Ross King on the elusive artist he'd love to interview

Bestselling historian Ross King delves into the brilliant but troubled mind of Claude Monet in his book, Mad Enchantment. Nominated for the RBC Taylor Prize, the book tells the fascinating story behind Monet's famous water lily paintings.

Below, King takes CBC Books' Magic 8 questionnaire, answering eight questions posed by eight writers.

Magic8-king.png (Melanie King)

1. Shauna Singh Baldwin asks, "What did you learn from writing one book that you have used/can use/will use when writing the next?"
On the most mundane level, I've learned through painful experience to keep my bibliography updated and my footnotes in good order. More upliftingly, I've learned that many consecutive days of writer's block will always eventually reverse themselves, so nil desperandum.

2. Timothy Taylor asks, "Does the novel still have a job in contemporary culture?"
Of course it does. And not only the novel, I would argue, but all books - historical nonfiction (ahem!) included. At the very least, books retain the job they've always had, which is to inform, amuse, provoke and enlighten. In these post-truth days of "alternative facts," well-researched, fact-checked books on politics, culture and history are more important than ever.

3. Jane Urquhart asks, "What would you do if someone offered to adapt your latest book for musical comedy (with an emphasis on the word 'comedy')?"
I would be intrigued. I like to think my books have their comic moments. There's even the occasional musical interlude: Claude Monet used to sing the "Toreador Song" from Carmen at his easel when his work was going well. Leonardo da Vinci was a brilliant musician who designed stringed instruments. He was also a prolific and creative practical joker, as was Filippo Brunelleschi. Nonetheless, it would be a tough brief for someone to turn them into Broadway stars. But then Ron Chernow probably thought the same about his own work. So I live in hope.

4. Xue Yiwei asks, "Would you feel comfort with the success of your book translated into a language you have no knowledge of?"
Yes, I would trust both the publisher and the translator. I've been lucky enough to meet some of my translators and they're incredibly professional, committed and capable. If the book became a huge success, it might even inspire me to learn the language.

5. Ed Riche asks, "Do you feel any pressure to make your work match certain political views?"
None at all. I hope no writer today succumbs to that kind of pressure. Toeing the totalitarian line does not make for good art.

6. Charlotte Gill asks, "If you could ghostwrite the biography of a famous person, alive or dead, who would you choose?"
Leonardo da Vinci. Who wouldn't want to sit down with him, tête à tête? When I wrote a book on him a few years ago, I was continually hungry for more information. He was such an elusive character, deliberately keeping parts of himself concealed from what he knew would be the prying eyes of posterity. It would be wonderful to win his confidence and crack that carapace of mystery.

7. Vincent Lam asks, "What is your favourite editorial stage, and your favourite type of editorial conversation?"
My favourite stage is when I first sit down with my editor, George Gibson, after he reads the manuscript for the first time. We then talk about the book as a whole, in general terms, the way that two friends might discuss a book written by a third party, looking at the pros and cons. I suppose my favourite type of conversation would be when and if he said: "This is fantastic, Ross, the best thing you've ever written!" But more often we try to identify the defects, which, frankly, is much more useful.

8. Pasha Malla asks, "Which would be preferable: a life of relative contentment and comfort, and having your books die alongside you, or being miserable and destitute and having your books read long after you are dead?"
I've thought about this question because one of my books, The Judgment of Paris, is about contemporaneous fame versus obscurity in the hereafter. But maybe it's not such a tough call. "Relative comfort" certainly sounds better than "miserable and destitute" - although I wish the question had contained the words "fabulously wealthy and universally acclaimed," which would make the choice a bit easier.

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