From the Notebooks of Susan Holloway Scott

Louise & Amber: One Portrait, Two Covers

Thursday, May 21, 2009

French.mistress.front cover Any reader with a sharp eye has noticed how often the same paintings or portraits appear on the covers of historical fiction. Since many of the most popular pictures are also personal favorites of mine (the wide-eyed young Emma, Lady Hamilton, as painted by George Romney in the late 18th century, has appeared on as many covers as a modern-day supermodel), I don’t really object –– though with so much beautiful art in the world, duplicating does seem unnecessary, if not out-and-out lazy.

But sometimes these duplications seem almost fitting. The painting on the cover of my next historical novel, The French Mistress, features a portrait of the real-life heroine, Louise de Keroualle, Duchess of Portsmouth (1649-1734.) Painted around 1673 by King Charles II’s official court portraitist, Sir Peter Lely, the picture is captures Louise at her most lusciously seductive. Louise sat for her portrait many, many times during her long life, and for many different painters, but ILouise like this one the best, and I’m grateful that the art director at NAL/Penguin Books chose it for my cover.

They, however, were not the first art directors to chose Louise’s portrait for a cover. When Kathleen Winsor’s scandalous 1944 novel of Restoration England Forever Amber was reissued in 2000 by the Chicago Review Press in a handsome new edition, this same portrait of Louise graced the cover as a stand-in for the fictional Amber St. Clare.

While the real Louise would most likely have been horrified to be connected in any way to the notorious Amber (for although Louise was a 1556524048 royal mistress, she was first a high-born lady of a noble French family), I wasn’t. My first introduction to Restoration England –– 1660-1682 –– came by way of Amber’s lusty adventures. One long-ago summer in my early teens, I discovered a well-thumbed copy of Forever Amber in my local library, and the rest, as they say, is history, albeit history filtered through Amber’s breathlessly thrilling adventures and amours. I was completely hooked. While I've since moved on to reading original sources like Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn, I'll always be indebted to Kathleen Winsor for that first introduction to a fascinating era.

It’s been a long time since I devoured Forever Amber, but it remains one of those books I’ve always remembered, and one that still holds the original spell it cast on my adolescent imagination. I’m both delighted and honored now to share cover art with Ms. Winsor. I also invite all those readers who, over the years, have enjoyed Forever Amber to try my own interpretation of the bawdy royal court of King Charles II and his mistresses: Royal Harlot : A Novel of the Countess of Castlemaine & King Charles II; The King’s Favorite: A Novel of Nell Gwyn & King Charles II; and, to be released on July 7, The French Mistress: A Novel of the Duchess of Portsmouth & King Charles II.

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From the Notebooks of Susan Holloway Scott

Duchess Sighting

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Just as mothers can instantly pick their own children out in a crowded schoolyard, writers, too, are always quick to spot their book covers on store and library shelves. But on CNN?

Well, not quite the cover, but the cover art. Earlier this year, President and Mrs. Obama visited Her Majesty the Queen of England. While most American news coverage seemed breathlessly to concentrate on whether or not the First Lady broke with traditional protocol by daring to touch the queen's shoulder, I'd spotted something far more interesting. From the emails I received, astute readers of my books did, too. There in Buckingham Palace, directly behind Mrs. Obama, was the portrait of Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, that graces the cover of my first historial novel, Duchess.

Three cheers for strong, intelligent women of every era and nationality!

Michelle Obama & Sarah C

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