(UK author Will Self‘s writing room. How does he even read the post-its at the top?)
I’m about to send out a newsletter — my first in six months! I’ve been MIA here on this blog, as well, the result of moving into a house still under construction, all the while working to finish my next novel, THE GAME OF HOPE.
Those of you who are already signed up for my newsletters know that they include news about the Work In Progress plus a smorgasbord of book-related news of interest to my readers.
Each newsletter subscriber has a chance to win a free book
Plus, with each issue, I give away one of my books to a subscriber.
So: if you’re not a subscriber, sign up here. (You can always unsubscribe, of course.)
And now, the fun begins with the final edits of The Game of Hope, its cover and design. I’m soon going to be putting a wealth of background information about the novel on this website.
For now, a blog post I wrote back when this novel soon to be born was merely a gleam in my eye:
And, of course, I’ve already started giving serious thought to The Next Novel. :-)
Today is our day to pack up, for tomorrow we leave first thing, heading to Toronto. On Thursday late afternoon, we’ll be driving into beautiful San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
I’m always delighted to arrive in San Miguel, but I’m also always sad to head south—sad to leave my library of research books, my lovely office (“the bunker”) overlooking fields and forest. It’s a difficult process. In the next 6 months I’m going to be finishing The Game of Hope as well as beginning the next Young Adult about Hortense (tentatively titled The Princess Problem). What will I need? It’s so hard to know.
Today I will finish going through all the piles of papers and books I’ve stacked up, decide what must come, what can stay, and what should be scanned into Evernote. The life of a Historical Novelist Snow Bird is made much easier with computers and the Net (there is so much more on-line now), but there is still a surprising amount I must take with me.
And … !
Today is my 70th birthday! My party was two days ago; it was wonderful and I feel splendidly fêted. It had a 60s theme (because I was in my final days of being a 60-something), the costumes were fantastic and the playlist I put together—with the help of this site—kept us rocking ‘n rolling all night. Old folks grooving!
Most special, our son Chet made a surprise visit from New York!
Frankly, I was a bit depressed for a time about the approach of this shocking milestone (What?! Me, elderly?!), but now I feel that there is something quite energizing about turning 70. One realizes that it’s time to begin to focus on what’s important. I feel it will be my most creative decade.
Bring it on!
Because I am writing a Young Adult novel, I continue to read and very much enjoy them. Such a treat!
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. This is a wonderful Young Adult novel, very tender, very innocent, and utterly real.
Rowell’s newest Fangirl, is also getting rave reviews, and I’ve just started to read it. She’s an amazing writer. Treat a teen, but read her yourself!
Studio Saint-Ex by Ania Szado. For fans of The Little Prince, this is a special treat, but frankly, most everyone loves this novel. (All the members of my picky-prickly book club, for example.)
I had the honour to “blurb” it, and here is a short version: “… an elegantly alluring and poignant love story. … Spare and beautifully-crafted, the novel vividly evokes the world of fashion design and the French ex-pat community in New York during WWII. In a word: magnifique!”
I am sure that there is a reader on your gift list who will love getting this novel. Plus, such a gorgeous cover!
Blood & Beauty by Sarah Dunant. This is a masterpiece of biographical historical fiction, in my view.
Maidenhead by Tamara Faith Berger; I bought this book because it was on last year’s 10-best-of-the-year list by Quill & Quire. (Their lists are always unique and worthy.) I also read it because the main character is a teen, and I’m writing about a teen now: research, right? Well, not exactly. It’s a shocking novel about a girl who is lured into the sex trade—explicit, beautifully written, utterly convincing.
Rather strange to go from Maidenhead to: Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition by Jane Austen and Patricia Meyer Spacks, but such is the Reading Life.
For Austen fans, this annotated and visually lush edition is simply wonderful. There is a wealth of historical information in the annotations and illustrations—fantastic for a historical novelist working in that era (i.e. moi).
These are only five of a very long list! It was hard culling it down. For a list of novels I absolutely admire: see “my bookstore.”
