Hayley Nolan is the writer/producer and presenter of hit iTunes podcast series The History Review and its spin-off vlog series, which has gained more than one million views in its first 5 months. She is a graduate of London’s prestigious Royal Court Young Writer’s Programme, has trained in screenwriting at RADA and creative writing at Cambridge University, and has trained in screenwriting at RADA. An Anne Boleyn expert, her research has seen her working with the French and UK governments, partnering with some of the UK’s most respected historical organisations, and has garnered her the support of respected historians. ‘Anne Bolyeyn – 500 Years of Lies’ is her latest book.
- To readers of the blog who may not be familiar with you or your writing, can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into writing
I’m actually a trained scriptwriter as that’s the medium I have the most affinity with. After graduating from the Royal Court Theatre Young Writer’s Programme in London I went on to further train at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in Advances in Scriptwriting. It was my script work that lead me to then take a side-step into history, which I didn’t intend to be the huge career diversion it’s become, but when I discovered the incredible censorship surrounding Anne Boleyn’s story I realised there was a book in this that needed to be written!
- Out of all the historical icons, why did you decide to create a book about Anne Boleyn?
It was the least conscious decision I’ve ever made, it kind of unfolded bit by bit. I first set out to understand, simply for my own interest, why Henry could do what he did to Anne; how after supposedly fighting for seven years to be with the woman they say he loved that he could decapitate her within three years of eventually marrying her. So it was through my research into the king that I discovered the truth about Anne hidden away from the general public, smattered across the pages of obscure history books and right there in the original source material the historians work from. When I started to piece the puzzle together and had those lightbulb moment I realised I simply had to share this with a wider commercial audience because so far they were just being fed the lies. This is how the podcast came to be…but after some reluctance I knew I had to bite the bullet and write a book. Something needed to be out there on a bigger scale to counteract the lies that get sold in the commercial history books, TV documentaries and dramas.
- If you were to start your own book club, what authors would you ask to join?
Hollie Kyte would be a great one, she has just released her debut book ‘Roaring Girls: The Forgotten Feminists of British History’ and we are so on the same page in terms of bringing the censored stories of powerful women into the mainstream. Similarly, Anneka Harry has written an incredible book coming out in 2020 called ‘Gender Rebels’, she’d have to be invited as she tells the world about 50 sheroes who, in her own words, had to change the rules and their identities to get sh*t done! Love it! Alya Mooro, the kick-ass author of ‘The Greater Freedom’ would have to be in there too. She’s challenging stereotypes about Middle Eastern women in her new book which is part biography and part social commentary, something we need if we are to truly become this progressive society we claim to aspire to. Oooh can I invite Danielle Jawando too? She is a scriptwriter and author with an epic book coming out in 2020, ‘And The Stars Were Burning Brightly’ is Young Adult fiction but inspired by her own experiences with bullying and suicide and, my God, this is something we need to hear. And, of course, I’d have to round off with Mary Beard for her manifesto ‘Women and Power’, the themes of which really came into play in my own book ‘Anne Boleyn: 500 Years of Lies’ when I discuss why Anne’s story continues to be re-written and mis-told in this day and age and what it says about our perception of powerful women.
- What’s your favourite book of all time?
I don’t think I’ve had a favourite book since I was a child – do you think that’s an age thing? Like when we used have our one ‘best friend’ as a children and now we have a whole group of people because they each bring us something different? I feel that’s the same with books. However, I can tell you my favourite script easily; Black Swan by Andrez Heinz, Mark Heyman and John J McLaughlin. That writing, my friends, is a work of absolute bloody genius and the film itself is my go-to feel good movie. Make of that what you will…haha!
- As well as being a writer and researcher, you also have a podcast series. Is there any part of your career that you enjoyed more than others?
In general the writing process is always my passion, but if we’re talking specifically my historical work then actually the research was the most thrilling. When parts of the Anne Boleyn puzzle suddenly fell into place or I discovered evidence that everyone else had been dismissing when, for example, it was actually the real reason for her death, my Goodness, I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited by sixteenth century politics in my life! I felt like a detective, digging beyond the surface level research, not accepting the generic answers we’ve always been fed about Anne and Henry until I found the truth. It was such a thrill, and I made sure I kept that pace and excitement for the reader in the book because I wanted you guys to experience it too.
