Friday, 30 January 2015

It’s a great experience seeing my novels adapted for television or film...

Interview with Philippa Gregory
by Agnes A. Rose

Philippa Gregory is a British historical novelist. She has been writing books since 1987. The best known of her works is “The Other Boleyn” (2001), which in 2002 won the Romantic Novel of the Year Award from the Romantic Novelists’ Association. The author was born in Kenya, and when she was two years old, her family moved to England. She wrote her first novel – “Wideacre” – while completing a PhD in 18th –century literature. Philippa Gregory has written novels set in several different historical periods, though primarily the Tudor period and the 16th century. Now in Poland you can read her book which is titled “The White Princess”*.

Agnes A. Rose: Thank you so much for your accepting my invitation to this interview. I am very grateful for this! At the beginning I would like to ask you what way you started creating literature. Have you dreamed about it since your childhood like most writers have? And why did you choose historical fiction?

Philippa Gregory: Thank you. I didn’t intend to be a writer; actually I wanted to teach at university. My PhD was on popular literature in the 18th Century literature, so when I was doing research and reading (I read over 200 novels in four years), I taught myself how a novel works, how to pace it and how to tell the story. At the end of my PhD, there were no jobs in the universities so I wrote instead. I had a baby daughter so when she was sleeping I would work at my desk. I ended up writing my first novel “Wideacre”, and you can see that it’s influenced by my PhD – it’s set in 18th Century England and is the story of a woman fighting for the right to inherit her family home. The novel sold really well all over the world and I haven’t stopped writing – now it’s my career. I’ve always loved history, reading it and thinking about it and understanding it, so writing historical fiction came easily.

Agnes A. Rose: Your books are very famous all over the world. In Poland you are a very well-known writer. Could you tell the Polish readers how you prepare your novels? How do you deal with the historical background, all those facts, and threads?

Philippa Gregory: Each book takes about two years. It takes six to nine months of researching and reading before I start writing. I read all the histories about the period in general, and all the histories about the main characters, then I visit the London Library to read the older books that are out of print. Then I read all the articles and essays mentioned by the books. I visit the major sites for each novel and go to museums and talk with museum curators and local historians. I constantly take notes and I have a big folder of notes for each novel. When I can hear the characters voice in my head, then I start writing. I continue reaching when writing, to answer specific questions and so on. I like to work in my study, where I have my research nearby, although a lot of the research is now electronic; I have timelines, family trees, maps and major dates up on my study walls, to keep places, people and dates in my head in the right order.

Agnes A. Rose: In Poland the most popular of your books are “The Cousins’ War Series”, “The Tudor Court Novels” and “The Wideacre Trilogy”. Which of these series is closer to you and why?

Philippa Gregory: They are all close to me – I think “The Wideacre Trilogy” will always feel special – “Wideacre” was the first novel I wrote and had published, and I’m very fond of the Tudors and the Plantagenets.

Agnes A. Rose: Let’s talk more about the women of “The Wars of The Roses”. The main character of “The White Queen” is Elizabeth Woodville. She is a quite different than Margaret Beaufort, who is extremely demonic. The fact which most captivated me while reading is that Elizabeth was a wonderful wife and mother. In view of this, was she really able to throw a curse?

Philippa Gregory: I think Elizabeth and her mother Jacquetta were very courageous and strong women. Elizabeth would have been passionately protective of her family – she lived in a dangerous time and would have done everything she could to look after them, so cursing someone is definitely a possibility. 

Agnes A. Rose: The women you create in your novels have strong character and they perfectly know what they expect from their life. Despite the fact that they need to obey the men, who generally use them to satisfy their own ambitions, the women also stubbornly pursue her goals. Which of the women appearing on the pages of your novels was the most difficult to create and why?

Philippa Gregory: I struggled at the start with the character of Margaret Beaufort in “The Red Queen”. She’s very different to Elizabeth Woodville, who I had spent more than two years reading and writing about for “The White Queen”. It was a quick turnaround and I had to go from sympathising with the Yorkists to getting into the mind of their enemies, the Lancastrians. At first Margaret Beaufort can seem like quite a cold and unforgiving character, but I admire her passion and devotion. You have to try and see things from the characters perspective, so you see why they did the things they did. Eventually she achieved what she wanted and saw her son crowned king.

