I don’t play fantasy sports (real sports either for the record), but as a reader and writer I participate in something similar—fantasy casting. I bet you do too. Certain novels just read like movies, filling my head with images of people, places and situations so vivid that I might be watching the action unfold on a screen. I know EXACTLY who I’d like to see play particular characters in some of my favorite novels but, sadly, no one inHollywood ever rings me up when they are making a movie out of a book and says “cast this baby for us.”

Hence the fantasy casting.  Because when real-life constraints—money, an actor’s age, and/or even whether he/she is still among the living—are set aside I can have any book made into a movie starring precisely who I envision in each role. Bliss.

Of course my fantasy cast is not your fantasy cast. And that’s another upside from my point of view. If I prefer Glenda Jackson asElizabeth I (a role she nailed on the BBC before many of you were born) and you prefer Cate Blanchett that’s just fine. We can each pop some popcorn, pull up our respective hassocks, settle down with the very same book in hand and watch the action on the tiny screens in our head featuring our choice. It’s a fantasy remember :)

But for some reason while I’ve been busy casting other writer’s historical novels I never thought about a fantasy cast for The Sister Queens . . . until yesterday. That’s when a pair of talented writer friends (Lydia Netzer and Nancy Bilyeau) pointed out how cinemographic my novel is and started making casting suggestions of their own.

Next thing you knew we had a pretty good list going. I knew it was time to share, and more than that to solicit readers’ opinions. So, in a sort of “We’ll show you our if you show us yours” gesture, I am putting our current fantasy casting ideas out on the table and counting on you to reciprocate. Who do you see playing Louis IX? Eleanor? Jean? The Dragon of Castile? DO TELL (that’s what comments sections are made for)!

Fantasy Cast, The Sister Queens
A Starter List Courtesy of Sophie, Lydia and Nancy

Marguerite: (I’ll admit I see my eldest daughter in this role so thank heavens for the suggestions of others) Romola Garai, Saoirse Ronan, Keira Knightly

Eleanor: (Again my second daughter plays this role in my head): Miranda Otto (remember current age is no impediment), Anna Kendrick, Hailee Steinfeld (right age for start of book but later?), Rooney Mara, Dakota Fanning

Blanche of Castile:  Dame Judy Dench, Virna Lisi

Louis IX: Julian Sands (when he was younger), Rupert Penry-Jones (ditto. Or he could play Henry as he currently is), Keith Ledger (told you we included the dead), Alex Pettfer, Raymond Coulthard, Douglas Booth (if he isn’t playing Jean)

Jean de Joinville:  Douglas Booth (if you didn’t see him in the recent Masterpiece Great Expectations, click the link—it will be apparent why he is my first choice), Kit Harington (you know, Jon Snow in Game of Thrones), a younger Joseph Fiennes (particular if his brother played Henry), Henry Cavill, Jamie Bell (right age for the start of the action but later?), Jeremy Irvine, Orlando Bloom (who might also play Louis if he put in those contacts he wore for Legolas)

Henry III:  Michael Fassbender (yeah he is too good looking – so?), Seth Green, Daniel Auteuil (in younger days), Sean Bean (and for once he wouldn’t have to DIE in a movie), Johnny Lee Miller, Rupert Penry-Jones.

 

What would the weekend be without a bit of crusade humor?  In The Sister Queens, Marguerite accompanies her husband Louis IX of France on the first of his crusading expeditions (the Seventh Crusade).  She certainly didn’t experience much to laugh about.  Particularly when Louis and his knights were captured and she shouldered the responsibility of holdingDamietta and ransoming the knights.  

No reason we shouldn’t enjoy a laugh or two at this Horrible Histories explanation of the crusades however. :)

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I won’t keep you in suspense; quotes from these authors embody guiding principals of my life.  I share them (along with several other favorite quotes)  in an interview at Layered Pages today.  I also discuss why I find Louis IX of France even less likeable than his harridan of a mother, Blanch of Castile.  Please stop by, Stephanie asked some excellent questions!

Today Holly at Bippity Boppity Book shares her thoughts on The Sister Queens in a marvelous and very favorable review.  Holly says:

In Marguerite and Eleanor Sophie Perinot manages to create two characters who are polar opposites but equally interesting and believable.

