Continuing our Sunday Series
of taking a look at some fabulous authors!
Hello Katherine, welcome to our Discovering Diamonds Guest Spot. Along with my readers and visitors I love to hear from authors who write wonderful stories. There’s nothing better on these long, cold winter evenings, than curling up with a good book in front of a cosy fire, box of chocs and glass of wine to hand. (Unless you’re in the southern hemisphere, in which case it’s still the wine, but a platter of cheese, crackers and grapes to hand, while stretched out in a deckchair in the garden on a warm, sunny, evening...)
Q. Would you like to tell us a little bit about yourself...
A. I did a number of things before I turned to writing seriously at age 33. I started out as a painter, then wrote art books for hire. Idealistically thinking to promote peace through trade with China, in the early 1970s I had a business selling quick frozen bull sperm to the Inner Mongolian Grasslands Institute. It was tidily set up to fly cryogenic canisters by Aeroflot to Ulan Bator, when the Texas Cattle Breeders Association stepped in and sold Santa Gertrudis sperm, not as right for Mongolia as my Agway, computer selected North Dakota bulls could produce; but that’s business for you. I also had a fine art limited print publishing company, Contemporary Artists, Inc., satisfying my entrepreneurial instincts before I became devoted to 13th century research and the guiding hand of Dr. Madeleine Cosman, founder of the Institute for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at the City University of New York. I’m married to retired New York theatre critic Peter Wynne. No children; bringing up children would have been difficult with his 4:00 AM deadline.
Q. Where do you live?
A. We live in the northeast corner of Pennsylvania. A region called Starrucca, “wedding of the waters” in Lenape Indian; the Delaware and Susquehanna Rivers nearly meet, separated only by the massif on which I’m perching as I write. All very rural. We’re up about 2,000 feet, in our own forest of 65 acres with a 25 foot high waterfall in the garden. (In the picture, the size of the falls is a bit vague, not so when you’re standing next to it and the earth is shaking.)
Q. If you had a choice to live anywhere – where would it be?
A. Right where I am. I’m embarrassed to say it’s actually improving here with global warming. We used to have a snow pack four feet deep every winter; now it’s just a few picturesque inches with cottony puffs in the trees. But we get enough rain to keep plants happy.
Q. Modern house, old cottage, castle or something else?
A. Something else. Our property started out as a mill with an over-shot wheel fed off the top of the waterfall. Of the old buildings, the only thing left is what must have been a little stable for a horse and wagon. It now is our south bedroom. The porch that a hunter added onto the stable, when he converted it to a hunting shack, is now Peter’s studio. Some time in the 1960s “Doc” Wiley, the printing shop boss at the New York Daily News, bought the property and built a cottage some 20 feet away from the hunter’s shack. Wiley had a hopeful notion of putting a swimming pool between the two buildings. But, digging down just a few inches, he found a massive boulder in the way. So he roofed the space, added a large stone fireplace and front door on one side and an expanse of glass on the other, overlooking the stream. We’ve rebuilt the house twice so now it’s sturdy; but what designation fits it? The house is called Fernwood – for the ferns that carpet the woods. With the steep gables we’ve added during our renovation major renovations, the neighbours are referring to it as “the Kincaid house” for the sentimental pictures that artist painted.
Q. Cat, dog or budgie?
A. Five cats, four dogs (two Japanese Chins, a Yorkiepoo and a long haired Chihuahua, all rescues except the Yorkiepoo.) Oh yes, and a tank of Platys that reproduce prodigiously. We used to have horses, sheep, chickens, geese, goats, peacocks, ducks… Actually at the moment I’m writing a book titled The Animals of Fernwood Cottage, telling of our funny adventures with our assorted creatures.
Q. Are you a ‘dining room for dinner’, or a ‘tray on your lap in front of the TV’ person?
A. I’m sitting in the dining room right now. The room serves us for meals, and also for a handy place to plug in the computer.
Q. TV preferences – documentary, drama, comedy, soap or thriller?
A. We don’t have TV reception here. I do have a TV that I use for videos. I just finished watching (for the umpteenth time) “Cold Comfort Farm.”
Q. What was your first published novel about?
A. Montfort, in four volumes, about Simon de Montfort who founded England’s Parliament in 1258. Since that took 35 years to research and write, publishing was a long time coming.
Q. What was your last novel about?
A. My last book publication was “An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe,” It started as a one-man play commissioned by the New York City Parks Dept/ Historic House Trust for the Poe Cottage. Now it’s in book form. Most of my last 40 years that were not devoted to Montfort have been spent writing historical plays, and radio, TV and film scripts. I had a Public Radio production company, The Jefferson Radio Theater that did historical mini-series.
Q. Do you write in one genre or several?
A. As above, several. .
Q. Have you ever considered exploring a totally different genre?
A. I’ve tried poetry. I was commissioned to write a play for The Celebration of Labor 2000. It had to be about the Pennsylvania mine strike of 1902. There was a documentary film premiering a day after my play, so I had t make the live stage piece as different from the film experience as possible. The result, “Johnny!” is very theatrical, and entirely written in verse (performed like normal speech but with a peculiar, almost unconscious force to it for the audience, apparently.) The play was to be called “Strike!” but our Senator nixed that as too offensive to business interests. The eponymous “Johnny” was the young president of the United Mine Workers. I won this commission, knowing nothing about mining. I described an ending with the whole, large cast lined up across the stage and stepping forward one at a time to describe one labour abuse from the early 19th century to children making Nike trainers in Indonesia. This won the commission – then I had to learn about mining. But research is research, easier for the early 20th century than for the 13th.
Q. If you could, which two of your characters would you like to invite to spend an afternoon with you?
A. Well, Simon, certainly. And Aaron Burr who figures in my radio play, “The Richest Woman in the Western World.”
Q. Where would you go / what would you do?
I’d love to go back to Cannes. Probably not during the Palm D’Or Festival, but in September when the beach is less crowded. Do you know the film “Mr. Bean’s Holiday”? Have a look at the closing sequence. I yearn to be on that beach, La Croisette, singing “La Mer.”
Q. How do you prefer to travel? Plane, boat, car?
A. Plane, if I’m going far enough. While some of my neighbour have air fields, it would not be impossible to take a plane to the grocery store in Honesdale.
Q. You are out for a walk. You see a chap sitting on a wall, looking right fed up – but there’s something odd about him... What? And what do you do?
A. In the past I would have stopped to see if I could help. But, at present, with high tension, political violence and disease only a moment away, I’d hurry home and lock the door. Especially if he had a gun. The concatenation of dangers, here and now, make for misfortune in many ways.
We have a long-running Radio programme here in the UK called Desert Island Discs on which celebrities talk about their life and select eight of their favourite discs... so changing that slightly...
Q. If you were shipwrecked on a desert island, what eight books would you want to find left in an abandoned hut?
1. Dorothy Dunnett’s entire Lymond series (if that can count as one.)
2. Revolt in the Desert by T.E. Lawrence (yes that Lawrence, as in “of Arabia.”)
3. Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, to help me sleep
4. Robert Colton’s Pompeii series
5. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain
6. The Chronica Majora by Matthew Paris
7. The Whale by Mark Beauregard
8. and G.B. Stern’s The Ugly Dachshund, just for fun.
Q. What sort of island would you prefer, and why? (e.g. Desert Island... Hebridian Island...)
A. England because, of all the islands in the world, it is by far the most interesting.
Q. And you would be allowed one luxury item – what would you want it to be? (a boat or something to escape on isn’t allowed.)
A. a lovely old cottage (with modern electricity and plumbing) in a beautiful valley
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