Researching and writing a historical novel: bringing all the pieces together – Guest Post by Stephanie Cowell, Author of “Claude and Camille”

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It begins with an utter fascination for a place, a time, an historical person: something that will not let you go. Claude and Camille began when I visited an art exhibition of the early works of the impressionists. I stood before one of Claude Monet’s paintings of a stormy seacoast and a weary horse making its way down the sand, and said “What sort of intense man painted that?” I was fascinated by the friendship between the young artists, all then unknown, and thought, “Who were the women who were close to them?”  Who loved this sexy, dark-eyed young Monet?

The idea for a novel begins perhaps with a few lines on paper and after a time grows into scenes and sections. Characters and place begin to emerge. And then the writer has the most passionate desire in the world to know every single thing about her historical characters and their times. When I first began to write historical fiction you spent long days in research libraries and haunted used bookshops. Since the internet you can find all sorts of information, or almost any old book, or find access to scholars who can help you.

I ended up buying sixty books on impressionism and Paris and reading and reading and haunting several art museums and walking the streets of Paris that Claude Monet walked and traveling to Giverny. You take all that research and combine imagination with it. The most challenging part for me is plotting the events which lead the characters to the last pages. Eventually you have a full novel and hopefully one good enough that an editor will offer to buy it.

The editor works with your novel, giving suggestions to strengthen it. Often a writer knows so much about her world and characters that she does not realize some of it is still in her head and not on the page. And of course friends have also read it and commented on how it could be strengthened. After that, the copy-editor points out that your heroine’s hair changes color from page 36 to page 94!

But when it is all proofed and printed between the covers with an evocative jacket, the writer hopefully has created a world for readers to enter and live in, a world deep and true and real which may take them on a remarkable journey to places and people all over time.

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7 comments to Researching and writing a historical novel: bringing all the pieces together – Guest Post by Stephanie Cowell, Author of “Claude and Camille”

  • While reading this, I can almost imagine myself being obsessed with a historical figure. I’ve long had that obsession with Chicago history. What a wonderful guest post!

  • The research for this book would be fascinating and fun! Great guest post!

  • Monet looks so intense in that picture! I can see why someone would be drawn to his story. Ever since reading Sunflowers about Van Gogh, I have been on a kick for historical fiction based on artists, so I can’t wait to read this one.

  • Thank you for the wonderful and informative guest post, Stephanie, and to Jen for hosting the author.

    I find myself wondering about the artist behind the art work too sometimes. How Stephanie took that and created a novel is amazing to me.

  • Amy

    As I said on your review, this book sounds great. I always love to hear how authors get information for their books, and how they write. I don’t have a creative bone in my body so it fascinates me how people can do this stuff! Sad that it is open to US only, I guess I’ll just have to cave and buy it 😉

  • Love to read about the author’s process. Thanks Stephanie and Jen!

  • Oops! Another guest post I’ll have to read later — I haven’t yet read the book. I have it here waiting for summer reading… I’ll be back.