Nicola Cornick talks about writing dual timelines for her new novel, The Phantom Tree.

1. Can you tell us more about your latest book, The Phantom Tree?

The Phantom Tree is a dual time novel set in the present and the Tudor period. It’s a mix of history, mystery, romance and bit of the supernatural. It tells the story of Alison Bannister and her quest to find the son she was forced to give up when she was in her teens. Alison’s search leads her to unravel a historical mystery and takes her back through time itself.

2. What was the most difficult part about writing this book? And what was the most fun part?

I find writing a dual timeline very difficult because it requires a lot of planning and by nature I’m the sort of writer who plunges into a story with only an outline of where I’m going. So at about the halfway stage I have to go back over it all to make sure that both storylines fit together properly, that I haven’t contradicted myself or written anything that is impossible within the parameters of the story. It’s one way to make a pantser a planner!

The most fun part for me is always the historical side of the writing although I think I am improving on the contemporary! I love conjuring up the historical atmosphere, the sights and sounds of the past, and in this story I was writing about the Tudors which is a period of history I love.

3. When did you decide to write and what prompted you to start?

My dual time novels feature lesser-known figures from history, especially women whose stories have been lost from the historical record. One of these was Mary Seymour, the daughter of Queen Katherine Parr and Thomas Seymour. There is no account of what happened to Mary beyond the age of about three and I found this fascinating and was increasingly drawn to tell her story. The idea had been in my mind for a while and then I saw a little portrait of a woman in Tudor dress that I loved. I thought how fascinating it would be to know who she was and that picture came together with the idea of Mary Seymour and was the spark for the story.

4. Who are some of your own favourite authors at the moment?

I love Sarah Morgan’s books. She tells stories that are funny but so emotionally powerful as well. I’ve really been enjoying Lucy Parker’s London Celebrities series. Susanna Kearsley is one of my favourites for rich, historical mysteries. She writes beautifully.

5. Can you tell us a bit about your plans for the future?

I have another dual time book coming out next spring, The Woman in the Lake, which has some dark psychological thriller elements to it that I really enjoyed writing. My current book is another Tudor mystery, though, and it’s great to be writing in that era again!

“My name is Mary Seymour and I am the daughter of one queen and the niece of another.”

Browsing antiques shops in Wiltshire, Alison Bannister stumbles across a delicate old portrait – supposedly of Anne Boleyn. Except Alison knows better… The woman is Mary Seymour, the daughter of Katherine Parr who was taken to Wolf Hall in 1557 as an unwanted orphan and presumed dead after going missing as a child.

The painting is more than just a beautiful object from Alison’s past – it holds the key to her future, unlocking the mystery surrounding Mary’s disappearance, and the enigma of Alison’s son.

But Alison’s quest soon takes a dark and foreboding turn, as a meeting place called the Phantom Tree harbours secrets in its shadows…


International bestselling author Nicola Cornick writes gothic time slip novels for Graydon House in the US and HQ Books in the UK. She became fascinated with history when she was a child, and spent hours poring over historical novels and watching costume drama. She studied history at university and wrote her master’s thesis on heroes. Nicola also acts as a historical advisor for television and radio. In her spare time she works as a guide in a 17th century mansion.

nicolacornick.co.uk/thephantomtree

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