Please join me in welcoming Gabrielle Kimm to Debbie's Book Bag today! Gabrielle is here to talk about her latest release, His Last Duchess. The publisher is sponsoring a giveaway for one copy of Gabrielle's book, see details at the end of the post.
DEB: Gabrielle, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
GK: First of all, thank you for inviting me onto your blog! A bit about me – well, I grew up on the south coast of England, and then, after having moved away to study and work, for ten years or so, in Reading, London and Oxford, I came back, and settled a few miles away from my childhood home. It’s a beautiful place, halfway between the sea and the South Downs – a range of gentle chalk-and-flint hills. I’m a qualified English and Drama teacher – I’d been teaching for nearly twenty years before my first book was published, and I am now on the supply teaching lists (I cover for absent teachers in a variety of schools, a day or so a week). I have two teenage daughters and an elderly dog (a dear little Lakeland Terrier, who looks more like a stuffed toy than a real dog). I’m a true country girl, and enjoy my daily walks through fields and woods with my little furry friend.
DEB: Tell us a little about your book, His Last Duchess?
GK: His Last Duchess tells the story of the ill-fated marriage of the fifth duke of Ferrara, Alfonso d’Este, and Lucrezia de’ Medici. Set in sixteenth century Italy, it’s a story of love and fear, of jealousy and obsession, of paranoia and danger. It’s the story of one relationship that fails dismally, and another that succeeds against the odds.
DEB: What was your inspiration for this book? Have you always been interested in historical fiction or Lucrezia de Medici?
GK: This is the easiest of questions to answer! The inspiration for this book was Robert Browning’s poem, ‘My Last Duchess’. I first met this poem – a dramatic monologue, narrated by the homicidal duke – as a student in Reading, and fell in love with it then. I’ve always loved the bad boys in literature, and this smug, sinister aristocrat just burst off the page for me. Then, some twenty years later, I came across the poem in the exam syllabus I was teaching to a group of fifteen-year olds. I was bowled over by the poem all over again, and it hit me like a thunderbolt, as I prepared a lesson, that a whole novel was here, ready to be told, in the back story to this poem. I’d never thought of writing historical fiction before then.
DEB: What type of research did you do for your book?
GK: Historical fiction takes a great deal of painstaking research, as you can imagine. I read book after book and took copious notes. I scoured the internet, and trawled relevant sites. When I found a site which seemed helpful, I would contact the writer and ask specific questions – I am always amazed and delighted by how generous people are with their time and their expertise. I did masses of hands-on research – flying falcons, visiting the Victoria & Albert costume collection, learning to use a bow and arrows (I am rubbish at this!), consulting a medical herbalist. I spent an extraordinary evening in a local pub with a psychiatrist friend, psycho-analysing my complicated duke. I was stunned by all the things he was able to tell me – he knew things about my characters which I didn’t know myself! And of course, I travelled to Ferrara and Cafaggiolo in Italy, to see the locations for myself – a truly magical trip.
DEB: What is your normal writing day like? Do you have things that have to be in place to write comfortably?
GK: I always write in my little upstairs writing room. It used to be a spare bedroom, but it now contains a desk, on which is my computer, a million bits of paper, several half-empty mugs of tea, a couple of telephones, an untidy pile of books and a small teddy bear called Robert. There’s a typist’s chair, a lovely old antique (junk) nursing chair, a little table and a kelim rug. The room is full of books and pictures and a (sadly neglected) spider plant - and I love it. I have to have quiet to write – I can’t concentrate at all with noise around me, so I work best when everyone else is out. I write most effectively in the mornings, though I do work right through the day, if it’s clear and I have the space to do so. I write every day – that might be a whole chapter on a good day, or a single sentence on a day when everything seems to go wrong! But the book needs to progress in some way every day.
DEB: What was it like when you got the word that your first novel would be published?
GK: Oh, that was an amazing day, back in 2009. I had had quite a few rejections, and was beginning to wonder if I’d ever be published. Then I received an offer from a small independent publishing house, which I was very excited about, as I liked them very much, and was thrilled that they seemed happy with my novel. I spoke with my agent about what I should do, and she said that I needed to wait until all the responses were in from the big publishers – this was just professional etiquette, she told me, as my manuscript was still on several editors’ desks. I was happy to do this. Then, the very next day, I had a phone call from her. It sounds clichéd, but she actually said it: ‘I think you’d better sit down.’ It was heart-stopping! A whacking great two-book deal from a major UK publisher, Little, Brown. It was hard to take in, and for several days, until the paperwork came in to prove it all, I had to pinch myself to remind myself I wasn’t dreaming. ( I had to turn down the independent house, but they were totally understanding, and said I had no choice. I’m still in close contact with them, and they are coming to my next book launch.)
DEB: Do have any advice for new writers?
GK: Read, read, read, and read
some more. It’s absolutely essential! The classics, and as much contemporary fiction as you can get hold of. No-one can write, unless they read. Read the shortlists for the big prizes, read books that your reading friends recommend. When you write, be patient with yourself – be fluid and open to ideas, and allow work to fail; use work you reject to help you to improve. Observe constantly – note how people speak, and move, and react; watch the play of light on surfaces; listen to sounds around you; remember the feeling of textures under your fingers, the physical sensations surrounding the emotions you experience – remember them and use them in your writing. One brilliant tutor I had when I was doing my masters degree in creative writing said that you should always write for the love of writing – and for no other reason. The money, or the fame, or any other reward, should come second to that. That love will shine through the prose and make it the best it can possibly be.
DEB: When you’re not writing, what kinds of books do you like to read? Do you have a favorite author?
GK: I’m not sure I could commit to a favourite author – I fall in love with what I’m reading over and over again! I read a wide range of types of fiction – basically I like a good story. I love character-based novels – anything where I can engage with the people in the story, and genuinely care about what happens to them. I love well-crafted prose, though. Writers I’ve met recently and whose books I’ve really rated highly have been John Harding and Dorothy Koomson. If I was forced to commit to one writer, my all-time favourite would probably be Jane Austen.
DEB: What are you working on right now?
GK: I’m about twenty five thousand words into a new novel. It’s still very tender and fresh, and not really ready to be discussed – but I will say that it’s going to be set in Paris at the time of Louis XIV, and it opens … with an execution.
DEB: Tell us one thing that people may not know about you?
GK: I’ve been a committed vegetarian for twenty-four years.
The publisher is sponsoring a giveaway for two copies of His Last Duchess by Gabrielle Kimm.
~ You must be a Google Friend Connect follower to participate.
~ US and Canadian Addresses only (Publisher Request).
~ The deadline to enter this giveaway is Midnight EST November 11th.
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