Where have I been?
When we arrived in San Miguel de Allende (Mexico) over five months ago, I went on a blogging spree. I was inspired, in part, by the refreshing wonder of fast internet. A month later, I stopped writing blog posts, getting down to the business of writing the keynote speech I was to give at the San Miguel Writers’ Conference mid-February.
As well, The Shadow Queen had been chosen as the Conference’s “Big Read” and an event was organized presenting it to book clubs. The event ended up including a video interview of me on writing The Shadow Queen, two lively short lectures by experts on the historical period, and a dramatic performance from the novel—plus champagne and authentic French beignets.
Being an all-or-nothing sort of person, I got very involved in scripting the film, which you can see here. Denis Lanson, the film-maker, did a wonderful job.
The short dramatic performance was my suggestion (in lieu of a reading). I discovered that it was quite a challenge to write. Wonderful actor friends Marilyn Bullivant and Rick Davey performed it. We went through several rehearsals (necessitating rewrites) together with Karen Kinney, head of the committee (a creative committee from heaven, IMO).
In short, a good part of December, January and early February was entirely taken up with writing the keynote, preparing readings for several Conference panels, and scripting the film interview and dramatic presentation of The Shadow Queen. All very exciting!
On stage before my keynote.
The Conference went wonderfully well. I still glow thinking of the reception to my keynote—a standing ovation from an audience of about five hundred—this in addition to the thrill of so many people reading The Shadow Queen. It was a highlight of my life as a writer.
In the weeks that followed, I struggled to get back to work on the WIP, an increasingly curious little novel about a young falconer in Elizabethan England. I went through all the stages of the writing process, including the requisite, “This is garbage, I should just retire” phase. (“What! You’re on Chapter Four already?” one writer’s husband would say whenever she voiced that thought.)
I made a self-appointed deadline mid-April to deliver an outline and character “bible” to Allison McCabe, the wonderful editor of historical fiction who worked with me on The Game of Hope. I delivered it Saturday morning, then celebrated with a lunch margarita at Casa Blanca, one of our favourite restaurants in San Miguel this year.
The working title of the WIP is now Raptor Wild, which I rather like. The “outline” is a mix of bare-bone scenes (mostly dialogue) and narrative plot points, weighing in at a hefty 14,392 words. The character “bible” is simply a page or two on each of the thirteen main characters, including a gyrfalcon and an elderly English Water Spaniel. A significant number of the characters die or are killed off rather early on in the story—somewhat too grim for a YA, I suspect.
“Beauty,” one of the WIP characters.
Although this was only an outline, I developed all the usual symptoms of being in final draft mode. Invariably, at that stage, I become obsessed. I get little sleep, cancel all activities that are not work-related, and become convinced I have a fatal illness. That’s when I think: Ah, almost there. How wonderful to send files off and experience a miraculous cure!
Now that Raptor Wild has been wrapped up (for now), it’s time to prepare to leave San Miguel—never easy. I love getting back home to Canada, but I hate leaving Mexico, too. We’ve had a wonderful winter here this year.
Next up, the paperback release of The Game of Hope, all gussied up in a beautiful new cover!
I’ve been quite busy this last month preparing for an event launching The Shadow Queen as San Miguel de Allende’s Big Read. (See my recent blog post about it here.) I wasn’t going to be able to be at the event myself,* but I worked closely with Karen Kinney, head of the committee organizing this event. They did a fantastic job! The event was held last Monday and judging from a number of emails I’ve received, it was a smashing success.
Part of the presentation was this video by film-maker Dennis Lanson, an interview of me on researching and writing The Shadow Queen.
This was followed by two short lectures on 17th century France and a dramatic reading from the novel by wonderful actors Marilyn Bullivant and Rick Davey. Live, period-authentic music, champagne (which was accidentally invented at that time) and beignets (a sweet French treat featured throughout the novel), rounded out the evening.
I wish I could have been there, but we had made holiday plans a year before on the Pacific coast of Mexico, which is where we are now. :-)
Last night’s sunset: spectacular!
My next event will be giving a keynote at the San Miguel Writers’ Conference on February 14, Valentine’s Day. I’ve been reading my talk out loud — honing it, timing it — while walking the beach. It’s a lovely way to rehearse.
