Welcome Kit Brennan to Writer’s Corner today. We are discussing her new novel Whip Smart: Lola Montez Conquers the Spaniards and writing. Her new novel features the historical character of Lola Montez which I am familiar with from a different series. So tell us more…
What got you into writing?
I started out as an actor, and had been working professionally for a number of years when I was asked to write a play for children, to be toured through elementary schools. It sounded like fun, so I gave it a go. At the same time, I was becoming interested in the thought of writing plays for adults, partly prompted by my desire to write some really good roles for women. So I did a Masters of Fine Arts in Playwriting and by the time I’d finished that, I realized that I’d become more interested in writing than I was in acting. I’ve worked as a playwright for almost twenty years, and my plays have been produced across Canada and internationally. I teach playwriting and storytelling at Concordia University in Montreal. I became very curious about writing fiction after I’d written a short play about Lola Montez and realized that her particular voice and her adventures were more suited to the broader canvas of a novel. So I dove in.
What is your new book about and what inspired you to write it?
Whip Smart: Lola Montez Starts a Revolution is the third novel in my Whip Smart: The Lola Montez Series. They are Victorian-era adventure novels starring a feisty heroine (based on the real historical figure Lola Montez), with lots of derring-do, romance, thrills and comedy. This one encompasses the historical Lola’s most notorious adventure: becoming the mistress of King Ludwig I of Bavaria, gaining the title of Countess of Landsfeld, and possibly igniting the Revolution of 1848.
The inspiration for the series goes way back, and has two sparks. As a teenager, I came across the character of Lola in George MacDonald Fraser’s second Flashman book, Royal Flash. I thought she was really funny and intriguing. In that book (and the film, Flashman, with Malcolm McDowell), Lola Montez is first seen practicing in a field with a sabre. In another scene, she beds Flashy, with a hairbrush as a spanking accessory. I loved Fraser’s novels, every hilarious one of them, and later thought that it would be great fun to write a kind of ‘female Flashman’.
Lola herself is the other inspiration. When I starting looking into her life, I’d often find belittling comments: “she was a terrible dancer,” “she had no talent,” “she was a gold-digging slut,” etc. This made me think a lot about what it must have felt like to be a gutsy, adventurous woman in strait-laced Victorian society. I wanted to write from her point of view, as an energetic, enthusiastic and amorous young person – like any other healthy creature, be it kitten or puppy or colt – filled with confidence and a bit of swagger and the desire to use her body to its fullest. Then she trips up, gets into trouble, and begins to learn… As the years go on, she gets knocked down, and gets back up, but she doesn’t succumb to despair. Lola, as a character, keeps dusting herself off and facing the obstacles, with courage and joie de vivre. I love that. Living like that is so much harder than it looks.
What are the challenges to being a writer? And what are the benefits? Have things changed lately?
There are lots of challenges! Finding your voice is one, finding the story that is burning to be written by you and nobody else but you is another. Then there’s getting published, finding the audience, etc. I think the benefits of being a writer are largely internal. The ability to live more than one life is a big one. Not that I don’t enjoy my own – I do! But it’s exciting to put yourself in the shoes of someone else, whether real or fictional, and to walk (or dance, or ride) with them, learn how they feel about different experiences, and also to try to reveal why they might feel that way—especially if it’s very different from the way you view the world yourself. You can’t carry a grudge against a character and have them feel fully-rounded: it’s crucial that you get inside each of their skins, for at least a little while, to find out what makes them tick. Everyone has a reason or a justification for what they do. And that can be eye-opening.
In the book world lately, things have changed enormously and very quickly. For authors and readers, ebooks are exciting developments—my series will be available much longer and is more easily found. I’m still getting used to the new world of technology, social media, and so on—but I like it!
What advice can you offer to struggling writers?
A great piece of advice from American playwright Marsha Norman goes like this: Don’t write about your present, write about your past—write about something that made you angry or afraid, and that, in all the time since it happened, you haven’t been able to forget. There’s power in those strong emotions. She’s right in that if we write about something that’s happening to us in the present, we often don’t have enough perspective on it and the writing will get vague and mushy, or sentimental, or trying to conceal something (perhaps from ourselves) and therefore not truthful.
You’ve also got to be passionately interested in your idea over a long, long period of time. You have to want to spend time with these characters, day after day after day, through all the rewrites as well as the initial inspiration. They’ve got to be that fascinating to you. You need to be in love with them—the bad guys as much as the good. You can hardly wait to see them again tomorrow!
What comes first, the plot or the characters?
For me, the initial spark is almost always a character. Maybe it’s because of my initial training in the theatre as an actor. But then, of course, you have to create something gripping and exciting and consequential for them to do, so plot follows along pretty quickly. I’ve never been a fan of plays or books where the characters just observe and describe. I like action.
Tell us something about your newest release that is NOT in the blurb
Although Lola’s affair with King Ludwig I of Bavaria has gone down in the history books as something to be laughed at because of the age difference and Lola’s ‘gold digging’ repute, in fact, in my research I found a very sweet man, and a woman who longed to be loved.
Describe your writing space
I’m really lucky because in the summertime, when I’m usually struggling my way through a first draft, I can go down to the waterfront where we have a miraculous little cabin. There’s a rickety electric line that connects me to the internet and the wide world, but otherwise, I look out over the lake, hear the loons calling, watch the cloud formations, and dream Lola’s world. From the cabin, I can be in Madrid or Paris or Munich or San Francisco—and still go home for lunch with my sweetie.
What are you passionate about these days?
To buy a copy of Whip Smart: Lola Montez Conquers the Spaniards see the links below:
Astor and Blue
Barnes and Noble
Astor and Blue
Barnes and Noble