Cora Cash, possibly the wealthiest heiress in 1890s
Q: How would you sum up your book in one line to a curious Amazon customer?
A: It's about love and money and whether you can ever separate the two--plus it gives you the skinny on country-house life at the end of the nineteenth century.
Q: What drew you to the period in which you have set My Last Duchess?
A: I studied history at university and I have always been fascinated by the fin de siècle period which has so many parallels with our own. I started writing the book at the height of the boom but 21st century billionaires are tame in comparison with the Americans of the Gilded Age--the Astors, the Vanderbilts and the Carnegies. The American super-rich lived like kings, if not better than kings. Consuelo Vanderbilt who married the Duke of Marlborough in 1895 couldn't get over how primitive the plumbing was at Windsor Castle. I had enormous fun researching this book--one of the most unusual things I discovered was the fashion for tattoos among British aristocrats male and female.
Q: How did the character of Cora take shape for you?
A: There is quite a bit of me in Cora, although sadly I am not an heiress to vast wealth or a Duchess (yet), but I do understand what it is like to live with an overbearing parent. I was interested in writing about a character who can never be sure whether she is loved for herself or for her money. It is easier to write a novel where you are taking a character from one culture and putting them in another--Cora is an American princess but she doesn’t know how to navigate English high society. But she is not a passive heroine, I like the fact that she fights back.
Q: And what about that of the Duke?
A: The Duke is the ultimate in unreliable men. I think all men are shaped by their relationship with their mothers and Ivo has a particularly stormy one with the Double Duchess. I wanted to write about a man who is impatient with his own faults but doesn’t quite know how to overcome them. His relationship with Cora is about more than money – she is the one person in his life who is genuinely fearless.
Q: What can readers look forward to next from you?
A: I am writing another novel set in the nineteenth century. It is about a love triangle between a man, his fiancée and the Empress of Austria and is based on a true story.
Q: What do you enjoy reading?
A: Everything! Although having said that, when I judged the Orange Prize this year I found myself tiring of books with info dumps ('look here is my research!') or ones based on undigested personal tragedy. There are certain authors I return to again and again: Evelyn Waugh, Edith Wharton, Graham Greene, P.G. Wodehouse, Barbara Pym--I would give a great deal to be able to write like that. Living writers I admire include Margaret Atwood, Barbara Kingsolver, Lorrie Moore, Hilary Mantel and Julian Barnes. I enjoy a really good crime novel--I like C.J Sansom, Josephine Tey, Sophie Hannah and Jason Goodwin. And I read a lot of poetry--I don't have a favourite poet but I love Carol Ann Duffy, Wendy Cope, Robert Browning, Billy Collins and Byron to name but a few.
Q: What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
A: I didn’t start writing properly until I was in my forties although I had always wanted to be a novelist. I think what stopped me was my own perfectionism. I think Winston Churchill said, 'Don't let perfection stand in the way of the good'. When I actually sat down to start writing, as opposed to fantasising about it, it was surprisingly easy. On a good day it feels like I am tapping into something subconscious; quite often I will read back what I have written and think, did I write that? I work full time running a TV production company so when I find the time to write I have to be really disciplined--I won't let myself get up until I have written a thousand words. I can write anywhere so long as I have my noise cancelling headphones, I always listen to music when I write--Mozart or Bach is the best music to write by.
Q: Tell us something unusual about yourself.
A: I failed my driving test thirteen times. I have now passed and am really quite a competent driver, so it just goes to show that persistence in life is everything.
Recommended Reading from Daisy Goodwin
The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford: One of the most brilliantly put together books I have ever read. Full of twists and turns. Every time I read it I notice something else.
Couch Fiction by Philippa Perry: This is a graphic novel about therapy, which sounds weird but actually works really well. Compulsory reading for anyone who has ever considered therapy. A clear, funny look at what therapists do.
The Janissary Tree by Jason Goodwin: This is the first in a series of detective stories set in nineteenth century Istanbul featuring the eunuch detective Yashim. Beautifully written and deftly plotted. I would say this even if he wasn't my brother.
A Glass of Blessings by Barbara Pym: I love Barbara Pym and this is her absolute best. I think she is one of the few novelists to rival Jane Austen for comic timing and razor-sharp social comedy.
See more of Daisy's favourite reads in Author's Choice
'Sparkling and thoroughly engaging...the story of a poor little rich girl learning the hard way how to concentrate on the next step along the tightrope makes for a highly enjoyable and intelligent read'--The Sunday Times
‘Daisy Goodwin's debut novel is a delightful confection - a clash of cultures set in late 19th-century England, embellished with the glittering lavishness that the period implies'--Marie Claire
‘Intelligent exploration of the gulf between the New World and the old - and one woman's spirited attempt to bridge it'--Guardian
‘Rich in lavish detail and society gossip... It is a romp of a book, with all the ingredients for a self-indulgent afternoon read. A well-written, brilliant first novel by a confident, skilful storyteller. It is pure, light-hearted, unpretentious entertainment.'--Sunday Express
'Clever Daisy Goodwin. Not content with being a raven-haired poetry temptress, she's written My Last Duchess. It's a marvellously assured read about a marvellously assured American heiress called Cora Cash...It's a literary Greatest Hits; there's a mysterious duke, a woman in a veil and secrets, as well as lashings of period detail about dresses for yachting, opera and dinner. Heartily recommended; Goodwin writes beautifully; her easy style disguising both erudition and emotional truth.'--Wendy Holden, Daily Mail
‘A wonderful guilty pleasure of a read...the detailing is beautiful, the great phalanx of historical characters amusing and the relief of reading a novel that puts enjoyment first, so rare and gratifying that I am ready for a sequel'--Amanda Foreman, Sunday Telegraph
‘Anyone suffering Downton Abbey withdrawal symptoms (who isn't?) will find an instant tonic in Daisy Goodwin's My Last Duchess ... this is a deliciously evocative first novel that lingers in the mind. Henry James with belles on.'--Allison Pearson, Telegraph, Books of the Year for Christmas
‘Deliciously classy. An intelligent pleasure, full of exquisite period detail'--Kate Mosse
'I was seduced by this book, rather as Cora is seduced by her duke: with great skill and confidence. Daisy Goodwin's first novel is intriguing, atmospheric and extremely stylish. I was still thinking about it long after I had reached the end'--Penny Vincenzi
'Book recommendations don't come much better that from queen of chick-lit ADELE PARKS. So when Parks herself told us not to miss My Last Duchess, we got straight on it...Lose yourself in this beautiful story about love in the 19th Century' ****--Heat magazine
‘Transporting you to a different world... the perfect mix of escapism and intelligent writing.'--Weight Watchers Magazine
'A pleasure from start to finish'--Woman & Home
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