All over the joint

Here are a few things from me you’ll find elsewhere on the web right now:

It’s just a flesh wound: what were sword fights really like?

Image of medieval sword bout

Some historical background for fantasy fans, on the Harper Voyager blog, with gratuitous Arya Stark references. Because. Arya.

Warrior women in history

I could have mentioned Arya in this, too. if I’d thought of it. But instead it’s a post on Kate Forsyth’s blog about just a few of the real life warrior women who preceded Julie d’Aubigny in history.

Interview  – me and Kate Forsyth

Again, on Kate’s blog, she quizzes me on fencing, on Goddess, on reading – and on life.

And all who sail in her…

The lovely Alison Croggon launched Goddess last week at Readings in Carlton (thanks, team!). She talked about La Maupin’s life, said some lovely things about the book, and I was honoured to have her do so.

I had a few words to say too, and here they are (more or less):

This is actually a sad occasion for me. I’ve spent the last five years with Julie’s voice clamouring in my head, drowning out everything else. It’s possible she has driven me just a little mad.

I feel in some ways like the character of the priest who takes her final confession, unable to get a word in edgewise and scribbling down every word.

If only it were that simple.

This has also been the most challenging writing project I’ve ever undertaken – I’ve spent years figuring out complex French aristocratic family trees and the architecture of long lost opera theatres, researching everything from sword hilts to undergarments. I am pretty sure I have compiled the most complete history of La Maupin’s performances and have unravelled some complex relationships taken for granted by contemporary diarists and ignored ever since. I spent hours in the Opera branch of the BnF in Paris, possibly holding my breath the entire time, as I leafed through a small volume of d’Albert’s letters to his beloved Julie-Emilie. I have watched women on horseback brandishing swords drill in the same stables at Versailles in which, I think, she grew up and I have gazed up at the ceilings in the chateau that she would have seen, painted with goddesses also brandishing swords.

And I have watched as every week – every day – someone somewhere in the world discovers her story and posts on Twitter or tumblr: “Why is there not a book about this woman?” Again I held my breath and hoped that Goddess would be the first – or rather the next.

Because Julie d’Aubigny has been in and out of favour across the centuries, incredibly famous in her lifetime and again in the 19th century – and, I hope, now. There have been books, movies, plays, ballets, a TV series, even a skateboard design. Her life has been embroidered and dismissed and she has been vilified and deified and everything in between. But I don’t think there is another portrayal like this one.

It has been all-consuming but it’s over now. Today Susannah and I rearranged my writing room. That might sound odd, but the writers here will know what a big thing that is. I am clearing the decks. Today felt like the right day to do that.

I had to find room on other bookshelves in other rooms for the numerous volumes on Baroque opera and the court of the Sun King. The 17th century has to make way on the shelves and in my head for the Great War, and for new voices whispering in my ear.

So I hand Julie over to you. I hope I’ve done her justice, and I hope you like reading about her.

Thanks to the many people who supported me, in particular Susannah Walker to whom the book is dedicated with love. This was the creative component of a PhD project and I’d particularly like to acknowledge the community of writers I discovered at La Trobe University, and the support of my supervisors Catherine Padmore, Paul Salzman and Lucy Sussex, and the writing friends I found there – Paddy O’Reilly and Fran Cusworth.

Thanks to HarperCollins for making Goddess a beautiful artifact – very important for someone who’s written two books on the history of printing – and especially to publisher Catherine Milne for knowing exactly what I was getting at.

I think it’s only right that Julie gets the last word.

Are you writing this down? All of it? Very good. It’s about time somebody did. Here, nobody listens to a word I say. Perhaps they think I’m making it up. But I couldn’t. Nobody could – not this life. It is known throughout Europe, if I say so myself. The duels, the stardom, the Opera triumphs, all the escapades. The escapes. You can read about me in the pamphlets, any day, on the streets of Paris.
Or at least you could – then.
I was a star once. Did they tell you that? I was a goddess.
Or am I just another sinner to you?
I was a monster, once. That was my real sin. That was my downfall.
Well, shut up and I’ll tell you.

 

Goddess is out now, on all ebook platforms and in good bookshops.

 

Celebrate the launch of Goddess

Here are a couple of Melbourne events to celebrate the release of my new novel, Goddess.

26 June is the official launch of the book by the lovely Alison Croggon. It’s at Readings Bookshop, Lygon Street Carlton, at 6.30pm.

The very next evening, I’ll be reading from the book as part of a sensational line-up at Hares & Hyenas, Melbourne’s queer bookshop,  in Fitzroy. Maxine Beneba Clarke and Michelle Dicinoski will read from their work too, and then we’ll all have a discussion with MC Kath Duncan about writing and reading and whatever comes up. Should be fabulous. That’s on 27 June and you can book for that here.

