Author on the Bookcase: Santa Montefiore
Please welcome Santa Montefiore, author of The Woman from Paris, to On the Bookcase in this interview!
What was your inspiration for The Woman from Paris? Did you begin with a specific character or plot idea?
I started with the house! I fell in love with a beautiful Jacobean house near where I live in the country and worked the plot around it.
In the “Biography” section on your website, www.santamontefiore.co.uk, you write: “We have all had moments that we would give anything to live again.” What is one moment you wish you could relive?
Without doubt I would return to 1989 and relive the year I spent in Argentina as a nineteen-year-old. Inspired by the beauty of the pampa and the colourful people I met there, I wrote Meet Me Under the Ombu Tree, my first novel. I still have loads of friends there and return when I can. In my heart I feel it is my second home!
Phaedra deceives the Frampton family in the hopes of protecting them from the truth. Do you think good intentions ever justify a lie?
I think lying is acceptable in certain circumstances, one of those being when the truth would cause terrible pain. The trouble is you always risk getting found out and being exposed! Perhaps if Phaedra had lied and disappeared afterwards, she might have got away with it. Her troubles began when she allowed herself to become part of the Frampton family and of course when she fell in love with David. There was no way it was all going to end well!
The novel stresses the necessity of forgiveness. Why did you want to emphasize this theme in The Woman from Paris? Do you find it easy to practice forgiveness in your own life?
I think forgiveness is the hardest thing to find in our hearts, and yet it is the only way to diffuse our suffering. By holding onto resentment we hold onto pain. When we truly forgive we allow love to burn away all negativity. Love frees us from suffering, but goodness, I’ve had times in my life where I knew the theory and yet my heart remained as hard as stone. Sometimes, time is the only thing that softens the heart, which is why I think old people often make peace as they near the end of their lives. They grow wise and see the bigger picture.
Where is your favorite place to ski?
My favourite place to ski will always be Klosters in Switzerland, where I base the ski scenes in my novel. My great-grandmother, who was Swiss, used to go there with her family, way back, and her descendants have called it home ever since!
Did you model the beautiful setting of Fairfield Park after a particular place?
Yes, I went to visit friends in Hampshire who have the most beautiful Jacobean house, set in spectacular grounds. I have always loved houses, especially old ones, and I adore those summer houses built on hills or beside lakes, they’re very romantic. I used the house but made it my own, as the real one is not positioned by a lake nor does it have a hill with an ornamental summer house (folly) on the top. The houses in my novels are characters, too!
Your husband, Simon Sebag Montefiore, is also a successful, internationally bestselling author. Do you ever edit or read each other’s early drafts? How do you influence each other as writers?
Absolutely, we help each other all the time. We consider ourselves a business and share everything. He helps me with plots. Usually, I come up with the idea and then we sit over a bottle of wine discussing it and working out all the possible scenarios. It’s fun! I read the first draft of his novels, but not his history books. I can’t help with those. The novels I do feel qualified to critique. His new one, which comes out next year, is gripping and I really didn’t have to do much!
The Woman from Paris is your eleventh novel. Was there any element of writing this novel that differed from your previous novels? How you do you think you have grown as a writer from your first novel, Meet Me Under the Ombu Tree?
I think the key to success is loving what you do, whatever field you are in. I adore writing. I can’t look out of a window without feeling the urge to describe what I’m seeing. I think that enthusiasm is infectious. I have learnt a lot in the twenty years since I started writing my first novel, not only technically but from experience. The older I get, the wiser I become and the better I understand human nature. Writing about characters is much more interesting if those characters are complex. I think plot is important and it’s fun to keep the reader guessing, but I think it’s well drawn characters that keep the reader coming back for more. Is this novel different from the others? I think everyone is different, like children, but I love them all equally!
What was the last book you read?
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. I found it moving, touching and funny. A very heavy subject told lightly.
What are you working on now?
I’m editing the one for next year. It’s based in Ireland and is a mystery, love story with lots of twists and turns. I have loved writing about Connemara, it’s very wild and romantic! I shall start my fourteenth novel straight after.
Santa Montefiore is the internationally bestselling author of several novels, including The French Gardener and The Last Voyage of the Valentina. She lives in London with her husband, historian Simon Sebag-Montefiore, and their two children.