Monday, July 14, 2008

Karen Essex

Karen Essex, an award-winning journalist and a screenwriter, is the author of Kleopatra, Pharaoh, and the international bestseller Leonardo’s Swans, which won Italy’s prestigious 2007 Premio Roma for foreign fiction.

Her new novel is Stealing Athena.

From a Q & A at the publisher's website:

Q. How did you decide to write about the Elgin Marbles?

I first saw the Elgin Marbles in 2001 at the British Museum when I went to see an exhibit about Cleopatra. I was researching my novel Kleopatra and I wandered into the Duveen Gallery where the marbles are housed. I listened to the story behind the marbles on the audio guide and had an intuition that it would be good fodder for a novel. When Susan Nagel's biography of Mary Nisbet, Countess of Elgin came out in 2004, I eagerly read it and was blown away by Mary's contribution to the acquisition of the treasures, and also by the absence of references to her in the sources. I thought, hmmm, another woman who defied society's idea of how a woman should behave and paid a steep price for it–and was forgotten. I got very excited about writing about her.

Q. What did your research for Stealing Athena entail?

I am definitely a research freak. I'm the sort of writer who thinks that if she doesn't know everything, she doesn't know anything.

Stealing Athena was difficult to write simply because of the enormity of the research. It was crucial for me to understand the Ottoman Empire, the British Empire, Napoleon, the French Revolution, the Golden Age of Pericles, and all the ensuing cultural studies that would have impacted the people in those civilizations and time periods. I have posted a selected bibliography on my website, but it doesn’t begin to encompass all my sources. And of course, I also visit the pertinent locations in all of my novels to do as much onsite research as possible, in addition to soaking in the atmosphere and breathing the air. That’s the really fun part. I like to literally share molecules with my characters.
Read the full Q & A.

Read excerpts from Stealing Athena, and learn more about the author and her work at Karen Essex's website.

The Page 69 Test: Stealing Athena.

--Marshal Zeringue