An Interview with the Author
What was the genesis of The Fortune Hunter?
It started with a jigsaw puzzle. My father gave me a puzzle of that wonderful Winterhalter portrait of the Empress, the one with 28 diamond stars in her hair. It took me a week to piece it together and I lost one of the pieces so one of the stars was incomplete. That unfinished star stuck in my memory.
When I saw the picture again as an adult, I started reading about the Empress’s fascinating, tragic life. I knew that she would make a great subject for a novel.
How long did it take to complete the final draft?
The book took me about three years to write. There were a few false starts but I got there in the end.
How long did it take to research?
About a year. I read about the subject — especially The Reluctant Empress by Brigitte Hamann. Even more useful were the trips I took to Vienna and Hungary. There is an extraordinary museum devoted to the Empress — or “Sisi” as she was known to her family — in the Hofburg palace. You can also see her bedroom, which has her gymnastic rings hanging in the doorway. And, I also felt I should try riding sidesaddle as hunting is so important to the book.
Did you find some characters easier to develop than others?
Sisi was the hardest because I wanted to get behind the myth that has been built up around her. It took me a while to find her voice, but once I did the whole book started coming together. Charlotte was much easier. But the character I feel closest too is probably Bay: his charming-but-flawed persona seemed to spring off the page.
What do you find most challenging/interesting/enjoyable about writing historical fiction?
Getting the detail right is both the pleasure and the peril of writing historical fiction. Too much detail can overwhelm the story but too little can be unconvincing. I like to research as much as I can and then start writing. The great thing is that, if you get stuck, you can just head to the library. A little research will usually turn up something that starts the juices flowing.
Is creating a character based on a real person harder or easier than creating a fictional character?
It is harder to write a story based on a real person. There has been so much written about Sisi that it was hard to find my own way into the character. But once I found a voice that I felt was realistic, it was much easier. My rule when writing about real people is to make them as psychologically accurate as possible. If you are putting words into Queen Victoria’s mouth, you have to be sure that they are true to her formidable personality.
Why do Charlotte’s photographs play such a large role in the novel?
Photography was a new medium in the 1870s that was significantly altering the way that people perceived themselves and the world around them. So, it offers all sorts of possibilities to a writer. It was also significant that women were very prominent in the early days of photography: Because it was so new, there were no barriers to entry. But it’s also a metaphor for Charlotte’s character: she sees the world through her own lens.
What do you find most fascinating about society in the Victorian era?
It all looks so respectable and solid on the surface. But then when you read letters and diaries of the period, you realize that it was a time of enormous excitement and emotional fervor.
Whose story is this?
It started with Sisi. Then I fell for Bay. But in the end, I think I would have to say Charlotte is the moral center of the book.
Which character would you most want to meet and why?
I would love to meet Queen Victoria. I would question her very closely about her relationship with John Brown.
The Fortune Hunter is available in-Club now.
An Interview with the Author | Questions for Discussion