Interview with Katharine Duckett

In this episode of The Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast Heather Rose Jones does an Interview with Katharine Duckett

Episode 32b

A series of interviews with authors of historically-based fiction featuring queer women.

In this episode we talk about

  • Katharine’s debut novella from Miranda in Milan
  • The jumping off point of the story from Shakespeare’s The Tempest
  • Historic Milan and the Sforzas
  • Telling the stories of queer women and women of color in historic settings
  • Editing an anthology at the same time your debut book is coming out

Publications mentioned:

A transcript is pending for this episode

Links to the Lesbian Historic Motif Project Online

Links to Heather Online

Links to Katharine Duckett Online

Listen to this episode here


please note this transcript has not been edited and is automatically generated meaning certain words will be incorrect

[Music] this is Heather Rose Jones with a lesbian historic motif podcast this weekly podcast looks at lesbian themes in history and literature and historic research into gender and sexuality we talk about current historical fiction with queer female characters including fantastic versions of the past and have interviews with authors who write those stories and in months when we have a fifth show we’re proud to present new original lesbian historical fiction for your enjoyment today the lesbian historic motif podcast is delighted to talk to Katharine Duckett whose debut novel Miranda in Milan follows the life of Shakespeare’s character Miranda from The Tempest after the conclusion of the events of the play welcome Catherine happy to be here Catherines has had short fiction published in uncanny apex pseudopod and Interzone I’ve invited her on to the lesbian historic motif podcast because Miranda and Milan falls at the intersection of historic settings in queer women why don’t you tell us something about the story sure so as you mentioned this is a story that unfolds after the events of The Tempest so at the very end of The Tempest events of the play have been resolved and they’re off to Italy presumably for Prospero to be reinstalled as Duke of Milan and for Miranda to live happily ever after with her Prince Ferdinand and in my story things don’t quite go that way they do end up back in Italy but Prospero brings Miranda to Milan and there she uncovers a lot of secrets about her own past learns more about where she comes from and also where she’s going who she is as a person which she’s never really gotten the chance to explore before mm-hmm so what was it about the story of Miranda that made you want to follow her further I think actually the reason I was so intrigued by Miranda is we’re given so little of her in a way in the play she’s never really given space to speak for herself she’s very much under Prospero’s thumb the entire time he has most of the lines in the play and is constantly just instructing her and telling her what she should think and that things are this way in that way and you have to remember that you know if you’re viewing this character as a real young woman she’s been raised alone on this island with only her father telling her how the world is and the only other person on the island Caliban she’s been told that he’s this terrible awful creature so she and she’s also literally never met any other women and so I think that as a queer woman that really caught my imagination because I was thinking wow what if this character is queer and she gets out into the world and she sees other women for the first time you know that just would be an incredibly I think complicated experience so that was the germ of the story for me it would be a complicated experience even if she were straight because the the lack of socialization models is just astounding and and Prospero he’s very much a public master figure so as you say Miranda is it’s like she’s his creation in the play and doesn’t have an existence of her own very much so and I think expanding that idea to Europe at the time you obviously had this real segregation of the sexes you know these different gendered spaces and so Miranda would very much then end up in a society where she was relating to other women for the first time talking to other women for the first time hearing their experience at the world and so that was a very powerful notion to me that really only having been given this one world view it would completely explode her notion of what the world was so Shakespeare is pretty notorious for playing fast and loose with geography in history so in spinning a tale based on one of his works did you feel equally free to play around with the details of history or where you’re aiming for a Milan that was more of a real world it’s a 16th century you’re using right yes yes so I actually did a combination of things I think I wanted to keep myself a little more on the path because I actually you know more text than he would have had and you know more of a sense of what like would have been like at that time but I did want to also keep that sense of Shakespeare’s Italy and the way that he saw Italy and also the magic he brought in obviously that is a huge component yeah if it’s not magic it’s not The Tempest fantasy element but yeah I was very much working with in the 1500s looking at this taking place around the early part of the century and I bring in some elements from later but trying not to have anything that was an obvious anachronism so what’s also interesting about The Tempest is you have Prospero who and his brother Antonio who are these dueling rulers of Milan appear to be for all intents and purposes Italian from you know an Italian family but at Shakespeare’s time actually Milan had fallen under the role of the