KATHERINE NOURI HUGHES, Iraqi-Irish by birth, attended Princeton University where she received a Masters Degree in Near Eastern Studies and where she serves on that department’s advisory council. She has published two books on k-12 education, was a communications executive in the for-profit and non-profit sectors, and serves on the boards of the American University in Cairo, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and WNET/13, the public television station. She lives in Princeton, New Jersey and and in New York City has two daughters and two grandchildren. The Mapmaker’s Daughter is her first novel.
I was able to ask Katherine some burning questions, and this is what she had to say;
Please tell readers about your current book.
The Mapmaker’s Daughter – a historical novel spanning most of the 16th century- is one woman’s effort - toward the end of her life – to get to the bottom of why she’s made the decisions she’s made and to weigh their consequences. It’s about the worth of the hard work of telling oneself the truth. Specifically, it’s about a ghastly and consequential responsibility entrusted by the greatest of all Ottoman sultans, Suleiman the Magnificent, to the wife of the son who will succeed him. Her name is Nurbanu, and the book is her assessment of what, over the course of her life, has made her think and feel and act as she has. It’s very much about the effect of mothers – Nurbanu’s mother’s (the eponymous mapmaker) effect on her…and Nurbanu’s own effect on her son and on her grandson, too. It is about the power of trust, fear and maternal love.
Who or what inspires your writing?
I’m inspired by what I observe – the “simple” truth of things. Someone caught in an unanticipated act of kindness, say. Or in a lie. I’m also inspired by words and combinations of words – the way they sound, how they’re changed by a modifier or a preposition; and how enticing an unexpected pairing of words can be.
When did you know you would be a writer?
When I found myself writing for a living – mainly as a ghostwriter.
How long did it take you to write your first novel?
.What is the hardest part of writing for you?
Knowing or figuring out – truthfully – what a character would think or do. In other words, not ascribing feelings or actions to characters because they might get me where I think need to go in the narrative. For one thing, those self-consciously made up things specifically do not get you where you intend to go. Also, the writing that delivers them is never, in my experience, any good.
Do you have any writing rituals?Not rituals exactly, but some habits – not all good. To leave off for the day on an upswing (good). To sit too long without getting up for a break (bad). And to write with my eyes closed. Touch typing was the most useful thing I learned in high school. It’s very freeing.
Have you written anything else?
Yes. Speeches for others.
Any advice to aspiring writers?
Yes. Be as honest as you can be. And don’t give up.
Who are your favorite authors?
Elizabeth Strout, Richard Ford, Willa Cather, John Steinbeck.
What are your favorite books, or which book has impacted you the most?
The Leopard (Lampedusa). The Sportswriter (Ford). Love in the Time of Cholera (Garcia Marquez). Middlemarch. Levels of Loss (Julian Barnes).
Elizabeth Strout’s Anything is Possible. Then I will read Colm Toibin’s Nora Webster. And then Pride and Prejudice.
How do readers find out more about you?
The Mapmaker’s Daughter has a website: themapmakersdaughter.com.
Delphinium Books; August 8, 2017
$18 Trade paperback; 368 pages
A woman who wielded extraordinary authority over a vast realm, who influenced the course of astronomy, and who – uniquely among women – upheld an empire’s most important law, has been almost lost to history – until now.
The West has also largely forgotten that for more than a century, during and following the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, a “sultanate of women,” of slave origin, exerted exceptional political influence over matters of state. This sultanate is currently depicted on the Netflix series, The Magnificent Century.
In THE MAPMAKER’S DAUGHTER (Delphinium Books; August 8, 2017) by Katherine Nouri Hughes, Queen Mother Nurbanu, one of the first of these powerful women, is determined to understand how her bond with the greatest of all Ottoman sultans, Suleiman the Magnificent, has shaped her destiny – not only as the wife of his successor, but as the appointed enforcer of one of the Empire’s most crucial and shocking laws.
Nurbanu spares nothing as she dissects the desires and motives that have propelled and harmed her; as she considers her role as devoted and manipulative mother; as she reckons her relations with the women of the Harem; and, as she details the fate of the most sophisticated observatory in the world. Nurbanu sets out to “see” the causes and effects of her loves and choices, and she succeeds by means of unflinching candor—right up to the last shattering revelation.
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