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INTERVIEW: Patrice Kindl, author of KEEPING THE CASTLE

Friday, July 26, 2013

Today I'd like to welcome Patrice Kindl, author of the utterly charming KEEPING THE CASTLE to my blog. 

Are you a daydreamer too?
Oh, of course.  I know that daydreaming is a part of the creative process, but I cannot help but wish I did it less and wrote more.  That said, I think that some kinds of daydreaming are more productive than others.  We all tell ourselves ‘wishful thinking’ stories, which are more self-indulgent than creative.  We see ourselves (or our fictional alter egos) winning awards, wielding superpowers, loved and admired by all who know us.  A tipoff that this is the kind of story you are telling, either in your head or on paper or onscreen, is that the story peters out after the scene where everyone stands around marveling at the accomplishments and all-around awesomeness of your protagonist.  There’s nothing wrong with amusing yourself with this kind of story, but I suspect it rarely leads to anything.  Real stories, ones that others will want to share, require that you make your protagonist miserable, at least for a while.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
As a child and young woman I never thought it a feasible goal.  I did not know any writers and assumed they were a far too exalted group for me to join.  I did not begin writing seriously until I was in my late thirties – early forties.  But oh, of course I did!  It’s funny, now that I think of it, but when I was young I thought it more feasible to become an actress (I studied theater in New York City and appeared in a few productions and commercials) than a writer.  So far as I am concerned, my entire theatrical career was an attempt to participate in the world of Story on what I thought of as the lower level of acting out stories rather than creating them.
Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do?
I was born in upstate New York and, after a few excursions in adolescence and young adulthood, have remained here all my life.  I live in a small rural village an hour away from Albany, NY.  I am very happily married (36 years) to a perfectly lovely man, and have one son, who works for the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.  Other than lots and lots of books, my life has been filled with animals.  We have, among other things, been foster parents in the Helping Hands Monkey Helpers program: .  

For eleven years we raised and trained monkeys to be aides to be quadriplegics.  At present we have Bree, a Panama Amazon parrot with an impressive vocabulary and a taste for 1950s rock ‘n’ roll, and two Cavalier King Charles spaniels named Dante and Trevor.  When I am not writing, my husband and I are busy doting upon these family members.

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for KEEPING THE CASTLE?
I was reading yet another historical novel in which the heroine is dead set against marriage and instead launches upon a career which was both dangerous and highly improbable for a woman of her time.  Oh, I like those books too, and I fully understand the impulse to rewrite history, but I rebelled.  I conceived of a heroine whose sole aim is respectable (and profitable) matrimony.

How extensively do you plan your novels?
Zero.  Zip.  Zilch.  I am what is known as an extreme plunger.  I just start writing and keep on going until I get to the end.  Sometimes I go back and fix things that no longer make sense with the flow of the plot, and sometimes I think, “Well I don’t want her to end up with him,” but I have no idea how I am going to end the story, or how I will find my way there, until I am there.  If you have ever had the experience of groping your way through a junk shop packed with furniture at midnight during a power outage, cursing and barking your shins on various sharp and impervious objects, you have some idea of my creative process.  I do not recommend it.
Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?
My first novel, OWL IN LOVE, was entirely based upon a dream.  I consider that moments when you are half awake and half asleep are very fruitful for ideas.  I always keep a notebook and pen by my bed.
Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?
Actually, I have just finished writing the sequel to KEEPING THE CASTLE, so that’s the one I’m thinking of right now.  Did you know the origin of the shopping mall?  There was a lawn game, called “Pall Mall” or “Paille Maille.”  It was a precursor of croquet and very popular with the wealthy.  To play you needed a closely mown strip of lawn which was known as a “mall” and many major cities in England and the Continent had them.  When the game fell out of favor shops were erected along the edges of the mall.  Hence the first shopping malls.   Also, the National Mall, that long lawn leading from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol Building in Washington D.C.  Also, Pall Mall Cigarettes, which were presumably appropriating the perceived classiness of Pall Mall in London.