Spanish Habsburgs so actually The Tempest itself is a real throwback in history – I think this romantic notion of these Italian rulers in this Italian dynasty yeah so with that idea and used the period of the house of Sforza as my jumping-off point so that was sort of what I model prosperous reign after and maybe the family that Miranda is entering into and that’s where I started a lot of my research I ended up spending quite a lot of time on there’s a great out anyone who wants to go down this rabbit hole there’s a fantastic website first safor is a castle because it has a ton of history about the castle but also you can explore it you can literally go down hallways and see different rooms and that’s that was my starting point but then actually I was able last summer to go to Milan oh yeah so nothing to get to live it up with all this research I’ve done so that was my that was my setting so it sounds like you’re very fond of going down research rabbit holes what’s your general historic background is history always been a love for you or did you get into it specifically for this novel has definitely been a fascination for me I have always been primarily a fiction writer that’s what I studied in college so I’d say a lot of what I have the historical research I’ve done has been for creative projects so it’s a little bit going down these particular rabbit holes for the purpose of a project but I’ve also always been someone who loves historical fiction and is fascinated by history and this actually this story in particular came out of a class that I took in college that was we studied The Tempest in the context really colonialism in the rise Empire and a terrific last race Empire in the Renaissance stage at Hampshire College and that was so it was very much situated in its historical context when I first began to go deep on this play aha that sounds like a fabulous class it was when you decided it may be decided as the wrong word but when you decided that your story would draw Miranda into a queer relationship and a relationship as I just had it with a woman of color how did you approach depicting that what were the challenges the major challenge in the research is that we have very little information about queer relationships between women at that time a lot of the information was never recorded or might have been destroyed I actually one of the texts that I was using at the time to get a sense of the period was Walter Isaacson’s terrific biography of Leonardo da Vinci so da Vinci spent a large amount of his time in Milan and of course as this queer figure about whom actually we know quite a lot we know you know who he lived with who he was in relationships with there there are these documents and there is that history and we really lack that for most women at the time because women were so marginalized to begin with and as you noted earlier men’s and women’s lives were very separate and distinct and had the situation’s that applied to a man like da Vinci would might be irrelevant to women’s lives yes exactly and actually it’s interesting you know obviously the way that homosexuality was seen in Italy at the time was sometimes it was actually for men a very free experience and there was actually kind of a flourishing of gay culture and then there would come these crackdowns and this persecution and these legal ramifications of which again we have records so you’re actually able to see what was happening and what’s interesting is actually women lesbianism was not prosecuted in that way on that scale in fact often because it just wasn’t seen it might not just be seen at all but it also wasn’t seen as serious because in a way women’s relationships just weren’t seen as having that same gravity in that same importance yeah depending on what the women were doing it might not even be seen as sexual exactly exactly and actually it definitely wasn’t that came up in my research that essentially unless there was some phallus yes yes it wasn’t seen as a sexual relationship the lesbian talk show relies on support the support of you our listeners the support of those who like and review our show on their favorite podcast app the support of our patrons on patreon and the support of our sponsors we hope you’ll continue to enjoy and support the lesbian talk show [Music] the other part of my question so and I’m going by the book blurbs and a couple of reviews as I understand it the woman that Miranda is involved with she’s a servant and a woman of color and what what did that bring into the equation here yes so part of what I wanted to bring into this story was not only a sense of the history that we have and the way that we view that time but the gaps in history there’s so much that is unknown there’s so much that is lost and this character in particular is a witch you know very money speaking to the context of The Tempest she’s someone who practices magic she previously identifies as a witch but if you you know know your history of early modern Europe at that time that is not a comfortable thing to be and it was at that time already in Lombardy you were seeing witch trials but you really wouldn’t see the it reached the fever pitch until the middle of that century and so that to me it’s not explicit in the book but that is some of the history that was I think hanging over this story was this sense that you know these women are under a constant threat in a way just because being a woman who was in any way different at that time could very much put you under threat of death quite literally and so many women were killed during that time and also so much history was lost so many tests were lost and expurgated so I really wanted to bring that in and then the other element is that Miranda’s love interest is a Moorish went woman I that term is