Agnes A. Rose: You are also the author of “The Order Darkness Series”. This series is addressed to young readers. So far in Poland two parts of this series have been published – “Changeling” and “Stormbringers”**. Why did you decide to create this kind of story? 

Philippa Gregory: I knew that there are a lot of younger readers who enjoy my books, so I wanted to write a story for them with younger characters. It was something new and exciting to write books with a completely fictional cast of characters. The story is set against real historical events so there’s still a lot of research in each book. The books are set in Europe, so it was interesting to write about somewhere other than England. The third novel, “Fools’ Gold”, is set in the wonderful, unique city of Venice so it was an added bonus that I had to travel to Venice to do research for the book.

Agnes A. Rose: Sometimes in your books we can also notice some elements of fantasy literature. Let me mention such books as “The Wise Woman” or “The Lady of the Rivers”. In my opinion this is the perfect mixture. Why do you decide to use fantasy in your works?

Philippa Gregory: People in the 15th and 16th centuries often attributed things that they could not explain to sorcery and witchcraft, and there were a lot of superstitions held at that time, so my decision to included elements of magic is more to do with how these characters saw and interpreted the events in the novels. Jacquetta’s family really believed they were descended from the water goddess Melusina, so the events in the novels caused by ‘witchcraft’ are things that can be perhaps explained by modern-day science and knowledge of the world, but were thought to be magic at the time.

Agnes A. Rose: As I mentioned above, now in Poland we can read “The White Princess”. This book is a part of “The Cousins’ War Series”. Could you encourage your Polish readers to read this novel?

Philippa Gregory: It’s the story of Elizabeth of York, daughter of Elizabeth Woodville and Edward IV. (You can read her mother’s story in “The White Queen”.) Elizabeth is made marry Henry Tudor to make peace between the warring houses of York and Lancaster after Henry defeats Richard III in battle, ending the Cousins’ war, and becomes king. The Tudor dynasty is born, and Elizabeth gives birth to two sons, Arthur and his younger brother, Henry (who we know as Henry VIII). It was very interesting for me to write this novel, as even though the Cousins’ War was officially over, it was a very tense time politically – Henry was paranoid and feared his people would rebel against him. Elizabeth’s personal story is deeply intertwined with this political intrigue and it makes for an exciting read.

Agnes A. Rose: Your novels are also moved to the big screen. What do you feel when you can see your characters animated by actors?

Philippa Gregory: It’s a great experience seeing my novels adapted for television or film, and I’ve been very lucky to have had some wonderful actors playing the characters in my books. It’s a completely different way of telling a story, personally I’ve chosen the novel as my way of telling a story but it is great to see the characters brought to life. My favourite on screen portrayals include Rebecca Ferguson’s Elizabeth Woodville and Janet McTeer’s Jacquetta in “The White Queen” TV series. They played the characters almost exactly as I see them in my head.

Agnes A. Rose: I would like to thank you for this interview. However, on behalf of myself and all the Polish fans of your work, I wish you further success and subsequent great books.

Philippa Gregory: Thank you very much!

If you want to read this interview in Polish, please click here

* This interview was done shortly after the Polish premiere of "White Princess", which took place on 18 June 2014.
** Now in Poland the third volume of the series entitled “Fools’ Gold” is available. At the time of this interview, the Polish readers could read only two previous parts. 

Friday, 23 January 2015

I typically have a question in my head that propels the novel...

Interview with Alyson Richman
by Agnes A. Rose

Alyson Richman is the internationally bestselling author. She grew up in St. James and attended public school there until the sixth grade. She wrote a 20-page story when she was in second grade and promptly informed her parents that she had just completed her first novel. She is a graduate of Wellesley College and a former Thomas J. Watson Fellow. She currently lives with her family in Huntington Bay on Long Island (New York). Alyson is a writer best known for “The Lost Wife”. The Polish readers can also read “The Last Van Gogh” which was nominated as a Book Sense Notable Pick in 2006. Her novels have been published in more than fifteen languages and have received both national and international acclaim.

