Saturday, 19 August 2017

Diana talks to Margaret Porter

Hello Margaret!

First things first I am sure there is a question that you have always longed to be asked. Now is the chance. Ask your own question and answer it!
Have you ever written a novel without any significant animal character?

Not that I can recall. Inevitably I include dogs based upon the ones who have graced my life, horses I have known and ridden, an Isle of Man Manx cat—my fiction is populated by creatures. Not a few of my main characters share a fond relationship with a four-legged companion.

What is the genre you are best known for?
A challenging question. In youth I was an avid reader of fictional tales about prominent women—Anne Boleyn, Katherine Swynford, Queen Elizabeth I, etc., and those were the sorts of stories I longed to tell. But my first eleven published works were period romances—by the eleventh, only the hero and heroine were fictional and just about every other character was a real person. That’s when I returned to my first love, historical biographical fiction, and my future works also fit that description. My histrom backlist has been republished in many formats over the years and translated into a host of foreign languages—based on reach, I suppose that’s what Margaret Evans Porter is best known for. Margaret Porter pens straight historical fiction with real-life protagonists, and that’s her claim to ‘fame’!

If your latest book A Pledge of Better Times was adapted into a TV show or a film, who would you like to play the lead role?

The book has four major characters, and I prefer actors with experience in period productions to portray them. For Lady Diana de Vere, I’d definitely cast Alicia Vikander for her award-winning talent and box office clout, but I’m also partial to Lottie Tolhurst (Mr Selfridge, Harlots), who’s got the right look. For Charles, Duke of St Albans (son of Nell Gwyn and King Charles II), actors Jeremy Irvine (Great Expectations) or Sam Claflin (Their Finest). For Queen Mary II, Andrea Riseborough. For Diana’s father, the Earl of Oxford, Bill Nighy—on meeting him last year, I told him I wanted him to play that part!

How do you get ideas for plots and characters?
Lately, from the biographies of the historical people about whom I’m writing. In the past, I often mined my own background in the theatre for heroines (actress, dancer, opera singer) who mixed with real-life prominent figures of their day. Or an intriguing incident or fact encountered in research for one project sparks the idea for the next.

Favourite picture or work of art?
I love the question, though it’s difficult to answer. Gazing upon Botticelli’s Venus or David’s vast canvas of Napoleon’s coronation were incredible experiences. But if pressed, I would likely choose the Godfrey Kneller portrait of Lady Diana de Vere, a detail of which forms the cover of A Pledge of Better Times. I first saw the full-length original as an impressionable teenager, on a visit to Hampton Court Palace, and it sparked my curiosity. And I was overjoyed that Her Majesty the Queen, via the Royal Collection, permitted its appearance on my book. Kneller’s creation of the series of paintings called the ‘Hampton Court Beauties’ features in the story.

Margaret and the discovered Diana painting!

If, as a one off, (and you could guarantee publication!)  you could write anything you wanted, is there another genre you would love to work with and do you already have a budding plot line in mind?
I’ve completed about 2/3 or more of a contemporary novel, somewhat based on my experiences on film locations in the US and UK. As well, I have a partial manuscript for a historical Young Adult novel.

Was becoming a writer a conscious decision or something that you drifted into (or even something so compelling that it could not be denied?) How old were you when you first started to write seriously.
There was no drifting, I was fully conscious of my desire to become a writer. I began to writing with intent at an early age, making up stories in my head, illustrating them with crayon and eventually with words. In grammar school I founded and edited a class newspaper, so my first publication credits were in nonfiction. As an adult I went on to write academic articles, textbooks, a newspaper column, magazine features, and scripts for informational films and television. With so many writers and historians and academics in my family, it seemed perfectly natural to write professionally—although I was the first to publish fiction. (My cousin eventually followed me into that arena, very successfully. His second novel is being made into a feature film.)

Marmite? Love it or hate it?
Like it very much indeed. (I love Gentleman’s Relish.)

Do you have any rituals and routines when writing? Your favourite cup for example or ‘that’ piece of music...??
When pounding away on my laptop, I like having a cup of tea beside me and one or both dogs nearby on the sofa. I’ve got several favourite mugs—several are imprinted with characters from my novels, and one from the BBC. I do sometimes have appropriately period music playing in the background. For instance, when writing about the early creation of opera Dido and Aeneas, I almost wore out my CD of it. I have a large collection of music by 17th century and 18th century composers. But to be honest, I wrote several Jane Austen-era novels incongruously listening to clanging, bouncy punk rock—Nirvana, Green Day, Elvis Costello, R.E.M. One I managed to write an entire chapter of a novel—with an English countryside setting—in a hotel lobby during a radio conference in Warsaw, surrounded by people chattering away in Polish! One of my favourite places to write is on the screened porch at our lake house, overlooking trees and water—where I am at the moment, responding to these questions!

