Friday, April 1, 2011

Author Interview + Giveaway: Stephanie Cowell

All Things Historical Fiction is very excited to bring you an interview with the fascinating Stephanie Cowell, author of the equally fascinating new book, Claude & Camille!
Claude & Camille Paperback: April 1st

Stephanie has also graciously offered up 3 copies of Claude & Camille to ATHF's readers, so be sure to enter the giveaway at the end of the interview.

1) What inspired you to tell the romantic story of Claude & Camille and how did Camille inspire Claude's paintings?

Actually it was in my early drafts of the novel that my agent looked up Camille on the web and said, “Do you realize he hardly ever painted people (especially not portraits of them) and he painted more pictures of her than anyone else?” I began to study the paintings of her but the love story came last. She is a terribly complicated young woman in the book, very loving, very loyal, but she has had a habit of making up stories about her life which never happened. And she idealizes Claude and thinks he is a genius which is flattering but hard to live up to for him when he cannot sell any paintings and they get thrown out of their rooms and have no food. It was one of those great loves between them, throwing all caution and good sense to the wind. Do you know Puccini’s La Boheme? How quickly and intensely the lovers fall in love with that soaring music? I did think of the opera when I wrote the love story, for both are set in 19th century bohemian Paris.

2) How did you research this novel and how long did it take you to write it?
I researched the novel through the purchase of about 60-70 books (gasp!), by going to Paris and Giverny, walking up and down the halls of The Art Students’ League in NYC and listening to the students and looking in the rooms, remembering my father painting and haunting many art exhibitions. My husband and I were going to London and I found out that the Royal Academy of Art had an exhibition on the unknown Monet (his youthful caricatures and pastels) and arrived there in time to see it on the very last afternoon before it closed! How lucky was that? And the book took longer than any book I have ever done: five years actual writing time.  I couldn’t figure out how to tell the story, from whose point of view. I wanted Camille’s point of view but Claude Monet won in the end. You can’t force that; it just happens.

3) How much of this story is based on fact and how much did you have to artistically create yourself?

Well the lives of the artists and their hardships and first successes are all real; the greatest need for invention was Camille’s character as so little is known about her. I wrote to the greatest Monet scholar in America and said, “What can you tell me about Camille?” and he wrote back, “Almost nothing.” I took every scrap of knowledge I could find. Her family, the child, the marriage, her illnesses and the very strange living situation with the other family at the book’s end is all real. But I go into what is real and what is not much more in the notes at the end of the novel.

4) What do you think makes Claude Monet's work so captivating to the world? Why do you think it took him so long to become successful as an artist?

Monet had a very original style; he did not paint every detail of things but rather an impressionism of them, often altered by light. He wrote once that he didn’t want to paint houses or fields but the light above them and that it was impossible and he could never be satisfied! The first people to see his work said, “But this is a sketch!” Now his work, particularly his water lily and other flower paintings, represent peace to many people. They find his work very spiritual but I think he did not find that peace until shortly before he died. He finished his last huge water lily/garden panels for the Orangerie when he was 86 and put down his brush and that was that.  He left to others the peace which he sought.

5) Most of your novels if not all are based on some form of artistic setting, what is it about historical artists and art in general that compels you to write about it?

My parents were artists and almost all my friends were in the arts and I was born in NYC in a highly artistic environment. We all wanted to be Shakespearean actors or opera singers or novelists or painters or violinists or ballet dancers.  Accomplishing one or more of these things was the center of our lives. This never struck me as unusual until far along in my life. My husband is a wonderful cook and I tease him and say, “If I think about cooking, I sit down and write a scene where someone cooks!” It was just the way my life was!

6) Do you plan your books out or do you let inspiration take you on a whim?

I plan my books sometimes and generally they change and I have to plan them again!

7) What does a typical writing day look like for you and do you have a special place or a certain atmosphere where you can do your best writing?

I only write at my computer which is in the little vestibule when you come into my NYC apartment. It is very small and my husband built shelves above it for me. On the walls I have paintings by my parents and pictures of my family. I almost always write from just after I get up and then go on for three to six hours. I used to have a day job and got up early to write and wrote on lunch hours. I would print out my work and read it on the subways going to and from work, sometimes standing up!

8) Have you always known you wanted to be a writer or is it something your sort of just fell into?

I started writing stories when I was about seven years old; I printed in a black and white notebook and then I taught myself to type and wrote my first short novels in my teens. I was an only child for a long time and alone a lot so I made up people. Writing competed with acting and singing in my adolescence and then for nearly twenty years I was a classical singer and sang a lot of opera and ballads. I was a high soprano. This is how I came to write my novel Marrying Mozart.

9) Who are your greatest writing inspirations and how do they aid you in your writing today?

I have so many inspirations! I read so much as a child. I think the first historical novels I read were A Little Princess and The Secret Garden and then when I was fifteen or so I read Norah Loft’s The Lute Player. I think I always wanted to go back in time and live there. When I walk through the Metropolitan Museum in NYC certain objects call out to me: medieval doors or pens or books for instance. My first love was historic England and when I first travelled there in my twenties I had some very intense experiences. When I first stood in front of one of Queen Victoria’s dresses she had worn when young I felt quite faint. It’s very strange; suddenly I am somewhere else. I have always had this; I can’t explain it.

10) What can we look forward to seeing from you next? 

I am well into the second draft of new novel set in Victorian London about the love story of the poets Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning. She was an invalid of 40 and still very beautiful when he found her in her father’s house and snatched her away from her family to live in Florence with him. I am also working on a 16th century novel set in an English abbey, about the goddaughter of the abbot who grows up in the monastery working in the library with her father and falls in love in a dangerous way. 

Thank you so much Stephanie for taking the time out of your day to talk to us today. 

I have 3 copies of Claude & Camille available that's open to the US only. This giveaway ends April 15th. Here are the giveaway guidelines:

-You must me a follower of this blog through GFC follower.

-Leave your name and email address so I can contact you. If no email address is provided then you will not be entered into the giveaway.

-+1 entry if you're a new follower. Just tell me below in the comments that you are a new follower.

-+2 entries if you tweet, blog or facebook this giveaway. Please leave a link or else it wont count. 


  1. I'm a follower through GFC. Here's my email: ruthellenanderson (at) gmail (dot)com - thanks!

  2. Hi! I am an old follower. reflectionsofabookaholic[at]gmail[dot]com

  3. I'm a follower through GFC.



  4. I follow you! And I side barred the giveaway here!
    Thanks for the awesome giveaways!

  5. Thank you for including me.

    I'm an old follower. =)
    tiredwkids at live dot com

  6. I'm a new follower and enjoy your RSS feeds. I've read some thoroughly enjoyable historical fiction, thanks to you!

  7. @Annie thanks for the nice comment :)

  8. Jennie lifeisshort.readfast at

  9. I'm not sure if my first comment saved, but I forgot to include my e-mail address on it:
    susanna dot pyatt at student dot rcsnc dot org

    If the first comment didn't save, then I am a new GFC follower.


  10. I'm a new follower: So glad I found your blog! I've enjoyed Stephanie Cowell's books and have had this one on the Wish List for a long time.

  11. I am a new follower planning to go to Paris and see Monet's works. I am excited to read the book before I go!

  12. I am a new GFC follower....would love to win this one. Sounds like a great read. Thanks for the giveaway!

    stilettostorytime at gmail dot com