Agnes A. Rose: Alyson, thank you so much for accepting my invitation to this interview. When did you decide that you would become a novelist? Was it on the day you completed that 20-page story?

Alyson Richman: The idea to pursue being a novelist came to me just as I was about to graduate from college. I majored in Art History and I always loved telling the stories “behind the paintings.” I loved being able to research the time-period of the paintings and explore the historical setting. I thought to myself, “If I could do anything in the world, what would I want to do?” And the answer was to write stories from the viewpoint of an artist.

Agnes A. Rose: You are the author of historical fiction. Why did you choose this genre of literature? I think that it is very difficult because of doing detailed historical research.

Alyson Richman:  I chose this genre because I love to learn. The historical research part of writing any of my novels is always the best part for me! I love to travel to the country I’m writing about and interview people who might have stories that illuminate the time period. I love looking at the landscape, eating the food, and spending time in the libraries. I feel that this in-depth research makes my stories come alive more fully.  I want my readers to be able to visualize everything with great clarity. 

Agnes A. Rose: Your book “The Lost Wife” is an international bestselling novel. You describe a very emotional history of Josef Kohn and his first wife, Lenka. Is it the real story or fictional one?

Alyson Richman: The emotional story of Josef and Lenka is fictionalized, but I interviewed countless Holocaust survivors and also people who did not experience the concentration camps but suffered knowing that they lost their loved ones in them.  I tried to accurately portray “survivor’s guilt,” just as much as I did the suffering of those who were sent to terrible places like Terezin or Auschwitz.

Agnes A. Rose: How did you prepare for writing “The Lost Wife”? Did you read books about WWII and Holocaust? Or maybe you met people who survived the war and you listened to their stories? 

Alyson Richman: I traveled to Prague and was able to meet with survivors of Terezin and also an artist who worked in the Technical office with Leo Haas* and Bendrich Fritta** I was very fortunate to learn from this particular survivor how artists were able to use the art supplies for their own clandestine work and also get some of the material to the children in Terezin so they could do a little artwork each day. I also traveled to Washington D.C. to listen to numerous oral histories on file in the museum’s video archives. It was a very long process of harvesting as much historical information as I could, before I began writing the novel.

This is the Polish cover of "The Lost Wife"
Warsaw 2013
Translated by Anna Kłosiewicz
Agnes A. Rose: What kind of emotions accompanied you while writing “The Lost Wife”?

Alyson Richman: It was an extremely emotional experience writing this book. I had two children under the age of three at the time I began writing and it was hard not to put myself constantly in the position of “What would I do if I was a mother and we were being deported to the camps?” That said, writing this novel gave me a tremendous amount of gratitude. When you see how many people suffered and went without so much, you realize that we are incredibly fortunate to be living in today’s times.

Agnes A. Rose: I know that “The Lost Wife” is going to be adapted for a film. Could you tell us something more about this film production?  

Alyson Richman: I’m so excited the book is currently being adapted for film. Right now, we’re just waiting on the screenwriter to deliver the script!

Agnes A. Rose: Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?

Alyson Richman: I typically have a question in my head that propels the novel. In the case of “The Lost Wife” the question was: “If you stripped everything away from an artist and put them in the most horrific circumstances possible, would they still finds the means to create? Could the artistic spirit be broken?” I don’t plot my stories, however. I begin with that question and let the story emerge with every chapter I write.

Agnes A. Rose: Do you have your own method for creating your characters, for example their names? What do you think makes them believable? 

Alyson Richman: I try and give my characters names that evoke the way I imagine them in my mind’s eye. Lenka is a strong, but still feminine and beautiful woman. Josef was a name that I thought evoked his sense of longing and haunting. I hope my characters are believable because I feel they speak through me. I literally hear their voices as I write their stories on the page.

Agnes A. Rose: Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day? If so, what is it? 

Alyson Richman: Not at this point. I try and push through all my stories and not give up.