I’ve been combing through old blog posts, preparing for The Big Read in San Miguel de Allende of The Shadow Queen this coming January. For one, I need to have my website in order, especially the posts that relate to that novel. I also need to refresh myself on the process I went through in writing it. It has been a moving exercise.
As soon as this is done, I will need to begin crafting my keynote speech. February will be upon me in no time. It seemed appropriate that in combing through my website I happened upon an interview I gave on Jane Friedman’s blog some time ago. In response to Kristen Tsetsi‘s question on public speaking, I outlined my process. I share it here — with some additional stories of things I’ve learned since.
Q: A reading, you’ve said, is more like a talk, an opportunity for the author to engage with the audience. What five pieces of advice would you give authors about to deliver their first reading/talk?
Most writers are introverts and find public speaking daunting. Take heart! Introverts are, as a rule, excellent public speakers, but only because they prepare like crazy.
Here is my process …
Write the talk: every word of it
Put a lot of time into writing a good talk. Write out every word of your presentation. Aim for only about five to ten minutes of reading, and the rest of it talk, leaving time for about fifteen minutes of Q&A at the end. Type the sections of your book you plan to read into your speech.
In general, people love to laugh, and self-deprecating humor goes over well. Remember that you are there to entertain. Readers enjoy personal accounts about the process of creation.
People like to be participants, so ask questions: engage the audience.
Prepare a few funny questions to suggest at the end, should your audience be shy to speak up during the Q&A.
Your entire talk/reading should be about thirty to forty minutes.
Read the talk out loud: every word of it
Read your talk out loud slowly. Edit the passages you are going to read from your book to make them easy for you to read, as well as easy for listeners to understand. Change words you find difficult to pronounce or stumble over. Think of this as theater. A passage read out loud comes across differently from a passage one reads to oneself silently, so adjustments must be made.
Print the talk out in big bold type
Convert your talk to large bold print, and break each paragraph into sentences. Print out your talk and assemble it in a binder. Dog-ear each page so that the pages are easy to turn.
(I wrote about my speaking process in a blog post here, “Finding focus.”)
Rehearse the talk, over and over
A natural, relaxed presentation is achieved with lots of preparation. A few days before your talk, read in front of a mirror, sweeping up from the page with each sentence to meet your own eyes. The day of the talk, do this two or three times. (A caution about going hoarse, however!)
Slow down as you read—don’t race through it.
Try on what you’re planning to wear—is it comfortable? Do you feel good in it? Do you feel like yourself?
Prepare to present the talk … and to expect glitches
Getting comfortable with public speaking comes with practice.
When I was first published, I read and was greatly helped by Never be Nervous Again by Dorothy Sarnoff, who advises speakers to think of the following mantra before a talk: “I’m glad I’m here, I’m glad you’re here, and I know what I know.” Try it! Don’t dread a crowd; embrace it. (I highly recommend this book.)
The most important rule-of-thumb: enjoy yourself — but most of all enjoy the people who have made an effort to come see you …
… including the snoring fan slumped in the front row.
This happens! For amusing stories from actors, read this. (Confession: I’ve once or twice been that snoozing person in the audience myself. When the eyelids start to droop, it can’t be helped!)
I’ve learned that giving out door prizes throughout a talk is not only fun — Who doesn’t love a door prize? — but keeps everyone on their toes.
Find out what the venue is going to be like. Ask for a mike if the group is going to be large. This will allow you to have a more emotional range in your reading. I like to be able to dramatically whisper, for example.
If you plan to give a visual presentation (such as Powerpoint), expect that there will be glitches with the equipment. In my experience, this never fails to happen, and sometimes too with mikes. I’ve learned to bring my own computer, portable projector and cables just in case. If only there was a portable mike one could have on hand, as well.
Plan what you will do in case only one or two people show up. Offer to go to a cafe for a one-on-one chat, for example. Consider this your rite of passage: every author goes through it.
Some of my most memorable talks have been to very small and intimate groups.
There will be disasters: these will make good stories. Eventually. One of mine was a live TV interview, called an “open-ender” because I was in one city and the interviewer was in another. I could hear his questions through the ear bud in my right ear. And then it fell out and I couldn’t hear a thing. I was filmed scrambling on the floor trying to find it.
