Today I have the honor of having Diana Reid Haig as host on Enchanted by Josephine -History Salon. Please read this wonderful interview and leave your comments for Diana. Also, remember that the Giveaway continues!
Please welcome, Diana Reid Haig
'With you know who. The bust is at Versailles near the Hall of Battles'.
Diana, you are such a wonderful history author and it’s such a pleasure to have you here today! Please tell us how you became interested in history and a bit about yourself and your background.
Thanks for your kind words, which mean more than you can imagine. When I was a child, my grandparents had a wonderful collection of books and encouraged me to read. My mother loved history and was clever enough to excuse me from any chores as long as I read what she defined as a “good” book. Thankfully, almost any history book would do! I’m still a rotten housekeeper as a result…
My grandparents were avid bridge players and had a deck of cards adorned with Delaroche’s famous painting of Napoleon. I remember staring at the cards, and the Emperor seemed to almost reach out and say, “I will be important to you one day, little girl.” I had no idea who he was. On the cards, he does not appear in royal garb but is dressed in his green military jacket with epaulettes. His intense expression alone grabbed my imagination. Just goes to show you can’t ever tell what will make an impression on a child. Incidentally, I still have the cards!
You chose dreamy Paris for the setting of both your books: Walks through Napoleon and Josephine’s Paris, and, Walks through Marie Antoinette’s Paris. Could you share with us how you came up with the idea and setting for these fantastic books? And- if you have any future plans for maybe another great city for your fans to ‘walk through’?
My husband and I love to travel and, fascinated by Napoleon and Josephine, I tried to visit many places that were important in their history. Sometimes the houses or churches would be hard to find, and I wasted a lot of time using Metro or RER directions that were incorrect. I started taking notes so that any friends who wanted to visit these spots would be able to get there quickly and see historical that I found were sometimes omitted from tours.
After accumulating notes for several years, I suddenly became ill. It turned out that I had a perforated ulcer (due to an allergic reaction to a prescribed medicine). It is odd to be the sickest person in the Emergency Room but, as I lay on a gurney and they prepared the first available operating room for me, one thought kept circling in my brain: Napoleon died of a perforated ulcer, and this is what he must have felt! Of course in the early 1800s, there wasn’t an operation to fix this medical disaster. As they wheeled me into surgery, I thought, “Well, many eminent historians have written about Napoleon – and I do not consider myself an academic – but I bet not many of them have had perforated ulcers! It seemed like a sign. I remember lying in the ER thinking, “No one here could imagine that I’m thinking about Napoleon!”
You don’t ever want to meet your surgeon the morning of your operation but, luckily, I had a terrific doctor. She told me that I would have a long recovery and needed to take it easy for a while. So I brought my laptop into bed and began to type up my notes about Napoleon and Josephine hoping it would become a pamphlet. Some days I didn’t even feel well enough to do that, and I simply read. One of the books that I liked to read was about Paris. I noticed that the publishers had included an email address. I contacted them and told them that I was working on a project about Napoleon and Josephine’s Paris. To my shock, they called, set up a meeting and became my first publisher.
I didn’t have an agent, and I still don’t (although I’d love one). I firmly believe that, “if I can do it, you can do it,” so I’d like to encourage any of you interested in writing a book.
As for future plans, I’m working on several projects:
I’ve just finished my first app for the iphone and ipad. It’s a travel app about Paris’ Palais Royal and surrounding area. It has been fun to work in this new genre!
I’m nearing completion of an eBook version of my title Walks through Marie Antoinette’s Paris, and this edition will include a new chapter and lots of wonderful historic images that we didn’t have room for before.
I’m working on a travel book entitled Jacqueline Kennedy’s New York, for which I received a research grant from the Kennedy Foundation that allowed me access to many historical and wonderful photos and papers belonging to Mrs. Kennedy that are kept in their library outside Boston. Mrs. Kennedy worked tirelessly to save many historical buildings in Manhattan, including Grand Central Station. She adored classic buildings designed by Stanford White and Rosario Candela, and I find that style of architecture irresistible. Many stores and designers who provided the former First Lady with clothes and hats were based there, and some can still be seen today. I unearthed Halston’s original drawings of the pillbox hats that he made for Mrs. Kennedy early in his career when he was still a milliner working at Bergdorf Goodman. They’re beautiful, and I hope to be able to include some in the final manuscript.
I’m also writing my first novel, which is set during the French Revolution. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever tried, but I just can’t say goodbye to that era. I hope you’ll let me give you and your readers an update as to my progress! I’m excited about my heroine, who has become quite real to me. Several times a day, I imagine her voice saying, “Stop what you’re doing and come write about me!”
Diana, when browsing through your website I noted that your expertise and interests extend to other exciting venues! Please tell us more about what you do.
Until I wrote the book about Napoleon and Josephine, I had always worked in the music business. Over fifteen years, I compiled almost a hundred collections of popular American music. Sometimes I wrote liner notes to accompany the CDs or box sets, but primarily I put together the compilations (selecting the songs, finding the tapes, going in the recording studio to master the project). I did several albums that featured Brenda Lee and Patsy Cline’s recordings; they are personal favourites of mine. I also love classic R&B and worked on many projects for Motown.
In closing, if you could choose one period in history you would love to have lived in, where would that be and tell us who you would love to have met?
I am fascinated and haunted by the years of the Ancien Régime, the Revolution, the Directory and the Consulate. I often imagine myself in those eras although I probably would’ve been a scullery maid or, worse yet, an impoverished “aristo” carted off to “kiss the guillotine.”
I would love to have met:
Bonaparte (though I don’t think he’d approve of me) and Josephine, Josephine’s children (Eugene and Hortense),
A brilliant man named Vivant Denon (for whom the Denon wing in the Louvre was named) who was a great friend of Josephine’s and became head of Napoleon’s museums. Besides being a great art connoisseur, Denon was supposed to have been a great charmer and raconteur.
I wish I could meet these painters: the great Pierre Paul Prud’hon and his partner Constance Meyer, Mme. Vigee LeBrun, although I’m not sure that we would have like each other, the handsome and talented Jean-Baptiste Isabey (who painted so many lovely miniatures of Josephine and was her official art director).
I would like to have met Napoleon’s younger sister, Pauline, and get a personal tour of her fabulous home (which now is the British Ambassador’s residence in Paris) and see the sterling silver cups she commissioned from one of Napoleon’s purveyors Odiot. They were made for drinking punch, and naughty Pauline used her own breast as a model.
I would love to walk through the Palais Royal one spring night in the late 1780s at the height of its popularity and marvel at its decadence.
Diana, thank you so much for letting us get to know you better. You are such an interesting person and a true inspiration for all aspiring authors, historians and readers of this genre. Thank you so much for your time and this fantastic interview.
STAY TUNED FOR MORE HISTORY AND PHOTOS TO COME...
Please remember to come back tomorrow for a one –of a- kind Photo-Guest Post by Diana.
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