* What was it about your protagonist, Lucy Dillon, that compelled you to tell her story in your seventh novel BLUEBIRD, OR THE INVENTION OF HAPPINESS?
She was such an intelligent and inspiring woman. She seems to have used every occasion, even the most dangerous, to learn something. When hiding out from the mob, she takes singing lessons from an Italian, and after her baby was born at the height of the Terror, she has the doctor give her lessons in midwifery while she instructs him on how to sew! She lead a dangerous life filled with tragedy ( she lost all her many children except for one) but seems always to have been able to maintain a sense of who she was and what she believed in. Mostly, it was her curiosity and her ability to continue to learn that inspired me to write about her.
* In your writing, how much of Lucy Dillon’s life is fact and how much is fiction?
I tried to stay true to the facts and not to alter things, but at the same time to take the greatest freedom in the writing that was possible. I wanted to enter the minds of my characters and find out how they would have thought and felt in that particularly time and place. It took a lot of work, a lot of research and time to allow oneself the freedom to leave the facts behind and let the imagination roam.
* Tell us something surprising about the women who frequented Marie Antoinette's court.
These women were often intelligent and had a certain amount of power. They held salons and could invite or not invite as they wished. Often they wrote memoirs of considerable literary quality. I was surprised by their independence, their learning and courage.
* In what way was Lucy Dillon totally uncharacteristic of her time (18th century) and country (France)?
Lucy, being of Irish origin, a Jacobite and from a military family was perhaps more of a rebel than some of her fellow countrymen. For example, when asked to attend a ball in white she comes entirely dressed in blue from her blue shoes, to her blue fan and up to the two bluebirds I place in her hair. I think she was, even for that time, unusually intelligent, well-educated, and curious about all aspects of life: the practical ones ( she was a great seamstress) as well as the less practical ones.
* During the Revolution, what was life like for the *average* woman of the lower and middle class?
The revolution was an uncertain and violent time for everyone. In the end even the revolutionaries like Robespierre and Danton were guillotined. Violence was often random, and war brought suffering for everyone. Still, there must have been a heady sense of change and the promise of freedom in the air. Perhaps Dickens sums it up: "The best and the worst of times."
* Will your next novel be historical fiction?
Yes, I'm writing about the Brontes.
Thank you Sheila! And feel free to visit Sheila Kohler online for more information about her novel Bluebird, or the Invention of Happiness.