Image of book cover - Goddess, a book about Julie d'Aubigny

 

Hope to see you soon!

The goddess ascends

Today is the official release date for Goddess.

It should be in good bookshops and  all the ebook platforms now.

I do hope you like it.

Image of book cover - Goddess, a book about Julie d'Aubigny

If you’re in Melbourne, the official launch is on 26 June at Readings Books in Lygon Street, Carlton.

I’ll be reading from the book the following night, June 27, at Hares & Hyenas in Fitzroy, along with some other sensational local writers reading from their work. More details on that event soon.

You can read more about the novel, and about its very real and remarkable subject, Julie d’Aubigny, here.

Julie d’Aubigny: the true story

How much of the legend is true? How could such an amazing woman exist – and how is it that she’s not better known?

So many people ask me these questions, and I’ve spent years trying to find the answers.

I’ll write more soon on my research discoveries, and how I incorporated them into the character of Julie and into the book.

But in the meantime, here’s the real life story of Julie d’Aubigny – Mademoiselle de Maupin. Opera singer, swordswoman, star. Goddess.

 

Biting nails

And now we enter into the most anxious weeks of any writer’s life: release time. I don’t know any writers who don’t feel nervous, sleepless, perhaps fretful, just before a new book comes out. Maybe once you’ve written dozens of books, you feel a bit more blasé. But this is number seven, and I never get used to it. There’s nothing more I can do, nothing to be corrected or changed – it’s printed, and being packed in boxes to be delivered in the next week or so. If it were possible to both cross my fingers and bite my nails at the same time, I’d do that. Why?

Goddess, my novel based on the life of Julie d’Aubigny (Mademoiselle de Maupin), hits the bookshops in a few weeks. After four years of thinking and researching and writing and listening to La Maupin’s voice in my head, her story is ready to be heard. Again.

There are other versions of her life, of course, especially in French. She has been portrayed on screen and stage, and is a her own meme  –  the tag #julied’aubigny on either tumblr or twitter  will reveal new people discovering her story every week. So often I see people exclaim: how is it I’ve never heard of this swordfighting, opera singing, badass woman? Where has she been all my life? Why isn’t she more famous?

The truth is that she has been very famous, on and off, in her lifetime and beyond. She will be again, I have no doubt.

She has been vilified and acclaimed, and she has scandalised and amazed people and still does, hundreds of years after her death.

I do hope you like my version of her story, of her voice. Here she is.

 

 

Image of book cover - Goddes

 

 

 

Lately I’ve been … reading

Actually, I’ve been on holidays, which is why I’ve been rather quiet on here. But in my new post-PhD life, I’m actually getting to read some books – yes! Incredible as that seems, I am now able to read novels and books not about seventeenth century France.

So I am happily working my way through a very big backlog. I started with Jesse Blackadder’s Chasing the Light, a novel based on the lives of three real Norwegian women who were the first women to travel to Antarctica (in the 1930s). Apart from being a splendid evocation of the time and the frustrations of these adventurous but constrained women, Jesse’s descriptive writing about Antarctica is gob-smackingly beautiful.

Then I finally caught up with Queen of the Night, Leanne Hall’s follow-up to This is Shyness, a YA novel I adored from a couple of years ago. Queen of the Night picks up the story of Wildgirl and Wolfboy and their next venture, after much misunderstanding, into Shyness – the suburb just a little bit like Collingwood, but where the sun never rises. Again, the world building is wonderful – familiar and yet not –  and the two main characters have even more spark, and sparks, than in their previous encounter. I’ve read several other YA and middle-grade adventure tales set in real or imagined exotic locations over the past few weeks, from graphic novels to steampunk to historical fiction, and I don’t think any of them are as complete a world as Shyness.

In a totally different vein, I went on to Eleanor Catton’s Booker-winning The Luminaries, set on the wild west coast of New Zealand’s South Island during the Hokitika gold rushes. I read it in New Zealand, but about as far away from the wild beaches of Hokitika as you can get. There’s an awful lot to say about The Luminaries and I can’t do it justice here,  but I will say that as someone who thinks a great deal about historical fiction and voice,  I particularly admired Catton’s attempt – successful, I think – to recreate the feel and sound of one of the great Victorian novels, without bogging down the modern reader. You know where you are on the very first page, and that familiar Dickensian omniscient voice is sustained throughout this big book, without ever feeling weighty.

Speaking of gold rushes, I’ve also got sucked into rewatching Deadwood on DVD, in all its fabulously foul-mouthed Shakespearean glory. It’s a beautiful thing.

But now I’m reading my own book again – proofreading, to be precise. Goddess, the novel based on the life of Julie d’Aubigny, is due out in the middle of the year, and I have the typeset pages on my desk as we speak. So now it’s back to work.