As part of the blog tour for The Painted Girls, I was lucky enough to have Cathy answer some questions for me! If you love historical fiction, I would highly recommend that you pick up one or both of her books. They are fabulous! If you want to read about my feelings on this book, you can click here!
1. Both The Day the Falls Stood Still and The Painted Girls are historical novels. What do you think interests you so much in the past? Do you see yourself writing anything set in present time in the future (Well, that came out oddly phrased…)?
I think I’ve written novels set in the past (so far) because it’s where I’ve found inspiration. For The Painted Girls the inspiration came from a television documentary on Degas’s sculpture Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. I was fascinated to learn that, on its unveiling in 1881, the public linked Little Dancer with a life of vice and young girls for sale. She was called a “flower of the gutter,” and they said her face was “imprinted with the detestable promise of every vice.” The notion was underpinned by a long history of less than noble liaisons between the wealthy men who held season tickets and the young ballet girls. For The Day the Falls Stood Still, the riverman at the heart of the story, with his uncanny ability to predict the whims of the Niagara river and falls, was inspired by the tales of real life riverman William “Red” Hill I’d heard growing up in Niagara Falls.
I can imagine writing a novel set in the future. Same as for historical fiction, I’d be creating another time and place, which seems to interest me. Never say never, but writing a contemporary novel holds less appeal.
2. What is your most favourite subject in the world to write about?
Hmm. I think it changes with each book. For The Painted Girls I loved writing about the relationship between sisters Marie and Antoinette—both the rivalry and the love. With three beloved sisters of my own (and plenty of alarming teenage rows), it was a natural place for me to mine my own experience. For The Day the Falls Stood Still, my favourite part was trying to capture the mystery and majesty of Niagara Falls.
3. How do you come up with your characters and turn them from thoughts in your head to real-life people on a page?
I spent a lot of time gazing at Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, imagining a life for Marie van Goethem, who modelled for the work and who, in part, narrates The Painted Girls. Before I put fingertips to keyboard, I make lists of each character’s personality traits and physical attributes. By the time I reach the end of the first draft, these traits have evolved. I’ve gotten to know my characters through the act of writing and can easily decide how they would react to a situation. Not so at the beginning. The beginning is a slog (and particularly so because I keep comparing my work to the highly polished novel I’ve recently completed). To get the voice right, I read literature of my time period. For The Painted Girls, I am indebted to Émile Zola whose fiction largely focuses on the Parisian underclass of my time period.
4. How excited were you to travel to France while researching this book? And when you go on your next super, exciting research trip, can I come? 😉
Yes, Cat, pack your bags.
I was crazy excited to visit Paris, particularly since I’d learned so much about the city through my research. Highlights of the visit included visiting Marie van Goethem’s apartment and Degas’s studio, researching in the Paris Opera’s museum, and touring the Paris Opera and taking in a ballet there. Best of all, though, was attending a class of fourteen-year-old girls at the Paris Opera Ballet School. Though thirty years and a continent away from my own days at the barre, I was struck by how familiar the exercises, the corrections and the music were to me. It made me think how similar my training must have been to Marie’s.
5. Random question: What is your favourite time of day?
I like dinnertime because it’s when my family is generally together. I also enjoy reading aloud to my sons. Though this has dwindled as my boys have grown up, I’m reading The Chrysalides to my fourteen-year-old now and I look forward to it each day.
Thanks so much to Cathy and to HarperCollins Canada for this amazing opportunity. I was so excited to be a part of this tour and to help promote another fabulous book from a wonderful author!