I promise I won’t tell them the answer to this, but when you are writing, who is more important, your family or your characters?
Real life concerns, needs, pleasures, as opposed to fictional ones, definitely take priority. I’m guessing my family members assume it’s about equal, but writing is only a part of my life—a significant one, but I keep it in perspective.

Other than writing full time, what would be your dream job?
I would probably return to the theatre. Sometimes I miss performing on stage, although speaking at writers’ conferences does allow me a public forum.

Coffee or tea? Red or white?
Tea on weekdays, all through the day, a good strong builders’ tea, but I do stock more delicate blends for company or if I’m feeling particularly refined. Coffee at weekends—my husband grinds the beans and brews the brew. My taste in wine is too varied to choose one, although at home I generally favour pink (zinfandel) or  prosecco.

How much of your work is planned before you start? Do you have a full draft or let it find its way?
My books are mostly planned before I begin actively writing them. I carry out loads of research to create the structure of the story, and because I’m writing historical figures I must know their biographies in as much detail as possible, to choose the most interesting and dramatic or light-hearted aspects to highlight. As well, I’m accustomed to agreeing a contract based on a proposal, which requires a synopsis of the entire book, along with several chapters or sometimes the first 100 pages. On starting a new chapter, I always know what the scenes need to accomplish and how they’re meant to develop the characters and move the plot forward. But I only have the sketchiest notion how to accomplish those goals, and as I write I rely on my imagination fill in some rather large gaps in my plan.

If you had free choice over the font your book is printed in, what font/fonts would you choose?
I’ve never had free choice, the publisher decides. I like Georgia, and that’s what I use when working on the ms.

Imagine that you could get hold of any original source document. What would it be?
When writing Pledge, I would’ve given almost anything for letters written by Diana and Charles to each other. Apparently none survived. Not even their descendants have them. The closest I could get to the ‘voices’ of the First Duke and Duchess of St Albans were fragmentary business notes written by Charles, and the texts of their wills. I did succeed in locating two previously unknown (even by the family) Diana portraits—sheer bliss, and I still get goosebumps remembering how it all came about.

Have any of your characters ever shocked you and gone off on their own adventure leaving you scratching your head??? If so how did you cope with that!?
I’m not shocked by anything my characters would do. I think it’s more likely they are shocked by what I make them do!

How much research do you do and do you ever go on research trips?
As mentioned, research is hugely important because I’m so determined to get the facts right, and I want purely fictional aspects of my work to be based on the probable. For all my novels I visit multiple locations and feel most fortunate in being able to do so. Experiencing the places my real-life characters knew well, actually following their footsteps, is a necessary part of my process in revealing their lives.

Fiction authors have to contend with real characters invading our stories. Are there any ‘real’ characters you have been tempted to prematurely kill off or ignore because you just don’t like them or they spoil the plot?
I’ve inserted real people into fictional stories. Some are treated well. Others are not. But I haven’t been brutal, nor have I thus far dealt a death blow to anybody. Mind you, it could happen….

Are you prepared to go away from the known facts for the sake of the story and if so how do you get around this?
If accounts of a historic event or occurrence vary, I choose the one that makes the better story or seems most likely to me or ratchets up the conflict for my characters or is especially funny to me. Otherwise, I tend to stick to the documented or accepted facts. And it gives me a thrill if, in the course of my research, I’m able to do some myth-busting—but I make sure to clarify it in the Author’s Note.

Have you ever totally hated or fallen in love with one of your characters?
I am madly in love with one of my heroes in particular, but I won’t name him lest I incur the jealousy of all the rest. I couldn’t write about people I totally, totally hate. Even villains have a trace of humanity, and opportunities for redemption, whether or not they—or their victims—realise it.

What do you enjoy reading for pleasure?
Novels in all genres. Biographies. Humour. Gardening books.

What drink would you recommend drinking whilst reading your latest book?
A fine claret…a brisk champagne…rum punch, depending on the reader’s preference.

Last but not least... favourite author?
Too many to choose. But for today: the late, great Diana Norman, who also wrote as Ariana Franklin.

© Diane Milne January 2017 © Margaret Porter August 2017

About the Author

Margaret Porter is the award-winning and bestselling author of twelve period novels, as well as nonfiction and poetry. A Pledge of Better Times, her highly acclaimed novel of 17th century courtiers Lady Diana de Vere and Charles Beauclerk, 1st Duke of St. Albans (son of King Charles II and actress Nell Gwyn), is available in trade paperback and ebook. Margaret studied British history in the UK and the US. As historian, her areas of speciality are social, theatrical, and garden history of the 17th and 18th centuries, royal courts, and portraiture. A former actress, she gave up the stage and screen to devote herself to fiction writing, travel, and her rose gardens. Twitter: @MargaretAuthor

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