Art In Fiction

Maria Callas, Genius and Fame in Diva by Daisy Goodwin

April 05, 2024 Carol Cram Episode 44
Maria Callas, Genius and Fame in Diva by Daisy Goodwin
Art In Fiction
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Art In Fiction
Maria Callas, Genius and Fame in Diva by Daisy Goodwin
Apr 05, 2024 Episode 44
Carol Cram

Join  me as I chat with Daisy Goodwin, author of Diva listed in the Music category on Art In Fiction.

View the Video on YouTube: https://youtu.be/dYCDxSyXwAU

Highlights include:

  • Why Daisy chose to write a novel about Maria Callas, the great opera singer
  • The nature of the female genius
  • What's a Diva?
  • Writing about a real person -- getting into their head
  • Maria Callas's difficult relationship with her mother
  • Maria and her relationship with Onassis
  • Daisy Goodwin's favorite opera
  • The theme of Diva
  • Reading from Diva
  • Challenges of writing a novel that are different from writing screenplays and other forms of writing
  • Why historical fiction?
  • What Daisy has learned from writing historical fiction
  • Research advice when writing historical fiction
  • Daisy's new novel about the later years of Queen Victoria 

Press Play now & be sure to check out Diva on Art In Fiction: https://www.artinfiction.com/novels/diva

Daisy Goodwin's Website: https://www.daisygoodwin.co.uk/

Paganology, performed by The Paul Plimley Trio; composed by Gregg Simpson

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Want to learn more about Carol Cram, the host of The Art In Fiction Podcast? She's the author of several award-winning novels, including The Towers of Tuscany and Love Among the Recipes. Find out...

Show Notes Transcript

Join  me as I chat with Daisy Goodwin, author of Diva listed in the Music category on Art In Fiction.

View the Video on YouTube: https://youtu.be/dYCDxSyXwAU

Highlights include:

  • Why Daisy chose to write a novel about Maria Callas, the great opera singer
  • The nature of the female genius
  • What's a Diva?
  • Writing about a real person -- getting into their head
  • Maria Callas's difficult relationship with her mother
  • Maria and her relationship with Onassis
  • Daisy Goodwin's favorite opera
  • The theme of Diva
  • Reading from Diva
  • Challenges of writing a novel that are different from writing screenplays and other forms of writing
  • Why historical fiction?
  • What Daisy has learned from writing historical fiction
  • Research advice when writing historical fiction
  • Daisy's new novel about the later years of Queen Victoria 

Press Play now & be sure to check out Diva on Art In Fiction: https://www.artinfiction.com/novels/diva

Daisy Goodwin's Website: https://www.daisygoodwin.co.uk/

Paganology, performed by The Paul Plimley Trio; composed by Gregg Simpson

Are you enjoying The Art In Fiction Podcast? Consider helping us keep the lights on so we can continue bringing you interviews with your favorite arts-inspired novelists. Just $3 buys us a coffee (and we really like coffee) at Ko-Fi. Just click this link: https://ko-fi.com/artinfiction

Also, check out the Art In Fiction website at https://www.artinfiction.com where you'll find over 1800 novels inspired by the arts in 10 categories: Architecture, Dance, Decorative Arts, Film, Literature, Music, Textile Arts, Theater, Visual Arts, and Other.

Want to learn more about Carol Cram, the host of The Art In Fiction Podcast? She's the author of several award-winning novels, including The Towers of Tuscany and Love Among the Recipes. Find out...

Carol Cram

Hello and welcome. I’m Carol Cram, host of The Art In Fiction Podcast. This episode features Daisy Goodwin, author of Diva listed in the Music category on Art In Fiction. 

Born and raised in London, England, Daisy Goodwin is the author of four novels and eight poetry anthologies, and the creator of the ITV/PBS show Victoria. She is also an award-winning television producer who created, among other things, the long running Channel 4 shows Grand Designs and Escape to the Country.  Daisy lives in Dorset, England.

Welcome to The Art in Fiction Podcast, Daisy. 

Daisy Goodwin

Oh, hi. Lovely to be here. 

Carol Cram

I've totally enjoyed Diva. That was such a wonderful novel. I didn't know a lot about Maria Callas, so it was really wonderful to be able to read about her, and to read about her rather mercurial personal life, and of course her professional life. So, tell us why you chose to write a novel featuring Maria Callas.

