Margaret is no longer blogging at this time, but you can enjoy some of her terrific posts through the years. Please enjoy!
Dear readers, I do apologize for having gone AWOL from the blog. How embarrassing to see the date of the last entry. How patient of you to stick with me all this time and keep revisiting my site, even though it’s overgrown with ivy and thistles!
And another apology: I recently discovered a trove of emails from the website, some going back to 2009, that were somehow in the wrong folder. Some of them look familiar and I believe I answered them, but I’m not sure about the others. If you wrote me and I didn’t answer, please forgive me and write again. I did have some technical problems associated with the email and that has thrown everything off. It is fixed now. I promise!
I also want everyone to know that my long-wished novel about the Emperor Nero is now in progress. It will be published by New American Library, probably in late 2017. I’ve loved diving in to this project and I’ll be telling you more about it soon. There have recently been special exhibits in Rome and a cover story in the National Geographic about Nero, who didn’t fiddle while Rome burned, but sure did a lot of other things. In the meantime, please bear with me and know I appreciate your readership!
I’ve just been informed that my talk at the Tower is now sold out. Wow. It’s very exciting but now I can start to get nervous. Thanks to all of you who have signed up, and I look forward to seeing you.
I am thrilled to be speaking at the Tower of London on October first. I’ll be in the White Tower—that’s the square one in the middle, the oldest and original part—at 6:30 p.m. after the Tower closes for the night and the tourists depart. Lots of ghosts there, including the little princes who met their doom in 1483. I’ll be speaking about the things that happened in the Tower to Henry VIII and Elizabeth I that shaped their characters, especially during their childhoods. You can sip a drink at the reception, and there’ll be a booksigning afterward.
Although the event is for members of Historic Royal Palaces, there are tickets available if you identify yourself as my reader. Follow the link for more information. Or you may call 011-44-(0)844-482-7788.
In honor of Henry VIII’s birthday in June, we are offering $200 off the Tudor Tour if you bring a friend, for both of you. Help Henry celebrate and sign up!
Do we need rescuing? A recent mention of Hilary Mantel’s 2009 novel “Wolf Hall” in The Economist said, “the book captured the upheavals of the Tudor period and was a critical and popular hit that rescued historical fiction from its bodice-ripper reputation.”
Whoa! There’s only been one novel that isn’t a bodice ripper, and that’s Ms. Mantel’s? I think she would be the first to remind The Economist that there are a lot, a very lot, of her fellow historical novelists who don’t write bodice rippers. But the story, inadvertently, made a very good point.
Serious historical novels do suffer in the public mind (and that seems to include The Economist) by being confused with ‘women’s historical romance’ of the Rosemary Rogers sort in the 1970s–the ones with Fabio on the cover. It didn’t help when Fabio himself stepped off the covers and started advertising “I can’t believe it’s not butter!” on TV.
Because so many events in history were operatic (heads were cut off, kings de-throned, rivals poisoned) it’s easy to feel that any literature dealing with that must be suspect, or trumped-up melodrama.
I know that when I am introduced to someone and they ask what I do and I say, “I write historical novels” I feel compelled to hurriedly add, “Not THAT kind!”
I wish there were a different designation for the non-bodice-ripper genre of historical fiction. Does anyone have a good suggestion? Until then, all of us who try to write serious historical fiction will have to keep adding the disclaimer, “Not THAT kind!”
The last weekend in April (Friday April 27 and Saturday April 28) I’ll be at the 7th Annual Newburyport Literary Festival in Newburyport, Massachusetts. I was kindly invited by fellow novelist Anne Easter Smith to join her in a panel on “Truth in Fiction: Telling Her Story in History” at 1 pm on Saturday, along with Anita Diamant. Together we will explore the boundaries of fiction and fact in historical novels, and particularly the treatment of women.
At 4 pm Saturday I will be giving a reading and book signing at Jabberwocky Books, The Tannery Marketplace, 50 Water Street, Newburyport.
Newburyport is a beautiful historic seaport, and lots of fun to explore. I hope to see you there. The schedule of events, and a map of the venues, is at www.newburyportliteraryfestival.org. All the venues are walking distance from one another.
Please come if you can!
This week I lined up with some of the approximately 30,000 people who are expected to view the Elizabeth Taylor collection of jewels, clothes, art works and memorabilia before they are auctioned in mid-December.
