Lost, Found and Conjured: A guest post by Andrea Chapin

Today I would like to welcome author Andrea Chapin to the blog to tell us about her research for her new novel about William Shakespeare, The Tutor.

thetutor Lost, Found and Conjured
By Andrea Chapin

A wonderful and unexpected alchemy took hold while I wrote my novel about a year in the life of Shakespeare.

When I traveled from New York to England to do research for The Tutor, one of my first stops was Hoghton Tower, a remarkable fortified manor house that sits high on a ridge between Preston and Blackburn in Lancashire. I’d scheduled an interview with Sir Richard Bernard Cuthbert de Hoghton, 14th Baronet, and was delighted when I met him that he looked the part–light hair, brilliant blue eyes, tweed jacket and gold signet pinky ring that I imagined dated back to William the Conqueror. Indeed, for over nine hundred years Sir Bernard’s family has owned the land where the current Hoghton Tower, circa 1565, stands.

Sir Bernard’s ancestor, Alexander Hoghton, Esq. wrote a will in 1581 that mentions a “William Shakeshafte,” who, by the context of the reference, might have worked at Hoghton Tower as an actor-musician. Spelling of proper names, or words in general, were not standardized in the sixteenth century; the Shakespeare family name appears in documents in various forms including Shakstaff and Shakeschafte. At that time, Shakespeare would have been, perhaps, a year or two out of Stratford Grammar School, where John Cottom, who was from a town near Preston, was the schoolmaster.

Much of Shakespeare’s life is undocumented. Where was he before his marriage at eighteen in 1582? Was he employed at Hoghton Tower? And what was he up to between twenty-one, when he was living in Stratford with three children, and twenty-eight, when he emerged as an actor, playwright and poet in London? The speculation as to what he was doing during those “lost years” includes: deer poacher in Stratford, horse handler for theaters in London, soldier, sailor, actor, and schoolmaster in the country.

Sir Bernard recounted stories and anecdotes about his ancestors and shared his boundless knowledge of Lancashire and the Catholics during the Elizabethan era. All of which was very helpful because the story I was creating involved a recusant Catholic family in 1590 in Lancashire and William Shakespeare, who arrives to tutor the children and to finish his first poem. I hadn’t told Sir Bernard anything about my novel, other than I was interested in the theories about Shakespeare’s “lost years.” At one point, I asked Sir Bernard if his family kept books in the late 16th century, and he replied yes they did and that they had a great library. He then said that in the 1600s a Catharine de Hoghton asked her father, Sir Gilbert, for a hundred books for her dowry.

My protagonist was named Katharine, and in the hundred pages I had already written, she loved books and enjoyed her uncle’s vast library. Here was Sir Bernard recounting his ancestor with the same name and the same love of books. A chill ran down my spine. As I continued to research and to write The Tutor, there were other instances when I felt this sort magic sweep over me, where fact and fiction, history and inspiration, co-mingled in a surprising and thrilling way.

Andrea Chapin’s novel, The Tutor, was published last week by Penguin Random House UK.

A Glimpse into 1960s Paris – a guest post by Rachel Hore

It’s not often that I have the chance to introduce a guest post here at She Reads Novels, but today I’m pleased to welcome author Rachel Hore to the blog to tell us about researching 1960s Paris for her new novel A Week in Paris which has been published in the UK this week.

Rachel Hore

Rachel Hore

A GLIMPSE INTO 60s PARIS by Rachel Hore

My new novel, A Week in Paris, opens in 1961, when Fay Knox, a young English violinist, visits the city with her orchestra and learns secrets of her family’s wartime past. What was Paris like at that time and how did I go about researching it?

Reading histories of the period gave me the context. Paris, though glamorous, elegant and romantic, a cradle of new ideas in philosophy and high art, was still socially conservative, France as a whole even more so. In 1958, after a period of unstable government and succeeding crises over the war of independence in Algeria, General de Gaulle was recalled as President and a period of strong rule ensued. It wasn’t until the students’ riots and sit-ins of May 1968 that the young and dispossessed really challenged the aging, authoritarian head of government, and change was finally, if painfully slowly, set in motion.

Boutique off Rue de Rivoli

Boutique off Rue de Rivoli (2014)

In other ways, too, the liberal sixties came late to Paris. A glance at the popular music hits of 1961 reveals months of No.1s for traditional French crooners Edith Piaf and Charles Aznavour, with a young Johnny Hallyday making an appearance with ‘Kili Watch’ and, bizarrely for January, Richard Anthony singing ‘Itsy Bitsy Petit Bikini’. This picture had not changed much by early 1964 when the Beatles played a series of concerts at the Olympia music hall. An interviewer had to ask, ‘What is Beatlemania?’ and there were no girls screaming and fainting. Jazz is still big in this period. On her arrival in the city, Fay spots a poster about the trumpeter Miles Davis playing the Olympia.

