Sandra Gulland: Getting Around to It

Sandra Gulland’s fifth novel, The Shadow Queen, “will remind readers why they fall in love with the past,” says Death in the Floating City author Tasha Alexander. She goes on to say, “Gulland uses her meticulous research with consummate skill, rendering vivid the luxury and squalor of Louis XIV’s France and breathing life into fully formed characters that tug at the heart. Masterful.” Sandra is also the author of the internationally bestselling Josephine B. Trilogy, as well as Mistress of the Sun.- Meg

Shadow Queen CoverShortly after I turned forty—a shocking thirty years ago—I had what I guess one could call a mid-life crisis. I am a cheerful person by nature, but I was in the dumps. Of course I turned to a book (as I always do in a crisis), a cheesy self-help book whose title I can’t recall.

I remember only one thing about this book, but that one thing sparked a turning point in my life. The author suggested that I imagine the words on my tombstone.

I puzzled about that. I was a free-lance book editor, a vocation I loved, healthy and happily married with two wonderful children (Carrie and Chet). I had an unruly vegetable garden, was co-editor of a community newsletter, The Community News & Confuse, and volunteer principal of a vibrant parent-run alternative school. We had chickens, two pigs, a calico cat (Beans), and a dumb but loveable Golden Retriever (Digger).

Driving down a country road, the words that would be on my tombstone came to me. They were: “She never got around to it.”

I would never get around to writing.

I had always told myself that I would write some day, but I was forty, and if I didn’t begin, that day might never come. I didn’t want to be the person who “never got around to it.”

I began by putting writing at the top of my To Do List. First thing every morning, before the family awoke, I wrote. (I cleverly pre-set the coffee pot to start brewing at 5:30 a.m., and the scent lured me out of bed.)

Sandra Gulland author photoIt was only the start, but I persevered, writing two unpublishable novels over the following years. By degrees, and with the encouragement and support of my husband Richard, I became more committed—driven, one could say—reluctantly cutting back on my community and editorial work (one can’t do everything, alas!) in order to have more hours to write.

I was happy—I was writing!—but it seemed a futile endeavor. All I had to show for my work was a thick file of rejection letters. When I began writing about Napoleon’s wife Josephine, I was convinced it would never be published. Richard said, “It doesn’t matter! Keep writing.”

And so I did—and I hope never to stop. – Sandra


  1. says

    What would of happened if you never wrote the Josephine B trilogy? OMG I can’t even think what it’d be like. I’ve always said to myself that Josephine.B books were my favourite series because it was just the right size. 3 books to satisfy the reader. A beginning, a middle and end to her life. Have you ever read The Second Mistress it’s about Buonaparte’s second wife. I’ve always liked the Italian spelling of his name and when I have to use it I use the Buonaparte spelling. In a way Napelon was just like good ol Henry VIII because when poor Josephine couldn’t give him children he dumped her. At least he only had Josephine and Marie Louise and no wifes maybe he had mistress but that’s it.

  2. says

    Dear Krystal,

    Thank you so much! When I started writing about Josephine, I thought it was going to be 1 book. At 400 pages Napoleon hadn’t shown up: so, ok, a 2-vol series. HarperCollins Canada was interested, but did not want 2-vol. They wanted one huge book. I couldn’t imagine that, so I was discouraged. That night, in the middle of the night, it came to me: a trilogy. I could see it all clearly, the titles and everything. I called my agent in the morning, who called HarperCollins—they liked it and said yes. At that point I almost panicked. I’d written one book, but could I write three? I wasn’t at all sure.

    Curiously, Napoleon and Josephine thought they could continue to have a (friendship) relationship after he remarried. They didn’t foresee wife #2’s jealousy! Such a story!

    Thank you so much again,


    P.S. I like the Italian spelling of Napoleon’s name as well.