Thursday, July 18, 2013

Gillian Bagwell

Gillian Bagwell united her life-long love of books, British history, and theater to write her first novel, The Darling Strumpet, based on the life of Nell Gwynn. She has lived in London, now lives in Northern California, and enjoys returning to England to conduct research for her books.

Her latest novel is Venus in Winter.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading.  Bagwell's reply:
I've been reading a lot of historical fiction, which is probably not a great surprise. Just before attending the Historical Novel Society Conference June 21-22 in Florida, I read books by a couple of authors with whom I was going to be on panels.

Deborah Swift's The Gilded Lily is set in seventeenth-century England, largely in London, the same setting for my first novel, The Darling Strumpet. The two books contain some similar themes, of young girls from working class backgrounds struggling to make their way in a tough and brutal society in which women didn't have a lot of options for supporting themselves or taking control of their own lives. Deborah's book has two main characters, sisters who flee to London from the country after robbing the man that one of them worked for. I really enjoyed a slightly different perspective on the same London in which my Nell Gwynn would just have been getting introduced to the theatre, which got her on the road to success.

I also read Nancy Bilyeau's The Crown, which opens in 1537 with the protagonist Joanna Stafford arriving in London as her cousin is to be burned at the stake. This is also a very familiar time and place for me, as the early scenes of my most recent novel, Venus in Winter, involve young Bess of Hardwick's arrival at the court of Henry VIII just a couple of years later. Nancy's book involves strong elements of mystery or crime fiction, as Joanna sets out on a quest, and it was interesting to see some of the same people who appear in my book presented in a different way.

At the HNS conference, I received a copy of Elizabeth Fremantle's Queen's Gambit, a novel about Katherine Parr. Once again, it involves some of the same people and events who are central to Venus in Winter, but from the point of view of Katherine Parr, Henry VIII's last wife. She was the only wife to survive him, and hasn't been written about as much as the others, and I very much enjoyed the story.

Sometimes writers are concerned about someone "stealing" their idea, or that others are writing about the same character, but reading these books reinforces my opinion that even if two people set out to write a novel about the same person, the resulting books would be very different, as an author naturally brings her own perspective and life experience to whatever story she tells. Even with historical figures as well known as Henry VIII and his wives and courtiers, even when we know how the story comes out, we still enjoy reading well-written novels.
Visit Gillian Bagwell's website and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: Venus in Winter.

--Marshal Zeringue