I am very pleased to welcome Sandra Gulland, author of Mistress of the Sun to Peeking Between the Pages today. I read and reviewed Mistress of the Sun yesterday for her blog tour and it is a wonderful piece of historical fiction. I really enjoyed it and you can take a peek at my review here if you’d like. So, sit back and relax and enjoy Sandra’s Guest Post aptly titled…Peeking Between the Pages … and into the Past.
The last thing I expected to be “when I grew up” was a historical novelist. Not only did I detest history as a subject in school, but I did not read historical fiction. History was a realm that bored me to tears.
And so: what happened?
What happened was that I read a slim biography about Josephine Bonaparte. This was many decades ago, while working as a Sponsoring Editor for a Toronto publisher. My job was to both evaluate and propose projects. Exploring the possibility of developing a series of biographies for young adults, I went to the Children’s Library in Toronto and took out one such biography — which just happened to be the story of Josephine.
It’s amazing to me to think how my life changed in that moment . . . although not immediately. I did go to the library and take out more books; I began a consuming study of the life of Jospheine. But why? For what purporse? A seed had been planted, and it took years to germinate.
What was immediate was my interest in Josephine . . . my passion for her story. For the first time, history came alive for me: history, I realized, was about real people.
I began by reading books about Josephine, as many as I could find. I thought I might write about her “someday” but wisely, I realized two things: 1) that I needed to do a great deal more research, and 2) that I needed to learn how to write.
Marriage, children, a family soon consumed my life. The box of books about Josephine sat on a closet floor. When I turned 40, however, I realized that if I was going to be a writer, I must begin. And so I did: first a futuristic novel about the end of the world. Then a contemporary comic-mystery about an elderly woman who was inconveniently possessed by a spirit: the spirit of Josephine. (This story came to me in a dream.)
Ah ha! After so many years, Josephine had reappeared, yet only as a fragment in a very convoluted novel. One chapter — only one — was given over to Josephine’s diary.
I asked Jane Urquhart, the wonderful Canadian novelist who was then writer-in-residence at the University of Ottawa, to have a look at this mess. Her words were to the point: “It’s the diary that comes to life. Just do that.”
That 90% of that novel had just fallen into waste was not as disturbing to me as the thought of taking Josephine’s story head-on. But with Jane Urquhart’s nudge, I found the courage, and one thing led to another. Following Josephine day-by-day, I became enthralled with history, and especially with French history. It didn’t even occur to me that what I was writing was historical fiction. And thankfully, then, I didn’t realize how big my subject was (much less that it would become a trilogy). I was simply telling Josephine’s story, in her own words, one page at a time.
While researching Josephine’s world, I discovered Louise de la Vallière, the heroine of Mistress of the Sun. As with Josephine, I became enchanted. And while researching Louise’s story, I because likewise became enchanted with the story of Claude des Oeillets, the heroine of the novel I am working on now, one page at a time.
And after Claude . . . who knows? What I do know is that there are stories for a lifetime in this Court of the Sun King. I believe I’ll be settling down there, making myself comfy, making it home for some time to come.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
A novel of Louise de la Vallière, mistress of the Sun King. As a girl, she won the trust of the wildest of horses; as a woman, she would win the love of the most charismatic of kings.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Sandra Gulland was born in Miami, Florida, in 1944. The daughter of an airline pilot, the family lived in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for five years, then Miami again for a few years before settling in her mother’s hometown of Berkeley, California.
In the fall of 1970 she accepted a one-year contract to teach Grade Two in an Inuit village in northern Labrador, Canada (“an amazing experience”). After, she worked as a book editor for publishers in Toronto. In 1977 she married Richard Gulland, manager of a manufacturing company. A daughter and son were born, and in 1980 the family moved to a log cabin near Killaloe (population 600), in northern Ontario, where Sandra started Words &, an editorial and writing service, and her husband started a high-quality outdoor clothing and equipment company. They enrolled the children in a parent-run alternative school and eventually Sandra became principal. She handled promotion (and played clown) for the annual Killaloe Craft & Community Fair. Together with a friend, she started a community newsletter, The Community News & Confuse, circulation 150. All the while she was growing vegetables (“trying to grow vegetables,” is how she puts it), raising chickens and pigs, and developing an unruly addiction for horses. Meanwhile, and always, writing … .
Sandra’s consuming interest in Josephine Bonaparte and the Napoleonic era was sparked in 1972 when she read a biography of Josephine. Decades of research followed. She began the fictional biography of Josephine in January, 1990. In-depth research required knowledge of French, which she studies on an on-going basis. As well, she traveled to France, Italy and Martinique, and consulted with period scholars.
The Many Lives & Secret Sorrows of Josephine B., the first novel in what evolved to be a trilogy, was published by HarperCollins Canada in May, 1995, to excellent reviews. It was followed in 1998 by Tales of Passion, Tales of Woe and The Last Great Dance on Earth in 2000. The Josephine B. trilogy, which has sold over a million worldwide, is now published in thirteen languages and in fifteen countries.
“Napoleon said that he conquered countries, but that Josephine conquered hearts,” Gulland said. “It’s amazing. She continues to do so.”
For the last eight years, Sandra Gulland has been researching and writing a novel set in 17th century France, at the court of Louis XIV, the Sun King. The story of Louise de la Vallière, the Sun King’s mistress, Mistress of the Sun was published by HarperCollins Canada on February 23, 2008, and immediately went onto the bestseller list. It will be published by Simon & Schuster in the U.S. June 3, and in Germany and the Czech Republic the following year.
I have a hardback copy of Mistress of the Sun by Sandra Gulland to share with one lucky reader. Rules are simple:
- Leave me a comment with an email address if I don’t already know who you are for one entry.
- Blog or tweet about this giveaway for two entries and spread the word about Sandra’s novel.
This giveaway will be open internationally and I will draw for a winner on Friday, May 8. Good luck to all!
Many thanks to Sandra for this wonderful novel and for sharing some of her thoughts with us today. I look forward to reading more of your work Sandra! Please visit Sandra’s site here for more blog stops.