Q & A with Jason Goodwin discussion

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On the Writing Process

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message 1: by Jk (new)

Jk | 2 comments Jason,

I have enjoyed the three Yashim books and look forward to reading An Evil Eye. (Did not like Bellini Card as much as the first two)

Q1: Research for historical fiction can be never ending. So do you write the plot first and then add in the minor details later? Does research and writing go in parallel?

Q2: How much liberty do you take with history to make the plot interesting? Did you have to make such a choice in any of the Yashim books?

Q3: Adding too much historical detail can make the book look like a history book. Adding less will not transport the reader to the 18th century. How do you come up with the right mix of spices? Do you have any guidelines?


message 2: by Hayes (last edited Mar 19, 2011 02:31AM) (new)

Hayes (hayes13) What Jk said! Especially Question 1.

I suspect, given your background in Ottoman history, that the two move together.


message 3: by Jason (new)

Jason Goodwin (jasongoodwin) | 19 comments Mod
Jk, and Hayes,

Hayes is right: the two sides of the story, the research-based history and the plot itself, unspool together. Which is to say, the plot - like the characters - emerges from the history. But I agree with Jk, the research can be, could be, endless, so there comes a point when you have read a hundred books, hoovered the floor of the car again, washed up and fixed the leaky tap, looked at some notes, and you just have to get going.
Clinging to the fragile hope that this, your story, is true in spirit, if occasionally outrageous in the details. But not, ever, anachronistic.
A dozen minor details can be cleared up as you go, via the internet - a name, the position of a building, was he alive at this date? etc.
Alan Paton, who wrote Cry, the Beloved Country, says he researches each chapter before he writes it, chapter by chapter. My chapters are tiny, usually, so that's not the way I do it.

Q2. When I started writing The Janissary Tree I vowed to let mystery come before history, but of course it doesn't come that pat. The Valide, the sultan's mother, is drawn from Leslie Blanche's The Wilder Shores of Love, which lays out in detail the old rumour that Mahmut II mother was a French girl from Martinique who sailed to France to finish her education. En route she was taken by Algerian corsairs, and wound up in the sultan's harem where, by dint of her intelligence, charm and determination, she secured the top spot in the female hierarchy of the Ottoman Empire. Astonishingly, a childhood friend from the remote Carribean island became Napoleon's Empress Josephine. Some island!
Is Aimee's story true, or merely a suggestive and irresistible flicker of a muslin dress across the darker pages of history? Who cares? The Valide, much older and wiser, is one of my favourite characters, and I won't be doing without her even though, in truth, Mahmut's mother was certainly dead by 1836, when the novel unfolds.
Fast and loose? Maybe. But when I wrote the janissary tree I needed a third fire-tower in Istanbul, so with a certain unease I invented one and put it in a specific part of the city. Not long afterwards I happened to be leafing through the pages of an exquisite volume of engravings of Istanbul, made by a French ambassador in the late 18th century - and there was my fire tower. I'd invented it, slap-bang where it had actually stood. (I think I've mentioned the Library Angel on another post).

Too much, too little - who can tell? I go with the feel of it, and sometimes a reader objects that I've overdone the history lesson (never, I think, the other way round). I'm sorry they feel that, but I'm not deeply moved. When I began writing, when I was younger and greener, I cut my teeth on travel narratives, travel books, and the craft of it taught me a lot about using one's eyes and ears and sense of smell in evoking an unfamiliar scene. The historical novel is travel of another sort, into the past. If a reader doesn't want the stunning detail which evokes a period, or fixes a place - well. There are other books they can try! So, like a chef, follow your nose and do what you want.


message 4: by Jk (new)

Jk | 2 comments Jason,

You are reply is much appreciated. Looking forward to reading Yashim's next adventure.


message 5: by Hayes (new)

Hayes (hayes13) Thanks Jason,
I'm looking forward to the first of Yashim's adventures. Under my not-so-little rock here in Rome, I hadn't heard of "Janissary", which is now on its way to me... can't wait!


