I'm delighted to welcome Gabrielle Kimm to The Eclectic Reader. Please make her feel welcome and enjoy the interview. I was captivated by the 1st chapter of The Courtesan's Lover on Gabrielle's website, and I can't wait to read more! Take it away Gaby ...
Thanks so much for inviting me onto your blog, Sheree!
1. Can you give readers a description of your latest novel, The Courtesan’s Lover?
The Courtesan’s Lover has been described as a tale of ‘love and redemption’ (by the Historical Novels Review magazine). It’s the story of Francesca Felizzi, former mistress of the unstable and dangerous duke of Ferrara in my first book, His Last Duchess; Francesca has run away from her former lover and set up home with her daughters in Naples, where she intends to rise to the heights as a courtesan. She’s beautiful, ambitious and a skilled professional lover – but is perhaps a little complacent about her future. Then an encounter with an inexperienced seventeen year old boy changes her life dramatically, as she is faced with an unpalatable truth – that despite her many admiring patrons, she’s never actually been loved. Her glittering lifestyle suddenly seems tawdry and unattractive to her. And then another unexpected encounter brings with it devastating implications, which plunge Francesca and her two little girls into the sort of danger she has dreaded ever since she first began working the streets all those years ago.
2. Reading the 1st chapter of The Courtesan’s Lover, it’s obvious you write vividly - lush descriptions of 16th century Napoli, people, clothing, architecture, lifestyle … how much research goes into your novels? (the opening scene with Modesto preparing Francesca’s lime was fascinating and had me 'googling.')
Golly – the simple answer is that I do masses of research! It’s a sort of two way process, I suppose. So far, with my novels, I’ve begun with an idea, and sketched out a basic plot. Then I’ve started to research, and although sticking to the basic outline, I find that the things I find as I research tend to influence the way the story works. I discover an unexpected fact, which so intrigues or delights me that I know I’m going to have to bring it into the book, and so everything has to shift a little to allow the new information to take its place. I really love all the domestic minutiae of past centuries, and researching that is painstaking but fascinating – food, clothes, travel, hygiene (not always very palatable!) architecture, flora and fauna, weather (for example, I found a wonderful Internet site which listed all the solar eclipses over the past seven hundred years, and provided a diagram for each one showing which exact parts of the world were darkened by each eclipse on which exact day! How on earth does anyone know that??) Finding out about the lime was a great moment, I have to admit! I have an etymological dictionary, so I try to check the origins of pretty well every word I use, to make sure it existed in the sixteenth century.
With The Courtesan’s Lover, I of course spent a long time researching the lives of the great courtesans, but having steeped myself in the glitter and glamour of their often extraordinary lives, I worried that I might be in danger of over-romanticising my own courtesan (the way we tend to do with pirates and highwaymen etc), so to redress the balance, I also read a collection of writing from contemporary women in the modern sex industry. What I read was shocking, vulgar, heart-breaking, funny, tragic, outrageous – and it opened my eyes to the motivations and mind-set of my central character. It was a revelation.
I like to do as much hands-on research as I can, as I find I can write about something more easily when I’ve actually done it myself. Of course this has its limitations – I’ve been writing about a courtesan, after all, so as you can imagine, there are a fair number of things in this book for which I’ve relied entirely on imagination and reading!
3. Is there anything you find particularly challenging when you’re writing?
I suppose the most challenging thing is coping with my own insecurities. Like most creative people I’m often beset by doubts – luckily though, I have a wonderful writing group, who are all my most supportive allies, as well as my fiercest critics. We meet once a month to share work (we are all MA in Creative Writing graduates) and I value their advice and feedback more highly than I think they realise.
4. Are you a plan-the-whole-book-out person or a write-as-it-comes person?
Somewhere in between. I need a basic structure planned out – like an armature inside a sculpture – but I like to feel free to deviate from that basic structure if that’s how it seems the story ought to go. The thing with characters in novels is that, although as the writer you know pretty much what your characters are going to do, you don’t always know how they are going to feel about it when they get there. And those feelings and reactions can change how you feel about the story ahead.
