Today, I am pleased to welcome Eva Stachniak to ‘A Book and Tea’ for this exciting author interview. Eva’s current novel ‘Empress of the Night’ follows the life of Russian monarch Catherine the Great – a great historical read. If you haven’t already, take a look at my review of Eva’s novel ‘Empress of the Night‘.
Now onto the questions and answers!
In your novel ‘Empress of the Night’ we follow the story of Catherine the Great; have you always been interested in her life?
I grew up in Poland, and Catherine the Great was never absent from our collective memory. Under her rule Russia was expanding at the cost of her neighbours and Poland was one of the victims. I grew up hearing of the terrible, cruel Tsarina who, conniving with Prussia and Austria, wiped Poland off the map of Europe. I have to confess that I knew very little of Catherine’s life then. Only when I was researching my second novel, Garden of Venus, in which Catherine the Great appears briefly, that I picked up a copy of her memoirs. Her voice captivated me from the first sentence: Fortune is not as blind as people imagine. It is often the result of a long series of precise and well-chosen steps…. On the pages of this remarkable memoir Catherine was not just a powerful Empress, but a woman who tried to justify her life and her choices. The memoirs ended in 1759, 3 years before her coup, and even though I could tell where she was trying to manipulate the reader, I knew I was hooked.
Do you think Catherine had any part to play in her husband’s death?
Catherine was a brilliant politician, and her husband’s death was in her political interest. There was already one dethroned Tsar in prison when she assumed power, so having a dethroned husband on her hands was not only very inconvenient, but also dangerous. Having said that, I don’t believe she ordered Peter’s murder, not that early in her reign. Alexei Orlov killed Peter for his own reasons—at that time he hoped Catherine would marry his younger brother, Grigory—but he also knew he was doing her a big favour. And Catherine was grateful, for she did nothing to punish him for his crime.
How much research went into writing ‘The Empress of the Night?’
Since Empress is a second novel in my two-book Catherine project, by the time I started writing most of my research had already been done. Still, I spent at least one more year researching the later years of Catherine’s life, which were not covered by the narrative of The Winter Palace.
If you could rule one country in the world, where would you reign and why?
Certainly not Russia… no absolute monarchy for me. If I had to choose I would choose a kingdom with a strong parliament, so that I could withdraw from day-to-day ruling, leave it to my Prime Minister. It does sound like England, doesn’t it? And like trying to avoid ruling all together, withdrawing into reading and writing. Knowing, a smile here, that no publisher will dare to refuse me.
And finally, everyone gets asked this question when they visit ‘A book and tea’, how do you have your cup of Tea?
Organic English breakfast tea, loose tea—mind you—no teabags. Water has to boil for 3 full minutes before I pour it into my tea pot. And then I add a very thin slice of fresh lemon peel.
About the Author
Eva Stachniak was born and raised in Wrocław, Poland. English is her second language; she credits her wonderful and far-sighted mother for encouraging her to learn it in early childhood.
In Poland, Eva taught in the English Department of the University of Wrocław. In the summer of 1981, on the eve of the Solidarity crisis she received a scholarship to McGill University where she began working on her PhD dissertation, Positive Philosophy of Exile in Stefan Themerson’s Fiction (defended in 1988). In 1984-86 she worked for Radio Canada International (the Polish Section) in Montreal, writing and producing radio programs about Canada. In 1988 she joined the faculty of Sheridan College (Oakville, Ontario) where she taught English and humanities courses until 2007.
It is in Canada that Eva became a writer. She is the Globe and Mail (Canada) and Der Spiegel (Germany) bestselling author of The Winter Palace, Garden of Venus (aka Dancing With Kings in the UK) and Necessary Lies.