In preparing for a video presentation of The Shadow Queen to book clubs here in San Miguel de Allende, I’ve been revisiting the world of that novel — especially the magical world of 17th century theatre in Paris. Rereading this blog post, written long ago, I was captured once again by the story of Molière and his much younger wife Armande. Theirs was a story I was planning to write before I got spirited away into the world of The Game of Hope.
And so here, to share, is my post from 2009, spruced up with wonderful visuals. (Thank you, Internet!)
I’m doing a great deal of research right now into the theater world of 17th century France. My focus is on Claude de Vin des Oeillets, the daughter of actors, but along the way I’ve been encountering many wonderful characters. So many stories!
Molière’s wife Armande, 23 years his junior
One, in particular, is that of the actress Armande Béjart, Molière‘s wife. He was 40 when they married, she only 17. She had known him all her life, and must have regarded him as something of a father and teacher. Indeed, he had taken charge of her education as a child.
They were a miserable couple. It is said that Armande was heartless and vain. She was considered a frivolous, giddy flirt, and was quite likely unfaithful (possibly to Lauzun, and possibly to the comte de Guiche); certainly Molière was consumed by jealousy. After the birth of a son, and then a daughter, they lived apart, yet they continued to work together closely on the stage. Molière could simply not stop doting on her . . . and neither could the public. She was a brilliant actress, and Molière was inspired to write many roles specifically for her.
A mutual friend eventually persuaded Armande to reconcile with her increasingly consumptive and love-sick husband. She did, putting him on a strict meat diet, yet he continued to decline. On the day of the 4th performance of “The Imaginary Invalid,” in which he starred, Armande begged him not to play. He refused, knowing how many depended on the performance for their livelihood.
At the end of play, Molière (ironically playing the part of a hypochondriac) had a convulsion, which he tried to disguise with a harsh laugh. The curtain was hastily lowered and he was carried to his house. Always a comedian, he said on his deathbed: “I have set a detestable example. From now on, no playwright will be content until he has killed an actor.”
After her husband’s death, Armande proved to be anything but giddy and frivolous, fighting passionately for her husband’s right to be respectfully buried by the church (a fight she sadly lost), and then running Molière’s theatrical company with astonishing confidence and aplomb, making a number of difficult decisions that proved to be very successful. He would have been pleased.
I love her saucy attitude, but most of all I love how talented she was, and how capable she proved to be as a widow. Someday I hope to write about her.
[Note: This post was originally published on Hoydens and Firebrands, a website of women who write about the 17th century.]
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.
Last Tuesday was publication day in the U.S. for The Game of Hope. I told my husband that I’d been walking in circles all day. “I’m at sixes and sevens.”
He’d never heard the expression. I explained that it meant feeling out of sorts, disordered and in confusion.
In search of the origin of the expression “being at sixes and sevens”
Where had the expression come from? Certainly it makes no sense. There is nothing I like better than digging into history to find the origin of a curious expression, especially on a publication day when I am, in fact, at sixes and sevens.
And so, from Wikipedia:
An ancient dispute between the Merchant Taylors and Skinners livery companies is the probable origin of the phrase.The two trade associations, both founded in the same year (1327), argued over sixth place in the order of precedence. In 1484, after more than a century and a half of bickering, the Lord Mayor of London Sir Robert Billesden ruled that at the feast of Corpus Christi, the companies would swap between sixth and seventh place and feast in each other’s halls.
The two guilds, the taylors and the skinners, have continued to swap the sixth and seventh place to this day, resulting in seven centuries of confusion. Impressive.
Another theory is that 6 + 7 = unlucky 13, but this seems a little simplistic to me.
Gambling away your life’s fortune?
A third explanation is that the expression originated in a 14th century game of dice: when betting on six and seven risked your losing entire fortune.
From Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde, 1374 — “Lat nat this wrechched wo thyn herte gnawe, But manly set the world on sexe and seuene.”
Given all this, my favoured explanation remains the ever-quarreling taylor and skinner guilds.There is nothing quite like a muddle that endures for centuries.
Part of the confusion about publication day for writers is that it is usually a quiet day, with little happening (especially if you live out of the country where your book is being published). There’s often quite a bit of commotion and stress leading up to that one day, and then bam! Nothing.
