Ronald, Susan

views updated

Ronald, Susan

(Susan Balerdi)


Born in Los Angeles, CA; immigrated to England, 1986; married; children: three sons.


Home— Oxfordshire, England. Agent— Andrew Lownie, Andrew Lownie Literary Agency, 36 Great Smith St., London SW1P 3BU, England; Alexander Hoyt, Alexander Hoyt Associates, Ste. 81, 314 W. 100th St., New York, NY 10025. E-mail— [email protected].


Historian and author. Has consulted for five British government departments and the National Trust.


Royal Society of the Arts, Manufacture and Commerce (fellow), British Shakespeare Association (trustee).


(As Susan Balerdi)France, the Crossroads of Europe(nonfiction; for young adults), Dillon Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1984, 2nd edition, 1999.

The Sancy Blood Diamond: Power, Greed, and the Cursed History of One of the World's Most Coveted Gems, Wiley (Hoboken, NJ), 2005.

The Pirate Queen: Queen Elizabeth I, Her Merchant Adventures, and the Dawn of Empire, HarperCollins Publishers (New York, NY), 2007.

Contributor to periodicals.


Susan Ronald is a leading expert on commercial heritage tourism and on commercial activities in historic sites. She has worked as an advisor to the British government, including for England's National Trust. Although born in the United States, the author has spent much of her life in Europe, including living in France and immigrating to England in 1986. She wrote her first book in 1984 under her maiden name, Susan Balerdi. France, the Crossroads of Europe is a historic and cultural overview of France aimed at young adults. Ronald left writing behind for a time after her first book so she could raise her family and work in other fields. On her home page she noted: "They say that you need to write about what you know, and since I knew about history—and adored British history—I decided that this should be my primary focus." The author went on to comment that she has chosen to focus on "unusual or forgotten or lost histories."

For her first book in two decades, Ronald, whose father worked in the diamond trade, explores the history of one of the most famous diamonds in the world. The Sancy Blood Diamond: Power, Greed, and the Cursed History of One of the World's Most Coveted Gems was called "a masterly piece of detective work" by Booklist contributor Barbara Jacobs. The book explores the 600-year history of the fifty-five carat Sancy Diamond. Although the diamond has had a long and colorful history, its story is not well known outside the diamond trade. Believed to be of Indian origin and one of the first large diamonds to be cut with symmetrical facets, the Sancy Diamond was the largest white diamond in the world until 1661, despite the fact that it had been cut down to its current size more than a century before. The author traces the diamond's history, beginning in the fourteenth century, when it first reached Europe. (No one knows when the diamond was first cut.) Its history includes international intrigue involving both politics and wars. The diamond is also associated with bad luck and death, and the author chronicles the many mishaps that its owners experienced over the years. The diamond's owners have included many of Europe's royalty, such as Queen Elizabeth I, King Charles I, and Louis XIV. The Sancy Diamond now resides in the Louvre in France. "Ronald's starstruck … history is her reply to the ‘bland’ Louvre display," noted a contributor to Reference & Research Book News. A Publishers Weekly critic further commented: "As an introduction to mostly European history, this book is alternately enlightening and overwhelming."

While many books have been written about England's Queen Elizabeth I, Ronald, true to her intention to write about lesser-know aspects of history, focuses on the Queen's involvement in piracy with The Pirate Queen: Queen Elizabeth I, Her Merchant Adventures, and the Dawn of Empire. "Historian Susan Ronald shows Elizabeth I as the ruler she was, not as the conjecture surrounding her personal life," according to Gabrielle Pantera on the British Weekly Web site. Focusing on Elizabeth's dedication to secure her power after assuming the throne, the author examines how Elizabeth expanded the British Empire through both politics and piracy until the empire covered two-fifths of the known world at the time.

Writing on the Book Pleasures Web site, Renee Mallett commented that the author provides "a fresh look at the reign of Elizabeth I, and shows how she used piracy as the foundation that not only solved her financial woes, but also made England a force to be reckoned with." While Elizabeth had many names, including "the Virgin Queen," a contributor to the Independent wrote that Ronald had a solid basis for writing a book about Elizabeth within the now popular pirate-privateer genre. The reviewer noted: "Susan Ronald is … the first to claim a monarch for the genre. Her case for doing so is sound enough, in that the nickname ‘pirate queen’ was actually bestowed on Elizabeth I in her lifetime, by one of the admirals of the Spanish Empire, which was the main target of her marauding subjects."

In The Pirate Queen, Ronald focuses primarily on the queen's preoccupation with commercial and naval issues as she "helped fill her coffers, weaken Spain, lay the foundation for Britain's empire," related a Kirkus Reviews contributor. The author provides economic and geopolitical background for her history and writes extensively of the Elizabeth's relationship with Sir Francis Drake. She also chronicles many of Drake's adventures on the high seas. Referring to The Pirate Queen as "authoritative, assiduously researched," a contributor to Publishers Weekly went on to point out the author's "knack for making the intricacies of sea skirmishes accessible and absorbing," adding that her work provides "a surprisingly fresh perspective." Booklist critic Brad Hooper called this account of Elizabeth I "solid, even exciting" and "outside the usual run of standard treatments."

Ronald told CA: "I have always been interested in writing, and wrote my first book at the age of nine. It is an affliction, and no matter what I've done in my career, writing remained at the heart of my work. Writing is something I love to do, have to do, and have always done.

"My work in the heritage tourism sector in the United Kingdom, the Caribbean, and Africa has probably had the greatest influence on my decision to concentrate on writing about forgotten, little known, or ‘different’ histories on well-known subjects. My career has always been one of observing human behaviour and developing the right solutions for both the client (be it government or charity) and the visitor or guest.

"Everyone always wants to know how authors write. For me, it usually starts with a title that comes from a contemporary source. For example, the Sancy Dia-mond was the first blood diamond, and Elizabeth I was dubbed the Pirate Queen in her lifetime. From there I read original sources and manuscripts to see if the germ of the idea has legs.

"The most surprising thing I've learned as a writer—though it shouldn't be—is how very difficult it is to establish your credentials, or as the publishers say, your ‘platform.’ In business, I've always said that ‘you're only as good as your last deal.’ Actor friends say, ‘you're only as good as your last show/film.’ So it shouldn't be any different as a writer. It's not enough to write well, or even be reviewed well. Selling well is all that matters at the end of the day, because that is the publisher's criterion. So, unless you're a very big name, each book must receive the same careful treatment in its proposal stages.

" The Sancy Blood Diamond was written for my dying father, who unfortunately did not live to see it published. The Pirate Queen was a book I felt I had been born to write. I understand the Elizabethan mindset: I understand the movement of money and international trade, and as a woman who has had an unusual and at times difficult life, I have a small understanding of Elizabeth's problems as a ruler. Above all else, Elizabeth's reign has, I'm afraid, many similarities with our world today, and it would appear that despite 500 years of intervening history, we have not been able to learn from the mistakes of her day.

"Above all else, I hope my books will help educate and entertain, and make people want to read more, explore the subjects further, and to understand that ‘history matters.’"



Booklist, September 15, 2004, Barbara Jacobs, review of The Sancy Blood Diamond: Power, Greed, and the Cursed History of One of the World's Most Coveted Gems, p. 191; June 1, 2007, Brad Hooper, review of The Pirate Queen: Queen Elizabeth I, Her Merchant Adventures, and the Dawn of Empire, p. 32.

Independent(London, England), August 5, 2007, review of The Pirate Queen.

Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 2007, review of The Pirate Queen.

Library Journal, June 1, 2007, Tessa L.H. Minchew, review of The Pirate Queen, p. 126.

Publishers Weekly, August 23, 2004, review of The Sancy Blood Diamond, p. 43; April 30, 2007, review of The Pirate Queen, p. 148.

Reference & Research Book News, August, 2005, review of The Sancy Blood Diamond, p. 233.

Times Literary Supplement, May 6, 2005, Seamus Sweeney, review of The Sancy Blood Diamond, p. 28.


Andrew Lownie Literary Agency Web site, (November 5, 2007), profile of Susan Ronald.

Book Pleasures, (November 5, 2007), Renee Mallett, review of The Pirate Queen.

British Weekly, (November 5, 2007), Gabrielle Pantera, review of The Pirate Queen.

Pirate Queen Web site, (November 5, 2007), brief profile of Susan Ronald.

Susan Ronald Home Page, (November 5, 2007).