Agnes A. Rose: How important is the marketing for you? What do you do to promote your books? 

Alyson Richman: I try not to think about marketing of my books too closely because I want to concentrate on the craft of writing itself. I leave the promoting of my novels largely to my publisher, though I do always accept invitations to talk about my books whenever possible so I can connect with my readers. I also love to hear from my readers through Facebook or my website and I always write back to them to express my gratitude for their support of my writing. 

This is the Polish cover of  "The Last Van Gogh"
Publisher: BUKOWY LAS
Wroclaw 2012
Translated by Beata Hrycak
Agnes A. Rose: What is your favourite or least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you? 

Alyson Richman: I think the biggest surprise of being a published author is the pressure to sell books! I used to just think it was enough to be published if you were a good writer and storyteller. But the pressure of the commercial side of publishing was something that surprised me. Of course, it makes sense that a publishing house is a business and they have to make money. I just never thought about it before I had a book come out.

Agnes A. Rose: How do you begin a new novel? Do you do much advance planning?

Alyson Richman: Once I have the initial idea, I begin the research of the novel. It could be as long as six months to a year before I feel comfortable starting the writing part. I like to be well-trenched in the research and have a deep understanding of the time-period before I begin writing. So yes, a lot of planning goes into writing the book even before I write the first sentence!

Agnes A. Rose: What do you think is the most essential element of a good novel?

Alyson Richman: A good historical novel needs to be not only historically accurate but also emotionally authentic. It should also grip the reader’s imagination as much as their heart.  As with anything in life, you need to form an emotional connection.

Agnes A. Rose: So what next? Could you tell us a little about your work in progress?

Alyson Richman: Right now, I’m working on a novel about the French courtesan Marthe de Florian who was painted by the 19th century Italian painter Giovanni Boldini and whose apartment remained mysteriously locked for 70 years.

Agnes A. Rose: Alyson, thank you so much for this conversation. Is there anything you would like to tell your Polish readers?  

Alyson Richman: I would just like to say thank you for your wonderful and enthusiastic support of my writing!

If you want to read this interview in Polish, please click here

* Leo Haas (1901-1983) was a Czech Jewish artist who, while imprisoned in the concentration camps of Nisko and Theresienstadt during World War II, painted portraits and produced a large volume of drawings documenting the daily life of the prisoners.
** Bendřich Fritta (1906-1944) was a Czech-Jewish artist and cartoonist. Before the war, Fritta worked as an illustrator and graphic designer in Prague under the pseudonym Fritz Taussig. In the 1930s, he devoted himself to political caricature and provided input for the satirical magazine Simplicus.

Friday, 16 January 2015

With all my books the characters arrive first...

Interview with Marcia Willett
by Agnes A. Rose

Marcia Willett began her writing career when she was fifty years old. She has written more than twenty novels under her own name as well as a lot of different short stories. She has also written four books under the pseudonym "Willa Marsh”. So far her books have been published in more than sixteen countries. The author devoted her early life to the ballet, but her dreams of becoming a ballerina ended when she grew out of the classical proportions required. She has never regretted her decision about becoming a full-time novelist. In Poland we can read three of her books such as: “A Week in Winter”, “The Children’s Hour” and “The Summer House”. Marcia lives in a beautiful and wild part of Devon where she loves to be visited by her son and young family.

Agnes A. Rose: Today my guest is Marcia Willett. Thank you very much for accepting my invitation to this online interview. Your stories are mostly about family relationships. What is the particular appeal of this genre for you?

Marcia Willett: I think I should say that my amongst families the groupings are rarely conventional ones. In Week in Winter: Maudie is Posy’s step-grandmother. In The Summer House, Lottie is Milo’s ex-wife’s sister. In the Children’s Hour, Mina lives with her crippled sister. I find it interesting to explore these dynamics.

Agnes A. Rose: Why did you begin your writing just at the age of fifty?

