Welcome back for Part Two of our interview with Wench Susan Fraser King, celebrating the publication of her new historical novel, Lady Macbeth: A Novel. Today Susan chats with the other Susan (fellow-Wench Susan/Miranda) about several topics that not only relate to her extraordinary book, but that are also near and dear to WordWenches readers–including the story behind the beautiful cover, and Gerard Butler. Read on, read on…and please be sure to leave a comment. Susan will send a signed ARC of Lady Macbeth to a reader chosen from those who post (here or in Part One of the interview)!
SHS: Lady Macbeth is written in first person, yet you vary the tenses. Can you tell us why you chose to do that?
SFK: I wrote the prologue and a couple of ending chapters in first person/present tense, and the rest of the book in first person/past tense. The first person/present tense worked well to frame her story in the present moment, when we see Gruadh, not yet old, looking back on her life from a pivotal moment of decision. The story swings back around to present time toward the end, when she must resolve her dilemma. I loved playing with the tenses, and actually had more of that in the manuscript….but my editor figured Less Is More.
And after writing several third-person/two viewpoint novels, I felt real freedom with the first person voice. It came easily, and parts of the book wrote very quickly because of it. Once I got inside the character’s head, she did the talking, and all I had to do was type. Well, sort of. Luckily she had a lot to say about her time and her life.
SFK: Cover art, fun question! Gorgeous art covers are a staple of the bigger historicals, but there aren’t any conventionally beautiful portraits of 11th century women to choose from. The publisher thought early medieval art (such as The Bayeux Tapestry, which is more or less current to the novel) seemed too academic, including a rare image of an 11th c. queen, Queen Emma of England: an ink drawing for her encomium (praise book). I love it, with its Byzantine linear style and generic elements typical in 11th c. art; but has that academic feel. It also has a touch of medieval goofiness, an innocence of imagery prevalent in medieval art, but authentic 11th c. art was a no-go for the cover.
I yearned for a pre-Raphaelite cover, and bombarded my editor with images, but the publisher and art dept. wanted a different look. The first pass was a white silhouette of a raven on a branch against a dark background. Real different; that lasted about a week, since it evoked Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth, not mine. The next cover, a castle with a hawk in flight, is on the ARCs. Later the art dept. removed the hawk, saturated the colors, enlarged and clarified the whole image.
The final cover is beautiful, I think, and evokes the book’s atmosphere, though there are no stone castles in the story. The castle is Eilean Donan, which is probably THE most photographed castle in Scotland. I’ve taken many photos of it myself from that same angle (standing in the car park, with the gift shop off to the right!). Familiarity aside, I think it works very well for this book, and the golden sky looks great. The overall presentation is lovely, with Celtic design touches and quality details. (Has anyone seen the extra detail under the jacket??)
SHS: The role of Lady Macbeth in Shakespeare’s play has been a favorite of many great actresses ever since it was written. If you were casting Gruadh, what actress would you choose to play her? Any ideas of who’d make a good Macbeth?
SFK: This story would be such a cool movie…as long as I’m daydreaming, I can think of several choices in Hollywood, but many of them are *cough* a bit too old for the roles. The obvious choices for Lady Gruadh might be Keira Knightley or Scarlett Johanssen, since Rue is a very young woman for much of the book. Though I’d love to see Sophia Myles (who played Isolde in Tristan and Isolde – just redo that movie into Lady Macbeth, and I’d be happy!), or even Michelle Williams, who has strength and grace (come to think of it, Heath Ledger, gone far too soon, would have been a great young Macbeth). My yummiest picks for Macbeth would be Jude Law, Russell Crowe, or Gerard Butler—I think they’re all suited for him. Daniel Day-Lewis would be a great Thorfin the Raven-Feeder (Macbeth’s cousin and Lady Macbeth’s foe)!
So my picks would be Sophia Myles and Gerard Butler, I think. I’d love to know what you all think — which actors would fit Macbeth and Lady Gruadh?
SHS: Do you see any sequels to Lady Macbeth, following other characters from the book? What’s next for Susan Fraser King?
SFK: I’m working on a novel about the queen who followed Lady Macbeth on the throne of Scotland—Queen Margaret of Scotland, the Saxon-Hungarian princess who married Malcolm Canmore, had eight children with him (six of them kings and queens), and was later declared a saint. Historians often regard her as one of the most fascinating and influential medieval queens—she almost singlehandedly brought Celtic Scotland into the medieval era—and in many ways she is the opposite of Lady Macbeth, who was essentially the last Celtic queen Scotland ever had. While Margaret was pious, she was not always saintly, and she had a lot of fire and individuality. And—unlike Gruoch’s single Latin document—we know tons about Margaret, thanks to her biographer, her personal priest Turgot (who himself was captured and tortured by Normans before escaping north to join her). He idolized Margaret, but he dished the dirt on her, too (she stole gold from Malcolm’s treasury and dressed as a guy to sneak into church, among other adventures).
And it will be a sequel, in a way, since I get to bring Lady Macbeth back in this book. Historically it’s unknown when she died; by the dates, she could have been around during Malcolm and Margaret’s reign. At the end of her novel, Gruadh has not entirely resolved her dilemma (as I said to my editor, “Years later, she’s probably still pissed at Malcolm,” to which she replied, “Woh yeah!”). Gruadh’s goal will be to find some closure, as we say in our century—or maybe a spot of revenge, with Queen/Saint Margaret standing in her way. Watch for the book!
Thank you, Susan. And please let me add that I’ve already had the great pleasure of reading Lady Macbeth, and I recommend it highly! For an excerpt, please check out Susan’s web site.
And be sure to post a comment or question for a chance at winning the signed ARC!