Daisy Goodwin

Well, she's a character that's fascinated me since I was a child and I first heard her music and the music always spoke to me, but then as I grew up, I began to read about her life, and it just seemed to me such an interesting life and, well, the life of a female genius is brilliant.

You don't often read about female genius, and she was undoubtedly a woman who changed the face of opera for men and women. She made it into a kind of performance art. Because for her, opera singers would just walk up to her, walk out on stage, sing their bit, stop, walk to the next bit, sing the next aria, but they didn't really act, and Maria really made it a whole-body experience. So, it went from what they used to call park and bark to something which really was kind of thrilling.

So, I think that's one of the things I completely loved about her. And secondly, I suppose I wanted to write a sort of counter narrative to the received opinion about Maria, which is that she is somehow like one of her heroines, like Madame Butterfly or Tosca, a woman who dies of love.

And I just think that's completely to misinterpret her because actually she was—the most important thing in her life was her voice. And if there was a tragedy in Maria's life, it was not the loss of Onassis, it was the loss of her voice. Yes. I think that was the thing that kind of broke her, really.

Carol Cram

Oh, I think so. So, the novel is called Diva, which has both positive and negative connotations, of course. So, what does diva mean to you, particularly with regard to Maria Callas?

Daisy Goodwin

Well, I wanted to reclaim the word diva to mean a divine being, you know, an extra special person. For me, it’s come to mean the kind of woman who wants six different kinds of mineral water in their dressing room, but actually, to go back to its original meaning of goddess.

And for me, Maria Callas is a goddess. She’s someone who has an almost divine gift. And if she’s kind of demanding, well, that goes with the territory, really. There’s a quote of hers, which I love, where she says, “I'm as difficult as I need to be to achieve perfection.” And that is a great quote. 

Now, if that had been said by Steve Jobs or Elon Musk or someone like that, we'd go right, yeah, okay, put it on T-shirts, but because it's by a woman and a woman opera singer, it's considered to be something that is difficult, demanding. She's tarnished.

And I don't think she should be tarnished because I think she just wanted to be the best. 

Carol Cram

Yes, I mean, she was a genius. And as you said, if she was a man, she would have been lauded for that. So, the way that we have kind of misinterpreted diva is very misogynist nowadays, isn't it? You know, difficult woman.

Daisy Goodwin

Exactly. That was the whole point of the book, was to somehow, yes, difficult, but also, glorious, and maybe you can't have one without the other and genius is difficult. Great women don't have to kind of conform to some, you know, received femininity. To be geniuses, they have to be allowed to be themselves. 

Carol Cram

Exactly. And actually, there's several scenes in the novel when Maria is very difficult and mercurial, which is sort of part of this whole diva thing. But was that based on fact?

Daisy Goodwin

The book is pretty much based on fact. The deciding that she couldn't go on stage because of a bad article in Time magazine and that she won't go on stage in Milan. Yeah, I mean, that all happened. And then she eventually changed her mind. 

I mean, she was in the whole scene in the opera house in Rome. When, you know, there's a riot because she walks off stage, that's all true. So, I didn't have to invent that much, really. There are a few things that I might have elaborated on, but really, it's all in the spirit, the woman that she really was.

Carol Cram

Yes, because I'm actually fascinated, as an author myself, how you write a novel about a real person that is still in living memory. Like, how do you separate the fact and the fiction. What can you write? So, it's a very, very deep and sort of personal representation of her. How do you do that? You know, when we know who she is. 

Daisy Goodwin

I suppose it's method writing. I just try and get in her head, to be honest. I read, watched, listened to everything I could, and I just tried to kind of imagine myself as her. And obviously, my version of her is my version of her.

But I wanted to write it as if I am with her, not looking at her. And I wanted the reader to be able to look at the world through her eyes and to understand why. It's written in a very close third person and I wanted the reader to understand why she fell for Onassis and what was going on in her life that made it, the moment when that happened.

And what it's like to be a woman who's achieved so much and yet clearly has never really found sexual fulfillment and the effect that must have on you to suddenly be there after a long marriage that has been basically a sort of managerial one and then to suddenly find passion, especially when you spent your whole life singing about passion and then to actually experience it, that must be mind blowing, I imagine.

Carol Cram

Because I found that one of the main journeys that she appeared to be on is searching for love. Because she missed it as a child. Was that kind of based on fact? She had a very difficult relationship with her mother.

Daisy Goodwin

A very difficult relationship with her mother. Her mother was clearly a narcissist and wanted Maria to be everything that she wanted to be herself. And I think that was very difficult for her. She felt that she was only loved when she sang.

