Heather Webb writes historical novels for Penguin and HarperCollins, which have been translated to three languages and have been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Cosmopolitan magazine, France magazine, and Reuters News Book Talk. BECOMING JOSEPHINE follows the life and times of Josephine Bonaparte set to the backdrop of the French Revolution, and RODIN’S LOVER chronicles the passionate and tragic story of Camille Claudel, sculptor, collaborator, and lover to the famed Auguste Rodin. A FALL OF POPPIES releases in 2016. Heather is also a freelance editor and contributor to award-winning writing sites WriterUnboxed.com and RomanceUniversity.org. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Women’s Fiction Writers Association.
1) What was the starting point of your interest for Camille Claudel?
I fell in love with Camille while in my French film class in college. The film, simply called Camille Claudel, was multiple award-winning in Europe and the U.S. with stars Isabelle Adjani and Gérard Depardieu playing the roles of Camille and Rodin. Their tragic love story gripped me and I swooned at the beauty they created both together and separately. After the film, I became rather obsessed with sculpture in general. Many years later, I had not forgotten Camille, and knew I wanted to delve more into her life. It has been an incredible experience spending time exploring her brilliant mind, and ultimately sharing her story.
2) Did you have to go to Paris to find details for your book?
I did, though it was mostly to satisfy my need to see all of the beautiful pieces in person at the Musée Rodin and the Musée d’Orsay. In terms of the bulk of my research, I read as many biographies about Camille Claudel and Auguste Rodin as I could get my hands on. I layered this knowledge with other books like For the Soul of France and From the Revolution to the Belle Époque in addition to “How to” books on sculpture. I spent some time in a 101 sculpture class, getting my hands in the clay and learning about the tools. Finally, I studied both Camille’s and Rodin’s works extensively through photos, as well as in person at several museums including those I mentioned in Paris, along with a few in the United States that exhibit smaller collections.
3) Has your opinion about Rodin changed after writing about him?
I’ve never seen Rodin as the villain that many ardent Claudel lovers have portrayed him to be. He signed her pieces with his signature, yes, but this was not only typical but expected in the artist-student relationship, as well as in the atelier setting. He loved Camille completely, and devoted much of his time —even after they split—to helping her career advance, as well as keeping her afloat financially. He had his faults, certainly, but she did as well, as do we all. As for a change in opinion? I grew to love him while learning about his life and his style, determination, and passion almost as much as I love Camille. Almost, but not quite.
4) Are there details of her life you were surprised or horrified to find?
The most horrifying thing I learned was that Camille lived thirty years of her life in this asylum that barely fed her enough to stay alive, that was frigid in the winters and sweltering in the summers. Camille’s beloved brother Paul visited her only a handful of times after she was committed. That broke my heart for her just a little more.
5) I bet you saw the movie with Isabelle Adjani and Gerard Depardieu from director Bruno Nuytten . Was the film accurate or adapted too much to please a larger audience?
I absolutely adored this film. As I mentioned above, it was my first introduction to Camille Claudel and really to Rodin as well. The film is fairly accurate. The director did a wonderful job capturing the era as well as dealing with the time lapses in their relationship. The one thing I would say isn’t entirely true is that the film paints Rodin in a bit of playboy light. While he did have lovers and worshipped the female form, all of my research indicated that while in love with Camille, he was very taken by her—obsessed even. I didn’t really get that sensibility in this film. The director really painted Camille as the forlorn one and though she was deeply in love as well, the scales seemed tipped in the other direction in my reading.
6) Do you have a favorite moment in her life story?
I have two. The moment she realizes she is in love with a genius—like herself, and also the moment she wins the Salon prize for Sakuntala. Her winning was really the beginning of her being respected on a broader scale.
7) Do you find similarities between your life and hers as a female artist?
Absolutely! In fact, I found it comical, at times, how similar an artist’s frustrations and triumphs are to those of a writer. We love and live to create. And then there’s this incredible struggle to be discovered and recognized, well-reviewed. The rollercoaster of emotions a writer goes through are exactly the same as an artist’s when there’s a less-than-positive review, when a commission doesn’t come through, or when a piece isn’t shaping the way we would like it to.
8) Was it difficult to find information about her life? Did you encounter blocks or stops?
There weren’t as many sources as I would have liked, but on the other hand, having questions leaves room for invention—for the fiction to take over—so it actually worked in my favor.
9) What do you think of her, now?
If possible, I love her more now than I did when I began. She feels like a family member or friend that I want to protect. I am proud of her and the beauty she created to share with the world. I hope my novel introduces her to many many more so they may appreciate her as I do.
10) What are you working on next? Do you already have another project started?
I have two things in the works. The first is an anthology that will be released by HarperCollins called A FALL OF POPPIES which centers on WWI’s Armistice Day. The second is a novel set during Belle Époque Paris once again and is shaping up to be a bit of a Gothic thriller. It’s a retelling of a popular story and I’m very excited about it! That’s all I can share about the novel for now.