Interview over Brioche with Sally Christie, Author of Versailles Historical Fiction

Yesterday I reviewed, The Rivals of Versailles, the second book in Sally Christie’s series, and today I have an exclusive interview with Sally. We had a lot of fun drinking hot chocolate and eating pastries while talking about her books. You can find the interview directly under the cover and the review by clicking on it.


02_The Rivals of Versaille

Hi Sally, welcome to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! It’s a pleasure to have you here to talk about your Versailles series, namely the book I’ve just reviewed, The Rivals of Versailles, which is the second book. Come and sit down with me in my library, I thought we’d have a tasty French pastry, of course, you’ll know better what type to serve? Let me know and my little elves will whip it up in the kitchen. I’ve already prepared some hot chocolate for our drink, which as you know, was first introduced at Versailles. How does that sound?

Sally: Hi Erin, thanks so much for having me over!  Let’s have a brioche— I’m working on my third book and Madame Adelaide, Louis XV’s daughter, has just been declaring to the newly arrived Marie Antoinette that French brioches are the best brioches in the world (better than, say, Austrian brioches!)And hot chocolate sounds wonderful – yes, Versailles was always very keen on chocolate, and no king more so than Louis XV.

Erin: That sounds lovely. I’ll pour the chocolate and take the brioche out of the oven in just a little bit. Let’s begin with some questions about your book. I just love French history! What interested you about it in order to inspire you novels?

Sally: I came to France and to the 18th century because of the story of the Nesle sisters from The Sisters of Versailles; before that I knew quite a bit about French history, but it wasn’t a particular passion of mine.

From The Sisters of Versailles a trilogy centered around Louis XV’s mistresses made sense, so I took a deep dive into France in the 18th century and haven’t looked back: I think it is one of the most fascinating time/place combinations I’ve ever come across.

I love that the research and writing for the trilogy spans almost the entire century (first book starts in 1729; third one finishes in 1800) soI was able to see all the changes and all the strands that would eventually come together for the Revolution in 1789. It was such a period of transition – new Enlightenment ideals meeting the extremely autocratic (even for its time) French monarchy, and the way fashions and lifestyles also adapted to the new ideas that were percolating.

Erin: Your first book closes at the end of 1744 when Louis XV was just a young man. Rivals of Versaillespicks up with him and his love, Marquise de Pompadour and her rivals. Who were these rivals and why are they important to her story?

Sally: Louis XV was never very big on faithfulness J and even though I believe he was for a time madly in love with Pompadour, eventually the love cooled and they stopped having a physical relationship and he moved on to other women with her still at his side.  Rosalie, Morphise and Marie Anne, the three rivals that are highlighted and get their own chapters in The Rivals of Versailles, serve to show the danger that Pompadour was constantly under, and how she (sometimes creatively, but always shrewdly) managed to triumphover them.

I could have highlighted other rivals (on my website there is an insane list of 52 known or suspected women that had “liaisons” with Louis XV) and could have gone on and on, but at a certain point – enough!

Erin: As a reader you can tell you did an amazing amount of research which you intricately peppered though out your book and in the creation of your characters (or in bringing historical people to life on the page). How did you do all your research? What was a success and a challenge you had/encountered?

Sally:Thanks (a big thanks!) to Google Books, all the original 18th century memoires and biographies that I needed are available freely on line. What a boon for researchers!

One success I have had with both books is the assumption, that I’ve heard from many readers, that the letters are real and based on actual surviving letters. They are not, but I read so many contemporary letters during the research process that I think I was able to get the tone right – cozy, gossipy, overly floral when formality was required, etc.

For me the biggest challenge is finding a way to work in all the juicy facts and fun anecdotes that abound at 18th century Versailles.  Everything has to be inserted in a natural way, into a conversation or scene, and I can literally stew for hours trying to work an anecdote in, and sometimes I just can’t get it! Unfortunately, if there isn’t a nice, natural place for it to fit in the story, it doesn’t get included. Luckily, letters – of which there are many in both Sisters and Rivals – are excellent places to pepper in little facts.

Erin: What is one of the most memorable things about Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, or Madame Pompadour? What makes her stand out to you from the others at French court?

Sally: Jeanne really was the perfect storm of intelligence, beauty and grace/elegance. I think one of the most intriguing aspects of her personality was that she was genuinely a kind person. She had been adored and cossetted her whole life prior to Versailles, and really did think that if she was nice and kind, other people would be nice and kind back. At Versailles it didn’t work like that, and she had to change, which I believe went against her natural inclination. Nonetheless, she was also successful as a more ruthless person – she was good at everything!

Erin: I’ve read that Madame Pompadour was pretty perfect in every way in demeanor as well as looks and mind, plus stayed by Louis XV side, so why did he keep mistresses? What kinds of trouble did this cause?

