Monday, November 24, 2014

Interview with Mary Burns

I ended up having to pass on a number of delicious tours while on maternity leave, and one I'm particularly heartbroken about is the tour for Mary Burns' historical mystery, The Spoils of Avalon. Set in 1877, the novel follows famed painter John Singer Sargent and his childhood friend Violet Paget, better known as writer Vernon Lee. I love the whole setup of this series, and I'm thrilled I was able to interview Ms. Burns in lieu of a review.  Hope you're as intrigued as I am -- read on to learn more about her book, her writing, and what she does when she's not writing.  And be sure to enter the giveaway to win a copy!

What was the plot of your very first piece of fiction?

My very first piece of fiction was a short story I wrote in the eighth grade (WAY back in 1964) about…ta da! The Beatles! I wrote an ‘odyssey’ story about them that actually pre-dated “A Hard Day’s Night”! The four lads had to get in high gear when John Lennon’s (then) wife Cynthia and newborn son Julian were kidnapped and held for ransom. Each Beatle had his own chapter of adventures around the city of London (which of course I’d never been to) and then they end up grabbing the kidnapper and setting Cynthia and Julian free. I even illustrated it with pen and ink drawings, copying photos of them from the teen magazines. Sadly, the manuscript has been lost to time.

Do you have any writing rituals or routines?

I like to find a piece of instrumental music to play every time I sit down to write, which is often in the late afternoon. For my book on John Singer Sargent, it was a Chopin nocturne (Sargent loved Chopin’s music and played excellently.) For The Spoils of Avalon, I listened to two things: Sandy Bull’s Inventions, and a CD of Gregorian Chant.

Was The Spoils of Avalon the original title of your book?

Yes, it was! I am a huge fan of Henry James, and I had recently read his Spoils of Poynton, and then there was that goofy TV series, The Spoils of Bablyon (with Will Ferrell and Toby McGuire), so I guess ‘spoils’ was on my mind – plus, it fit the plot!

As you were writing The Spoils of Avalon, was there a particular scene or character that surprised you?

You know, all my characters surprise me when I’m writing. I can literally be typing away, and the characters are saying things, revealing things about their thoughts or even things that happened to them previously, and I’m saying, “Wow, I didn’t know that about you!” With actual personages such as Sargent or Violet Paget, I’ve read so many biographies and so much correspondence, I feel like I know them, but they still come up with stuff that’s unexpected. I especially like my fictional characters, though; for instance, Lord James Parke in The Spoils of Avalon—although there actually was a lord with that name at the time, my character is not based on anything real about him. But he kept revealing little things about himself during the writing that I had to just wonder, where on earth is that coming from?

When you’re not writing, what do you like to do?

I’m a book reviewer for the Historical Novel Society, so I read books for them, in addition to all the books I read constantly. I also play the piano and I make stained glass windows. Love to cook and put on elegant dinner parties. Here’s a picture of a recent dinner party appetizer set, and a stained glass window, too.

Read any good books recently?

I just finished The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert, it was terrific! She really got into the down-and-dirty details of what it was like for a mid-19th century woman to find herself living in a hut on an island in Fiji—so realistic it made me itch from imaginary mosquito bites! Great story.

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My thanks to Ms. Burns for her time and thoughtful responses.  You can learn more about her and her books via her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.  Be sure to check out the other blogs on the tour to see reviews and more interviews.


I'm thrilled to offer a copy of The Spoils of Avalon (eBook or Print, winner's choice) to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US, Canadian, and Australian readers, ends 11/28.

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