Friday, March 30, 2012

Interview with Stephanie Cowell author of Claude & Camille

 Interview with Stephanie Cowell
Author of Claude and Camille

Debbie - Stephanie first of all let me tell you how excited I am that you’ve agreed to spend April with us at General Fiction while we read and discuss Claude and Camille

Stephanie - I’m excited too! I live in New York City and the B&N stores have always giving me my debut readings for each of my five published novels so it’s wonderful to be in a B&N fiction group online!

I detect a theme in your novels-
Tell us what led you to write about historical figures in the arts.

I grew up in the arts; both my parents were artists (oil paintings and line drawings) and then as a teenager, I first discovered both Shakespeare and Mozart, and after that almost every friend I had was in the arts or wanted to be in the arts. And in my family and with my friends we always idealized the difficulties of artists to share their work with the world and pay their bills. That was a constant theme in my house! By the time I was in high school, I was already hoping to be on the best seller list and sing leads at the Metropolitan Opera! I wanted to be an artist but without the adjectives “poor starving” in front of it.

On that same note tell us what inspired you to write about Monet and his first wife Camille

I have always loved art and in 1995 I found a special exhibition of the struggling years of the impressionists at the Metropolitan Museum.  The young Monet, Manet, Renoir, Cézanne, Pissarro and others shared studio space, models, loaned each other paint and bought each other dinner. They weren’t impressionists; that name was not yet in existence. They were friends and that drew me. They didn’t know they would succeed at all. And I was fascinated by Claude Monet’s many many paintings of Camille and his great love for her; she died at 32 and he was never able to give her the things he promised her. Very little survives about her – no personal letters etc. – so I had to use every tiny bit of information to create her.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer ?

I started writing at about the age of 7 as soon as I could write. I wanted to create my own worlds. I was a lonely child and I felt I really belonged in another period so I was drawn to historical fiction. When I was an adolescent, I would go to sleepovers with girlfriends and read them my stories.  I felt I had somehow been dropped by accident in the 20th century and was always trying to get back somewhere. In my heart I believe that there’s a half-timbered house in the old City of London circa 1595 where friends are waiting for me!

Do you belong to a writers group?

I had a writers’ group for about ten years, developed from studying with my generous mentor and friend, Madeleine L’Engle. We met in a NYC apartment around a table packed with all the food we brought. We ate and prayed and talked and read our work. They really encouraged me and when I published my first novel, they all got t-shirts with the novel cover on it! I am still close friends with some of them. I think I have an informal writers’ group now and most of my communication is through the internet. Some of them read my drafts and give me great comments.

Tell us a little about the woman Stephanie – walk us through a typical day in your life.

I live on the 7th floor of a large, old NYC apartment building and my writing cubby in a tiny area just inside where you first enter the door. It’s full of shelves, computer, papers, and lots of paintings on the walls and pictures of my family. Most days I get up around 8:00 and am writing within half an hour. I write for about 4 hours not counting all the various interruptions of life (groceries delivered, neighbors at the door, my lovely retired husband making breakfast and oh yes – e-mails and Facebook!) Then most days I go for a walk for a few miles and do errands. I love to go to classical concerts and I have a Shakespeare reading group which meets every month. I have been studying Italian for two and a half years. I adore my Anglican church which is one street from me; I am on the vestry and always running over there for something. I see friends and go to book readings. Sometimes I have several book presentations a month. I go for walks with my two sons when I can. We are very close. I have two granddaughters. I love to read. I love movies and am a mad fan of Downton Abbey! We probably have nearly two thousand books even though we keep giving a lot away.

What’s next for you

I am revising my novel on the love story of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning. I also have a few other books and want to finish my Elizabethan trilogy and get the first two books back in print.

In your bio section on your website it says that you left writing for singing and that you now mostly sing while doing the dishes
Tell us a little about your life as a classical singer, do you miss it

I sang as a high soprano for about fifteen years. I studied a lot privately. I sang such roles as Gilda in RIGOLETTO and a lot of the Mozart roles. I formed a small singing ensemble and we performed in colleges, museums, art galleries.  I also sang traditional songs in many languages with guitar and formed a small opera company. Yes, I do miss it! But singing classical music takes a lot of energy and that is all going to other things now. When I attend concerts and hear young high sopranos, I go backstage later and just tell them how beautiful they are!

What would be your dream vacation?

Travel is my greatest luxury and I have been fortunate to travel many times to England and Europe. If I had a lot of money and time this year, I’d like to go to Devon and Cornwall, and then to Paris for a few days, to Switzerland to visit some family members, and then get a car with my husband and drive through a lot of Italy, stopping in Rome, Venice, Tuscany…etc. 

Thank you Stephanie for giving us a closer look at who is the real Stephanie Cowell

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