which is fine in fiction) or embraces a theory that academic historians have rejected (which is also fine in fiction). People occasionally write me angry letters telling me how “everyone knows” Henry VIII had syphilis. No. No he didn’t. Cross my heart, he did not have syphilis. Furthermore, Anne Boleyn did not have six fingers and yelling at me in ALL CAPS will not change that.
Thank you, Kyra, for your willingness to participate in our Tudor Enthusiast interview!
A random comment will be chosen to receive a copy of "Blood Will Tell: A Medical Explanation of the Tyranny of Henry VIII" on Sunday (July 13th)! Winner will be notified by email so don't forget to include your email address!!!