5. What’s next on the table for Gabrielle Kimm?
Well, Little Brown have commissioned a third novel – it’s set in the Italian Renaissance too – though with a totally different cast of characters, and a very different feel to it. It’s a bit early on to give away much more than that – but I’ll keep you posted! It’s due out in November 2013, and I’m madly busy writing it right now!
6. What are you reading now?
I’ve just started reading ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape’ by American writer, Peter Hedges. It was made into a film a few years ago, with Johnny Depp and Leonardo di Caprio, and it’s gentle, quirky and absolutely delightful. “ ... an elegy for those outsiders and misfits who find themselves sidetracked from the American Dream”, says the New York Times.
7. Favourite historical fiction authors & authors who inspire you?
I grew up reading Rosemary Sutcliff’s wonderful historical novels for children – she revels in the domestic minutiae of past centuries which so enchants me, and there is something very tender and charming about her writing. As far as contemporary historical fiction authors – those I rate most highly would be Sarah Waters and Rose Tremain, I reckon, along with Deborah Swift and Hallie Rubenhold. Other authors – oh, I do find it so hard to pick individuals out of the whole. I read SO much, and fall in love with one author after another. I suppose I must be very fickle.
8. If you could be dropped into any book as a character, who would you be and why?
What a great question! I’m not at all sure how to answer it. I’m tempted to say I’d be Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, because then I could get close to the ever-adorable Mr Darcy (how predictable of me!) but the child in me would love to get a chance to spend a term or two at Hogwarts, I reckon.
9. Do you have a guilty pleasure?
10. Describe yourself in 3 words
Enthusiastic, inquisitive, anxious.
People often ask me (as they do most writers) what you need to do to be a writer. So here are a couple of thoughts about that, to finish off with. I think that the first and most important piece of advice to any aspiring writer would be to read. And read a bit more. And then read again. Read widely – in the genre you want to write, and outside it. Read the shortlists for the big prizes and read them like a writer – work out for yourself HOW they’ve achieved their effects. Also, be observant. Observe all the time. Observe the world around you and the people in it, and record what you discover – it’s those observations, translated into images in a novel, which stick in the reader’s mind and make a book memorable. Does that make any sort of sense?
Thank you so much for having me on the blog, Sheree – it’s been a pleasure talking to you!
Likewise Gabrielle ... thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions. I can't wait to get stuck into The Courtesan's Lover! PS. I wanted to name my kindle Mr Darcy but someone beat me to it, you aren't alone in your Mr Darcy admiration :)
When sixteen-year-old Lucrezia de' Medici marries the fifth Duke of Ferrara, Alfonso d'Este, she imagines life with her handsome husband will be idyllic. But little does she know that he is a very complicated man. The marriage is fraught with difficulties from the start, and, as time passes, Lucrezia becomes increasingly alienated. For Alfonso, the pressure mounts as the Vatican threatens to reclaim his title should the couple remain unable to produce an heir. Only his lover Francesca seems able to tame his increasing fury. But Alfonso's growing resentment towards his duchess soon becomes unbearable, and he begins to plot an unthinkable way to escape his problems. Originally inspired by a Robert Browning poem, His Last Duchess gorgeously brings to life the passions and people of sixteenth-century Tuscany and Ferrara. It is a story you are unlikely to forget for a long time.
Francesca Felizzi, former mistress of the Duke of Ferrara, is now an aspiring courtesan. Astonishingly beautiful and ambitious, she revels in the power she wields over men. But when she is visited by an inexperienced young man, it becomes horribly clear to Francesca that despite her many admiring patrons, she has never truly been loved. Suddenly, her glittering and sumptuous life becomes a gaudy facade. And then another unexpected encounter brings with it devastating implications that plunge Francesca and her two young daughters into the sort of danger she has dreaded ever since she began to work the streets all those years ago.
GIVEAWAY:1 copy of THE COURTESAN'S LOVER & 1 copy of HIS LAST DUCHESS
If you'd like to win a copy just leave a comment or question for Gabrielle (she'll be popping in) and don't forget your email address. Yes it's INTERNATIONAL :)
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Giveaway ends 21st July and the winners will be announced on my blog. Good luck everyone!