- Who’s you favourite literary icon?
I think Phoebe Waller-Bridge is fast becoming my literary icon at the moment – I know, again with the scriptwriting, I think you can see where my heart lies! To be able to write something like Fleabag and then Killing Eve and make both just as searingly brutal in their respective genres is so inspirational! But just the way she writes real women; powerful yet broken, fabulous yet flawed, real, raw, unapologetically so – and we women feel we have to apologise for so much! I have to say, Phoebe’s characters remind me of Anne Boleyn – that’s why I can’t wait for readers to meet the real Anne in my book, not the one dimensional fictional character we’ve been fed who needs to fit within the Six Wives gimmick!
- If you were stranded on a desert island, which three books would you bring with you to pass the time?
It would have to be ‘This Is Going To Hurt’ by Adam Kay because I’ve shamefully still not read it and everyone says it’s hilarious, I think I’d probably need a little light relief if I was stranded alone. The second book would be my own, ‘Anne Boleyn: 500 Years of Lies’ to remind me of my proudest achievement in life before I died a certain death on this ominous desert island you’ve placed me on. Also, there is just so much packed in that book, every time I’ve had to read it through for an edit or to record the audiobook without fail I’ve come across a section that has me saying “Oh God, I’d forgotten about that bit!” The third book would then have to be a blank notepad because I couldn’t not write for an extended period of time! Plus it would be just too much of a missed opportunity to not document my final dramatic days!
- What area do you suggest a budding writer should concentrate on to further their abilities?
There is so much that goes into getting a book published these days from whether there will be demand for it, how is your book different from others in the genre, could an agent sell it to publishers, will all departments of the publishing house see your book as a viable investment in the infamous ‘acquisition’ meetings? Frustratingly all this comes into play, and there are plenty of things you can do as an author to make sure the book you are pitching will appeal…HOWEVER when it comes down to it, it’s all about the writing. You can have an amazing concept but if the writing doesn’t live up to expectations then it won’t happen. So this needs to be your focus and priority. With writing it’s all about honesty…and editing!
Everyone tells writers they’re looking for that ‘unique voice’, they say ‘tell the story only you can tell.’ And it’s so easy to try and second guess what ‘voice’ people will want or think will work. But as much as an agent or publisher would like to discover a ‘fresh new voice’ they basically mean they don’t want you to try and emulate someone else’s style, because if you are doing it, you can be certain hundreds of others will be too. This is where the honesty comes in, be honest with what your style is; how you enjoy to write, what comes naturally…then hone it. Sure, your voice won’t be right for some and that’s a shame but when it’s right for that magical one (and it only takes one, sod the bidding wars) they will be behind you 100% because you’re honest and not faking it. As a historian I know I could have followed the standard academic style for this book in order to fit in – but I also knew a bold book like this needed some bold words, so I decided not to put on any pretentions and instead write with a raw passion and fire that isn’t expected in the non-fiction history genre. Even in the edit when I warned that my tone and language might cause a storm, I refused to dilute my voice because the urgent messages in this book needed to be heard and I wanted the reader to know just how pissed off I was about it! Haha!
So I know the usual advice is to read as much as you can, but also…just write. Keep writing. Re-read your old work and critique it. You’ll see why it didn’t work after some breathing space, any clunkiness, stilted language, anything that feels forced, and you will learn from your own mistakes and realise what is ‘you’. Then the magic happens when you match that writing with a unique concept and you’ll see it all take off from there…!
- When sitting down to write, what is the one item you need beside you?
Lately it’s been a random one; a pot of fresh salsa and Dorrito Lime dippers!
- And finally, do you have any projects or releases on the horizon which you would like to share with the readers of the website
I’ve got some incredibly exciting projects I’m working on at the moment but unfortunately I’m not at the stage where I can share them yet – sorry, typical boring response! But just know this, I’m only just getting started with correcting the lies about Anne Boleyn. I will keep going until the truth is as mainstream as the lies… so watch this space!