A new historical fiction author is joining the genre! Sophie Perinot will become a member of the fabulous club of historical fiction authors with her upcoming release, “The Sister Queens”. “The Sister Queens” is the story of Marguerite and Eleanor of Provence, sisters who became Queens of France and England. The novel will debut in spring 2012.
Perinot graduated from The College of Wooster with a degree in history. She then attended the Northwestern University School of Law. She served on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Law and Criminology. She married her husband whom she met in law school and both practiced law in Washington DC.
Perinot left behind law to raise their children and pursue her love of writing. She resides in Great Falls, Virginia with her husband, three children, and two cats.
Can you tell readers a little about your debut novel, “The Sister Queens” which is due out next year.
Perinot: It is a pleasure for me to introduce “The Sister Queens”. Set in 13th century medieval France and England, my novel weaves the story of Marguerite and Eleanor of Provence—sisters who became queens (of France and England respectively). Like most sisters, Marguerite and Eleanor were rivals, but they were also life-long friends and their mutual devotion helped each to navigate the challenges posed by love, war, political intrigue and betrayal as they strove to become the queens they were destined to be.
For those interested in reading the back-cover-blurb for the book, it is posted at my website here: http://www.sophieperinot.com/home/my-books-2/
Marguerite and Eleanor have rarely been covered in historical fiction. What made you want to tell their stories?
Perinot: I love sister stories. I suspect this is because my own sister has always been my best friend (she was even my college roommate). Half a dozen years ago, while researching for another project, I stumbled upon a footnote in a history of Notre Dame de Paris about Marguerite of Provence (her image is carved over Notre Dame’s Portal Rouge) and her sisters. The fact that four sisters from the same family all made important marriages (with the eldest two becoming the Queen of France and the Queen of England) fascinated me. Clearly the young women, and the other members of their extended family, were celebrities of the high middle ages yet I had never heard of them. That both aggravated and intrigued me. I wondered how such extraordinary women could have slipped through the fingers of history, and I made up my mind right then to tell their story. “The Sister Queens” is the result of that decision.
How much research went into writing “The Sister Queens”?
Perinot: Quite a lot as you might expect. That means I have a desk ringed with piles of books (sometimes it looks as if I am sitting inside a fortress of books). But books are only part of the story. The internet gives writers and historians excellent access to so many materials these days. This isn’t just a change from when I was a student; it is a significant change from when I was working on my first manuscript. Not only do we have access to the fully searchable texts of certain books, but services like JSTOR (which provides access to journal content, primary sources and images) are now available through libraries, and there are a myriad of websites offering access to source material (both primary and secondary). For example, one on-line source that I love and that I used while working on “The Sister Queens” is “Epistolæ: Medieval Women’s Letters” (http://epistolae.ccnmtl.columbia.edu/), a collection of letters to and from women written between the 4th and 13th centuries and translated by a Columbia University professor.
What drew you into the world of writing historical fiction?
Perinot: I am a history geek (have my BA in history) and I come from a family of history geeks. When I was a child, I visited historical sites while other kids were at amusement parks. I also grew up watching all those Masterpiece Theater costume dramas of classic literature, and ninety-nine percent of my favorite books were (are) set in the past. So, historical fiction was a natural niche for me. Since I studied French abroad, and I am a devotee of Alexandre Dumas, peré, French history seemed like a logical starting point, and both my completed projects are set at least partly in France.
What other time periods in history are you drawn to and would like to write about?
Perinot: I am drawn to interesting PEOPLE and interesting situations rather than to particular periods of history. Currently I am curled up in a corner of the 16th century exploring a royal mother/daughter relationship that fascinates me. Sixteenth century France is a period/place I feel eminently comfortable because I’ve done extensive reading and research on it over a period of many years so I have more than one book in mind for that setting. But I also plan to head off to 17th century Italy, drawn there by the haunting lyrics of an unknown composer and by the relationship between a cardinal and an artist. Such “period hopping” might seem a little crazy from a research-workload point of view, but when I get excited about the seeds of a good story doing the work necessary to flesh it out and see it come to life gives me a rush of pure adrenaline.
Where have you traveled for inspiration and research for your novel?
Perinot: I love to travel and when I do history is always the largest part of the journey (ask my husband who spent most of our honeymoon being shepherded from one historic sight to the next). I have been to the big European capitals—London, Paris, Berlin, Vienna, etc—but I often find I like smaller cities and villages better. In my opinion they frequently retain more cultural flavor, especially with increasing globalization. Some of the best preserved medieval sights I’ve visited stayed as they are precisely because they were unimportant and were situated in areas that were overlooked during times of economic development. This is the case, for example, with many sights (Carcassonne and Cordes-sur-Ciel come to mind) in South West France which got plenty of attention from the crown during the reign of Henri IV but not much after that. A comparable example in Germany would be Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a gorgeously preserved medieval walled city that simply never experienced sufficient economic prosperity to tear things down and do them over.
As far as book locations go, I’ve visited a number of the cities and landmarks used as settings in “The Sister Queens” but given the amount of change to these places wrought over the last 800-plus years most of what I’ve seen is not as it was when my story takes place (which is where research and imagination come in). I’ve made three separate visits to the Loire Valley of France, journeys that are very relevant to my current WIP. In preparation for the Italian book I have planned I visited the Palazzo Barberini and other relevant locations when I was in Rome several springs ago. I know that some authors make “book specific” trips but, because I have school-aged children, it is simply not possible for me to just “pick up and go” strictly for research purposes. However, I always take plenty of pictures and notes on historically interesting points when I do go abroad. This is probably the best approach for me in any case. I hope to have a long career in historical fiction and I have no idea precisely where my muse will take me along the way. So things I see or learn on my trips will doubtless come in handy and even provide the impetus for new story ideas in the future.
What other historical fiction authors do you admire or enjoy? What authors from the past and present do you enjoy or have inspired you?
Perinot: I have tremendous respect and admiration for a large number of my fellow historical writers and, because I am an active member of the Historical Novel Society, I have the good fortune to know a number of them personally. Three of the most recent books I’ve finished are the amazing Michelle Moran’s “Madame Tussaud”, Elizabeth Loupas’ impressive debut “The Second Duchess”, and Kate Quinn’s “Mistress of Rome”. Next in my TBR pile are Christy English’s “To Be Queen” and Juliet Grey’s “Becoming Marie Antoinette”.
As far as writers who got me hooked on the historical fiction in the first place—credit goes to the grandfathers of the genre, Alexandre Dumas, peré and Sir Walter Scott (both of whom I read as a girl), followed by Jean Plaidy.
But honestly that is just the tip of the author-iceberg. I have a special “bookshelf page” on my author website where I share both those books I always keep near at hand and those I am excited about currently. In each case I have a brief annotation on why the book makes the shelf. http://www.sophieperinot.com/home/for-readers/what%e2%80%99s-on-my-books…
Lastly, which of the sister queens do you prefer? Marguerite or Eleanor?
Perinot: That is sort of like asking me which one of my children I like best. Over the course of preparing to write about them, I fell in love with both Marguerite and Eleanor—a feeling that was strengthened once their “narrative voices” emerged and they began to live fully within my imagination. So, I don’t have a favorite. Rather I appreciate each for her unique personality. I can tell you this, I am personally more like Eleanor than Marguerite (at least according to my sister).
*A huge thanks to Sophie Perinot for this personable interview*
“The Sister Queens” will be released in spring 2012.
For more information on Sophie Perinot: http://www.sophieperinot.com/home/about/
Sophie Perinot’s blog: www.sophieperinot.com/blog/