And so that must have been extremely hard, that she had to sing to get her mother's attention, and then to get anybody's attention. And so, without her voice, so losing her voice was sort of a double whammy, because not only was she losing her musical instrument as it were, but she was also losing the only thing that she believed would bring her love.

Carol Cram

 Yeah, she was really quite troubled, wasn't she? I think that's why the novel was so compelling. It's because, obviously we admire her as a singer, but we really got into the mind of someone who was struggling like that, and why she would go for Onassis. 

So, the whole Onassis thing, what was it about Onassis that attracted her, do you think? I mean, she knew he was a philanderer. 

Daisy Goodwin

Yeah, I think she knew all of that. But I think, they were both Greek, and that made a difference. They spoke the same language, literally. And if you're surrounded by people who are speaking lots of different languages, and you speak the one language no one else can speak, that's kind of a big deal, I would say.

So, for Maria and Onassis to be together like that is, you know, so they could understand each other in that way. And also, you know, in the sort of circles that they mixed in, which was full of sort of aristocrats and millionaires and playboys and so forth, they were both, you know, they didn't come from money.

And I think that, again, was something that, you know, bound them together because they knew how far they'd come, and they didn't take it all for granted. So those things I think made a big difference. 

If you've grown up with money you have a different attitude to if you haven't grown up with money and neither of them had so I think they understood that, and I think Maria wasn't interested in his money. I mean she was very careful not to take advantage, unlike Jackie Kennedy.

Carol Cram

So yeah, all those things about Onassis, you know, with all his different women and his bracelets and how he would have the same poem for each person. Was that true? How did you find all that out? I'm fascinated by your research. 

Daisy Goodwin

Well, it was, you know, since people talked about it in some of the biographies, I mean I can't be totally sure about some of it, but I know he had an affair with Lee Radziwill. I think most people know that Onassis married Jackie Kennedy, but I don't think many know that he also had an affair with her sister. 

Carol Cram

Yeah, I never knew that for sure. 

Daisy Goodwin

And I think there's some suggestion that, I mean, I hinted at this in the book, that the affair between Onassis and Jackie may have even started before Kennedy died, was assassinated.

Carol Cram

Yes, you did hint at that. 

Daisy Goodwin

I hated that, but obviously I don't know whether that's true, but I did wonder because you see pictures of them on that cruise and they look awfully friendly. So. Interesting. Yeah. Anyway, who knows? 

Carol Cram

So obviously you love music. Music must be a big part of your life. What's your favorite opera?

Daisy Goodwin

Oh gosh. Well, I suppose I love La Traviata. You know the opera. I love that. It's so beautiful. So beautiful. Yeah, that's one of my favorites. And actually, I was very lucky because there's a kind of playlist that goes with the book on Spotify so you can listen to it.

All my favorite Maria Callas tracks. Go on Spotify and look up Daisy Goodman Diva and there's a playlist.

Carol Cram

Wow. That's fantastic, actually, because I do know opera a bit. I do love classical music. My second novel is about classical music, but opera, not so much. So, it was fascinating for me to learn so much about opera from her point of view. And I think, okay, I've got to go listen to some more Maria Callas.

Daisy Goodwin

 I was very pleased we were able to do that. 

Carol Cram

And I think one of the other things I loved about the novel was how she does grow and change. I mean, no spoilers, but you do talk a lot about her journey. 

Daisy Goodwin

Yeah, I wanted to show her dealing with triumph, disaster, love, heartbreak, and at the end, I wanted it to end with her taking control. 

Carol Cram

 And that was very satisfying. It worked out beautifully. So, what would you say is the theme of Diva?

Daisy Goodwin

Oh, gosh. I suppose it's like art and love as Tosca sings, you know, Vissi darted, I live for art, I live for love. Can you have both? And what is it that gives Maria self respect? You know, what is it, what is it that she's looking for? And I think that she's looking for love, but actually the person she needs to learn to love is herself.

 I mean, she knows she's the greatest singer in the world, but I don't think she feels that way, lovable. And I think that is tragic. 

Carol Cram

Well, that's the dichotomy in the novel, isn't it? That she is the greatest and she knows she's a diva. She knows she's fantastic. But yeah, but she doesn't really believe it. She might believe her talent, but she doesn't believe her own work. So that's interesting psychology and probably quite true of people at that level. You know, who knows? Loving yourself is actually probably one of the most difficult things to do.