I am part of a wonderful fiction-writers’ collective; we support each other, consult about titles, covers, and various woes, but mainly we help broadcast news about member publications. As these posts started appearing on Social Media, I felt heartened: something was happening! I especially liked this post:
“Sandra hits the sweet spot, a book for young adults that adults of all ages can’t put down. And it’s fascinating.” — Martin Fletcher, author of The List, Jacob’s Oath, and a soon-to-be blockbuster Promised Land.
The Game of Hope in the Wild
I also was greatly cheered receiving this photo taken in the US by Karen Salvatore, Evidence!
An ATM machine in New York city.
Half a week later, my husband and I are in New York/Brooklyn with our son, Chet, and his girlfriend, Kendra (daughter of Karen mentioned above).
We’ve been eating fabulous food, drinking fabulous drinks and having a merry time. On Monday I will lunch with my PenguinRandomHouse publicist, Jennifer Dee, and then go to Books of Wonder to sign some books
Some New York highlights, so far:
Dinner at Le Cou Cou. Delicious!!!
We followed this memorable meal with cocktails at Attaboy, considered one of the best cocktail bars in the world. (Check out this article in the New Yorker.) You wouldn’t guess its popularity from its secretive locked door.
Inside was a small (very small!) dark bar with a lovely vibe. One tells the bar-tender — I would say drink creationist — the mood or flavour of the drink you have in mind, and are then surprised by an entirely original result. The cocktail I had was amazing!
Follow this up the next day with a leisurely and supremely tasty brunch at Dumbo House (our son’s club), followed by a three and a half hour nap (!), followed by yet another delicious meal at Metta in Fort Green, Brooklyn, and I have to conclude that a foodie holiday in New York and Brooklyn is a perfect cure for being sixes and sevens.
I’ve been on the road, first launching and promoting The Game of Hope in Toronto, then a long drive home to unpack, regroup, and repack before heading to Montreal for the wonderful first (of many, we hope) Montreal YA fest.
It has been fantastic. At the Penguin launch in Toronto, an older woman leaned in to whisper confidentially, “You’re my favorite writer.” Such confessions are sweet. At an interview following (I don’t yet feel I should mention names), the interviewer told me that she loved The Game of Hope and went on to read every one of my other novels. That made me speechless.
That isn’t to say that everyone loves The Game of Hope — there have been some readers who do not — but overall, I’ve been very, very pleased.
The Game of Hope cards
At the Penguin launch, I had each person who lined up to have their free book signed draw a card from a deck of fortune-telling cards of “The Game of Hope” (to keep as a bookmark), and read its meaning in a tiny guide. The expressions of recognition were wonderful to see: one young woman would be getting married, another would get a promotion. Both were quite pleased. Readers love it! Of course I did not include cards that might have a negative connotation in the deck.
It was a special treat to have my step-granddaughter, 11-year-old Ellie and her mother Cara present. Ellie is reading The Game of Hope and offered shyly to a group, “And it’s really good!”
The Montreal YA Fest: such a blast!
My experience at the Montreal YA Fest was amazing, but in an entirely different way. I only sold one book (!), but I met over twenty wonderful YA authors. I’m accustomed to writers of adult fiction; let me tell you, writers of YA fiction are a different breed altogether. They are loud and rambunctious, delightful! I couldn’t buy their books at the festival unfortunately — recent back problems have forced me to be very careful about luggage weight — but as soon as I got home I put in the orders, and they are starting to arrive in waves.
Two wonderful YA novels
Already I’ve read one absolutely wonderful YA novel: 32 Questions that Changed My Mind About You by Vicki Grant. Don’t you just love a novel that compels you to stay up way too late? That makes you teary and full-hearted? This was such a one. Witty and real, I adored it.
Now I’m reading E. K. Johnstons’s novel That Inevitable Victorian Thing, a futuristic novel set in the past. (Figure that one out.) I.e. Victorian corsets with technological sensors that ease up as needed. It’s delightful, and when I’m not reading it, I’m thinking about it and can’t wait to get back to it.
The wild and wonderful YA world
In general, this immersion into the wider world of YA has been like an explosion of creative imagination for me; in a YA novel, anything is possible.
The YA Fest was extremely well-organized, with many panels for participants to choose from, great food to eat, a fun photo booth (which I’m sorry I missed out on), as well as a button-making table. Here are mine:
How cool is that? I especially love the dismayed look on the face of Little Bo Peep. Moi.
The photo at the top is from A Novel Spot bookstore in Entobicoke, Ontario. Don’t you just love it? Indie bookstores are so great. The mystery woman is Katie Middleton, the bookstore’s owner. Her hair matches perfectly!
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.