Jeanne Mackin, author of “The Beautiful American”, “The Sweet By and By”, “Dreams of Empire”, “The Queen’s War”, “The Frenchwoman”, “and “The Book of Love” 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?
Heloise. She had intelligence, social position, beauty, and she lived in a Paris filled with fascinating ideas and people…including Abelard. I’d find a way to protect him from my uncle, though perhaps that would change too much history.
2. What year in history would you have liked to live in?
1928, when D.H. Lawrence wrote “Lady Chatterly’s Lover”, Dorothy Sayers wrote “Lord Peter Views The Body”, Jung was examining the subconscious origin of myths, Matisse was painting his Odalisque, Amelia Earhart was solo-crossing the Atlantic,and the cocktails at the Ritz were tinted with chartreuse. We all know what happened a year later…
3. You’re having a dinner party and you can invite 5 people from history, who would they be?
Benjamin Franklin tops the list. I have a sense he was great fun at a party, if he wasn’t footing the bill. Dorothy Parker for a hundred reasons, all of them having to do with her wit. Jacques Brel, the great French songwriter who refused to come to the U.S. because of the Vietnam war. Lee Miller, of course, because having finished “The Beautiful American”, my novel based on her life, I would love now to meet her, talk with her… and she loved a good party. Finally, Mozart, if he would play for us and didn’t ask me to sing.
4. What castle from the past or present would you like to live in?
Some years ago I stayed in a castle in southwestern Scotland. Smallish, as far as castles go, and I can’t remember the name, but it had the most haunted interior I’d ever been in…and it felt like all the ghosts were friendly. It was the kind of place Oscar Wilde had in mind when he wrote “The Canterbury Ghost”. It’s one of the ‘meditation places’ I go to sometimes, when I’m meditating. I’m sitting in front of a huge fireplace with a blazing peat fire, drinking a very dark beer as the wind grumbles over the moors.
5. Two fellow historical fiction authors you’d like to go on a history themed tour of the world with?
Daphne du Maurier, though I might be a little intimidated by her manners and accent. We could tour the castles of England, and she’d probably know the name of that little castle in Scotland I visited. Charles Dickens, for a tour of Revolutionary France.
6. Who was more dashing and interesting, King Henry VIII of England or King Louis XIV of France?
I’m more of a Francophile than Anglophile, but I’d have to go with Henry, at least the youngish Henry. He wrote poetry and music and was a fine dancer. Louis was a bit stand-offish, don’t you think? You’d always have to be worried about offending him, and I think the French court was even more formal and codified than the English one.
7. Which of the six wives of King Henry VIII is your favorite?
The one who outlived him, of course, Catherine Parr. She did her duty by the English monarchy and then was able to go on and marry for love. Didn’t last long, of course, but she had a good head on her shoulders. Pun intended.
8. English monarchy or French monarchy?
French, especially during the middle ages. The Courts of Love were philosophical debates and I suspect much more interesting than tourneys and other macho events.
9. What three novels could you read over and over?
And I do! “The Wide Sargasso Sea” by Jean Rhys is a post-colonial masterpiece, no other way to put it. “A High Wind in Jamaica”, by Richard Hughes, supposedly a child’s book, is one of the most psychologically chilling books I’ve ever read, with a great secret in the text, if you read closely enough. “The Passion”, by Jeanette Winterson, a literary masterpiece set during the Napoleonic wars, with a touch of magic in it.
10. Tea or coffee when writing?
Coffee. Double shot of espresso, with one sugar. In the summer, I ice it.
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