Monday, May 4, 2009

Guest Post by Sandra Gulland, author of Mistress of the Sun

Today I'd like to extend a very warm welcome to Sandra Gulland, author of Mistress of the Sun and the Josephine B trilogy. Ms. Gulland has been traveling the blogosphere in conjunction with the recent release of Mistress of the Sun in paperback, and I am thrilled to have her with us today.

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On the Joys of Travel Research


When I was an apprentice novelist — that is, working on my second unpublishable novel — I consulted with Jane Urquhart, one of Canada's finest literary novelists, who was then Writer in Residence at a near-by university. I'd been struggling with a contemporary mystery/comedy-of-manners novel about an elderly woman who'd been inconveniently possessed by a spirit — the spirit of Josephine Bonaparte, Napoleon's wife. Josephine's "diary" was only a chapter in this mess of a novel, but it was the one part Jane Urquhart felt came to life. "Just do that," she said. I had been obsessed with Josephine's story for over a decade, but I didn't think I had the nerve to write a book about her. "But you'll have to go to Paris," Jane added. ("And Italy, and Martinique," she mussed. "You could have fun with this.") "I have two young children," I said. "It's important," she said.

"I have to go to Paris," I announced to my husband that night, a laundry basket on one hip. I didn't mention Italy and Martinique. He didn't scoff, yet to me it seemed impossible. How could I justify the time, trouble, and family money spent pursuing something as ephemeral as a novel that would likely never be published? Yet I did go to Paris, eventually . . . after I'd interested an agent in a novel about Josephine B. (little did we know it would be a trilogy), after I'd written the beginnings of the draft — after I had some idea what it was I wanted to see there.

Paris was a revelation to me: I fell in love with the city, and that love has endured through many, many visits. From a writing perspective, Jane Urquhart was right: I needed to go. I stood in the convent where Josephine had been imprisoned, walked the streets of her neighborhoods. Going to Paris profoundly deepened my understanding of her, and I brought that "sensual connection" to all the subsequent rewrites. Just before the first novel of the trilogy — The Many Lives and Secret Sorrows of Josephine B. — was due to go into publication, I traveled to Martinique, where Josephine was raised. I wasn't happy with the opening chapters of the novel: I felt it needed something more . . . and I found that "something more" in Martinique. I walked to the spot where Josephine had been told that she would be queen, saw her humble origins, talked to a man who had written a book about Josephine's early years on the island. He was the one who informed me that she'd been locked a basement room after seeing the Voodoo fortuneteller: I had my scene.

With each book, I returned to Europe, following Josephine's path . . . through Italy, through Germany. Every trip was yet another revelation. Every time, I returned home to rewrite, and rewrite yet again.

For Mistress of the Sun, I journeyed to the Loire valley, saw my heroine's home — saw the barn in which her horse would have been stabled — saw the spooky ruins of the "chateau" the Sun King gave her, visited every royal castle. I even spent a week on a horseback tour of the Loire: I wanted to feel what it was like to travel at that speed. As we cantered into a castle courtyard, the sound of horse hooves reverberating on the cobble stones, I felt I was living a dream.

"You could have fun with this," Jane Urquart said. And she was right.

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Ms Gulland, thank you so much for this wonderful guest post and for stopping by today.

Please be sure to visit the other stops on the book tour. I have been thoroughly enjoying every one of the guest posts and interviews.

Stop by tomorrow for my review of Mistress of the Sun and a giveaway.

2 comments:

miss cindy said...

awesome guest, loved it :)

Zibilee said...

She sounds like a really interesting person who really gets into her research. I have a whole new series to devour now! Thanks for this great guest post.