On November 2, 2011 (the day before my birthday), my agent, Jackie Kaiser, called to tell me that I’d been made a very tempting offer by Penguin to write two YA novels. One was to be about Josephine’s daughter Hortense, and the second was to be of my choosing.
My husband and I were in Mexico at the time, and two nights before I’d told him that I would never again contract to write a book “in advance.” I simply found it too stressful.
So the timing was a bit ironic. After Jackie’s call, I told my husband, “I’ve just been made an offer I can’t refuse.” Jackie had emailed me a photo of the box the offer had arrived in. Inside were the contract details and chocolates. How charming was that?
Even so, I thought about it carefully for two months. It takes me years (and years!) to write a novel, and I have to feel passionate about it. I have to fall in love with it. So I reread books about Hortense and covered our dining room table with plot points on index cards, considering. I needed to see if there was a story there, an enchanting story about Hortense’s teen years.
And there was. And it was one I very much wanted to write. By February 9, 2012, I had made up my mind. I would accept the offer. I would write a Young Adult novel about Hortense …
… although not immediately. I was on draft 6.1 of what I was then calling This Bright Darkness, soon to become The Shadow Queen. Plus, as I noted in that blog post of Feb. 9:
Somehow, I feel that I can do all of this all at once: finish This Bright Darkness, begin another adult novel set in the 17th century, write two YAs and a short novel for GoodReads, as well as launch my own e-book imprint.
(Reality has never been my strong suit.)
The Shadow Queen was published and my e-book imprint launched, but the “other adult novel set in the 17th century” had to be put on the back burner and the short novel for GoodReads was regretfully abandoned. Writing a novel requires full attention.
Soon I was carting research books on Hortense back and forth from Mexico to Canada.
I organized my plot cards, shuffled and re-shuffled them.
I researched like crazy.
I bought a deck of The Game of Hope and began exploring. (Fun!)
On November 2, 2013, a full two years after receiving the offer from Penguin, I began the first draft.
This is draft 1.7 — that is, the 7th draft of the 1st draft.
Over the next four years, I made two research trips to France.
Here I am at the gates to Mortefontaine, the country estate of Napoleon’s brother Joseph.
This is a statue of Hortense at her home of exile in Arenenberg, Switzerland, overlooking Lake Constance, now a delightful museum devoted to her memory.
This is a photo of what remains of Madame Campan’s wonderful school in Saint-Germain-en-Laye.
Over time, I had the requisite stack of nine drafts it takes me to write a book.
During the four years it took to write The Game of Hope, it went from being a novel told in the present tense to (at a fairly late stage) a novel told in the past tense. The title changed many, many times, and settled, finally, and happily, on The Game of Hope. The cover changed many times as well.
The Game of Hope, Hortense’s story, is now a book. For real. I’ve yet to hold it in my hands, but I will soon, in Toronto on May 1, the official Canadian publication day.
The amazement I feel about this long and magical process never grows old.
The painting on the cover of The Game of Hope is by French artist Marie-Denise Villers. It is popularly known as “Young Woman Drawing,” and can be seen in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The portrait is said to be of Marie Joséphine Charlotte du Val d’Ognes, but at least one art historian believes that it’s the artist’s self-portrait.
The painting was unsigned and for years it was attributed to the famous French artist Jaques Luis David. It wasn’t until 1995 that Villers was credited for the work.
Although the painting is not a portrait of Hortense de Beauharnais, the young woman looks rather like her, I think, especially in spirit. Here is a portrait — possibly a self-portrait — of Hortense as a teen.
Hortense (possibly a self-portrait).
For portraits of Hortense at all ages, go to my Pinterest board.
For more on this intriguing painting, read “Prof. Anne Higonnet reveals a new twist in storied Metropolitan Museum of Art painting.” Higonnet’s slide presentation on this painting — “White Dress, Broken Glass” — can be seen online, although without the accompanying text it’s difficult to surmise her conclusion.
A master of the sound bite, Napoleon would have been in his element in this Age of Twitter. Here is a sampling of some pithy Napoleon quotes, some of which his stepdaughter Hortense views ironically in The Game of Hope.
“What a novel my life has been!”
“Great ambition is the passion of a great character. Those endowed with it may perform very good or very bad acts. All depends on the principles which direct them.”
“If you wish to be a success in the world, promise everything, deliver nothing.”
“All celebrated people lose dignity on a close view.”
“Courage is like love; it must have hope for nourishment.”
“Victory belongs to the most persevering.”
“History is the lies we all agree upon.”
“What then is, generally speaking, the truth of history? A fable agreed upon.”
“A throne is only a bench covered in velvet.”
“Our hour is marked, and no one can claim a moment of life beyond what fate has predestined.”
“A leader is a dealer in hope.”
“Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.”
What are some of your favorites? SaveSave
While researching The Game of Hope, intrepid traveller and fellow Francophil Ann Coombs sent me photos she took at a special exhibition at Malmaison. This was the one that took my breath away:
It’s a mock-up of the house Josephine rented before she met Napoleon, then on Rue Chantereine. After his victories in Italy, the street was renamed Rue de la Victoire, and Josephine had the house decorated in a military theme, a style she used again years later at Malmaison.
The tented entry is very like the one she added to Malmaison:
I thought Josephine made the tented addition to the house after marrying Napoleon, but according to “The House on the Rue de la Victorie” by Ira Grossman, she did this before she’d even met Napoleon. “She turned the terrace of the house into a veranda under a wooden tent which was hung with cotton draperies and decorated with painted or carved flags and pennants.”
It was especially exciting to see a mock-up of Chantereine because there was so very little known about this house. In writing about Hortense, I had a more accurate sense of the place.
Click here to read more of what I’ve discovered about enchanting Chantereine.
See also: The House on the Rue de la Victoire.SaveSave
I’ve a newsletter about to go out, and I want to remind my wonderful readers who aren’t on my newsletter mailing list that you’re missing a chance to win one of my books — or (for the first time!) win an Audible edition of the entire Josephine B. Trilogy. The choice would be yours.
Click here to sign up. (Of course, you can unsubscribe at any time.)
Wonderful early reviews for The Book of Hope
Some readers have received an Advance Readers Copy (an “ARC”) of The Book of Hope, or read a free copy on NetGalley. It’s not possible for them to post reviews on Amazon until publication day, but it is possible to post a review on GoodReads and NetGalley.
It’s exciting (and anxious-making) to see early reviews coming in. My favourite so far is this one from Chelsea M. on NetGalley:
“Loved this read! It had me hooked!”
Swoon. That’s the best review a book can get, in my opinion. Thank you, Chelsea M., whoever you are.
Beta reader love
Here is a photo of one of my wonderful Beta Readers, Vanessa Van Decker, with the Canadian ARC of The Book of Hope.
Vanessa wrote that she was moved to tears to see the book. I myself was moved to tears to see the photo (above) of her smiling face with The Game of Hope in her hand.
Readers are so very special, and my team of young Beta Readers who read and commented on the early drafts of this novel were absolutely amazing.
Early readers: send me a selfie with The Game of Hope and I’ll post it to my website. A photo of the chocolate madeleines you make would be extra special. :-)
Pre-orders inform a publisher that the book is going to sell well, which publishers in turn communicate to bookstores. In short: it’s a very nice thing fans can do to help both a book and an author.
- Amazon.ca (due out May 1, in time for Mother’s Day, hint, hint :-)
- Amazon.com (due out June 26, in time for summer reading :-)
For more buying options, click here.