Sally: Ah, men… what’s the greatest aphrodisiac? Change! And while Jeanne was perfect in so many ways, she was self-admittedly rather cold in bed, and Louis had a prodigious appetite, and her health eventually became too delicate to satisfy his sexual desires. By that time she had made herself so indispensable to Louis that she managed to survive the transition from lover to “friend”. A remarkable feat – has it ever been replicated in the world of royal mistresses? I think her story and her strategy isunique in the annals of “mistress history”, and points to what an amazing and exceptional woman she was.

Erin: Oh, let’s take the pastry from the oven! I’ll serve them up. More chocolate too?

We often say that Versailles and its story are often better than any drama Hollywood could come up with. What makes the French court so intriguing to people, in your opinion?

Sally: Mmmm, these brioches are delicious – and most certainly French! I think the sheer ridiculousness of Versailles is part of its attraction. You have this incredibly stratified, harsh society governed by the alien concepts of etiquette, laid over a very hedonistic, sexual and pleasure seeking lifestyle. And the overall elegance of it all – one French aristocrat who survived the Revolution said that someone who was not there could never imagine the sweetness of life before (for the top 1% of course!).

Erin: Do you think there is a market not only for more historical books about the courts of other countries from the 17th and 18th centuries, but also television?

Sally: I think so – it seems to be a definite trend that other European courts are getting their day in the sun, so to speak, within the historical fiction category. There are interesting stories everywhere, and it’s great that English language historical fiction is now leaning over to Russian, Spanish, or German tales of royalty.

Erin: How much influence did the women of the French court have and on who and why?

Sally: Only a couple of women had any real influence – the mistress, and perhaps her supporters. The Official Favorite was in many ways a real title, as well as an acknowledgement of her position and power. She was expected to be one of the main conduits for influence with the king, and was expected to participate in charity and patronage and trend setting, etc.

Apart from the mistress, many of the powerful men were also ruled by their mistresses, and to a lesser extent (much lesser!) by their wives. So the road to influence and power for women was there, but it was definitely via the back staircase.

The Queen was a non-entity, or at least traditionally was until Louis XV’s grandson, married to Marie Antoinette, came to the throne. For the first time in a long time (or perhaps forever?) the King did not have a mistress who reigned as first lady of the court; instead the actual Queen was the epicenter of social life. This was perhaps unfortunate as the mistress was often targeted as a figurehead for all the problems in the country, and she could be trashed and bashed with some impunity, but when the Queen was in the position… well, that was more difficult.

Erin: If you could be any woman of the French court for a day, who would you be and why?

Sally: Oof! Hard to choose one. I think I would go with Diane de Mailly Nesle, one of the sisters from The Sisters of Versailles. She was at court for a long time, for most of Louis XV’s reign, and a lady to various dauphines, so she had a central view of everything that was going on. Plus I think I would get along with her!

Erin: What is your writing process or life like? I read that you came back to writing after loving it in your childhood, how did you decide to write fiction?

Sally: I’ve always been a writer, but only as a hobby. After a change in circumstances a few years back, I decided to take a year off to FINALLY finish one of the many books/ideas/projects I had swimming around in my head. I need a lot of space, both mental and physical, to write, and unfortunately can’t do it part time or while I am focused on something else.

I initially started The Sisters of Versailles as non-fiction, because that is my favorite genre (is there anything better than excellent non-fiction that reads and grips you like a novel?!?) but the story was so ridiculous and crazy that I was forced to take the fiction route, which in the end was very appropriate for the book – non-fiction would have been waaaayyyy to dry for that story. I love the possibilities and flexibility of fiction: the creation of scenes with minute details and little backstories, built around actual known events.

Erin: For readers like me who like books on the French court, what are some ideas for further reading? What have you enjoyed?

Sally: Since starting to write I deliberately stayed away from other fiction set in my time period, unfortunately. Nancy Mitford’s biography of Pompadour is an excellent read, and Hilary Mantel’s A Place of Greater Safety is a novel I really enjoyed that I read prior to starting my research process. Duncan Sprott’s My Lady of the Potatoes is another take on Louise O’Murphy, one of the highlighted “rivals” in The Rivals of Versailles – I only peeked at the first few pages but I could tell it was going to be a good read.

Erin: Have you been to France to do research or just for travel? If so, what were some of the things you enjoyed the most? If not, what are you looking forward to see?

Sally: Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time in Paris and elsewhere in France (including of course Versailles), and also made dedicated research trips there during the writing of my novels. I love Paris! I think what I enjoy most is just soaking up the atmosphere and being surrounded by history – growing up in North AmericaI miss that sense of place and peace that comes with being surrounded by history.