I use backboards to comic effect in A SCHOOL FOR BRIDES, but they were actually rather horrible, or could be.  Supposedly intended to improve posture, they were all too often actually a way to render young girls and women docile and easily controlled.  The device had the effect of immobilizing the torso, arms, neck and head. Whole schools of girls could be chained to benches or to each other.  Young women could be forced to live in them for years, sleeping (or, more likely, not sleeping) in them as well.  Ugh!
Where do you write, and when?
Where I am right now, in a Mission Oak armchair.  The Mission Oak part is important because these chairs, part of the Arts and Crafts movement, have wide, flat, wooden arms.  I can place my laptop computer half on the arm and half on the adjoining table without fear of disaster.  It is also possible to have a dog or parrot on my lap and keep working – in years gone by I had to train an inquisitive monkey not to help with the typing.   
When?  In the early stages of writing a book – when I will clean, redecorate, wash cages, or reorganize the pantry in order to avoid creative work – as little as possible.  In the later stages near the end, from about 9:00 A.M. until 5:00 P.M. and then again from 6:30 until 9:00 P.M.  And then I wake up in the night and make notes for the next day’s work.  So it varies.
What is your favourite part of writing?
Oh, near the end, when I am working like a pack mule.  The first three chapters are miserable, when you don’t know if it is going anywhere or not.

What do you do when you get blocked?
Decide that I am stupid, untalented, washed up and utterly worthless as a human being.  I also tend to brood on all the other careers I would have been hopeless at.  Couldn’t have driven a truck, would have been a horrible teacher, too weak to be a garbage collector or pro wrestler, no charisma for politics, etc., etc.

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?
I have never yet found a creative artist who knows the answer to this question.  They may have various stock replies: the contemplation of nature, reading in many fields, solitude, the work of other artists, collecting comic valentines, working on their model train layout, or whatever.  But the truth is: nobody knows.
Do you have any rituals that help you to write?
Turning on the computer.  Oh, and guilt.
Who are ten of your favourite writers?
William Shakespeare (Yeah, I know, but he really is pretty good)
Jane Austen (Of course)
T.H. White
Margaret Mahy
Diana Wynne Jones
Those are my favorite-favorites.  After that it gets too hard to rank them all. 
(I love all these writers too, Patrice - you have great reading tastes!)

 (my favourite Diana Wynne Jones book)

What do you consider to be good writing? 

Language that conveys the idea or mood the author intends to convey.  Okay, that’s not very helpful, but after that it all just boils down to personal preferences.  For instance, I strongly prefer a sense of humor, of playfulness, even in writing about serious subjects.  And the kind of writing associated with Ernest Hemmingway doesn’t do a thing for me.  It reminds me of Danish Modern furniture; yes, I can see that it is handsome and I don’t want it in my house.  That doesn’t mean you may not love it; you have my blessing and I hope you will be very happy together.  It’s just not for me.
I like the occasional adverb.
What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?
The usual: read a lot, write a lot.  Everybody has to start somewhere.  Don’t wait as long as I did to get serious.
What are you working on now? 
I just finished writing A SCHOOL FOR BRIDES, which is a sequel to KEEPING THE CASTLE.  Althea from CASTLE is married and about to give birth, as is her step-sister Charity, now the Baroness.  Prudence Winthrop has joined forces with her friend Clara Hopkins and Miss Hopkins’ cousin to form a Ladies’ Academy, or finishing school, in Lesser Hoo.  Matrimony and mayhem result.  There are stolen necklaces, secret admirers, a sinister governess, astronomical observations and a dog named Wolfie, among many, many other things.

(It sounds wonderful, and shall be on my reading list!)

Please leave a comment - I love to know what you think!

Here is Patrice's website:



SPOTLIGHT: Patrice Kindl on Balancing Family & Career for 19th century women'

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

I recently read and loved Patrice Kindl's funny and charming novel KEEPING THE CASTLE, which feels like a cross between Jane Austen's PRIDE & PREJUDICE, and Dodie Smith's I CAPTURE THE CASTLE, two of my all-time favourite books. 

(You can read my review here)

Patrice kindly agreed to write a blog post about a matter close to both of our hearts - the difficulty of life for women in the 19th century, and how narrow their choices were (something that concerned me very much during the writing of my novel, THE WILD GIRL). 

Here it Patrice talking about HAVING IT ALL: Balancing Family and Career for the 19th Century Woman

The last two novels I have written (KEEPING THE CASTLE, 2012, and A SCHOOL FOR BRIDES, 2015) have been concerned with the lives of young women in the 19th Century.  In the first I have a character, Miss Vincy, who is a serious and talented artist, and in the second I have a dedicated scientist, Miss Franklin.  The books are comic romances, yet I have declined to marry either of these women off.  The lack of effective birth control, coupled with societal attitudes towards woman’s role, seemed to me to ensure that marriage would be fatal to a career.

I decided to try a reality check, looking at the lives of actual artists, scientists and mathematicians of the 19th Century.  I read short biographies of a dozen women who achieved some level of recognition in their own time, paying special attention to whether they were married and had children, and also what the family attitude was toward their work.

And, hmm.  True, there were Victorian fathers who shook their fists and stamped their little feet in rage over their daughters’ choices.  There were mothers who regarded their daughters as unpaid domestic labor and resented the loss of their services.  One family stripped their daughter of clothing, light and fire so she would be unable to work through the night, finding her nevertheless persevering with the ink in her inkwell frozen solid.  But a surprising number were encouraged by their families, or at least by one parent, a brother or an uncle.

Marriage was also common.  Seven of the twelve were married and five were not.  In some cases, however, the marriage definitely was not helpful to their careers.  Marie Bracquemond’s husband, also an artist, was bitterly resentful of her work and attempted to hide it from others.  Apparently he did not approve of her working in the new impressionistic style.  Another quite famous painter, Mary Moser, simply retired after her wedding.  Sofia Kovalevskaya, a mathematician and astronomer, contracted a fake marriage in order achieve the freedoms available only to married women.

This latter case illuminates one good reason for marriage.  A woman married to a cooperative husband (she generally needed his permission) could in some countries attend university classes and lectures, travel and mingle more freely with male colleagues.  Marriage could (though it did not always) contribute to financial stability. 

One thing the twelve had in common was the fact that they had relatively few children.  Mary Somerville, astronomer and biologist, had the most (six), but only one survived to adulthood and most died very young.  Augusta Ada Byron, Countess of Lovelace, known today as the first computer programmer, had three.  Three other women had one; the rest had none.  Those who did have children either also came from wealthy families with plenty of domestic help or else handed the child over to a relative to rear.

It is sobering to reflect that we have no idea how many brilliant women were silenced by the simple expedient of yearly pregnancies.  Of course, many other factors have served to silence women, and men as well, all throughout history. Poverty, lack of encouragement or opportunity, the simple need to keep food on the table and a roof over one’s head, all have deprived us of an unknown number of inventions, ideas and insights from both sexes.  However, the fact that women are the child-bearing and child-rearing sex creates an extra hurdle to surmount when aiming for a life of the mind.

While I am aware of some women who manage to combine large families with high achievement, it is noteworthy that none of the women I looked at had one.  It is also not particularly surprising to find that nearly all came from either wealthy or middleclass families.

I’d like to conclude with a remarkable exception to that rule: Miss Mary Anning, one of ten children born to an impoverished English family in 1799.  She began as a barely literate child assisting her father to gather fossils to sell to tourists and ended by training herself to become one of the most accomplished and knowledgeable paleontologists in the world.  Although few of the many specimens she uncovered, reconstructed and analyzed were named after her (scientifically inclined gentlemen purchased her work and presented it to museums under their own names), her expertise was universally recognized and revered in geological circles.

She did not marry, and had no children.  In precarious financial circumstances all her life, she could have expected no assistance in rearing offspring.  Her genetic makeup – those indomitable, intellectually questing traits – were never handed down to the future, because as a woman she had to choose between a life of the mind and a life of the body.


BOOK REVIEW: Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl

Monday, July 22, 2013

Title: Keeping the Castle

Author: Patrice Kindl

Publisher: Viking Children's Books

Age Group & Genre: YA historical romance

The Blurb:

Seventeen-year-old Althea is the sole support of her entire family, and she must marry well. But there are few wealthy suitors--or suitors of any kind--in their small Yorkshire town of Lesser Hoo. Then, the young and attractive (and very rich) Lord Boring arrives, and Althea sets her plans in motion. There's only one problem; his friend and business manager Mr. Fredericks keeps getting in the way. And, as it turns out, Fredericks has his own set of plans . . . This witty take on the classic Regency--Patrice Kindl's first novel in a decade--is like literary champagne!

“Take one Austenian heroine in desperate financial straits.  Put her in a crumbling castle, give her two evil stepsisters and some very unsuitable suitors.  Make it funny!  Patrice Kindl’s Keeping the Castle is an absolute charmer!”  -- Karen Joy Fowler, author of The Jane Austen Book Club

What I Thought: 
I thoroughly enjoyed this light-hearted and utterly charming Regency romance. It has been described as a cross between Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle, two of my all-time favourite books. It's lighter and sweeter than either of these books, and much less serious in intent. The tone is comic, the characters are exaggerated for humorous effect, and the plot is one of mishaps, misunderstandings and muddles.

The heroine Althea Crawley is only seventeen, beautiful, impoverished, and a little too quick to voice her opinions - sometimes with disastrous attempts. She must marry well if her family is to keep their crumbling old castle  ... but all Althea's plans to charm rich Lord Boring keep going awry.

Complicating her life are selfish step-sisters, a troublesome younger brother, a naughty puppy, miserable weather, a sweetly ineffectual mother, and the odiously interfering Mr Fredericks ...

Although the book is really a funny and romantic romp, there is just enough of an edge to give it gravitas. Althea is an intelligent and independent-minded young woman who really does chafe against the strictures of her society and her voice rings all too true:

I keep forgetting how ridiculously sensitive and illogical men were. He assumed that his fortune would buy a beauty; I assumed that my beauty would procure me a rich husband. It seemed much the same thing to me, but evidently what was permissible in a man was not in a woman. 

Keeping the Castle was written with a teenage audience in mind, and so it is a swift and easy read (I read it in a matter of hours). However, I'd recommend it for adults as much as for teenagers, particulalry if you feel like a little sunshine in your day.  

BOOK LIST: Books Read in June 2013

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

I read 13 books in June, bringing my number for the year to a total of 65. My reading was a little broader than usual, with some contemporary settings and non-fiction stirred into the mix. All in all, a happy reading month!

1. The Duke and I – Julia Quinn
I really enjoyed this frothy historical romance - a lovely way to while away a few peaceful hours in a hot bath with a glass of sparkling wine. 

2. The Ashford Affair – Lauren Willlig
I absolutely loved this book which moves between contemporary New York, and 1920s England and Africa. It's a historical mystery, a family drama, and a romance, all stirred together to create a compulsively readable novel. You can read my review here and here's my Interview with Lauren Willig.

3. Keeping the Castle – Patrice Kindl
What a delightful surprise this book was! I'd read a review of it which said it was a cross between Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle (two of my absolute favourite books), and so I thought I'd give it a whirl. I loved it! It's funny, romantic, and has a slight satirical edge. I'm hoping to run a longer review and interview with the author in a few weeks' time - keep an eye out!

4. The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion
This book was another pleasant surprise. I'd heard it was rather like contemporary chick lit, except told from the point of view of an man with Asperger's, and so I was a little reluctant to read it. I've read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and The London Eye Mystery, and enjoyed them both, but was a little jaded with this type of voice after too many episodes of The Big Bang Theory. I'm glad I read it, though. Its a feel-good read, with enough intelligence to lift it out of the usual chick-lit rut, and it'd make a great rom-com movie. 

