Deborah Lawrenson, author of “The Sea Garden”, “The Lantern”, “Songs of Blue and Gold”, and “The Art of Falling” answers 10 questions about her favorite time period in history, her favorite figures from history, and the age old question of coffee or tea.
1. If you could go back in time and be any figure from history, who would it be?
My first thought was Queen Elizabeth I of England but actually, in that era, it would have been a lot more fun to be Shakespeare, cavorting around with friends in theatres and taverns, putting on plays and being effortlessly (or so it seems) brilliant.
2. What year in history would you have liked to live in?
1925. It’s the Jazz Age, and F Scott Fitzgerald has just published “The Great Gatsby”. Despite the book’s message about the American Dream, there is a sense of optimism and possibility in the air. Exciting advances are happening in aviation and movies and mass-produced automobiles. There’s new music and frivolity as the horror of the Great War recedes, and few can foresee the Depression. Obviously I would have to have the financial means to be in the thick of it in New York and Long Island, and to buy Scott and Zelda a drink or six.
3. You’re having a dinner party and you can invite 5 people from history, who would they be?
I’m fascinated by events in France during the Nazi Occupation and the secret infiltration of the country by incredibly brave men and women for the Allied cause, an obsession that led to the writing of “The Sea Garden”. Guest of honor at my dinner table would be the RAF pilot Hugh Verity who was responsible for many of these secret flights into enemy territory. Vera Atkins recruited and organized women agents for these missions at a time when the public would have been horrified to know that that women were being put in such danger. Nancy Wake was a true heroine of the Resistance, a New Zealander who was married to a Frenchman and living in Marseille when war broke out. The poet René Char had a secret life as a Resistance captain in the South of France. And then there is Henri Déricourt, the French spy, the cat with nine lives, who might have been working for the Germans – or did he only pretend to do so to protect the clandestine RAF landings and drops, and was actually a triple agent working for the Allies? These five people would be able to give a full picture of what really happened. With so much talk, would there even be a chance to eat?
4. What castle from the past or present would you like to live in?
Hever Castle in Kent, England. It is close to where I live, and is the family home of Anne Boleyn, second wife of King Henry VIII. It’s a beautiful gem, not too big, but atmospheric and perfectly placed in its landscape, surrounded by a moat.
5. Two fellow historical fiction authors you’d like to go on a history themed tour of the world with?
Susanna Kearsley and Deborah Swift. From their books, I have a feeling they would both be great company, with refreshingly quirky and empathetic takes on what we discovered.
6. Who was more dashing and interesting, King Henry VIII of England or King Louis XIV of France?
Henry VIII. In his youth, he was the real deal: handsome and sporty, witty and intellectual, nothing like the grossly overweight monster he was to become.
7. Which of the six wives of King Henry VIII is your favorite?
In the light of wanting to live at Hever Castle, the obvious answer would be Anne Boleyn, wouldn’t it! But I have always been more drawn to Henry’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon. In the romance and horror of his marital career, it sometimes gets overlooked that Catherine was his wife for 24 years and had the best of him by far. The question of a male heir apart (they so nearly succeeded, but none of their three sons lived longer than two months) it seems clear they had a happy and successful marriage. It was the annulment of it that set his increasingly desperate course.
8. English monarchy or French monarchy?
English, purely on the basis of patriotism.
9. What three novels could you read over and over?
“The Great Gatsby” for the yearning and nostalgia distilled into timeless lyrical prose. “A History of the World in 10½ Chapters” by Julian Barnes, which always offers some new insight. Colette’s “Break of Day” for a glimpse into a vanished South of France.
10. Tea or coffee when writing?
Tea. I had to give up coffee because even decaffeinated it made me feel too jittery. That was more than ten years ago, but I still adore the smell of coffee and would love to be able to drink it again.
Deborah Lawrenson’s official website: