Saturday, February 16, 2008

Full Circle (Well, Almost!)

It all began with Jean Plaidy.

My mother used to take us—all six of us—to the swimming pool on Saturdays to escape the St. Louis summer heat. Splashing in the water and slurping root beer floats in the clubhouse afterwards was welcome relief from the humidity, but usually I couldn’t wait to leave. The best part of the day, for me, came last. On the way home, we’d stop at the public library and load up on books for the coming week.

I remember wandering through the open stacks, excited and overwhelmed. I wanted to read every book there! As a younger child, I sought out Laura Ingalls Wilder’s novels and biographies about girls from earlier times—Molly Pitcher and Florence Nightingale were my hero(in)es. Once I hit the age of twelve and was allowed to check out adult books, Jean Plaidy became my favorite fare. I can still see the covers—horizontal bands of rich blue or green or burgundy bordering portraits of people dressed in stunning period costume.

Many of the novels recounted the life of a queen or noble lady from the pages of European history. The story of Lucrezia Borgia was my favorite, but those of Anne Boleyn and Catherine de Medici were close seconds. Other Plaidy books traced the lives of kings—I fell madly in love with Richard the Lionheart while reading the Plantagenet series. Plaidy’s novels were my first exposure to the history of England and the Continent, and the book’s romantic spin fed my teenage thirst for intrigue and adventure.

Thankfully, Jean Plaidy, whose real name was Eleanor Hibbert, was a prolific writer who kept me busy reading for years. I would have said, if asked, that I had read all her historicals, but I just learned she published some in the late eighties and early nineties that escaped my notice. I’m curious to read them now and see if they work the same magic they did on my impressionable teenage imagination.

It all began with Jean. In a way, it ends with her, too--the agent who represents Plaidy’s estate and negotiated with Three Rivers Press to reissue Plaidy’s books was the first agent to request the full manuscript of my own historical novel. Although I ultimately signed with a different agent, I was thrilled to have forged a link with my inspirational predecessor. Though I’ll never write as many books as Plaidy, I do hope my novels captivate readers and foster their love of history the way her novels did for me.

4 comments:

Sheramy said...

(I hope the long Plaidy comment I wrote posts. I clicked and it looked like it vanished into oblivion!) Speaking of agents, you seem like a friendly, sharing kind of gal, would you mind if I asked you some questions about your experiences? Off-camera via email? If so, drop me a hello at bundrick (at) stpt.usf.edu -- I'd appreciate it. Cheers, Sheramy

Sheramy said...

Ok, clearly the long Plaidy comment did not post. I wrote to say that I too read the Plaidy historicals back in the 80s when I was in junior high/high school, and the books of her other alter egos too. I was such a fan! The ones with the wives of Henry VIII were my favorites. I was excited when they started coming back into print. I just bought "Courts of Love" about Eleanor of Aquitaine and am looking forward to re-reading it. My favorites of the Victoria Holt books were "The Queen's Confession" about Marie Antoinette and "Queen of This Realm" about Elizabeth I.

Which agent handles her estate?

Julianne Douglas said...

Sheramy,

I also loved the books she wrote as Victoria Holt. Bride of Pendorric was my favorite.
I think many of the writers of historical fiction who were teens in the 70's and 80's read Plaidy/Holt and were influenced by her.

Can anyone who has read Plaidy recently comment on the accuracy/depth of her research? I'm wondering how/if the level of historical detail in historical novels has changed over time.

KCJ said...

Actually, Mom never let have snacks after swimming - going to the pool was treat enough. (And I didn't like root beer floats anyway.)

But I did like going to the library too. My favorites were biographies.

KCJ