Sunday, March 14, 2010

Guest post from Stephanie Cowell, author of CLAUDE AND CAMILLE

I am delighted to welcome my friend Stephanie Cowell. A marvelous novelist whose work includes the exuberant Marrying Mozart and The Players: A novel of young Shakespeare, on April 6 Crown Publishers will release Stephanie's new novel Claude and Camille, the haunting, passionate story of Claude Monet's youthful love affair with his wife and muse.

Already, the reviews are stunning. Publisher's Weekly calls it "A convincing narrative about how masterpieces are created and a detailed portrait of a complex couple. Cowell's novel suggests that a fabulous, if flawed, love is the source of both the beauty and sadness of Monet's art." And Library Journal adds, "Moving through war, illness, prosperity, and poverty, Cowell writes the couple's love story with an eye for perspective as skilled as any painter's."

I had the honor of endorsing this book, and was captivated from beginning to end by Stephanie's elegant language and sensitive insight into the emotion and torment of this great artist. I highly recommend her unique portrait of Monet as he began his career, and of the woman whose inspiration and secrets he could never forget.

Stephanie Cowell has kindly offered this guest post for Historical Boys, to celebrate the upcoming release of Claude and Camille. Please join me in welcoming her!

Visiting old places with an historical novelist
My parents and I were walking down a street in one of those Italian Swiss hill towns a little before dusk. It was a narrow cobbled street which few cars could pass, lined with squat stone houses which had stood there far beyond memory and low cracked wood doors. To me they were not ordinary houses for I felt the ghosts who had lived there in previous times and walked slower and slower, trying to catch their voices and what they were saying. My father’s call rang from far ahead. “Where are you, daughter? We’re going to eat!” “Oh here I am!” I replied, startled into the present. “Just five centuries and fifty feet behind you, you know…”

I suppose my friends and family are used to it by now. We go to Mozart’s birthplace, a narrow street in Paris where Monet had a studio in his youth or the packed old City of London, where ancient churches rub walls with glass skyscrapers. The names of the streets are Fishmonger’s Lane, Cheapside, Love Street. Friends see the skyscrapers, I see the half timbered house in 1591 on Wood Street where Shakespeare hurried at night, lighting his way with a torch, to the house of his old acting colleague Jack Heminges.

There goes Will and Jack! I want to tell cry. I watch as a hint of brown doublet rounds a corner and is gone. There they were! Most the time my husband waits for me. “You don’t see anything?” I ask him. “Just the financial district,” he replies. “But you see things, Stephanie! I can see your face.”

It is true. The past touches and takes hold of my shirt and draws me back. No, it hurls me back. I never know when it is going to happen. It was so intense when entering the room with the Parthenon marbles in London that I had to leave for a time. I almost passed out before one of Queen Victoria’s dresses. And when we visited the newly constructed Globe Theater on Bankside in London I had no idea if I were in 1601 or 2001. T.S. Eliot says, “The communication of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.” Madeleine L’Engle says that characters come to us and demand, “Enflesh me!”

New England graveyards at dusk, my footsteps on the floors of Windsor Castle, and staring at the spot in the Tower of London where Anne Boleyn was executed. Show me a 300-year-old shoe, a ruined church, the moors behind Haworth. I stand and stare. I write furiously in a notebook. I discovered one winding, deserted street in Vienna in front of the Cathedral after dark and stood as if stunned. I had no idea what was on that street. In daylight I returned and found that Mozart and his wife had lived there in 1785.

Once a kind guard approached as I sat among the ruins of the old boy’s school in Canterbury. “All right then, dearie?” “It’s ok,” I managed, “I’m a novelist.” He retreated, looking a bit bewildered.

We are fortunate, we who love history and historical fiction and who write it for we live in many worlds. The past opens to us in a hidden street, an old pen, a signature of someone long gone. We are wealthy; we share many lives and we listen to older voices. “Don’t mind me; I’m just walking five centuries behind you,” you can say to your friends. If they know and love you, they will understand and be waiting when you show up at the restaurant for dinner.

Stephanie Cowell is the author of several novels. To learn more about her and her work, please visit her at:


Louise Marley said...

Lovely description! I've had these same experiences, and it really is a mystical moment when the past reaches out to stop your rush for a moment!

Louise Marley

Kim Bullock said...

Stephanie, I can so relate...

Kim Bullock

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post, Stephanie! Last summer I went on the Lewis & Clark trail. One of our stops was a big empty field; once there was a thriving Indian village there. Oh, what a wonderful thing the imagination can do with history! Congratulations on the great reviews of your new novel!

Margaret Porter said...

Stephanie, what you wrote so eloquently is so very true. Places and things are incredibly evocative of the past times we're writing about--communing with them can be enriching...and just plain fun!

Thanks, CJ, for inviting her to post!

Margaret Porter said...

Ouch! Sorry for that "CJ" of course I meant CW--force of habit, as I happen to have a CJ in my life! Apologies, I do know better!

C.W. Gortner said...

So glad you're enjoying Stephanie's post!

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Cherie Burbach said...

Wonderful post and can't wait to read the book.

Cherie Burbach said...

An update! Just read the book and loved it. Great job, Stephanie!