Please read this terrific interview she gives!
With no further avail, Sophie Perinot!
How do you choose which heroine of interest to write about? For instance why these two particular women in history- Marguerite and Eleanor?
I know it sounds strange but I think the choosing is mutual. Yes, I select heroines who speak to me because of personal interests and life experiences, but I also feel fate puts certain women in my path. Marguerite and Eleanor of Provence are a case in point. I believe I discovered the story that became The Sister Queens because I view the world through a sister’s eyes, but there was also a certain amount of serendipity involved.
I stumbled upon Marguerite, Eleanor and their two younger sisters while researching a 16th century project half-a-dozen years ago. There they were, a side note in a book on the history Notre Dame de Paris (Marguerite’s image is carved over that great church’s Portal Rouge). These amazing 13th century women were raised at a court considered model in chivalric terms, connected to a “celebrity” family of the High Middle-Ages (the Savoyards), and all made politically important marriages, yet I had never heard of them. I wondered how such significant women could have slipped through the fingers of history. The fact that they had done so made me angry, but any number of historical oversights do that. What made these women stick in my mind—and caused me to start a file folder with their names on it, vowing to come back and tell their story—was the sister aspect of their tale.
I’ve been a sucker for sister-stories all the way back to the March sisters in Little Women. I suspect that’s because I am half of a pair of incredibly close sisters (my first childhood memory is of my sister coming home from the hospital and we have been best friends ever since). Ultimately, I chose to focus The Sister Queens on the eldest sisters (Marguerite and Eleanor) because: 1)they were the closest of the four despite being separated by the English Channel for long stretches of time, and 2) their relationship of mutual support, tinged with rivalry, really spoke to me.I wanted my book to examine the early reigns of these important queens (both France and England were major powers at the time in a way that the kingdoms the younger Provencal sisters ultimately ruled were not) while they were finding their feet in strange lands and establishing roles for themselves as queens.
Can you please give us a glimpse of how you go about reading, researching and writing about your topic for a novel?
Once I have the inspiration for a particular book, in this case courtesy of my chance encounter with that historical side note, I begin researching in earnest. I was a history major in college and I’d like to think my research skills are still sharp. A substantial amount of both primary and secondary source research went intoThe Sister Queens. But research is not as onerous a task as it was even five years ago. Technology has vastly improved access to information (and experts) right from a writer’s desks—everything from the contents of scholarly journals to digital copies of manuscripts is now on-line. Being able to search World Cat and Jstor from home rather than going through a reference librarian is heaven. Of course I do travel to reach sources when I have to (or use that old standby the interlibrary loan) and I have stacks of old-fashioned books which I am constantly tripping over.
While I am reading sources, taking notes,building historical timelines and basicallydigesting historical material until my brain is swimming in it, I am waiting for what I can only call the “genesis moment.” This is the instant when one or more of my characters begin to speak and act for themselves almost without my volition. That’s how I know it is time to start writing.
The timing of this event varies. When it happens I often “hear” or visualize a scene in its totality. In the case of The Sister Queens, Marguerite spoke to me first, offering me the lines that would become the opening of Chapter 7 of my finished book. Her voice was first-person present-tense. That was a BIG surprise because I thought I’d be writing the book in third person past.
Once I heard Marguerite, the biggest challenge became making sure Eleanor developed a distinguishable voice. I was assisted in this by the fact that I had VERY strong impressions of each sister from my research and had concluded they had contrasting personalities and disparate roles in their courts. I saw Eleanor first through Marguerite’s eyes—because the opening of the book is in her voice—but I KNEW I had her pegged when I heard her opening line for Chapter 3, “Marguerite had more gowns.” Now that’s a second sister!
What did you enjoy most about writing the Sister Queens?
The actual drafting of the novel. Now don’t get me wrong I LOVE the moments of discovery that come during research, but the creation of a first draft is positively magic. I mentioned my favorite moment in the writing process—the “genesis moment.” Once my characters spring to life I am in for a wild ride because they can become disruptive, for example starting conversations when I am showering, or weaving scenes I am desperate not to miss when I am driving. But it is so exciting. It’s like simultaneously being in a movie and watching it. Drafting The Sister Queens gave me a chance to slip on Marguerite and Eleanor’s skins, alternately becoming one and then the other while writing their personal sections of the book. There is SUCH a high in that, even if the experience does contrast (sometimes strangely) with my own life. I mean imagine being on crusade one minute and sitting in carpool line the next.
I certainly do. I am working on a mother-daughter novel. Here’s the tag-line for it that I have tacked up next to my computer:
“Every mother-daughter relationship is fraught with peril. Her mother was Catherine de Medici.”
I have been fascinated with the Valois royal line since I read Alexandre Dumas’ book La Reine Margot as a teen, and I’ve been particularly obsessed with the oft maligned Marguerite de Valois, youngest daughter of Catherine de Medici and Henri II of France. This new novel gives me the opportunity to tell her coming-of-age story.
THANK YOU SOPHIE!!
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