Two years ago, writer Tessa Gratton put her own unique spin on William Shakespeare’s King Lear in her fantasy novel The Queens Of Innis Lear. Now she’s putting a spin on Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part I with Lady Hotspur (hardcover, Kindle). In the following email interview, Gratton talks about what inspired her to take on The Bard again, and what other authors inspired this epic fantasy tale.
To begin, what is Lady Hotspur about, and when and what kind of a world is it set in?
Lady Hotspur is a fantasy re-imagining of Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part I. It follows three women whose lives change in the wake of a violent revolution: the former heir to the crown, the new heir to the crown, and the knight caught between them. It’s a secondary world fantasy similar to our own late Medieval France and Ireland, with root magic, earth saints like fairies, and prophetic magic.
And is Lady Hotspur just a fantasy tale, or are there other genres at work in this story as well?
It’s definitely an epic fantasy. It might read a little like historical, too, because of the style of worldbuilding.
So did you start with the idea of gender-flipping a Shakespeare play, or that specific play, or did you come up with the idea and then realize it has similarities to Henry IV, Part I and you just ran with it?
I’ve loved Henry IV Part I since I first read it in college nearly twenty years ago. My last book, The Queens Of Innis Lear, was based on King Lear, my least favorite Shakespeare play, so I wanted to write a book inspired by my most favorite play. That’s how Lady Hotspur began.
And what was it about Henry IV, Part I that made you think it would be interesting to see it as a gender-flipping fantasy story?
The original play is about power, inheritance, war, and different kinds of relationships between fathers and sons. In order to add something to the conversation I wanted to explore how shifting the genders of the characters and their sexualities could also change the questions and solutions to how we can deconstruct the patriarchy.
It’s also more interesting to me to write about women and queer relationships and how they relate to the patriarchal themes of the original play than to stick with the traditional roles.
Aside from Shakespeare, are there any other writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Lady Hotspur? And I do mean just on Lady Hotspur; not on anything else you’ve written.
Because Lady Hotspur is one of the most me books I’ve ever written, filled with everything I love, in a way all my favorite writers influenced it.
But if I had to pick one or two I specifically drew from, I’d say Robin McKinley and The Lumatere Chronicles. Though McKinley’s books are much shorter than this one, her style has always appealed to me, the way she takes a narrative and slowly spirals characterization and place together, sometimes from a narrative distance, sometimes jumping into intense interiority. Marchetta’s Chronicles, on the other hand, are a sprawling, intense epic with a huge cast that deals with historical trauma and the necessity of building relationships to recover.
What about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or video games; did any of them have a particularly big impact on Lady Hotspur?
Other than performances of Shakespeare, not particularly. I love big world movies like Pacific Rim and Star Wars, which is probably related to my penchant for writing big world books, but I use TV and movies as a way to refill my creative well in less directly ways than reading books.
Now, as you know, some fantasy novels are self-contained, while others are just one part of a larger saga. What is Lady Hotspur?
Lady Hotspur is a stand-alone companion to my previous book The Queens Of Innis Lear. They both work as stand-alones, though reading them together can enhance either experience. The plays stand for themselves, and so I wanted the books to do the same.
Earlier I asked if Lady Hotspur had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or video games. But has there been any interest in adapting Lady Hotspur into a movie, show, or game?
Not that I’m aware of! I think it would work best as a giant epic movie, or a tightly woven miniseries — rather like the recent BBC miniseries Jonathan Strange And Mr. Norrel. Because Lady Hotspur is contained, it doesn’t need a long series, but it has plenty of layers and multiple main characters that could be explored nicely in a short series.
If Lady Hotspur was to be made into a TV show, who would you want them to cast in the main roles?
I’d like to see new faces, or Shakespearean trained actors to play most of the characters. Though I’m currently obsessed with Sonequa Martin-Green who plays Michael Burnam in Star Trek: Discovery, so if she could be in it, that would be excellent.
Finally, if someone enjoys Lady Hotspur, which of your other novels would you suggest they read next and why that one?
Probably The Queens Of Innis Lear, since it’s the same world, only 100 years previous in the timeline.
If you’d like to move away from this world, my YA fantasy Strange Grace is a book about a town that sacrifices a teen boy to the Devil’s Forest every seven years, and the three teens who decide to go into the forest together. It’s got creepy magic, tangled, intense relationships, and similar queer themes.