Sandra Gulland Interview

April 20, 2009 interviews
the author of Mistress of the Sun

Sandra Gulland and horseSandra Gulland's captivating novel Mistress of the Sun, about King Louis XIV's first mistress, appeared in paperback on April 7, 2009. I loved it and was delighted to have the opportunity to interview her for this website.

Louise de la Valliere lived in a time very different from ours, when the typical woman's options were limited to marrying, entering a convent, or becoming a "fallen" woman, yet it still fascinates us to read about women like her. Why do you think this is?

I think it's not only interesting, but important, to understand our history, as women. Although women didn't have the options women have today, that didn't mean that they didn't manage quite well within those confines, have influence, power and significance. There's a pride in that, to see their pluck and courage. But at the same time, it helps us to value what we do have, and to sympathize with the women living in cultures today that continue to confine women.

Early in Mistress of the Sun, Louise discovers a book telling how to use "Bone Magic" to gentle horses. Did that book really exist, or is it entirely fictional?

There were indeed such books - in England, certainly. It's possible, if not likely, that such books existed in France, as well. So it's a bit of fact and fancy, mixed. I consign it to the realm of the possible.

Readers and writers debate to what extent, if at all, historical novelists should alter known historical facts in their work. How do you decide when and how to depart from the factual record in your own novels?

I begin with the historical record, finding a story within the confines of historical fact. And then, little by little, the shape of a novel begins to emerge. It's at this point, usually, that I begin to see how the story is weakened by the existence of so many characters (for example), and how it would be strengthened if I were to combine them, or cut, or change them in some way. It's always a push/pull: the push of the narrative arc, the pull of the historical record. I go back and forth. Ultimately, a story comes to life, within the confines of fact.

Mistress of the Sun is more fanciful than the Josephine B. Trilogy - more of a fable than a biographical novel - yet even so, I feel it possible that I touched on deep emotional realities in this imaginative way.

I believe that a novelist can do whatever he or she wishes, and that the primary loyalty must be to the story - but I also believe that the reader should be made to understand, in some way (in an author's note, for example), what's what: what's fact and what's fancy, in general terms.

Review of Mistress of the Sun by Sandra Gulland

See listing for Mistress of the Sun at Powell's Books

See listing for Mistress of the Sun at

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