Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Sandra Gulland: Writing about real people: respecting their memory, their ghosts

Writing about real people: respecting their memory, their ghosts

by Sandra Gulland

It helps, when writing about real people, for them to have lived and died hundreds of years ago in a far-way land. But even so, I'm always aware of the cultural sensitivities (of the French in my case), and also aware of how descendants might feel. That said, my primary loyalties are to the story, to the reader, and to my own sense of "what's right."

I can give one small example. Some children wet their beds: right? But would a prince? I didn't dare allow a future King of France to have that problem as a child.

I don't write about a character unless I respect her — but that doesn't mean I respect the people in her life. In the Author's Note's to my novels, I often apologize to the descendants.

For the Josephine B. Trilogy, I was contacted by one descendant, who was, in fact, pleased with the books. For Mistress of the Sun, I've been contacted by two relatives of Louise de la Vallière, one curiously offended that I would presume to know anything at all about her, and the other euphoric, because it confirmed family stories. You never know. If you have a relative who has made a name in history, to some degree you've lost the right to control the historical record. For me, what's important, is to feel I've done my best by a character. Were I to have the privilege of encountering their ghost, I'd like to be able to say, "Didn't you like that? Did I come close?"

Amy here: It makes you want to read the book doesn't it? I just happen to have one copy to give away! Please leave a comment and tell myself and Ms. Gulland why you would like to read Mistress of the Sun. Please have a United States or Canadian mailing address and leave a valid email address. And be sure to visit my review!


Beth Kephart said...

Earlier this year I had the terrible experience of discovering my great grandfather, Horace Kephart, in SERENA, the Ron Rash novel. Rash had turned Kephart, who helped to found the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, among other things, into a cartoon—and ugly, ugly cartoon—and it was offensive and disturbing, for SERENA (which is in many ways a deliberate cartoon itself) got a lot of press and a lot of readership. I'm appreciative of this respective author!

bermudaonion said...

I'd love to read MISTRESS OF THE SUN because I've read several great reviews of it and I lived in France for 2 years. milou2ster(at)

TexasRed said...

I would love to read this book. I've been talking to people out here who have sifted through the stories and rumors to write family history for future generations.

Bonnie said...

I enjoy reading Historical Fiction and like what I've read about this book and the author.
I have been to France and love the culture and history. How fascinating that Ms. Gulland was contacted by relatives of the characters in her books. Their conversations must have been very interesting!!

Beth F said...

I'd love to read this book because I love historical fiction and I love reading about the courts of historic Europe. I haven't read a lot about France, and I'd like to know more. I was very taken with this line in the post: "Were I to have the privilege of encountering their ghost, I'd like to be able to say, 'Didn't you like that? Did I come close?' " That makes me confident that the research is solid.


Ruth King said...

As someone with very distant royal ancestry, I'm always very grateful to authors who treat historical figures with respect. Kudos to you, Ms. Gulland.

Amy, I would love to read this book!

ruth at bookishruth dot com

Carrie K. said...

I love historical fiction, and my sister recently recommended Ms. Gulland's Josephine B. Trilogy. Thanks for the giveaway!

nnjmom at yahoo dot com

Jenny Girl said...

Historical fiction is my favorite genre. I've only read one book that involved the French court and realized that my French history is severly inadequate. After I read a historical fiction book, I always look up the history behind the stories and see how they compare. I learn more history that way :)
Plus this book sounds enchanting!

Helga Marie Bee said...

It sounds delicious, is that reason enough?? I love to read historical fiction and my father was born in France
qallieq@gmail dot com

Carol M said...

I also love to read historical fiction. I learn so much about the past. This book sounds really good and I know I would enjoy it.
Carol M
mittens0831 AT

CherylS22 said...

Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres. I love learning of the past & how people lived, loved and learned.

Please count me in - Thanks!
megalon22 at yahoo dot com

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