Marcia Willett: We had a financial crisis in the recession of the early nineties and my husband persuaded me to try to write a book – something he’d always believed I could do though I had never really considered it. I was a reader not a writer! I spent hours walking in the moors with my dogs trying to empty my mind of all the books I’d been reading, allowing my thoughts to run free, until very slowly my own characters began to make themselves known to me and a story began to build about them. It was a very exciting process and nobody was more surprised than I was when the finished result was accepted by a publisher!

Agnes A. Rose: I remember that while reading “A Week in Winter” I could not stop my emotions. Could you tell us what inspired you to write so emotional and sad story?

Marcia Willett: With all my books the characters arrive first: in this case Maudie and Posy, and then Melissa. They bring their stories and their landscapes and then it is up to me to wait, to listen, while others arrive and they show me the connections and so, slowly, the story develops. I never actually decide to write about particular issues.

Agnes A. Rose: What about Moorgate? Is it the real place or fictional one?

Marcia Willett: There are many ‘Moorgates’: houses set on the edges of the three westcountry moors that I write about. This one was of my own invention but rooted in reality.

Agnes A. Rose: In “The Children’s Hour” you focus on the problem of aging. You also write about the presence of another human being which is very important for all of us. How did you come up with an idea to combine these two issues?

Marcia Willett: I wish I could take credit for these things. It seems that there is an alternative universe flung across this westcountry in which I live and here my characters also live and work and have their being. They reveal themselves to me and I tell their stories.

Agnes A. Rose: As a writer, what elements do you find are the most crucial to include in your stories? What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Marcia Willett: The most crucial element is the eternally fascinating subject of relationships. Interaction between the characters drives the books. My weakness is the plot! I rarely have one!

Agnes A. Rose: Who or what are the biggest influences in your writing? How do they influence what you create?

Marcia Willett: My biggest influence is this place where I have lived most of my life. The westcountry – Somerset, Devon and Cornwall – is a very beautiful and atmospheric place and is the major character in all of my books.

Agnes A. Rose: Do you edit and revise as you write? Or maybe you do it after you have completed the first draft? What method works best for you?

Marcia Willett: I edit and revise as I write, continually checking and improving. Once finished I re-read the book but by then most of the work is done.

Agnes A. Rose: How do you cope with the most difficult aspects of your writing? Do you believe in writer’s block?

Marcia Willett:  It certainly exists! My husband gave me the best advice which is ‘to keep hitting the keys’. It is very easy to allow this awful terror to disable me but if I type just one sentence – even if I expunge it later – it often gets the brain working. Another good thing for me is walking: moving through the countryside is usually inspiring.

Agnes A. Rose: What advice would you give to new writers, especially those looking to break into your preferred genre?

Marcia Willett: Listen to your characters.

Agnes A. Rose: Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?

Marcia Willett: I don’t have a favourite book or character but I am very fond of Oliver Wivenhoe, who has appeared in several of the books and if ‘The Sea Garden’ were to be made into a film I should like to see Benedict Cumberbatch playing Oliver. I should be so lucky!!

Agnes A. Rose: Did you have any say in the titles or covers of your books? How important do you think they are? In my opinion the Polish covers of your novels are beautiful. What about English ones?

Marcia Willett: The Polish covers are indeed beautiful and absolutely appropriate for each book. I am looking at my copy of ‘Godzina dzieci’ as I write and it is just lovely. Each country that publishes my books – and there are eighteen of them – has its own ideas for the covers and the titles, which is how it should be. My approval here in the UK is always sought but I know I have a very professional team working on my behalf and I am always ready to take advice.

Agnes A. Rose: What are you working on at the moment?

Marcia Willett: I have just finished copy-editing the book to be published here in the UK in the summer, which is set on the river Dart in the westcountry town of Dartmouth at the time of the Annual Royal Regatta.

Agnes A. Rose: Marcia, thank you very much for this conversation. Is there anything you would like to tell your Polish readers?

Marcia Willett: I should like to say how very thrilled and privileged I feel to be published in Poland. It means a very great deal to me and I hope that my Polish readers are able to relate to my ‘people’ and their landscapes and enjoy the books.

Thank you very much, Agnes, for inviting me. My very best wishes to everyone for the New Year.

If you want to read this interview in Polish, please click here.