And I think that was brought out. Even if someone like Maria Callas doesn't love herself, you know, interesting. 

So, Daisy, would you like to do a reading from Diva for us?

Daisy Goodwin

I would love to do a reading. There's a bit that I like when she's just going on stage.

Here we go. I have found it. Wow. Okay,

So, this, this bit is from the beginning of the novel, and she's just about to go on stage at the Met singing Norma, which is her sort of titular role. And she's got a really massive attack of stage fright. So, this is her and Battista, Tita, is her husband. 

Battista was waiting for her in the wings. She clutched his arm and whispered in his ear. 

“I can't, Tita, my voice. It's not going to come.”

Tita lifted the briefcase in his other hand. “There are 10, 000 reasons in here why you will go on, and you will. You always have, and you always will.”

Maria was shaking with fear. 

“But this time is different, Tita. I know that they hate me.”

Tita could see the stage manager behind Maria. The cue for her entrance was less than a minute away. 

“Give me your glasses, Maria.” He took the heavy spectacles off her face. “Now, make your crosses.”

Obediently, her hand still trembling, she began to trace the sign across on her chest, once, twice, three times. On the last cross, her hand was a little steadier. 

A long note from the trumpet that signaled Norma's entrance began. Maria stood as still as a statue. The stage manager stepped forward. Tita's hand hovered, waiting to push, but then Maria lifted her shoulders and stepped over the wing and onto the stage.

She could hear her applause, but there was also something else, a sibilance, a rumble, that she recognized as the enemy's artillery resistance. The auditorium was a dark chasm, the audience a pale blur, even the conductor was just a blob at her feet. The chorus was all around her, asking for her as their priestess to tell them what to do.

The strings started to play the ghostly arpeggios that heralded the start of her great aria, and then, on the eighth bar, Maria lifted her head and as Norma sang the opening bars of Casta Diva, her voice soaring out over the orchestra and reaching right to the back of the auditorium, Norma implored the gods to bring peace to her people.

Her voice was filling her body. It was pouring out like the silvery beams of the moon she was worshipping, and it floated out over the listeners who, as she just reached the high notes at the end of the aria, understood what it was to have faith.

Carol Cram

That's beautiful. Thank you, Daisy. That was wonderful. So, in addition to writing four novels, you've written screenplays, including the PBS show Victoria, which I saw, and eight poetry anthologies. But what are some of the challenges writing a novel that are different from these other kinds of writing that you do?

Daisy Goodwin

Well, I suppose a novel, you have to really, you know, not delegate, you've got to do it all yourself. And, you know, screenplays, there's a lot of people to help you. And lots of people have input, but when you're writing a novel, it's just you and the page and your subject. So, you've got to really love your subject and be able to I guess, I love the freedom that writing fiction gives you because you can go anywhere and do anything, you know, imagine anything you like. You're not always thinking, oh, but they'll cut this bit because there are too many people, whatever. But I, you know, I like doing both really. I'm very happy writing some novels, writing some screenplays, and going from one to the other. I think it's quite good. I love writing dialogues, so that is, that's kind of the fun bit for me. 

Carol Cram

Yes, that is nice for screenplays. I've only written one, which was not produced, but it was kind of fun that, yeah, you could really focus on the dialogue.

And all four of your novels are historical novels. So why historical fiction, which is the same genre I write in as well?

Daisy Goodwin

Oh, well, I read history at university, I studied it and I guess, I don't know actually, it's a very good question. I keep thinking I should write something contemporary, but I feel, I don't know, I feel a bit inhibited.

I'm always interested in trying to make the past come to life, you know, I love that. I like the sort of parameters of another age. But yeah, I mean, never say never, maybe I'll write something contemporary, but it, you know, it feels, for me, historical fiction seems a much easier thing to do.

I don't know why, but I like the challenge of trying to imagine what it's like to be a woman wearing a crinoline all day, or, you know, when I wrote about Maria, I actually took singing lessons, so I could imagine what it was like to be standing on stage and, you know, belting it out. You know, that was quite a challenge.

Carol Cram

And I was interested that this novel was set in the 50s, which is becoming a much more popular decade lately. I wonder why that is, do you think? Because I notice there's a lot of novels being set in the 50s.

Daisy Goodwin

Well, I guess it seems to a younger generation, it must have seemed, well, I wasn't born in the 50s, but it just seems very, very foreign and strange as much as the 1980s really, you know, the idea that women were kind of encouraged to be housewives and, you know, they'd been celebrated in the war and then they had to go straight back. 