The throngs were so great we needed timed tickets; the showing was at Christie’s at Rockefeller Center.
Oh my…La Liz had had a very long life and mementoes and trophies from each stage were for sale. There was the children’s book she had written about her pet squirrel, “Nibbles and Me.” After her interests turned to more adult fare, there were director’s chairs and a Van Gogh expected to fetch $15 million dollars; there were bound scripts and Louis Vuitton suitcases with “MINE!” tags on them, clothing from all of her bodily incarnations, from her 17” waist days (one of the other visitors said that, but I wonder if she is not confusing Liz with Scarlett O’Hara) to the voluminous designer caftans of her large phase. But all that was just a lead-up to…the Jewels.
That was what everyone had come to see. In case after case, draped over lavender busts, were the iconic gems so associated with her life. There were elegant, vintage pieces given her by Mike Todd, a diamond tiara and a bib necklace with rubies. There were honkers given her by Richard Burton, leaning heavily toward emeralds. Both her wedding rings with Burton were for sale. (Now, a real collector’s item would be all 8 of her wedding rings in a nice leather case. I wonder what happened to the other 6.) There was the enormous 16th century pearl, la Peregrina, and then there was the humonguous, ginormous 33 carat square cut diamond, flanked by a scowling guard and eager onlookers.
Yet oddly, without her in them, they were just…necklaces and rings and earrings. Her presence, and love of them, was what had given them life and intrigue. Now she, and the people who gave her the jewels, had vanished, tolling a melancholy bell. Mike Todd, Richard Burton, Michael Jackson. Her friends, featured in many photos accompanying the exhibit: James Dean, Rock Hudson, Roddy McDowall, Malcolm Forbes, had passed on. It was time for Liz to join them, leaving just the shell of the jewels behind.
For us mortals to gape at.
I’ve often given talks with titles like “In the footsteps of” …and found that audiences love hearing about my research and seeing the photos from the sites associated with my characters—as well as reliving some of the adventures of getting there.
It’s been suggested that I could lead an actual tour, rather than a virtual one, and help my readers experience the life of the character in depth. Would you be interested in such a tour? I’ve attached a little survey that you can express your opinions on. If you will just click here, it will take you to the survey. I’m very curious as to what your reactions are to this idea.
Did anyone else see “Midnight in Paris?” Were they as taken with it as I was? Of course, we historical novelists all want to find that magical time machine that will whisk us back to the past and plonk us right down in the company of our characters. It was a charming movie that asked some serious questions.
I had a trip to Paris planned long before I saw the movie, but I’m glad I saw it just before I left. I was able to track down the spot where they filmed the cab coming slowly up the windy cobbled street, stopping to take our hero off to 1920s Paris. I sat and waited but nothing like that came along for me. Alas, I’m still stuck with using my bare imagination to go back in time.
I had already gotten the addresses of the places where Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald (who appear in the movie) as well as Jim Morrison (emphatically not in the movie) had lived. I wasn’t surprised to find that Fitzgerald’s part of town was much swankier than Hemingway’s. And Jim Morrison’s apartment (described as ‘non-descript’) was actually rather attractive. I don’t know what it was about Paris that made these men feel they could write better there. I had a desire to rent an apartment myself and find out.
I followed Jim Morrison out to the cemetery where his grave attracts more people than anyone else’s. It was almost the 40 year anniversary of his death so I wasn’t sure what to expect when I got there. The crowd-control barricades were having no luck in keeping out his fans, who clambered over and left their offerings of wine bottles, candles, and cigarettes on the grave. A group of French teenagers asked me to take their photo next to the tombstone and I did. They said they wished they had lived then. I told them that wouldn’t be so good, as then they would be almost 70, but they insisted they’d rather have been born 60 years ago. I felt like I was in “Midnight in Paris” for real, for the characters there keep wishing they were in another era.
The cemetery also houses Abelard and Heloise, Collette, Oscar Wilde, Chopin, Moliere, and hoards of others. Any one of them could have–and has—made excellent material for us historical novelists. And now they are so quiet. It wasn’t carved on his tomb, but Moliere said, “We only die once—and for such a long time.”
That is, until a novel or a movie brings them back to life.