message 6: by Susan (new)

Susan (ssgoddess) | 2 comments jason,

thanks so much for giving us the historical background of the valide, who is one of my favorite characters in your books also. now, would you please do the same for stanislaw palewski? is he based in some historical reality? he is such an interesting character and i really loved spending so much time with him in THE BELLINI CARD as he bungled his way through his mission in venice.

by the way, i had one of those "isn't the internet grand" moments after i read your afterword to ...CARD. i googled the national gallery in london and came up with a representation of the portrait of sultan mehmet II, along with info about bellini.

susan


message 7: by Jason (new)

Jason Goodwin (jasongoodwin) | 19 comments Mod
Hayes wrote: "Thanks Jason,
I'm looking forward to the first of Yashim's adventures. Under my not-so-little rock here in Rome, I hadn't heard of "Janissary", which is now on its way to me... can't wait!"


L'Albero dei Giannizzeri was a bestseller in Italy - one of my Italian friends said it was because the word 'giannezzeri' sounds sexy to Italians. But my publisher's face fell when I said I was setting The bellini Card (Il Ritratto Bellini) in Venice - he said Italians can't bear ANY MORE about venice, especially from appreciative foreigners!
The Janissary Tree


message 8: by Jason (new)

Jason Goodwin (jasongoodwin) | 19 comments Mod
Susan wrote: "jason,

thanks so much for giving us the historical background of the valide, who is one of my favorite characters in your books also. now, would you please do the same for stanislaw palewski? ..."


Sure - Palewski is the sum of my experiences with Poles, and Poland, a country I love. I met him once, back in 1984 when Poland was under martial law and a friend gave me an introduction. He collected me off a train at at Warsaw railway station and whisked me off to the Palace of Culture for a 'coffee', which he ordered with a certain expression for the waitress. It was mid-morning, and she came back with two espressos that turned out to be cognac.
Charming, funny, world-weary and full of surprises, he later took me to a heroically liquid lunch at the Writer's Club. One of our new companions, an academic with a specialism in American literature, carried a briefcase cleverly adapted to hold six bottles of vodka.
Historically, the Ottomans refused to accept the Partition of Poland, so they continued to have the Ambassador from Lechistan (Poland) announced at gatherings of the diplomatic corps. All I had to do was open the door, metaphorically, and let Stanislaw Palewski come in.
Some of his conversation in the new book, An Evil Eye, is the best he's had, I think - and there's a piece he plays on his violin which plays a role in the plot. It's a tiny Chopin mazurka, which you can hear on a wonderful piano recording on youtube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W2wgQr...

So glad you followed up the portrait. Look out, too, for Bellini's 'portrait of a seated janissary' which to my mind collapses the centuries and takes you straight back into that world.


message 9: by Hayes (last edited Mar 23, 2011 03:23AM) (new)

Hayes (hayes13) Jason wrote: "L'Albero dei Giannizzeri was a bestseller in Italy"

I didn't see it here in Rome, but then again, I don't look at the Italian section in the book stores very often, and then only for Italian authors.

Jason wrote: "Look out, too, for Bellini's 'portrait of a seated janissary'"

Oh wow... looks like it could have been drawn yesterday!

http://www.gardnermuseum.org/collecti... (third picture)


message 10: by Deniz (new)

Deniz (denizb33) | 6 comments Goodness, no! I love history lessons in fiction [g]
Thanks for the link to the Bellini portraits, some of them were new to me. The character in my own novel was inspired by Bellini, painted a portrait of his father and... ended up having to leave Constantinople. Mayhem ensues [g]


message 11: by Jason (new)

Jason Goodwin (jasongoodwin) | 19 comments Mod
Deniz wrote: "Goodness, no! I love history lessons in fiction [g]
Thanks for the link to the Bellini portraits, some of them were new to me. The character in my own novel was inspired by Bellini, painted a port..."


Sounds interesting!


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