WomensHistoryReads interview: Sandra Gulland

Today's #WomensHistoryReads guest writes about women from history, as do all of the guests in this series, but her upcoming novel is new territory: historical YA. As she puts it, "The novel is very much about teen life in 1800 — especially boarding school life — but teen life in a world that has been ravaged by revolution." A perfect fit for YA and an intriguing-sounding set-up... especially when one of the book's teens is the stepdaughter of Napoleon. Read on for more from Sandra!

 Sandra Gulland

Sandra Gulland

Greer: How would you describe what you write?

Sandra: I write biographical historical fiction about women. Most of my work to date has been set in French history, but that may not always be the case. For example, right now I am writing a YA novel about a girl falconer in Elizabethan England, a girl who is said, by some, to have become Master Falconer to Queen Elizabeth I. Falconry was very much a male domain, so this perked my interest. Plus, those amazing falcons!   

My research for one novel will usually lead me to my next subject. Invariably, something about a woman's life story will spark my curiosity. How could a woman become a queen's Master Falconer? How did a devoutly religious young woman such as Louise de la Vallière become the married Sun King's mistress? Was Josephine Bonaparte's amazing future really predicted? 

Will I return to French history? Likely. I have a long list of "curiosities" yet to be explored.

Greer: What’s the last book that blew you away? 

SandraThe Hate U Give, a Young Adult novel by Angie Thomas, is amazing, and all the more so because it is Thomas's debut. It is perfectly constructed, emotional and dramatic as well as funny. I listened to the Audible edition, which is outstanding. It's an important novel, casting light on the violent racial divide in the U.S., yet no character in this novel, black or white, is free of guilt. It's profoundly haunting. 

Greer: What’s your next book about and when will we see it? 

Sandra: THE GAME OF HOPE will appear in Canada on May 1, and in the U.S. on June 23. It's a Young Adult novel — my first (but not my last) — about Josephine Bonaparte's daughter Hortense de Beauharnais, whose father was guillotined during that period of the French Revolution known as the Terror. 

The story opens four years after the Terror in The Institute, Madame Campan's wonderful boarding school for girls, most of whom have suffered the death of a parent or two during the Terror. So of course the school is haunted by the traumas these girls suffered growing up. Madame Campan, a mother-figure to the creatively-precocious Hortense, was an amazing woman — a subversive, of sorts. She believed in educating girls to become self-sufficient professionals, but portrayed her school to the public as grooming them to become good wives (the then-acceptable purpose of a girl's education). 

The novel is very much about teen life in 1800 — especially boarding school life — but teen life in a world that has been ravaged by revolution. Hortense idolized her deceased father, and is having a very hard time accepting her new stepfather Napoleon. She's talented in many ways — artistically, but also musically, and she was fortunate to have the young and handsome genius composer Jadin as a teacher and mentor. 

The Game of Hope—Tarot-like fortune-telling cards that were first used at that time—is a theme throughout. They were created by Madame Lenormand, a friend of Hortense's mother Josephine, and are still quite popular today. What does Hortense hope for? Like any girl of 16, she hopes for love. 

My question for you, Lady Greer, is: What was the most surprising thing you experienced in becoming a published author? 

Greer: In the lead-up to the publication of my first novel, I was constantly surprised by how welcoming and supportive the community of published authors could be, and I continue to be in awe of that truth even today. The number of authors I meet, both in person and online, who are generous with their time, collaborative instead of competitive, and genuinely thrilled for fellow writers' successes -- it just amazes me, over and over again. And it's a real pay-it-forward situation. So many authors have helped me out with advice, blurbs, joint events, so much more. It's the least I can do to help others out when there's something I can do to bring attention to them and their books. (And in the best cases, like with these interviews, everyone benefits, including readers -- and it's fun in the bargain!) 

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An American-Canadian, Sandra Gulland was born in Miami, Florida, and lived in Rio de Janeiro, Berkeley and Chicago before immigrating to Ontario, Canada, in 1970. There, she and her husband built a log-house on one hundred acres of field and maple tree forest where they cohabited with their two toddlers (now adults), two horses, a dog, three cats, twelve chickens and two pigs. All the while she was writing. Now an internationally published author of six novels, she and her husband live half the year in Canada and half in Mexico. For more information about the author and her work, go to www.sandragulland.com.