Bio – Cassandra Gaisford, historical novelist
In 2008 Cassandra downsized her flourishing business as a life and career coach to write her first historical work of art related fiction. She turned deaf ears to parents and friends who pleaded with her to “get a real job,” and rented out her house and did a succession of freelance and contracting jobs to support “writing days.”
But her real passion, her true path with heart, was the seductive, sensual and evocative historical novels she loved to read.
A chance meeting in April 2010 with one of her favourite authors Sarah Dunant flamed the embers of inspiration. Sarah Dunant is the author of the international bestsellers The Birth of Venus, In the Company of the Courtesan and Sacred Hearts – all of which Cassandra read, adored and continues to cherish.
“I felt so inspired as I listened to her talk about her passion for history, and Renaissance Italy and for telling the un-told stories of women living in historical times. Sarah oozed passion and I think that it’s her passion, as well as her immense talent, that makes her writing come alive for me.”
Some of the most memorable things Sarah said while in Wellington were:
“I was completely intoxicated by that period”
For Cassandra that showed her the importance of feeling passionate about what you are doing, or planning to do. Cassandra’s almost obsessive acquisition of books and devouring of movies related to the Renaissance speaks of an intoxication that verges on addiction!
“I wondered what was it like to be an ordinary person during that time.”
Forming a question in this way has helped Cassandra’s writing hugely – imagining and then bringing to life a fictional character
“Writing a historical book is like painting – the dots are the facts, you step back and your have the story.”
As an artist Cassandra loves the idea of thinking of her story as a painting – laying all the ingredients at separate stages to create the total work of art
All the things Sarah shared re the craft of writing and her journey as a writer inspired Cassandra.
“But what really set my soul on my fire and gave me the courage to actively pursue a writing career was when, as she signed my copy of her book, Sarah said,” I brought a house in Florence and The Birth of Venus paid for it.
Who said you couldn’t make a living as a writer?! As I drove away my passion soared. I pulled over to capture my feelings on paper. I knew what I was experiencing was huge and I didn’t want to lose it. Here’s what I wrote:
‘I just met Sarah Dunant – one of my favourite authors – if not the favourite. I feel so inspired, and excited. My stomach is flipping and swirling, dipping – like it does when there is turbulence in an aircraft. It’s exciting. A feeling of real thrill – the kind you hope will never end. It makes me feel giddy, delirious. It fills me with a deep yearning, fills my eyes with tears. I cannot breath, cannot get the words down fast enough. I want to savour this moment – the moment I know with a passion what I felt called, compelled, excited to do – to write about ordinary women like me, living in historical times, a multi-sensory book filled with art, architecture, set in Italy, or France. Beautiful and intoxicating. To write stories that make others feel as I do – hungry for more and so delighted to have met the author.’
But as Betty Bender once said, “Everything I’ve ever done that ultimately was worthwhile…initially scared me to death.” So for two years, convincing herself that writing a historical novel, reliant on so much factual information, would be too hard, too difficult, too beyond her skill, she continued writing romance novels.
She got loads of great feedback during this time – particularly re her ability to capture emotion and for writing sensually and evocatively.
“During this time, I continued to hone my craft, participating in many online writing workshops. While completing a course, ‘Write like a psychologist: empowering characters emotions’ I stumbled on an image that would change my life.
The image of Mona Lisa’s smile, propelled me head first in to the intoxicating and fraught world of Renaissance Florence.
Wondering “what if…” and struck by inspiration the image continued to hum with seductive appeal. Until finally, I pushed through my doubts and while participating in the Romance Writers of Australia challenge to write a book in 30 days I finally completed my first draft of Mona Lisa’s Secret.
A passion, a scandal, a masterpiece – this was the book I wanted to read! This was the book I wanted to write. Feeling as inspired as I was that day I met Sarah Dunant I knew with unswerving conviction this was the book I was called to write.”
Further validation came in 2010 whilst pitching the book concept at a writing conference in Melbourne. Representatives from Penguin publishing requested the full manuscript, and a highly revered US agent said she could already see the movie.