I laugh about it now. One wonderful thing about being a writer is that everything is potential material, nothing is wasted.
What public speaking adventures/misadventures have you experienced, either as a speaker or someone in the audience?
A good review can leave a writer depressed if it’s obvious the reviewer hadn’t read the book. Even rave reviews can be frustrating if there isn’t one quotable line. And then, of course, there are the “condemn with faint praise” reviews. Worse is the despair of not having any reviews at all.
It’s hard not to get emotional!
But then there are the supremely gratifying reviews by readers who get it. Nothing could be finer.
I felt this way about the review of The Game of Hope by Grace O’Connell in Canada’s publishing magazine, Quill & Quire. There are a number of quotable quotes, but this is my favourite:
Gulland has built a career writing historical fiction for adults, including a bestselling trilogy about Joséphine Bonaparte (Hortense’s mother). Her pitch-perfect balance of lush period details and character-driven narrative shines again in The Game of Hope.
I love this too:
In Gulland’s hands, Hortense’s life and history, as dramatic as it is, never overwhelm her character. Her friendships, her music, and her mother remain steady anchors. Even with Joséphine and Napoleon as supporting characters – ones so historically charged that they could easily take over a narrative – the story remains firmly Hortense’s.
What’s especially nice about this is that the reviewer understood some of the challenges of writing biographical historical fiction, likely because she is an author herself. :-)
I’ve been visually challenged this summer. Two cataract surgeries have made reading difficult. That’s a problem for a writer! For a time I felt like Mr. Magoo.
Having worn glasses for over 50 years, it felt strange not to be wearing them. Plus, there was this thing called vanity: frankly, I look better in glasses. I had a reading/speech on The Game of Hope to give to a fairly large crowd, so (confession) I ordered plain $15 frames on Amazon, just for the “look” of them.
Ah, that was better! I felt more like myself.
I printed out my reading in a large font so that I could read it and highlighted dialogue.
(I bend the corners of the pages to make them easier to turn.)
As a visually challenged writer, I’ve been exploring using dictation when writing on a computer. I’m doing this now, in fact. Que padre!
Fortunately (or not), I’m not the sort of person to throw things out, so I went through a drawer of old eyeglasses and found a pair that made light reading and computer work more manageable.
Even so, reading is a strain, so I’ve been “reading” audible editions like crazy — and loving them. I will be putting up a post about a number of outstanding titles soon.
All in all, these adjustments have led to interesting discoveries. Colors are so much more vivid now. The blues! I might feel like Mr. Magoo when it comes to reading, but I’m more like Alice in Wonderland in this beautiful, many-hued world.
I’m writing this in Toronto, a long way from home. Tomorrow I have a full schedule of two interviews, a book store signing, and then, in the evening, a book launch of The Game of Hope.
I sent off the final corrections to The Game of Hope last October, and since then I’ve been researching and outlining my next YA novel about a young falconer in Elizabethan England. There are no raptors in The Game of Hope, so I thought it time to reacquaint myself fully with Hortense’s world before having to answer questions about it.
Fortunately, I was able to download the audio edition of The Game of Hope this morning, and on the long drive down to Toronto today, I listened to it. And was charmed! Say hey! I think it’s quite a good story, and the narration by Janick Hebert is simply delightful.
Canadians can now get the audio edition of The Game of Hope on Audible, Kobo, Google Play or on Overdrive through your public library. On June 23, it will be available in the US.
I sincerely recommend it!
Anyone else out there still warmed by the glow of Harry and Megan? I have been!
This is my favorite photo of the pair in the open carriage. (It was snapped by Yui Mok, a photographer based in the UK, as their carriage went under an overpass.)
I initially intended to write this blog about an interesting article about writing historical fiction. However, “The Tourist, the Expat and the Native: A Traveler’s Approach to Crafting Historical Fiction,” by Mary Volmer deserves more than a passing reference. More on that anon…
For now, Hortense is about to meet the man she loves, and — frankly! — I’m curious to hear what happens!
Toronto photo by Sidra Saeed on Unsplash.