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.


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.


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.


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.