Now for the interview:
Teddy: What inspired you to write about Leonardo da Vinci’s mother?
R.M.: Actually, my first thought was to write a book about Leonardo, because he was — and remains today — much more than just an astonishing artist. He had the most original mind of any man of any century. He was an inventor, scientist, philosopher, atheist, believer in Nature as God, vegetarian (when such a thing was a heretical act!), a homosexual, a believer in freedom of the human spirit, and that learning did not come from books but from personal, first-hand experience. However, the publishing business today — especially in the historical fiction genre — is quite fixated on stories told from a woman’s point of view. So I was forced to revise my thinking.
Teddy: How long did it take you to do research for this book? Please tell us about your research process for the book.
R.M.: Since this was, after having written six novels of Tudor England and Ireland, my first in Renaissance Italy, I was starting from scratch — locations, characters, world view, philosophies, politics, arts and sciences — absolutely everything was new to me. I’d never been to Florence or Milan, had never set foot in Italy at all, yet I knew I had to really evoke a sense of this most extraordinary moment in time, as it was in Florence, with this particular group of people, where the Renaissance began. The Renaissance was the most significant turning point in history up to that time, and I had to do it justice.
Teddy: At what point in your writing the book did you decide that Caterina would become Cato?
R.M.: I always write a detailed outline of my novels to start (this is how I sell my books — based on proposals) so as soon as I came up with my storyline, it became clear that if I wanted Caterina to follow her beloved son, Leonardo, into Florence to watch over him, and if I wanted to illuminate the secret world of the city — what I call “The Shadow Renaissance,” (see more about that in a page on my website http://robinmaxwell.com, BONUS PASSPORT TO THE 15th CENTURY called “What is the Shadow Renaissance?”), from the inside, from her perspective, she could not be a woman. Women were kept cloistered in their fathers’ houses till they were married (or went to a convent) and then cloistered in their husband’s houses till they died. They were only allowed to go out to confession or gather with their women friends for special occasions like marriages and the birth of children. And since I learned that there were women who cross-dressed all throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance (and found some wonderful research books on the subject), I had no choice but to turn Caterina into “Cato.”
Teddy: Was there really a tie in history with Leonardo da Vinci and Lorenzo de’Medici. Please tell us about that tie.
R.M.: There’s actually a controversy about that. Some historians say that because Lorenzo de‘ Medici did not send Leonardo with other painters like Botticelli (on loan) to Rome to decorate the Vatican, and because he DID send the 30 year-old already famous painter to live and work in Milan in the court of Ludovico Sforza, that Lorenzo did not think highly of Leonardo. That is because Leo was not a highly educated man (as Lorenzo was), but something of a “country bumpkin,” Lorenzo felt Leo was “below him” socially. I think that’s hogwash.
Teddy: What are you working on now?
R.M.: My next novel, O, JULIET, is the first retelling of the the world’s greatest love story in the form of a historical novel. I set it in Florence (and only a few parts in Verona) in 1444. Lorenzo de‘ Medici’s mother, Lucrezia (at age 18, just before she marries into the Medici family), is Juliet’s best girlfriend, and while the story is told primarily in Juliet’s voice, Romeo gets to tell his side of it as well. It’ll be published in the beginning of 2010.
Teddy: What is one of your favourite books/authors?
R.M.: I have too many much-loved authors and books to list, but my new two favorites in historical fiction are C.W. Gortner (THE LAST QUEEN) and Michelle Moran (NEFERTITI and THE HERETIC QUEEN).
I would like to thanks Robin Maxwell for taking time out of her busy schedule for this interview!
I loved this book and know that my readers will to. On that note, please look for my giveaway where one lucky reader will win a copy of Signora da Vinci!