Stephanie Cowell to Booking Mama. She is the author of CLAUDE & CAMILLE , a historical fiction book about Claude Monet. I read and reviewed this novel last year and I was extremely impressed with Ms. Cowell's storytelling abilities. CLAUDE & CAMILLE is a great read and one that is also perfect for book clubs!
I was fortunately able to ask Ms. Cowell a few questions about her writing. I hope you will find her answers as interesting as I did.
Booking Mama: Claude Monet was such an interesting subject. How did you decide you wanted to write a novel about him and Camille?
Stephanie Cowell: I first became interested in Claude Monet’s younger years when I saw an amazing exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art called The Origins of Impressionism. They had assembled paintings from the 1860s by the young artists who would one day be known as Impressionists and I was first so struck by the incredible friendship between them. They would crash on each other’s floor, share studios, paint the same vase of flowers, maybe fall in love with each other’s girlfriends. The novel begins when he is about 25 when he was poor and struggling; it would be forty years until he would create a water lily garden and paint it. I began to read about him and was surprised how he had struggled….and that he was terribly handsome. Young passionate love and art and poverty and the bohemian streets of Paris of 1865 seemed a fascinating combination.
Booking Mama: This novel is filled with so much history. Can you tell us a little bit about the research you conducted to write this novel?
Stephanie Cowell: Oh gosh, I did so much research it is all a blur for me. I know I bought 60 or 70 books about Monet and the history of Impressionism and Paris at the time and painting technique and I travelled to Paris and walked the streets he walked and of course went to Giverny. Though most of the novel takes place when he is young and unknown, I have interludes when he is an old man about to have his first water lily exhibition and looking back on Camille, his great lost love. It was very difficult to find information about Camille though. Her papers were destroyed (some say by Monet’s second wife Alice) and even her grave was overgrown for almost a hundred years. A few books told me a little. And then after my novel came out someone wrote a whole book about her and I was likely the first person on Amazon to buy it but it had almost nothing new….it was Camille as Claude saw her. So she remains a mystery!
Booking Mama: What was the most interesting thing you discovered about Monet while writing CLAUDE & CAMILLE?
Stephanie Cowell: I knew nothing about him when I started writing (or rather researching). I was surprised what a horrible time he had financially (he would be thrown out of his rooms for not paying his rent) and how long this went on. He was so desperate he once tried to kill himself and he was still struggling until about 50. I was surprised how very handsome he was when young…a bit like a young Johnny Depp.
Booking Mama: In addition to writing, you also have been a international balladeer. MARRYING MOZART combined your two passions -- writing and music. Do you have any future plans to write about a famous musician or even an opera?
Stephanie Cowell: I am quite terrible about having many books in progress, and sometimes they all jump up and down and yell, “Write me first!” I have a lot on a second book about Mozart as I am fascinated by Mozart and those four sisters, one of whom he married. They were always in and out of each other’s kitchens and lives in Vienna 1782. I started a few others. I always wish I wrote faster. MARRYING MOZART took nine months and CLAUDE & CAMILLE five years!
Booking Mama: I love to get ideas for new books. What are some of your favorite books and who are some of your favorite authors?
Stephanie Cowell: I love so many books and authors, this will be a very partial list. In the past few months I have read Mitchell James Kaplan’s BY FIRE, BY WATER; Laurel Corona’s FINDING EMILIE which I blurbed for and love (it’s just coming out); RUSSIAN WINTER; THE MURDERER’s DAUGHTERS, THE WEDNESDAY SISTERS; DAUGHTERS OF THE WITCHING HILL (I love Mary Sharratt’s writing) and a very beautiful historical love story by Sandra Worth called PALE ROSE OF ENGLAND. I have a terrible problem of staying up too late reading which cuts into my writing time the next day.
Booking Mama: Can you tell us what you are currently working on?
Stephanie Cowell: I am working on a book about the love story of the poets Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning. She was an invalid of 40 and still very beautiful when he found her in her father’s house and snatched her away from her family to live in Florence with him. I am also working on a 16th century novel set in an English abbey, about the goddaughter of the abbot who grows up in the monastery working in the library with her father and falls in love in a dangerous way. We’ll see which one comes first!
Stephanie Cowell was born in New York City to a family of artists and fell in love with Mozart, Shakespeare and historical fiction at an early age. She began printing stories in a black and white school notebook at about nine years old and in her teens wrote several short novels which remain in a dark box. She learned something though, because by twenty, she had twice won prizes in a national story contest.
Then she left writing for classical singing. She sang in many operas and appeared as an international balladeer; she formed a singing ensemble, a chamber opera company, and so on. The translation of a late Mozart opera returned her to writing once more and she now mostly sings while washing the dishes!
Her first published novel was NICHOLAS COOKE: ACTOR, SOLDIER, PHYSICIAN, PRIEST, followed by two other Elizabethan-17th century novels: THE PHYSICIAN OF LONDON (American Book Award 1996) and THE PLAYERS: A NOVEL OF THE YOUNG SHAKESPEARE. In 2004, she returned to her musical background and wrote MARRYING MOZART; it has been translated into seven languages and optioned for a movie.
She is married to poet and reiki practitioner Russell Clay and has two grown sons (one in computer systems design and one a filmmaker). She was born in New York City and is still living here, a short walk away from all the impressionist paintings at the Metropolitan Museum.
Giveaway alert: To celebrate next week's paperback release of CLAUDE AND CAMILLE, the publisher has graciously offered to giveaway three copies of to the novel to share with three lucky readers! To enter, just fill out the form below before Thursday, April 14th at 11:59 p.m. ET. I will randomly select and notify the winners the following day. The contest is open to those of you with U.S. mailing addresses only. Good luck!