Weekly Chats: E.C Fremantle with Joanna Briscoe

For this week’s edition of Weekly Chats we are joined by E.C Fremantle with Joanna Briscoe on her hugely addictive new novel, ‘The Honey And The Sting’. A historical fiction based in 1628 featuring the Duke of Buckingham, George Villiers and a hunt for his illegitimate child. This is a fast-paced game of cat and mouse with Villiers searching for three sisters that hold many dark, twisted secrets that could make his regal life come tumbling down. This book is an intricately woven whirlpool of stories, characters & themes that explore the patriarchy, mental health, LGBTIQA issues, race & class all packaged in Gothic England. This chat is full of historical facts, references & inspiration with two brilliant female writers & will spike your interest in strong female figures in history. Enjoy!

What’s in this chat: 

  • The Honey and The Sting – Liz aka E.C Fremantle’s sixth novel.
  • Fremantle on the inspiration behind the alluring title, The Honey and the Sting, a contemporary quote from the English philosopher Francis Bacon. A piece of advice for the Duke of Buckingham about his style on getting people to do what he wants.
  • Briscoe on her take on the plot: set in 1628 featuring three sisters, in which one has a child by rape from George Villiers, the Duke of Buckinhgam. Historically, it has been speculated that Villiers had  a romantic relationship with Jame I. After his child, the Duke attempts to pursue the sisters sending his sidekick, Felton on a cat and mouse hunt. The sisters are dealt a double edged sword with their knowledge of secrets about the Duke that could strip him of his powers, but also the threat that they are being hunted to silence his secrets. What ensues is a manhunt riddled with deception, twists & turns that makes for a brilliant, fast paced read steeped in history. 
  • Fremantle on the inspiration behind the book: Was it about the stories of the fictionalised women or was it based on the two real characters Villiers & Felton? 
  • Fremantle on writing a companion novel to The Poison Bed set around the circumstances of the scandalous murder in James I’s court of his past male lover. 
  • Fremantle on the initial inspiration of the novel that didn’t come to full fruition: Frances Cook, Villiers’s sister in-law who was married to his mad brother. Frances had a child & the Duke tried to put her away due to adultery, Cook went into hiding with her child as the Duke pursued the child. Despite this, Fremantle says Cook wasn’t the right fit for the novel: “I couldn’t shoehorn this character into my fictional scheme”, instead she created the three sisters in The Honey And The Sting.
  • Fremantle on the writing process – building themes or a plot?
  • Themes in The Honey And The Sting: Revenge & “the woman as the agent of moral collapse”.
  • Fremantle on nearly giving up on the novel & having to pivot, rewrite & shift the theme of the novel: “It’s as if I’ve written three novels & arrived at one.”
  • The early years: what inspired Fremantle on writing & how she got published. Tertiary education in later years with children, her first book as a biographical fiction piece & the long process of writing, degrees & getting published. 
  • Fremantle on fiction books as a “place of shelter”. 
  • Fremantle on her interest in writing historical novels it all started with the Tudor & Elizabethan periods & the huge shifts in gender politics during this time: “fifty years of women on the throne: that had never happened before… it was such a turning upside down.”
  • Fremantle on the story of Catherine Parr as a trailblazer for women during these times: a bestselling author in her time & a political activist. 
  • Fremantle on the ongoing theme in her work with power plays & amplifying female voices: Fremantle cites The Honey And The Sting as a great turning point in her work, with the three sister characters not having a voice in general society, however due to their power in knowledge, she elevates them to strong, influential characters. “It’s kind of a fantasy as women in those times would have never arrived in a place where they had any agency.” “In some ways it’s a fantasy novel.” says Fremantle. 
  • Briscoe on Fremantle’s ability to string in themes with the novel that apply to contemporary women, from the patriarchy, to mental health, LGBTIQA issues, race & class. 
  • Fremantle on writing about a woman of colour in the book as one of the sisters & highlighting the fact that England was a multicultural country even during the Tudor / Elizabethan times, who weren’t enslaved, but were simply living their lives working regular jobs. 
  • Fremantle on Mental Health & writing in characters with schizophrenia during times when mental health was not recognised. 
  • Fellow inspiring writers: Sarah Waters, Maggie O’Farrell & other female writers. 
  • The recreation of pre-Industrial Britain & domestic life in the hamlet: “there’s always something simmering there. We know that there’s darkness, we know there’s an undertone” says Briscoe.  
  • Fremantle on her life in a day as a writer. Plot, themes, writing process & editing. 
  • Fremantle on her next book in the pipeline on a female Baroque Roman painter, ‘A Lesson In Perspective’. 
Buy E. C Fremantle’s Books from your local Bookseller:

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