And she will be:

recommending this to everyone I know who loves historical fiction and putting this author on my “buy immediately” list for her future releases.

 Thank you Holly!

And while The Sister Queens is enjoying the star treatment at Bippity Boppity, I am paying a visit to a castle—Tanzanite’s Castle Full of Books—where my hostess Daphne (besides excellent tea and crumpets) has some very insightful questions for me.  Stop by for a crumpet and find out how I became a writer and what drew me to the 13th century.

Finally, if you haven’t ordered your copy yet, both Holly and Daphne have copies to giveaway.

January 31, 1246 – On this day (and as a result of the earlier secret conclave at Cluny) Beatrice, Countess of Provence, marries Charles d’Anjou, brother of Louis IX at Aix in Provence. 

Aix en Provence

A list of “medieval celebrities” are present at the marriage, including: the bride’s sister Marguerite (Queen of France) and her husband Louis IX; Blanche of Castile, Dowager Queen of France;  the Dowager Countess Beatrice of Provence; and the bride’s prestigious Savoyard Uncles (Thomas and Count Amadeus IV).  When the groom complains noisily that the event lacks sufficient  grandeur (he had expected a magnificent affair in Sens or Paris),  Marguerite is NOT amused.  Eleanor of Provence will learn of her sister’s marriage into the Capetian line only after-the-fact,  and she will be furious.

January 1255 – Eleanor and Henry return to England after spending Christmas at the French Royal Court (on route home from Gascony).  Louis IX makes Henri III a present – an elephant the King of France acquired on crusade – while Marguerite gives her beloved sister Eleanor a peacock shaped washing bowl encrusted with jewels.

January 1234 – The papal dispensation necessary for Marguerite of Provence to marry Louis IX ofFrance(they were cousins) is granted.

Pope Gregory IX

Writers are always looking for ways to get under their characters’ skins.  Only fully realized characters have the ability to make books come to life and please readers.  That means knowing far more about each of our characters than readers ever will.  We have to “wear” our characters (no, not in a “Silence of the Lambs” way).  We have to be able to react instinctively as them to plot points and events in our novels as they arise.

The first step as a historical writer is, of course, historical research.  We research, research, and research waiting for that “genesis moment”—the moment when a character’s voice sounds inside our head for the first time.  After the “genesis moment” writers have varying techniques for getting to know their characters better (questionnaires, lists of character history and details, etc).

I’ve decided to play a board game with mine.  Here, live, on the blog. No kidding.

This year for Christmas my elementary-aged son received “The Ungame.”  Don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of it, I hadn’t either until recently when he started talking about it after playing with a friend.  My son is a fairly reticent child – reserved even.  So when he came home enthusiastically raving about a game that was all about talking, sharing opinions and feeling, and learning about your fellow players I knew it would be making an appearance under our tree.

As of this writing I have played The Ungame three times.  I love the darn thing.  It has asked me to reflect upon and answer some pretty significant questions (“What would you do if you were told you were going to die soon?”).  I’ve even learned some new things about the man I’ve been married to for more than two decades—a man whose sentences I am fully capable of finishing (though he doesn’t like that so much).

So this morning I thought why not play with my sisters, Marguerite and Eleanor of Provence?  Before I begin I hereby declare that I have the actual game board on my desk, that I will be rolling actual dice, and that I will be selecting the top card off the pile (a shuffled pile) when the game requires any player to draw a card.  Here goes:

[Sophie—the startling orange game piece—rolls]: 5!  That’s an Ungame spot.  I get to ask another player a question.

Marguerite, what comes to your mind when you think about your childhood?

[Marguerite of Provence, Queen of France]:

The landscape of Provence; the Court of my father, Raymond Berenger, Count of Provence; and, of course, my sisters.  I thought all families were as happy as ours and all courts were as warm and hospitable. [Sighs]

Shall I roll next?

[Eleanor of Provence, Queen of England]:

No Marguerite! It is my turn.  We are going clockwise.

