Ask the Author: The origins of an idea and the rewards of research

Ask the Author


In the previous instalment of “Ask the Author,” I outlined some fundamentals that every new author should know when putting their feet into the deep, dark waters of commercial publishing. This week, I’d like to get down to basics and talk a bit about the origins of Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait and the research that followed. 

Q:  What sparked your interest in the Oliviers? Do you feel that this couple from the early mid 20th century have an appeal to the younger audiences of today? If so, why? And, what has been the most rewarding part of writing a book on Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier? – Susan G. and Sarah. B, respectively.

Let me just start off by clarifying that although the story of the Oliviers plays a major part in An Intimate Portrait because you can’t talk about Vivien Leigh’s life without mentioning Laurence Olivier’s (significant) presence in it, the book is by no means solely about their relationship. It’s about Vivien’s life and career.  That said, my original idea actually was to put together a book that focused on them as a combined entity. I envisioned it being something like Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger’s Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and the Marriage of the Century, only with a lot more photos. But as anyone who has ever worked on a big project knows, ideas evolve and change throughout the creative process and sometimes what you end up with is completely different from, but probably better than, what you started out with.

I have Gone With the Wind to thank for not only sparking my eventual interest in the Oliviers, but also opening my world to the joys of classic cinema. It seems that a lot of people “discover” Vivien Leigh through this film, and for good reason: it’s iconic and, most importantly, really accessible. But more than that, it’s damn enjoyable, especially considering it has a running time of nearly four hours. I’ve been obsessed with movies for as long as I can remember, and there have been particular films throughout my life that I’ve latched on to for whatever reason. GWTW was one of these films. I read the book and saw the film as a teenager, and the effect on me was so great that I felt compelled to learn as much as I could about the production and its stars. This led to an interest in Vivien’s life. I’ve always been drawn to flawed characters – the recluses, the tragic ones – because I find them interesting, and, in some ways, relatable. The more I read about Vivien, the more layered her story became, and the more I felt compelled to dig deeper and try to discover who she really was. My interest in her relationship with Olivier followed suit.