Erin: What are your favorite late night or early morning writing/editing snacks?

Sally: Haha, luckily when I am writing I can’t eat because I’m using both hands! But when I’m lying on the couch and reading research books… peanuts!

Erin: I spent A LOT of time writing and editing myself so I say I live by snacks…I’ve mastered using one hand to type at times. J  If you didn’t write about women in France, who would be a woman you’d love to tell a story about and why?

Sally: Honestly I’m not sure – the story of the Mailly Nesle sisters grabbed me and I instantly saw the possibilities, and I was then very pleasantly surprised to find out that neither Madame de Pompadour nor the Comtesse du Barry (subject of the third book in the trilogy) had had any English-language fiction written about them.  There was a definite opportunity there, and I was glad to take it – I think I’m waiting for a similar story / opportunity to strike me.

Erin: Are you working on the third book now? What other projects do you have planned for the future?

Sally: The third book – The Enemies of Versailles – is currently undergoing edits and is getting ready to enter the production process. It’s coming out in March 2017 and I really enjoyed writing it – I had a lot of fun with Madame Adelaide (Louis XV’s daughter) and her point of view, contrasted with that of the lovely Comtesse du Barry. I especially liked writing the book from du Barry’s perspective, and getting her take on that frightful Austrian girl coming to marry the future Louis XVI – usually we get Marie Antoinette’s view on du Barry and not vice versa!

Regarding other projects, I’m not sure. It’s been an intensive (and incredibly interesting) three years since Louis XV and his priapic adventures took over my life, and I think I need a break!

Erin: Thanks for stopping by, Sally! I hope you’ll return, it was a great time talking to you. I wish you all the best and look forward to more books from you.

Sally: Bye Erin, thanks for having me. I enjoyed our chat and the brioches were FABULOUS!

02_The Rivals of VersailleThe Rivals of Versailles (The Mistresses of Versailles Trilogy #2)
by Sally Christie

Publication Date: April 5, 2016
Atria Books
eBook & Paperback; 448 Pages

Genre: Historical Fiction

And you thought sisters were a thing to fear! In this compelling follow-up to Sally Christie’s clever and absorbing debut, we meet none other than the Marquise de Pompadour, one of the greatest beauties of her generation and the first bourgeois mistress ever to grace the hallowed halls of Versailles.

The year is 1745 and Louis XV’s bed is once again empty. Enter Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, a beautiful girl from the middle classes. As a child, a fortune teller had mapped out Jeanne’s destiny: she would become the lover of a king and the most powerful woman in the land. Eventually connections, luck, and a little scheming pave her way to Versailles and into the King’s arms.

All too soon, conniving politicians and hopeful beauties seek to replace the bourgeoise interloper with a more suitable mistress. As Jeanne, now the Marquise de Pompadour, takes on her many rivals—including a lustful lady-in-waiting, a precocious 14-year-old prostitute, and even a cousin of the notorious Nesle sisters—she helps the king give himself over to a life of luxury and depravity. Around them, war rages, discontent grows, and France inches ever closer to the Revolution.

Enigmatic beauty, social climber, actress, trendsetter, patron of the arts, spendthrift, whoremonger, friend, lover, foe: history books say many things about the famous Marquise de Pompadour. Alongside Catherine the Great of Russia and Maria Theresa of Austria, she is considered one of the three most powerful women of the 18th century, and one of the most influential royal mistresses of all time.

In The Rivals of Versailles, Christie gets to the heart of Pompadour’s legendary relationship with Louis XV, France’s most “well-beloved” king. Pompadour was not only his mistress, but his confidante and influential political adviser for close to twenty years. Full of historical insight, decadence, wit and scandal, The Rivals of Versailles is about one woman’s trials and triumphs, her love for a king, and her role in shaping a nation.

Author Sally Christie

03_Sally Christie_AuthorI’m a life-long history buff – and I mean life-long. One of the first adult books I read was Antonia Fraser’s masterful Mary, Queen of Scots. Wow! That book just blew my little ten year old mind: something about the way it brought the past right back to life, made it live again on the page. I date my obsession with history to that time, but I’d been writing (“writing”) ever since I was able to hold a pencil.

If you’d told my 12-year old self that I’d not be a writer when I grew up, I would have laughed you out of the tree house. With a few detours along the way, to work overseas in consulting and development, as well as to go to business school, I’ve finally come full circle to where I think I should be.

I currently live in Toronto and when I’m not writing, I’m playing lots of tennis; doing random historical research (old census records are my favorite); playing Scrabble, and squirrel-watching (the room where I write has French doors leading out to a deck; I avidly follow, and feed, a scruffy gang).

For more information please visit Sally Christie’s website. You can also find her on Goodreads and Pinterest.

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