[Eleanor—royal purple—rolls]: 6!  That’s MightyMountain.  Hm, Eleanor has to talk about a time she’s felt challenged by something.

My most recent challenge was acting as Regent of England for nearly ten-months while His Majesty was inGascony.  My appointment was outside of English custom and I wanted to do such a good job that none could afterward question the wisdom of Henry’s choice.  My largest task was raising money to keep Henry and his troops in the field, and to pay the French to stay out of the conflict.  I ended up paying Alphonse of Poitiers (Louis IX ofFrance’s brother) over three-thousand pounds sterling from my own allowance to keep him out of the war.

 Your turn Marguerite.

 [Marguerite—playing black—rolls]: 1.  An Ungame spot.  Marguerite draws a question card.

 Sophie, to whom can you turn if you need to be comforted?

 [Me]:

Doubtless like you, my mind turns immediately to my sister.  She’s always loved me unconditionally.  If I need to hear a kind word she will provide it—of course if I have a stern word coming she’ll provide that too but only after comforting me.

[All ladies laugh.  Sophie rolls again]: 2.  An Ungame spot.

[Sophie]:

Marguerite, what is something you want people to remember about you?

[Marguerite]:

That I saved my husband Louis from captivity and likely death in theHoly Land.  Because I am quiet and try always to behave in a ladylike manner I fear that people underestimate my will and my ability to act decisively when such action is needed.

[Eleanor rolls]: 5.  An Ungame  spot.

Marguerite, if you have ever felt ‘brokenhearted’ talk about it.

[Marguerite, hesitates, casts Eleanor a meaningful look, then speaks]:

I have been heartbroken more than once.  Early in my marriage I believed myself in love with my husband—I was certainly infatuated.  Between the demands of his mother and his God, Louis drew further and further away from me, leaving me very lonely.  So Louis broke my heart first, but perhaps nothing is more heartbreaking than the death of a child and I have had that sorrow.

[Marguerite rolls]: 2.  Takes a card.

Eleanor, talk about the most loving person you know.

[Eleanor]:

Without doubt my husband Henry.  It makes me furious how harshly people judge him.  He is no statesman—though it pains me to say it—but he is such a good husband and father.  He is entirely faithful to me.  There has never been even the rumor of a royal mistress.  And he wants me to be happy.  He can be a worrier, as during my pregnancy with Edmund when he ordered 1000 tapers kept burning before Saint Thomas Becket’s shrine at Canterbury and another 1,000 at St. Augustine’s, all for the delivery of a second son and my safety.  But what woman could fail to see the love underlying such concern?  As for the children, Henry is besotted with them.  Absolutely besotted.

By the way, am I winning this game?  How do we know who wins?

[Me]: 

There is no “winner” in The Ungame.  It’s an un-competitive learning game.

[Eleanor]:

Pshaw, everything in life has winners and losers.  [Turning to Marguerite]  But if I must tie then I am happy to do so with my sister The Queen of France.

[Marguerite inclines her head, graciously]

[Me]:

 On that happy note I declare our game at an end.  Who is in favor of some wine and sugar-coated aniseeds?

December 1245 – A secret conclave at Cluny (attended by Pope Innocent IV and the French royals) arranges to bring Beatrice of Provence into the Capetian family.  Beatrice, who had inherited Provence upon the death of Count Raymond Berenger V, is a glittering matrimonial prize—with the balance of power in the Midi hinging upon her alliance.

The Monastery at Cluny

Louis IX is highly pleased to secure Beatrice as the bride for his younger brother, Charles de Anjou (thus drawing Provence into the sphere of influence of the French crown). Henry III of England, hearing of the conclave after the fact, is furious, feeling his interests have been betrayed by Eleanor’s Savoyard relations, including Boniface of Savoy whom he had named Archbishop of Canterbury.

November 27th1252:  Louis IX of France’s beloved mother, Blanche of Castile, dies.  On her deathbed she “takes the veil” wearing it over her crown. 

Blanche of Castile at her coronation

It will take months for the French King (who is on crusade and moving from place to place in the Holy Land) to hear of the Dowager Queen’s death.  Unlike Louis, Marguerite will not be saddened by the news.