Launch: Margaret Porter’s The Myrtle Wand


Margaret Porter is a popular and prolific writer of historical fiction in hardcover and paperback, including some that have become bestsellers, award-winners and sold as foreign editions. The Myrtle Wand is her 15th book and her 16th is already well underway. She has turned her hand to many related creative endeavours. Before she became a full-time writer, she was an actress, film and tv extra, scriptwriter/producer for documentary and instructional films, voice-over talent, and university instructor.

All this experience has come together to build the exquisite 17th century world that is the setting for her latest novel. It has received excellent reviews. The Midwest Book Review says:

“Readers absorb the backdrop of the times against the friendship between three very different young women who each reflect diverse choices, directions, and their rapidly changing times. A powerful story, highly recommended for its realistic quandaries and strong female characters.”

Meet Margaret Porter!

How would you describe The Myrtle Wand and its themes in a couple of sentences?

The Myrtle Wand, a retelling and continuation of the classic ballet Giselle, restores original story elements to transform a tale of blighted romances and betrayals into a quest for redemption and restorative love as revealed primarily through Princess Bathilde’s experiences.

What attracted you to the story of Giselle?

I’m a lifelong lover of ballet. From childhood through graduate school, I was a dancer in class and in theatre productions, so I feel as though I’ve always known about Giselle. Early in 2020, as my last (although I didn’t know it then) pre-pandemic visit to the cinema, I attended the Bolshoi Ballet’s live broadcast of a new version of Giselle, a recreation of the original 1841 production. It was staged by a world-renowned choreographer who relies on original historical sources when reviving a ballet. For the first time, I saw Princess Bathilde presented as intended, a friend to the village girl Giselle, and a sensitive, strong, attractive presence in a tale of betrayal. Over time, as my interest in the characters grew, I found myself constantly wondering what the backstory and future story might be for the characters. And then my imagination took over.

Why this period of history?

My 2015 release, A Pledge of Better Times, was set at the courts of James II and William and Mary and, ever since, I knew I’d write another 17th century novel. After my detour into Golden Age Hollywood (two novels), I was ready to go way back in time.

The typical setting for the ballet Giselle is the medieval period, in a Germanic region. Yet most of the people have French names. The ballet was based on a Frenchman’s work, conceived in France, and premiered on the stage in Paris. I soon realised that France in the mid-17th century offered abundant conflict, political turmoil and intrigue, as well as beautiful châteaux and rural vineyards—prominent elements of the ballet’s plot and set design. And the life of Louis XIV has always fascinated me, for his court entertainments were among the very first ballets.

What details from your own journey did you weave into the story?

France is a country that speaks to me. The châteaux in my novel are the Louvre, Fontainebleau, Vaux-le-Vicomte, and the ones I created from memories and research are those in or near Poitou-Charente. I decided to place significant portions of my story near Niort, close to a village I visited when friends lived there, and in Poitiers, which I’ve also visited. As well, some of my own ancestors came from that area!

What kind of research did you do for this story?

I reviewed all the original source material for the ballet Giselle, the original and later versions, to decide what parts of it fit into or paralleled my fictional and historical plot. I was writing the novel during lockdown, when video streaming became a significant form of entertainment, so I accessed all the versions of the ballet that were then available on the internet or by subscription.

I carried out an intensive study of Ursuline convent schools during the 17th century, particularly the one in Niort. In girlhood, Françoise d’Aubigné (later Madame de Maintenon, Louis XIV’s morganatic wife) attended that one, which is why she appears in the novel as Bathilde’s schoolmate. I turned to my photos and travel diaries of Paris trips and time spent in Poitou-Charente and the Venise-Verte, and I researched what all those places were like in the 1650s.

The cultivation of grapes was important to the story also—and I have a great liking for Charentais wine. I read the published memoirs written by Louis XIV’s courtiers, and biographies of him and them, and several other real-life characters who pop in and out of my plot.

What do your readers mean to you?

I value my readership so very much, and I’m extremely gratified that they seem to follow me as I’ve hopped about in time, from the Jane Austen era to the 17th century, from Georgian and Stuart England to Golden Age Hollywood. It’s a pleasure to me, introducing them to people and places and aspects of history that fascinate me and might be unfamiliar to them. I hope they know they can rely upon me for historical accuracy and characters who are true to their time period while at the same time being interesting and relatable to a present-day reader.

What is your next project and how far advanced is it?

My next project, my 16th novel, will be the 4th in the genre of biographical historical fiction. It returns me to Georgian England and the theatrical realm and features a famous dancer and a prominent actor.

It is fully researched and outlined and not quite ¼ completed. I also have a side project, contemporary, set in an area of southwest England that I know well and return to regularly, partly based on my past work in the film industry.

What is the last great book you read?

Royal Escape by Georgette Heyer.


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