Please welcome Sarah Bower, author of Sins of the House of Borgia!
by Sarah Bower
Thanks for inviting me to guest on your blog. It’s great to be here. You asked me what inspired me to write my new novel, Sins of the House of Borgia.
My interest in the Borgias goes back to reading Jean Plaidy’s Light on Lucrezia and Madonna of the Seven Hills in my teens. I’d been an avid reader of historical fiction from all kinds of periods and backgrounds until then, but the Borgias – especially Cesare – stopped me in my tracks. I found him fascinating; even in the expert hands of Plaidy, he manages to slip the bounds of either romantic hero or villain. I found I wanted to know a lot more about him, what made him tick, so I abandoned fiction in favour of biographies and, of course, The Prince. Machiavelli began to form his theory of real politik while appointed as ambassador from Florence to Cesare’s court at various periods over 1500 to 1502. I’ve returned to historical fiction, of course, as both reader and writer, but always knew that, one day, I wanted to write about Cesare and his family.
It’s taken me a long time to do this for two main reasons. Firstly, I felt I needed to spend time learning my craft until I was good enough to do justice to the subject. Secondly, I had to find a way into the story that worked for me. I guess they’re quite closely related, as every attempt I made at the novel failed until I ‘discovered’ the character of Violante.
As you’ll see from my note at the end of the book, she was inspired by a real conversa (a Jewess who converted to Christianity as a consequence of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492), who accompanied Lucrezia Borgia to Ferrara on the occasion of her third marriage to Alfonso d’Este. Her status – as a non-Italian and a non-Catholic – enabled me to make her as much an observer of the Borgias as an actor in their lives. While she lives in close quarters with Lucrezia, and comes to know her well, even though she falls in love with Cesare, he remains an enigma to her as much as to us. This was what I wanted, to convey both his attraction and charisma, and the closed, contradictory face he presented to the world.
You ask what I need in order to write. Obviously, like all novelists, I need inspiration, the drive not just to begin but to complete a long project such as a novel – the ‘Cesare Borgia factor’. All novelists also need discipline, focus and determination, and then each of us has her idiosyncrasies. As a wife, mother, and now grandmother, not to mention owning two golden retrievers, I’ve learned not to be too exacting about my writing environment. I do, now, have a lovely study, with a skylight looking over vast, ever-changing East Anglian skies, where I’m surrounded by my talismanic objects – unusual stones from our local beaches, favourite photos and some of my husband’s paintings, a Venetian carnival mask to remind me of Cesare and a small medal of the Virgin given to me by a nun at the Convent of Corpus Domini in Ferrara where Lucrezia is buried alongside many of her Este family. I can, though, write pretty much anywhere I can plug in a laptop. I love working on trains and in cafes.
Writing is a solitary activity and I have to confess to having embraced social networking with a passion as a means of keeping in touch with friends and fellow professionals while I’m at my desk. It’s a good feeling, to know there are others out there, tapping away at their keyboards in solitary industry. Of course, updating one’s Facebook profile is a distraction, but it’s also a useful promotional tool and, for me, provides a competitive spur to work. I have the sense of my fellow scribes watching me, making sure I stay at my desk for the appointed hours and produce my target number of words every day.
All this sounds somewhat puritanical, doesn’t it, and you asked me about my indispensible luxuries? I have two. Firstly, I do love to have some very good quality dark chocolate to hand, preferably with almonds in it. After all, brain work does use calories! Secondly, I like to unwind in a hot bath with classy bubbles. A great way to pull myself out of the fictional world of the Renaissance and be thankful for lashings of hot running water!