After years of research Cassandra is deep into the final throes of her novel ‘Mona Lisa’s Secret’ a vivid portrayal of impassioned sexual and artistic yearning, which unravels the mystery surrounding Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous portrait and the beautiful woman who inspired the masterpiece.
Cassandra aims to have the final manuscript completed by the end of 2016.
Her earlier publications include romantic short stories, and non-fiction, self-empowerment books, including, The Art of Success: How Extraordinary Artists Can Help You Succeed in Business and Life (Book One: Leonardo da Vinci), available in paperback and eBook from Amazon here >>
She has one gorgeous daughter, and lives with her handsome partner in the beautiful and magical Bay of Islands, New Zealand.
Storyline Mona Lisa’s Secret
Forced to marry against her will Lisa Gherardini, a feisty and driven 15-year old living in Renaissance Florence defies Papal law and those who try to control her. Under the clandestine friendship of Leonardo da Vince she flourishes. But Pursued by ruthless tyrants determined to keep them apart, their secret threatens to destroy them both.
Advance praise* for Mona Lisa’s Secret:
“A book of international appeal.”
“Great depictions of emotion. The prose absolutely sings!”
“Gaisford has the soul of an artist.”
“A fascinating concept and very worthy of wider attention.”
“Blockbuster material! Great characters, great plot, great conflict and tension and stakes that just keep racheting upwards.”
“Mona Lisa’s Secret is on par with Sarah Dunant, and the Girl With a Pearl Earring.”
“An amazing story.”
“We can see the movie.”
“A brilliant story. This could really be big.”
“Wow – your writing is so evocative. I think the story premise is just fabulous. “
“The author has imbued every scene with wonderful imagery so that the reader really feels they are experiencing everything going on around them just as the heroine does. The environment is rich and textured and almost touchable. I loved the attention to detail without being swamped by it.”
“Gaisford certainly knows her stuff. The period comes to vibrant, smelly, colourful life while moving along at a fast, absorbing pace.”
“For lovers of rich historical stories that include well known and popular characters from history, this will be right up their alley.”
* Sources of this advance praise include: Feedback from writing competitions; reviews from people who have read the first 3 chapters, and/or critiqued and/or edited these chapters people who have loved the concept/premise; those who have helped with research and those who have read and/or critiqued various scenes. Of course the emphasis is on advance reviews – for the book is still not finished and this not yet available for purchase. I include this feedback more to spur me on and encourage me to finish than anything else…and in the hope that people will be interested enough to share their enthusiasms, passions and knowledge with me as per below:)
Be part of history!
I am obsessed and enthralled with my research and all the new discoveries I am unravelling as I discover Mona Lisa’s Secret. I would so love it if you came across and “liked” the page and added, as you saw fit, to my research endeavours. http://www.facebook.com/MonaLisasSecret
It’s a massive job, as I am sure you know, would be great to see those of you with an interest in such stories their to boost motivation.
Tweets by monalisassecret
- Historical Novelists Society
- New Zealand Society of Authors
- Romance Writers of Australia
- Romance Writers of New Zealand
Arts related awards and achievements:
- Supreme Winner Wai Art Awards May 2008 for “Love Stain” – a mixed media triptych
- Finalist The Adam Portrait Award and Exhibition, Wellington Feb 2008
Her earlier publications include newspaper and media articles, poetry, romantic short stories published in New Idea, and a non-fiction book.
She has attended the Kara School of Writing tutored by best selling romance authors Daphne Clair and Robyn Donald, and completed numerous writing craft courses via WritersUniv.com including: Plotting Via Motivation; From Plot To Finish; Writing Body Language and Dialogue Cues Like a Psychologist; Empowering Character Emotions; Active Settings; and Bringing Historicals to Life.
Mona Lisa’s Secret – follow research and updates as my Renaissance Novel nears completion
TVNZ One » Writing romance novels – check out this Valentines Day clip of Cassandra and fellow writers talking romance! Great for a giggle:)
Powerful creativity blog – Tapping into the power of creativity to transform lives, uplift, inspire and delight.