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!