Photo by Jodie Chapman
*Clears the cobwebs from the corners of my official website*. Phew! It’s been a while since I’ve posted here. Not that nothing has been going on in the past six months – a lot has, in fact, but for one reason or another I haven’t written about it in this particular forum (see Viv and Larry for some updates about things that have happened since Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait was published, including lectures, and the co-curation of an exhibit at London’s National Portrait Gallery). However, last week I was tagged in a fun blogging meme by my lovely friend Casee of the book review site Literary Inklings, and it seems the perfect opportunity to get back to updating. The Writing Process Blog Tour asks authors to talk about, well, their personal writing process.
Let’s get to it:
What Are You Working On?
I’m in the early stages of two different things at the moment. The first has to do with the making of my favorite film, William Wyler’s 1939 classic Wuthering Heights. The second is a long-term project dealing again with Vivien Leigh. I can’t really say any more about either now, except that I’ve been spending a fair amount of time communicating with other writers/experts, digging through various archives, organizing my personal collection of ephemera, and learning an awful lot in the process.
How does your work differ from others in its genre?
Thus far, the subject of my published writing has been very focused on Vivien Leigh. ‘Tis the season, after all, with it currently being Vivien’s centenary. This is a subject about which I am very passionate and have put much time and energy into researching. I consider myself extremely lucky that I was able to make her the subject of my first book. It has led to several collaborative opportunities with various cultural institutions like the British Film Institute, National Portrait Gallery and Victoria and Albert Museum. Currently, I’m working with the archive of the late British-American photographer George Douglas to produce a specialized blog post about his meeting with Vivien Leigh in the mid-1960s. I’m also grateful to have been commissioned to write articles that cover various aspects of Vivien’s life and career for digital and print publications, including most recently a feature article for a commemorative magazine celebrating the 75th anniversary of Gone With the Wind (on US newsstands in July).
Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait was unique in its format and, I like to think, my perspective. There had been two previous illustrated biographies (aka coffee table books) about Vivien in the past, but neither were overly in-depth and the photos have by now become extremely commonplace. I wanted to create something that was modern yet classic in its aesthetic, sympathetic yet objective in the presentation of her story, and accessible to both new and seasoned Vivien Leigh fans. My goal is to keep growing as a film historian in a general sense, and Vivien has been a great starting point.
Why Do You Write What You Do?
I love cinema. I love history. I love archival research. I love reading about people who lived interesting lives. Recently, I read a wonderful Paris Review interview with one of my heroes, David McCullough. Asked why he became a writer, he said:
Thornton Wilder was a fellow at my college at Yale. Here was a world-celebrated writer for us to talk to, to have lunch with—imagine!—and he was easy to talk to, delightful. Later, while working in New York, I read the interview with him in The Paris Review. I can’t tell you what a difference it made for me. When asked why he wrote books and plays, he said, “I think I write in order to discover on my shelf a new book that I would enjoy reading or to see a new play that would engross me.” If it didn’t exist, he wrote it so he could read it or see it.
That’s exactly why I decided to write a book.
How Does Your Writing Process Work?
I like to do a lot of research before I actually start writing, but once I get to that point, I can’t really tell you much about my process because I’m still trying to figure out the process that works best for me. I can, however, tell you what doesn’t work: writing at home (which is ironic, because that’s exactly what I’m doing as I type this). I’m much more apt to stay focused for long periods of time when I take my work to a library or coffee shop. Because I get distracted fairly easily, I pull up a classical music playlist on my iPod and switch on a great app called Self Control, which I find extremely helpful. You just have to enter the URLs for any sites you’re prone to visit and waste lots of time on (I’m looking at you, basically every social media platform). The app then blocks said websites on your computer for a specified amount of time. It’s wonderful.
Getting a book published was a huge challenge in many ways, and also a valuable learning experience that, for me, didn’t just stop when my book hit the shelves. As far as my writing process goes, I’m still working on it.
The rules of this Blog Tour specify that I have to tag three other writers and/or bloggers. I’ll tag four:
- Farran Nehme is the genius behind the film blog Self-Styled Siren. Her first novel, Missing Reels, will be published in November.
- Jessica Pickens is a reporter for the Shelby Star in North Carolina, and a prolific classic film blogger at Comet Over Hollywood.
- Kristen Lopez is another film blogger whose work I enjoy reading. You can find her at Journeys In Classic Film.
- Lara Fowler, another film blogger, writes at the delightful blog Backlots, and is currently working on an exciting project about classic film actress Marion Davies.