We, at Regal House, had the delightful opportunity to sit down with Stephanie Cowell, author of the upcoming The Boy in the Rain, a love story of two young men in Edwardian England, releasing May 1, 2023, and ask her all the particular questions we had regarding her writing process, her hobbies, and her inspiration for her upcoming book. We’re thrilled to share that interview with you!
What surprising skills or hobbies do you have?
Before I threw myself into writing novels, I was a high soprano, singing both traditional folk music with guitar, and opera. With folk songs, I sang everywhere from prisons, schools, on a cruise on the lake around Stockholm, and the most elegant private parties in New York City apartments. I sang in several languages though my favorite was British songs, particularly “Greensleeves” and “Flow Gently, Sweet Afton.” I performed many roles in opera, among them Gretel wearing my hair in braids and Gilda in Rigoletto, the young Renaissance Italian girl who is seduced by the Duke of Mantua. Her father vows vengeance and death, and the baritone singing the role and I had a very dramatic duet, when he keeps singing “Si, Vendetta!” (Vengeance!) and she begs him to forgive the scoundrel Duke because she still loves him. At the end Gilda must sing a very high note: the Eb above High C. I was terrified, and my throat would close which meant no high note. So, my old Italian voice teacher discovered I could manage if I ran while singing. Everyone thought I was wonderfully dramatic with my long hair streaming behind me, running across the enormous stage while sustaining that note. But I could not do it otherwise!
I still sing a little when I do the dishes, but nothing nearly that high.
How do you research your work?
When I first began to write novels (1984) there was no internet, and I had very little money for books, even if I could find them. I would go to the research libraries which still had index cards cataloguing books. There was always tremendous excitement finding a book. The New York Public Library’s main reading room (the Rose Room) where I sometimes went to study is unbelievably huge and gorgeous. You wrote out a call card and handed it to the librarian and after a time someone from somewhere in the seven stories below the ground where the books were stored, the book you wanted would be fetched. My new novel, The Boy in the Rain, was researched in old book shops and libraries and later, books bought online. I also went to England several times to research it, to London and to Nottingham where the two young men in the book lived. But research also is sensory memory. I stayed many summer weekends as an adolescent in an old country house which was security for me. I heard the heavy tree branches moving against the house. It became the house in my novel.
How long did it take you to write your book? Revisions?
It took forever! The Boy in the Rain was the first novel I tried to write, begun on a dare from two friends. It was very short and undeveloped, but a friend remembers, “it had tremendous passion.” So, I hid the printout in my closet and every four or five years, I’d miss it awfully, and bring it out to revise and share it with a few friends. Agents would fall in love with it and some editors but in the end, they thought it was too unusual and wanted other books from me. I’m terribly glad actually because it took that long to develop into its full strength,
Have you published anything before? If so, what and where?
I have published three novels with W.W. Norton: Nicholas Cooke, The Physician of London, and The Players: a novel of the young Shakespeare. Then came Marrying Mozart through Viking Penguin, and after with Crown Random House, Claude & Camille: a novel of Monet. My books have been translated into nine languages and the Mozart novel was made into an opera. I am the recipient of an American Book Award. I have at least six novels in draft, always hoping to finish them. Maybe eight….
LAST QUESTION: When you are writing which is more real, the world all of us live in or the one only you can see? How does to feel to share that world??
When I am writing, the world of the novel is as real as the one I physically live in. I feel the characters walking next to me in the street. When I was an only child (until the age of nine), I would be taken to school and brought back again to my room where I was alone most of the time until dinner. We lived in NYC and I had no way to go to other kids’ houses, as little kids don’t walk the streets alone! Actually, I kept changing schools, so I don’t remember having any friends until after the age of nine when we lived in one place for a few years, and I was able to walk a few streets to visit my first friend or go downstairs to visit a girl in the building. So, I made up people.
I had a made-up friend called David, and I believe he was the genesis of some of my characters, especially Robbie in The Boy in the Rain. Everyone has imaginary worlds in them, but most people are private about them. Writers share them in books. For a long time, I felt The Boy in the Rain was too private to share, that it was just for me. When I first saw the novel printed between covers, I was a little terrified. It is such an intimate world to me. Writing these words, a month before publication day, I am still not sure I want to stand up and talk about it before people. So, there was a great tug between keeping it a secret forever and sharing it. I guess sharing it won.