Paris Match March 1961

Paris Match March 1961

Guidebooks for 1961 were immensely helpful for my research. The Dolphin Guide to Paris, written for American tourists, was full of black and white photographs of the period; a student jazz band jamming on the quays of the Left Bank of the Seine and haute couture models wearing the latest boxy coats – like Fay’s. My copy of Paris Match magazine featuring film-maker Jean-Luc Godard’s elegantly sexy wife Anna Karina made its way into my narrative, as did the Gateway Guide’s advice to fashion-hunters on a budget to visit Worth, Dior and Schiaparelli’s ’ cheaper ‘boutiques’ or to satisfy themselves with the big department stores, Printemps and Galeries La Fayette.

A Bout de Souffle

Poster of A Bout de Souffle

Much has been written about French film of the time. Fay’s fellow musician Sandra is excited when her French boyfriend holds out the possibility of meeting Alain Delon, the heart-breaker star of 1960’s Purple Noon. In the same year came A Bout de Souffle (Breathless) by Jean-Luc Godard, which with its bold visual style and innovative use of jump cuts was hailed as an important example of French Nouvelle Vague (New Wave). Other practitioners included Francois Truffaut (The 400 Blows) and Alain Resnais (Hiroshima, Mon Amour), both released in 1959. Movies, of course, can be a gift to the novelist conducting research as long as one weighs up their veracity.

A rest from sightseeing

A rest from sightseeing

Research can only take the fiction-writer so far. The trick for me was to recognize when to leave it all behind and to enter instead the world of 1961 Paris I’ve imagined – the world Fay sees and in which she lives and loves. When I could hear her voice I knew that it was time to put the books away.

Text and photos ©Rachel Hore 2014 unless stated otherwise.

Guest Post: Alison Pick – author of Far to Go

Something slightly different today: a guest post from author Alison Pick! You may remember that I recently posted my review of Alison’s new novel, Far to Go. Alison is visiting She Reads Novels today as part of her UK blog tour and here she tells us what inspired her to write Far to Go.

Growing up, there was a secret in my family. We went to Church, and celebrated Christmas, but we weren’t really Christians. We were hiding something. I didn’t know what.

I got older. There were clues. My great-grandparents had died in Europe. It had something to do with a camp, and with my grandmother’s pearls that she’d smuggled into Canada in a jar of cold cream.

I understood the truth in stages. My great grandparents were murdered in Auschwitz. Why? Because they were Jewish. Which meant their children, my grandparents, were Jewish too. Which meant, of course, that my father was the same.

I both knew this, and did not know it.

The reason for my psychic ambivalence was a moratorium on discussion. My grandmother forbid any and all questions about her parents, their deaths, or their backgrounds. In retrospect this makes perfect sense. Granny was a young woman when she arrived in Canada. Although culturally Jewish, she’d never practiced. Her own parents, who she had been very close to, were supposed to meet her in Canada, but they never made it out of Europe. It was out of a horrific lifelong grief that our family’s silence was sewn.

When my grandmother passed away in the year 2000 I was bereft. I wrote poems about her life following the Holocaust. Although she probably wouldn’t have liked the poems, they were my tribute to her.

Still, they weren’t enough. I grew as a writer, and the desire to write something bigger to honour my history grew too. Finally, in 2007, I began work on the novel that would become FAR TO GO. Paradoxically, I knew that the book would not tell my grandparents story in a literal sense. I wanted to write a gripping novel, one that would keep the reader turning the pages, and I didn’t want the constraint of “what really happened” to get in my way.

In other words, I wanted to forsake their particular story to tell one that was more universal.

Well, it’s done. FAR TO GO sold in five countries, won the Canadian Jewish Book Award for Fiction, and has been optioned for film. More importantly, it has given me incredible pleasure to write something for the family I never knew, and for my grandmother, who I did know and who I miss terribly. I’m not sure what she would have thought. Secrets die hard, especially ones like hers. I have a hunch, though, that she would have been proud.

As Jews around the world say on the anniversary of a loved one’s death: May her memory be for a blessing.


Thanks for visiting us today, Alison!

See what Alison said yesterday at Catherine, Caffeinated and don’t forget to visit Get On With It tomorrow to hear more from her!

For a full list of tour stops please see the blog tour button in my sidebar.