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

 

 

 

The carrier bag versus the spear

Been worrying lately about the narrative structure of my work in progress, Tragédie.

The core of the problem is obvious to me. I’m used to inventing stories, usually adventures for younger readers, which I build from event to event to a climax, alongside the characters. Or something.

But in this case, I’m working with real historical events, a woman’s life which, extremely eventful though it is, just kind of petered out at the end. (You can read more about Mademoiselle de Maupin here.)

I’m writing it in an episodic way, as my interpretations of the events come to me – not in any particular order, and interspersed with purely fictional passages in her voice.

I also have a formal structure of five acts plus prologue, the same as the tragédies en musique in which she appeared  on stage in Paris.

My question – to myself and also to my PhD supervisor, Lucy Sussex – was, basically, is that OK? Is an episodic approach enough? It feels a little uncomfortable to me, because it’s not what I’m used to, but that’s part of the point of a doctorate.

Lucy suggested I read Ursula Le Guin’s essay ‘The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction’, from her brilliant collection of essays, Dancing at the Edge of the World (1989).

Le Guin’s contention is that the narrative with which we are most familiar – that of events leading up to a major climax – is the male form. She (rather delightfully) retraces the possible narratives that would derive from a hunter/gatherer society: one which relates a great many repetitive daily tasks – the gathering, done by women; and another in which the thrill of the hunt and chase and final climax of the kill is told – by the men, the hunters.

Le Guin argues that the stories of the mammoth hunt are those which are remembered in the cave art and in the ideas that have come down to us about what makes a narrative. Thrilling adventure stories, perhaps, or even those stories in which small things happen but still follow an arc to climax – the story of the Hero and his conflicts. But those, she says, are not the only stories that can be told.

The first tool, she argues, was not a weapon, but a receptacle, a bag or leaf or scoop in which to carry the results of the gathering:

“…the natural, proper, fitting shape of the novel might be that of a sack, a bag. A book holds words. Words hold things. They bear meanings. A novel is a medicine bundle, holding things in a particular, powerful relation to one another and to us.”

Should note here, too, that there are a great many modern narratives told by men in which nothing much happens beyond maybe an affair or a slight humiliation, but it seems that when they are told by middle-aged public-school white blokes, that still counts as a mammoth hunt story – to them, and to those that award prizes for narrative.

Hence – well, let’s not go there right now.

Been thinking also about some of those novels which subvert that structure. Obvious examples are Atonement, in which the climax in the action arguably comes quite early on, while the narrative itself (as distinct from the plot) slowly reveals and builds to something quite different and equally shattering.

Or Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith, which does climb to a peak but in which the central narrator switch hinges on a moment so dramatic that I shouted aloud.

In my case (not that I’m comparing) the episodes in La Maupin’s life will appear confused, perhaps happening out of chronological order, as they are remembered by a feverish mind. Not sure yet. Don’t want to confuse the readers but I do have great faith in their intelligence.

It is La Maupin’s narration and her reminiscence that needs to build, then falter, and again.

It’s not an action thriller for kids. It’s a life, an imagined but nevertheless real life, filled with too many dramatic moments nobody could never dream up – and, as always, it’s the character – the woman – at the core of the story that matters the most.

So although the process of questioning also kicked off some major re-ordering of episodes, and it still feels unfamiliar to me, I’m at peace with it now. Me and my carrier bag.

Mapping La Maupin

Thinking about travelling around France in La Maupin’s footsteps in September, and needed to get it clear in my head.
So I made a map: it includes the main sites, some of which, like Avignon, still contain the buildings she lived in or performed in  – or tried to burn down, like this one:

Chapelle de la Visitation (1631), François de Royers de La Valfenière (1575-1667), Avignon.

Tried to trace her route while on the run from the police, but drawing in Google Maps drove me so crazy I gave up.