5. A Proud Taste for Scarlet & Miniver – E.L. Koningsburg 
The great American children's author E.L. Koningsburg sadly died in mid-April, and I remembered her books fondly from childhood. I had never read  A Proud Taste for Scarlet & Miniver and so ordered it in. It's an unusual book, quite unlike her others which are really about everyday kids. This one is a fictive biography of Queen Eleanor of Acquitaine, one of my historical heroines. Its brilliantly well done, bringing Queen Eleanor and her times vividly to life. 

6. A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness
I had been wanting to read A Monster Calls for quite some time, and seeing Patrick Ness speak at the Sydney Writers Festival in May gave me the impetus I needed to buy the book. What can I say? It's brilliant, surprising, harrowing, humbling. I found it hard to breathe after I finished reading it, and my dreams that night were restless and disturbed. A month later, I am still thinking about it. The book packs a hefty emotional wallop and deserves all the prizes it won. 

7. Barkbelly – Cat Weatherill
A wonderfully written, rambunctious adventure fantasy for children, Barkbelly also carries important messages about the importance of tolerance and compassion. I loved Cat Weatherill's earlier book Wild Magic which retells the Pied Piper of Hamelin fairy tale (you can read about it here), and so I was really glad to read her newest venture. 

8. Dark Road to Darjeeling – Deanna Raybourn
9. Dark Enquiry - – Deanna Raybourn
10. Silent Night – Deanna Raybourn

In April, I re-read The Lady Julia Grey series of historical murder mysteries by Deanna Raybourn and enjoyed them thoroughly (you can read my review of the first three books here). I settled in to read the last 2 books in the series (plus one Xmas novella) this month, and enjoyed them just as much. The characters are always sharply drawn, the mystery is always intriguing (and not always easy to guess), and the ongoing romance between Lady Julia and her enigmatic new husband is a large part of the pleasure. Well worth a read.

11. Me Before You – Jojo Moyes
I read The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes earlier this year and absolutely loved it, and so I thought I'd read some of her other books (you can read my review here). I did enjoy Me Before You, though not nearly as much as The Girl You Left Behind. Its a very readable book, with an unusual premise, and the two main characters do feel quite real. The contemporary setting and voice made it read like chick-lit, yet the tone is one of pathos, not humour. I was moved by the story, but did not cry buckets as had been predicted. Which is not like me (I'm an unashamed crier!) Perhaps because I knew what to expect ... anyway, an enjoyable read, and one that should be read with some tissues to hand, just in case ... 

12. The Bolter: The Story of Idina Sackville – Frances Osborne
In Lauren Willig's Acknowledgements at the back of The Ashford Affair, she mentioned that her novel had been inspired by reading The Bolter by Frances Osborne. it sounded so fascinating I ordered it straightaway and it was just as interesting as I had expected. The Bolter is the non-fiction account of the life of Idina Sackville, the author's great-grandmother, who had inspired the key character in Nancy Mitford's Love in a Cold Climate. She married and divorced numerous times, and was part of a very fast set in 1930s Kenya that led to scandal and murder, as explored in James Fox's well-known book White Mischief (which I have also ordered.) Although The Bolter is non-fiction, it reads as compulsively as any novel - I loved it. 
PS: I have also read and loved Frances Osborne's earlier non-fiction book, Lilla's Feast - here is a review of it I wrote some years ago for Good Reading magazine. 

13. Raven Flight – Juliet Marillier
Juliet Marillier is one of my all-time favourite authors and a new book from her is always reason to celebrate. So when Raven Flight appeared in my mailbox, I gave a little jump of joy and read it straightaway. Raven Flight is Book 2 in the Shadowfell series. I loved Shadowfell and it made my List of Best Books 2012 - the books are classic old-fashioned high fantasy with a quest at its heart. The writing is beautiful and limpid, the setting is an otherworldy Scotland, and the story mixes danger, magic and romance - sigh! I loved it. This is YA fantasy at its absolute best.  

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