Carol Cram

And maybe because it's still in living memory, certainly in my living memory, I mean, I sort of remember the 50s. Yeah, it's a fascinating decade. I'm kind of thinking about moving up to there. So, one of my goals with The Art and Fiction Podcast is to inspire other authors. What's one thing you've learned from writing historical fiction that you didn't know before?

Daisy Goodwin

Oh, gosh. Well, the thing I've learned, really, is that, you know, don't let the facts get in the way of a good story. That's the most important. I mean, people aren't reading historical fiction. I mean, you've got to be accurate, and you can't make things, you can't have a telephone in 1397, but the readers don't really care what kind of paving stone the characters are walking on. What they want to know is what they feel, what they say, you know, remember that these are people. They want to know the reality of these people's minds and feelings. And so, I think that would be my number one bit of advice. So, you do research and then forget it. 

Carol Cram

It's about the character and their feelings and their growth and their journey set within historical context. But yeah, you're not writing like an historian, even if you have an historical background.  And, uh, thinking about research, of course, historical fiction relies on an incredible amount of research. So, what's some advice for authors on research methods, on ways in which you gathered your information for your books? 

Daisy Goodwin

Well, I think probably the best thing you can do actually is to read fiction written at the time that your book is set. I mean, it depends. I mean, if it's set in ancient Egypt, that's going to be hard. But if it's set in 1960 England or Canada or, then try and read something written at the time, because that will give you a sense of how people spoke and will give you an idea of what the kind of parameters were for those people's lives. I find that really helpful. You know, whether it's newspapers, novels, whatever you can find really. I mean, I think newspapers are great. To get a sense of the ephemera in people's lives is really fun.

I would say, what else would I say, I would say that letters and stuff are great, but I think, you know, uh, I'm very big on going to places. I like to set the scene, so I like to see what the houses look like. I like to really examine what clothes they would have worn, and how they would have worn them.

I think that's fascinating. I think it's really helpful to go at it like an actor, to try from the bottom up and just think about what they would have had for breakfast, all that kind of stuff. So, it just gives you a sense of how they would react to things. 

Carol Cram

Did you get to go to Greece as part of your research for Diva

Daisy Goodwin

Definitely. I went to Athens. I went to Scorpios, I went to Epidaurus, the incredible amphitheater. So, I've done Greece. It was amazing. 

Carol Cram

I'm going there in the fall, actually, my first trip. So, I'm looking forward to that. I think I must find, get an idea of writing something in Greece so I can do researching while I'm there. So, would you like to share what you're working on now in terms of novels or are you writing one right now? 

Daisy Goodwin

It's a story about Victoria after Albert dies and she's bereft and she thinks her life is over. But then two things happen. One is she meets John Brown, her highland servant. And the second thing that happens is that she finds some evidence that her marriage was perhaps not as happy as she had imagined. So, I can't tell you anymore. 

Carol Cram

But that's intriguing enough. That's interesting, yes. So, obviously Queen Victoria is a character that fascinates you, because you've already written about her. She is quite, quite the figure. 

Daisy Goodwin

Yes, she is. Well, I mean, my Queen Victoria is not everybody's Queen Victoria, but I sympathize with her. Lots of people hate her. 

Carol Cram

Yes, I can't imagine what her life was like. I mean, how many children did Victoria have? Ten? 

Daisy Goodwin

Nine. 

Carol Cram

Yeah. I mean that alone, plus everything else.

Daisy Goodwin

And the thing that people always ask me is, she was a really bad mother, wasn't she? And it's like, Oh, hello. She was the queen. She had nine children. I mean, I think also it was a different time. She had a different time and also, what do you mean by that? It makes me so angry.

Carol Cram

Did they expect her to take them to preschool? I mean, it wasn't quite the same.

Thank you, Daisy. It's been so much fun chatting with you. 

Daisy Goodwin

Oh, thank you, Carol. I'm really, really thrilled to be on your podcast. And it's lovely to talk to you and I hope people will be intrigued and inspired to read deeper. 

 

Carol Cram

I’ve been speaking with Daisy Goodwin, author of Diva listed in the Music category on Art In Fiction at www.artinfiction.com.

Be sure to check the show notes for a link to Daisy’s website at www.daisygoodwin.co.uk. You’ll also find a link to a 20% discount on a subscription to Pro Writing Aid, a fantastic editing tool for writers. 

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