Thursday, May 16, 2013

Historical Novel Society 2013 Conference Panelist: Meet Stephanie Cowell

I'm excited to share another Q&A with an author participating in the 2013 Historical Novel Society Conference this year, Stephanie Cowell.  Her books have long been on my TBR and now I'm breathless with anticipation for her newest (see her second to last question).  

Stephanie Cowell
What got you first interested in historical fiction?

Since an early age I believed I belonged in an earlier time, that my real life and were waiting for me there. I read historical children’s novels such as A LITTLE PRINCESS and felt that was my life, if I could only get to it. Even today certain places and times are a home I miss with all my heart.

How do you find the people and topics of your books?

Oh I am interested in many people and topics, and they come rushing at me. I can hardly leave a street in Europe or England without some fictional character tapping me on the shoulder and pouring out her story. Years ago I was walking behind my parents in a tiny village full of stone houses in Switzerland, and my father called back, “Daughter, where are you?” And I replied, “A character is following me.” My poor stepmother got SO upset and rushed back, thinking some deranged ragged person was trailing me. After that when I lagged behind, I simply called out “I’m just twenty feet and four centuries behind you.”

Do you follow a specific writing and/or research process?

I research as I write. I know something about the person or the times of course to begin with. In the last stages of the novel, I drop in all sorts of specifics…hat pins, things like that. I rewrite each novel several times trying to make a rising dramatic plot line out of a life.

For you, what is the line between fiction and fact?

I think it is most important to get the essence of a story, which means my character may have one big argument with her husband rather than seven, and live in one place in steady of fourteen. You have to change things a little to make a dramatic piece. We can’t change when Marie Antoinette died or the way she died, but we can change when she was playing with her children.

Do you have an anecdote about a reading or fan interaction you'd like to share?

Someone e-mailed me photos of the bookshop in Salzburg which sold my Mozart novel in German; it happened to be the same very old shop where Mozart himself bought books. So many things have happened! And Monet’s house in Giverny has a bookshop which carried my novel on him.

Where do you feel historical fiction is headed as a genre?

I don’t know. We go through fads. Considering everything from the beginning of time thru WWII is considered HF, we are taking over the world! That leaves us contemporary fiction and books set in the future.

Is there an era/area that is your favorite to write about? How about to read?

Oh many different times…I prefer to read about people in the arts than kings and queens on a whole.

Is there a writer, living or deceased, you would like to meet?

I would like to be with Shakespeare at rehearsals of HAMLET.

What book was the most fun for you to write?

Marrying Mozart…it took nine months and was pure joy. I adore Mozart. It was my love story for him.

Can you tell us about your latest publication?

My newest novel which will not be out for some time is about the Victorian poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning. She was a invalid with great family problems when the handsome gifted Robert Browning swept her away to Italy where her passionate love for Robert was in conflict with her family devotion, her laudanum addiction, her refusal to consider her health and her newly freed genius…among which were the sonnets she wrote for him. “How do I love thee?” etc.. It’s about a woman of genius handling love, health and life.

Do you have a most interesting question or crazy anecdote related to your writing you would like to share?

My first B&N reading for my first novel (NICHOLAS COOKE) outside the city was a disaster! The book had debuted well as a People Pick, great printed reviews, etc so off I went to Albany. The reading space was situated between the busy front door and loud café and there was no mike. I screamed out my readings….then many many people came through the door but not one of them stopped for me. Finally I asked the manager where they were all going. She said, “Oh, Spot the Dog is appearing here today!” It was profoundly depressing! I had an ice cream sundae after and was almost too sad to eat any of it.

*** *** ***

Learn more about Stephanie Cowell: check out her website or see her speaker profile here (scroll down).


  1. I'm sure I've heard of Cowell before, I remember seeing the Mozart cover. Why have I not read her books? Need to change that, they sound great and I'm completely won over by her saying she belongs in another time, it leans itself well to the idea her work is based on facts.

    1. Charlie -- I'm with you -- it's a shame I haven't read her yet. I need to rectify that stat!

  2. I have not heard of this author before, but I am now very interested in reading her books, especially the book about Mozart and her newest one in the works about Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Thank you for highlighting this author.

    1. I know, the Barrett Browning one sounds divine -- cannot, cannot wait for that one!

  3. Claude and Camille is sitting on my shelf. I must read it!

    1. I'm dying to read it -- I love Monet and can't wait to dig in.