Set in Tunisia and France in 1935, Dido’s Crown is a taut literary-historical adventure influenced by Indiana Jones, The Thin Man, and John le Carré.
Mary Wilson MacPherson has always been adept at putting the past behind her: her father’s death, her sister’s disappearance, and her complicated relationship with childhood friends Tom and Will. But that all changes when, traveling to North Africa on business for her husband, Mary meets a handsome French-Tunisian trader who holds a mysterious package her husband has purchased — a package which has drawn the interest not only of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, but the Nazis as well.
When Tom and Will arrive in Tunisia, Mary suddenly finds herself on a race across the mesmerizing and ever-changing landscapes of the country, to the shores of southern France, and all across the wide blue Mediterranean. Despite her best efforts at distancing herself from her husband’s world, Mary has become embroiled in a mystery that could threaten not only Tunisian and British security in the dangerous political landscape of 1935, but Mary’s beliefs about her past and the security of her own future.
Hi Julie! Thanks so much for visiting Let Them Read Books today!
Dido's Crown takes place a world away from your previous novel, Oleanna. Can you tell us a bit about what inspired you to write this story?
I started writing the book while I was still trying to finish Oleanna in 2011. I was having a terrible time getting through that last draft of that book and needed to switch gears. This novel is so different than Oleanna, so it helped jump-start my creative brain.
I've always been interested in North Africa but had never planned on writing about the Maghreb. But I had a really powerful dream in which I was flying (Supergirl-style!) over the beaches of Tunisia and I suppose I took it as a sign. I also love reading historical fiction set slightly off the beaten track, so it was natural to dig into learning about this beautiful country.
Were any of your characters inspired by real-life figures?
The characters in Dido's Crown are all themselves, and don't really (at least consciously!) have any real-life analogues. That said, the haughty look Mary has a tendency to sport was directly influenced by the actress Eva Green.
How did you go about bringing Tunisia in the 1930s to life?
A great deal of reading and research. Like most historical fiction authors, I love research, so it was definitely not a burden. I wanted to make sure I understood not only the political and cultural context of the country at the time, but also the little things like the brand of lighter Alain was likely to use, what kind of wall hangings his father would have, what a French-Tunisian household might look like. I found some fantastic nonfiction and scholarly resources (The Thirties by Juliet Gardiner and Tunisia: Crossroads of the Islamic and European Worlds, Kenneth J. Perkins), but I also found contemporary books to be quite useful, and entertaining – particularly Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield. There are also some really fantastic contemporary films posted on YouTube – videos of Tunis in the 1930s in particular were incredibly helpful.
What was the most challenging aspect of writing this novel?
Everything! Well, almost everything. Most of my other books have been more on the Oleanna side of things – very character driven, where this book (I hope) has a good balance of plot and character. I really had to work hard to keep myself straight in terms of plot, timelines, motivations, etc. It really helped me work on creative muscles I wasn't used to. So the logistics of writing the book was a challenge. But in the midst of writing I was sidetracked by a bout of depression, so regaining my creative brain and my confidence was a process, and I finally came back to the book in the summer of 2015.
What do you like best about writing historical fiction?
I suppose I love the challenge of it most of all. It takes a great deal of work to create interesting characters, a good story, and a believable setting – both time and place. The bottom line is I love both learning and creating, and historical fiction gives me the perfect opportunity for both.
What are you working on now?
I'm working on a novel set in the Bay Area in 1906. There are plenty of stories of the great earthquake in San Francisco itself, but there are scores of amazing stories of destruction and heroism elsewhere. What's known now as the Silicon Valley has a fascinating history – San José was established in 1777 and the area was under Spanish and then Mexican rule until 1848. And of course the Ohlone lived in the Santa Clara valley, Salinas valley, and in the Santa Cruz mountains for over a thousand years before the De Anza expedition or the Russian fur traders ever ventured near the Bay Area. It will be fun to share this fascinating history!
Sounds great! It's a pleasure having you here today!
A member of the Historical Novel Society and former reviewer for the Historical Novels Review, Julie lives in the Bay Area with her husband and rescue cats, and loves reading, following the San Francisco Giants, and enjoying the amazing natural beauty of Northern California.
Her forthcoming historical adventure novel, Dido’s Crown, will be released in September 2016.
Oleanna, short-listed for finalists in the 2011 Faulkner-Wisdom literary competition, is her second novel. The Pilgrim Glass, a finalist in the 2005 Faulkner-Wisdom competition and semi-finalist in the 2009 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards, was published in 2010.
For more information, please visit Julie K. Rose’s website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Goodreads.
Dido's Crown is on a blog tour!