I just this moment sent off the first draft of The Game of Love, the current working title of my first young adult novel about Josephine’s daughter Hortense. (It went to free-lance editor Allison McCabe, my first reader and editor.)
This morning I checked spelling before sending it off. In consulting Google on how to spell the name of Josephine and Napoleon’s little house in Paris, I discovered that there is now an exhibit at Malmaison about this house, providing information that is very hard to come by. Information I badly need! Plus this tempting bit: “Computer reconstructions and models bring this residence to life and let visitors view it on all sides.”
Torture! I so want to see it!
Luckily, with a little tenacious searching, I found an extensive pdf about the exhibition which one can read on Google Play. It reveals a great deal:
A map shows it’s location and the very long drive down to the house from the rue de la Victoire.
Another map shows the locations of other properties in the neighbourhood—but does not show a house belonging to Napoleon’s sister Pauline and her husband, although it is often claimed that they bought a house close-by. (Note to self: more research needed.)
But here is a treasure of a find: a table that becomes Josephine’s desk. A desk features significantly in my novel, and this may well be it.
The excitement of research!
When I was asked by Penguin US if I would be interested in reading Salley Vickers’ new novel, The Cleaner of Chartres, of course I said yes. I’d read Miss Garnet’s Angel by her, and enjoyed it very much.
The Cleaner of Chartres is more unusual, more challenging in structure, but has something of the same charmingly old-fashioned feel to it. (I kept thinking Balzac.) I both loved this novel and struggled with it, and in the end I adored it.
The novel unfolds in the present (in Chartres, France), and in various other French cities in the past (Evreux, Rouen, Le Mans), revealing by stages the life of one woman, Agnes, the cleaner of the title.
Agnes is an able if mysterious young woman with a talent for sorting and cleaning, a vocation that pulls her into the messy lives of a number of people—and, in the process, complicates her own.
There are mysteries throughout: I won’t spoil it for you by revealing what these are, but suffice it to say that in coming to Chartres, Agnes is trying to escape a troubling past.
This is a gentle novel, peopled with charming eccentrics. Vickers is a polished writer with a charming sense of humour: I love the texture of her prose. My one reservation (and the cause of the struggle mentioned above) is that since there are a number of different characters in each city, I had to keep notes on who was where. A cast of characters would have helped, and a map would have been a pleasant addition as well.
I was especially delighted with the Afterword, where Vickers explains what happened to some of her fictional characters. As if—and yes, I do believe it so—they all went on living. A lovely touch.
“Realism with a subtle fairytale quality,” said the Publishers Weekly reviewer, and that captures it perfectly. Vickers is a wonderful novelist.
Life update: I’m preparing for Canadian Thanksgiving—a big event here!—and for heading to our winter home in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, not long after. (See my last blog post on what that entails.)
The last draft of the Hortense Young Adult is tucked away until early November. In the meantime, in the early creative hours, I’m giving some thought to the premise, tag and log lines, using the guidelines from a worthwhile 3-session on-line course on “Rapid Story Development,” using, among other things, Enneagrams, a method for analyzing character.
Enneagrams are complex, but intriguing: I do love learning systems. Simply framing a premise with the help of the class guidelines has helped me see how the story needs to be changed.
Another thing I’m studying right now is the Lenormand method of foretelling the future—a type of Tarot which is surprisingly popular.
Madame Lenormand was a contemporary of Josephine Bonaparte; in fact, she lived close to Josephine’s delightfully eccentric aunt Fanny. Lenormand was famous for her accurate predictions; she exploited and enhanced her fame by becoming a prodigious writer and publisher on matters occult, as well of a faux memoir of Josephine (a “memoir” that has always intrigued me).
Madame Lenormand is unlikely to be a character in my Hortense novels, but her card-fortunetelling method might well be. In any case, I’m enjoying exploring the cards.
At some point, “playing” the cards was called The Game of Hope, my current working title—and one I rather like.