A Family Affair: on being haunted by Josephine…and now by her daughter Hortense

27 September 2012

Empress Joséphine, Gérard, Musée Louvre. Photo: my own.

I’m completely delighted to welcome one of my favourite writers, Sandra Gulland, back to my blog today with a guest piece and a fabulous giveaway of not one but three e-copies of her book The Many Lives and Secret Sorrows of Josephine B.

Empress Joséphine in a detail from the Sacré de Napoléon by JL David, Musée Louvre. Photo: my own.

I think I need to simply accept the fact that Josephine Bonaparte is in my life forever. Not that I’m complaining! She’s a lovely companion. Plus: she’s been exceeding good to me. But then, I’ve been good to her, too.

Perhaps I should explain: I became fascinated with Josephine’s life about thirty five years ago. I was a sponsoring editor for Methuen in Canada, and in researching the possibility of developing a line of biographies for Young Adults (hold that thought), I read a Young Adult biography of Joséphine.

Yes, the proverbial lightening struck. I became obsessed.

Fast forward a decade…or two. The first of my Josephine B. Trilogy was published, first by HarperCollins in Canada, and then, like a house afire, by Simon & Schuster in the U.S., Hodder Headline in the UK, and over fifteen other countries in translation.

In writing the Trilogy, I spent well over a decade in daily company with that lovely lady, her attention-grabbing husband, her wonderful children and grandchildren, and her beastly in-laws.

Napoleon said that while he conquered countries, Joséphine conquered hearts. She conquered mine as well as the hearts of over a million readers. And she continues to do so. Every day I get letters from readers who have found both inspiration and strength in her life story.

When the last of the Trilogy was published, I sold my Napoleonic library of over 300 titles in order to make room for books about my new love: the 17th Century court of the Sun King. I would live in that realm—or so I told myself—for the rest of my life.

Joséphine, however, had other plans.

Hortense de Beauharnais, Richard, 1815. Photo: Fondation Dosne-Thiers, Paris.

Last summer I was flown to France to be interviewed for a documentary about Joséphine: “In Search of Josephine.” To prepare, I reread Andrea Stuart’s excellent biography: The Rose of Martinique: A Life of Napoleon’s Josephine.

Since last fall, I’ve been preparing to e-book publish all my novels under the imprint Sandra Gulland Ink. This entailed reading and rereading (and even in some cases revising) the Trilogy.

And then, in January, Penguin (of Canada and the U.S.) made me an offer to write two Young Adult novels for them — one of which must be about Josephine’s daughter Hortense. I wasn’t sure: I had other plans! I was rooted in the 17th century—right? In considering, I spent over a month diving back into Hortense’s world: was there a story there about Hortense? You bet there was. (In fact: there were two.)

Hortense de Beauharnais, Isabey, 1813. Photo: Château Malmaison.

Just to be sure, I consulted Hortense’s spirit through a physic. (More historical novelists do this than you might think.) Hortense was pleased with the project: she gave it “thumbs up” and promised to help.

And so I’ve come full circle, back to where my fascination with Joséphine began: with a biographical novel for Young Adults.

Sandra Gulland is author of four historical novels. Her latest, MISTRESS OF THE SUN, is set in the French court of the charismatic Sun King and is inspired by the life of Louise de La Vallière, an extraordinary equestrian and mistress of the king. Published internationally, it has received glowing reviews since its publication in February of 2008, landing on a Canadian best-seller list four months.

Gulland’s previous publication was THE JOSEPHINE B. TRILOGY, internationally best-selling novels based on the life of Josephine Bonaparte. The Trilogy is now published in seventeen countries and has collectively sold over a million worldwide. A fifth novel, also set in the Court of the Sun King, will be published in 2014 and is tentatively titled IN THE SERVICE OF THE SHADOW QUEEN.

An American-Canadian, Sandra was born in Miami, Florida, and lived in Rio de Janeiro, Berkeley and Chicago before immigrating to Canada in 1970 to teach in an Inuit village in northern Labrador. Settling in Toronto, she worked as a book editor for a decade before moving with her husband and two children to a log house in northern Ontario, where, in 1985, she began writing full-time. She and her husband now live half the year in Ontario, Canada, and half in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

For more information about the author, her research and work, go to her website. For e-book readers outside Canada and the U.K., Sandra’s novels are now available through her own imprint, Sandra Gulland Ink.

If you’d like to enter the giveaway of three copies of the frankly SUPERB The Many Lives and Secret Sorrows of Josephine B then simply leave a comment here for a chance to win a free digital copy for your e-reader.

Thanks so much Sandra!

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