used in the book because it was the term that would be used at the time but I in the book I make it clear that that term was really just used as an other term it was applied to many different people at many different times and it really was just used as a line to demarcate you know us yeah yes so part of this characters history is that she was born in Marrakesh lived in Spain and again if you know your history of Spain at that time and Andalusia that would have been a time of immense persecution and also immense loss of arabic writings that was there were huge bonfires and just destruction on a massive scale Arabic history right so this character her mother is actually was a poet who is writing in Arabic and many many of her writings at that time when they were living in Spain what were lost and the reason that I wanted to bring in that character specifically was the hurt of The Tempest is you know we see it as the story of Prospero but the the other underlying story that we often don’t explore as deeply and some creators have is obviously cigarettes and Caliban yeah you know perhaps is the witch who came from Algiers who was living on the island and gave birth to her son Caliban and Caliban is really the only person left to speak on behalf of his mother but he’s a male character you know we don’t have any she can’t speak for herself her legacy has been a race and Prospero disparages her even after death and is really the person who speaks for her as well so I wanted to bring in a lot of that idea that The Tempest is so much about a man narrating yes but he’s really the one left standing and so we we don’t know we’ve lost so much of the real story of sick rax and so to contrast that we have in the character of Dorthea Gloria to a contrast with that loss you know the idea that yes her mother’s writings were lost and yes some her mother’s history was lost but it lives on in her daughter who is Unterman to protect that legacy and speak for her mother wonderful so I wanted to jump tracks here a little bit because when I was looking up your information to prepare for the interview I noticed that you are currently the fiction editor for the special issue of uncanny magazine disabled people destroy fantasy that’s right and my listeners because this this show is primarily aimed at the lesbian fiction audience and they probably are not as familiar with that series as you and I are so let me give them a little background this is a ongoing loose series of anthologies that’s been sponsored by different publications started out several years ago with the theme anthology women destroy science fiction which turned a misogynistic complaint into a tongue-in-cheek theme of a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign spread out to include women destroying fantasy and horror and then the initial series was followed by similar series of anthologies with queers destroying all the genres and then people of color destroying the genres and the current series is disabled people destroying science fiction fantasy and horror I assume there’s a horror one – I think I’ve only seen the other disabled people just rain or yeah but there were other anthologies yes of people destroying and in each case the anthology focuses on the voices of the group in question not necessarily characters and topics from those themes but what I fascinated by is you’re in the middle of editing this anthology at the same time that your debut novel is coming out and what is that like yes yeah so it’s my debut novella but yeah it’s actually you know I think it’s obviously kind of an overwhelming time when your first book comes out so it’s actually been really really great to be able to focus on this other project I’m so excited about this Anthology I was lucky enough to have a story and disabled people destroy science fiction and that was just an incredible experience to get to work with that editor so I you know couldn’t be more thrilled to be involved and to see all the work that’s coming in I’m just where we’re in the middle of submissions right now come and open for a little while longer and it’s been incredibly exciting to see what’s come in so far yeah any other upcoming projects or publications that you’re working on you’d like to tell the listeners about yes so actually by strange coincidence story coming out an anthology that publishes the same day as Miranda so that’s the Sharpe and sugar tooth anthology coming out from other upper rubber boot press they decide that it’s a tongue twister didn’t shaping up to be a terrific anthology get some that via a take off the idea was basically food and horror and so I have a story in there that’s a queer enchanted bakery tale basically so yeah I’m very excited about that bakeries seem to be popular setting somehow or either better I’ve just been noticing them yeah yeah so if people wanted to follow you on social media where should they look so you can find me on twitter at kek Duquette and that’s really the best place to connect with me you can also visit my website Katharine Duckett comm send me a message there I love hearing from readers and other writers as well so I’ll put links to all of those and all the publication’s we discussed in the show notes thank you so much for joining us today at the lesbian historic motif podcast Catherine Thank You Heather I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of the lesbian historic motif podcast if you want to follow up on anything we’ve covered see the show notes for links and to contact me with questions book announcements or topic suggestions if you enjoyed this podcast please read it and subscribe on itunes stitcher or pod bean and consider supporting our patreon and if you’re on facebook check out the lesbian talk show chat group [Music] you [Music]