Annie Garthwaite left a thirty-year international business career to become an historical novelist.
Garthwaite grew up in a working-class area of North-East England. She describes her father as a ‘union man and a socialist from cap to boot soles.’ Having given up her original occupation as a nurse when she got married, her mother did a variety of lowly jobs. However, Garthwaite learned to read long before starting school. Her mother loved stories and wanted to share this with her daughter. By the time, Annie was ten, she would read whatever her mother was reading, often family sagas by Catherine Cookson or romantic histories by Jean Plaidy and Georgette Heyer.
Despite passing the eleven-plus, Garthwaite attended the school across the road from her home. This was a former secondary-modern that had become comprehensive the previous year. Typically, boys expected to be employed at the steelworks, girls to build telephone exchanges for Siemens. However, Garthwaite was blessed with an inspirational history teacher, Keith Hill, who ‘taught history like it happened yesterday.’ Pleased to have an interested pupil for once, he started feeding Garthwaite extra books. It was through studying the Wars of the Roses for history ‘A’ level that she first made the acquaintance of Richard III. She also realized that the past ‘isn’t fixed, definitive or singular. It’s the raw material of story, open to interpretation, investigation, retelling.’
Garthwaite was one of the first pupils from her school to go on to university. She studied English literature at St David’s University College, Lampeter. After graduating, she took up a career in business; by the time she was in her thirties, she led European communications for an American multinational. She comments, ‘I remember almost no other women at my managerial level, few enough in the company at all. I was learning first-hand how women exercise power in environments dominated by men.’ In 1998, Garthwaite founded her own corporate communications and marketing company, Annie Garthwaite Communications Limited. However, all the time, her passion for history and for storytelling remained. She promised herself that when she was fifty-five, she would stop working and start writing. In 2017, she entered the University of Warwick to study for an MA in creative writing.
Garthwaite’s fascination with Richard III had continued. In 2012, she visited the now famous car park in Leicester to view the hole where his body had been discovered. Three years later she stood outside Leicester Cathedral to watch his funeral on a big screen. However, alongside this, she had developed an even stronger interest in Richard ‘s mother, Cecily Neville (1415-1495), the only major protagonist to live through the entire period of the Wars of the Roses. In 2017, an historian, Joanna Laynesmith published her biography, Cecily Duchess of York (Bloomsbury Academic, 2017). Garthwaite describes begging Laynesmith to have lunch with her; the two women talked until dinner. She comments that she realized that Cecily could give anyone a lesson in how to operate in a man’s world.
Garthwaite spent three years writing her novel Cecily, (Penguin, 2021). The story starts in 1431, when Cecily is sixteen, and ends in 1461, when her eldest son becomes king as Edward IV. Neville is pictured doing everything she can to shape the future of her family and country, whether through securing advantageous marriages for her children or by writing to the queen, Margaret of Anjou, to try to get her husband restored to the king’s favour. Garthwaite herself comments, ‘I don’t want you to think Cecily is good. I want you to think she’s extraordinary … It’s partly because she’s so motivated and driven, that sometimes she doesn’t see herself very clearly at all.’ Such was the book’s success that it was named a top pick by both The Times and Sunday Times. Antonia Senior commented, ‘Cecily herself is a strong well-drawn character who springs to life in this absorbing debut. I look forward to hearing more from Annie Garthwaite and Cecily.’ Linda Hill wrote, ‘What a cracking historical fiction Cecily is. It’s quite difficult to believe Cecily is a debut novel because it’s written so compellingly … But what gives Annie Garthwaite’s Cecily the edge is the feminism; the insight into, and the appreciation of, a strong woman in a world of men.’
Garthwaite is working on a sequel, that will continue Cecily’s story after her eldest son becomes King as Edward IV. She says ‘Whatever position I take on some of the contested issues, I’m bound to ruffle some feathers with book two. I’ll be writing not just about Cecily but about her children, including Richard III who is, after all, England’s most contentious monarch.’
Garthwaite lives with her partner and collection of animals, close to the Yorkist stronghold of Ludlow.
Garthwaite, A. (2021). Annie Garthwaite. Retrieved September 9 2021 from https://www.anniegarthwaite.com/about
Garthwaite, A. (2021). Annie Garthwaite. [LinkedIn page]. LinkedIn. Retrieved September 9 2021 from https://www.linkedin.com/in/anniegarthwaite/
Lavelle, E. (2021, August 19). ‘I don’t want you to think Cecily is good; I want you to think she’s extraordinary,’ – an interview with ‘Cecily’ author, Annie Garthwaite. Nothing in the Rulebook. Retrieved September 9 2021 from https://nothingintherulebook.com/2021/08/19/i-dont-want-you-to-think-cecily-is-good-i-want-you-to-think-shes-extraordinary-an-interview-with-cecily-author-annie-garthwaite/
Cecily by Annie Garthwaite. (2021, August 2). She reads novels. Retrieved September 10 2021 from https://shereadsnovels.com/2021/08/02/cecily-by-annie-garthwaite/
Senior, A. (2021, July 7). The best new historical fiction for July 2021 – a game of love in the court of James I – Antonia Senior picks historical tales from England, France, Russia and Trinidad. The Times. Retrieved September 10 2021 from https://infoweb-newsbank-com.ezproxy.uwtsd.ac.uk/apps/news/document-view?p=UKNB&t=&sort=YMD_date%3AD&fld-base-0=alltext&maxresults=20&val-base-0=%22annie%20garthwaite%22&docref=news/18397BE5D74A1CC8#copy
Hill, L. (2021, July 29. Cecily by Annie Garthwaite. Linda’s Book Bag. Retrieved September 10 2021 from https://lindasbookbag.com/2021/07/29/cecily-by-annie-garthwaite/