I love finding out how works of art came to life. The path of creation can be a twisty journey, even for the most gifted and celebrated.
So let me share with you six fascinating books that take you “behind the scenes.” Three are about famous novels. Two are about much-loved films. One is about a grand symphony.
I’ve enjoyed them all and highly recommend them!
1. The Novel of the Century: The Extraordinary Adventures of Les Miserables by David Bellos
This engaging narrative is a biography not of the great writer Victor Hugo (pictured above) but of his masterpiece, Les Miserables. Bellos traces the life of the 1500-page novel from conception to publication. It took Hugo 17 years to write Les Miserables, from his first draft penned in Paris in 1845 when he was the honored great man of letters to its completion in 1862 when he was an outcast living in exile on the island of Guernsey. There, he secured the publishing deal of the century.
2. Goodbye Christopher Robin: A.A. Milne and the Making of Winnie-the–Pooh by Ann Thwaite
Biographer Ann Thwaite reveals the creative process of A. A. Milne, author of Winnie-the-Pooh and Pooh Bear’s enchanting adventures with Christopher Robin, who was Milne’s own son. Before its publication Milne was a well-known playwright and columnist but he refused to be typecast. His publishers despaired when he turned from writing popular columns for Punch to writing detective stories, and they complained again when he presented them with a set of children’s verse. But the verses led to the creation of Winnie-the-Pooh, one of the best-selling books of all time, making Milne one of the world’s favorite authors.
3. We’ll Always Have Casablanca: The Life, Legend, and Afterlife of Hollywood’s Most Beloved Movie by Noah Isenberg
The origins of this famous film lie in a 1940 stage play called Everybody Comes to Rick’s by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison. Their play was transformed by screenwriters Howard Koch and Julius and Philip Epstein into the screenplay that became the brilliant 1942 film. Isenberg details that transformation, and his book is full of fascinating details, some quite moving, such as the central role that refugees from Hitler’s Europe played in the production; nearly all of the cast of Casablanca were immigrants.
4. Sailor and Fiddler by Herman Wouk
A sparkling memoir about the well-lived life in literature by one of the world’s best-loved authors. At age 100 (!) Herman Wouk reflects on his experiences that inspired his most enduring novels. He tells of writing for comedian Fred Allen’s radio show, enlisting in the US Navy during World War II, falling in love with the woman who would become his wife (and literary agent) for sixty-three years, writing his Pulitzer Prize–winning novel The Caine Mutiny, and the surprising inspirations and people behind his masterpieces The Winds of War and War and Remembrance.
5. The Sense and Sensibility Screenplay and Diaries by Emma Thompson
The multi-talented actor/writer Emma Thompson won a well-deserved Oscar for her screenplay that adapted the Jane Austen novel Sense and Sensibility, and she also starred in the beautiful 1995 film made from it, directed by Ang Lee. This marvelous book includes Thompson’s complete shooting script plus her astute diaries detailing the production of this film graced by some of the finest British actors, including Kate Winslet, the late Alan Rickman, and Greg Wise whom Thompson met during the filming and subsequently married.
6. Leningrad: Siege and Symphony by Brian Moynahan
The siege of Leningrad was the Nazis’ pitiless 900-day encirclement of the Soviet Union’s second city, from 1941 to 1944, in which hundreds of thousands of civilians starved to death. During that horror a dedicated makeshift orchestra of emaciated musicians performed the newly created Seventh Symphony of Dmitri Shostakovich (pictured above) for an audience of starving, but rapt, music lovers. This true story is an inspiring testament to the redemptive power of a great work of art.
May the examples of these gifted and dedicated artists inspire you on the twisty but oh-so-satisfying journey to your own finished work of art.
Grow as a writer. Dare to succeed.
All my best,
P.S. Let Page-Turner guide you to success. “Kyle breaks down both the art and the craft of writing in a way that is entertaining and easy to understand.” — #1 New York Times bestselling author Kelley Armstrong. Available in paperback, e-book, and — new! — audiobook. Listen to an excerpt here.