Today I’d like to welcome Nupur Tustin to Ascroft, eh? She’s visiting me today to chat about her novel, A Minor Deception. Welcome, Nupur. Let’s get started, shall we?
Tell us about your novel.
NT: In some respects, A Minor Deception, is about Haydn’s search for his principal violinist, a dangerous man, who disappears barely weeks before the Empress Maria Theresa’s visit, and must be found. The consequences of not finding him would be disastrous; and not just for Haydn.
The central plot was inspired by events that took place some sixty years before Haydn’s birth; events that are rooted in Hungary’s troubled relations with the Habsburgs.
But in another respect, A Minor Deception is an entertaining, diverting mystery. And even though Haydn spends a lot of his time hunting down clues to his violinist’s whereabouts, the reader is given a sense of what it was like for a composer to work in an eighteenth-century secular court.
A strong downstairs dynamic, with palace maids Rosalie and Greta joining in to help Haydn solve the crime, gives readers a sense of the complexity of eighteenth-century society and the possibility of social mobility.
What prompted you to write about this historical era?
NT: I already knew about Austria’s troubled relations with Hungary, and as I began plotting, events naturally escalated so that a musical problem modulated into a political one. Having grown up in India, I’m very familiar with colonial politics—for as many people as there may be in favor of taking a courageous stand, there are far more who benefit from the status quo, and who vehemently oppose it.
Although, life under Maria Theresa and her sons was largely peaceful, I thought it not implausible that anti-Habsburg resentment might continue to simmer under the surface. After all, the worst uprisings had taken place when Maria Theresa’s grandfather, Leopold, was Holy Roman Emperor and, of course, ruler of the Habsburg lands. And that had been about a hundred years before my story takes place, if that.
How closely did you stick to the historical facts? If you used them loosely, how did you decide whether to deviate from them?
NT: This is a question that every writer of historical fiction has to wrestle with. As a reader and a history buff, I find I need works of historical fiction to stimulate my imagination and intrigue me enough to go searching for the truth.
For instance, one of Anne Perry’s mysteries is based on Jack the Ripper. The theory she posits is psychologically the most compelling, but in factual terms, one that’s not tenable at all. The Immortal Beloved, a gripping movie about Beethoven, posits a theory as to who this mysterious woman might be. It isn’t accurate, but fits the story much better than the more plausible theories would have done. In each case, I was motivated to find out more. And that’s the primary function of historical fiction—to get the reader interested in history.
In my case, the “event” in question was one that didn’t take place when I say it had—in the 1760s. But it could have. Haydn himself probably wouldn’t have had time to play detective. He had so many administrative duties as a Kapellmeister—Director of Music—he later marveled he’d been as prolific as he was. But Haydn’s character—his sense of duty, his loyalty to his employer and the Empire, his willingness to lend a hand to whoever needed it—makes his intervention plausible.
What research did you do for this book?
NT: I naturally read extensively on Haydn’s life. I even read an autobiography written by his friend, Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf, a virtuoso violinist and musician, largely forgotten now. I found Leopold Mozart’s letters very informative when it came to customs and details about travel. It goes without saying that I read about Haydn’s music, I delved deeper into music theory. I even began composing!
For the political elements in the plot, I read several books about the Habsburgs and about Maria Theresa and a history of Hungary. I also read about the Esterházys, the family that employed Haydn, and their estates.
To bring the place to life, I looked into temperature, fauna and flora for the Pannonian Basin where Eisenstadt is. I bought a map—in German—of the region as well as travel guides to both Austria and Hungary. I took as many virtual tours as I could of the Esterházy Palaces, read German accounts and compared them with their poorly translated English counterparts to get a sense of what they were saying. I learnt German as a college student, but I’ve forgotten most of it now although I still remember the grammar.
I traced travel paths using Google Maps and the physical map I’d bought of the region so that I’d be able to provide an accurate sense of place.
I found a forum for Austrian expats whose families were from the Eisenstadt region, and that gave me useful insights into cost of living at the time as well as such things as the structure of farmhouses.
And finally, since I was writing a mystery, I did extensive research on forensics, the history of medicine, medicine and law in Germany, and the police system in Austria.
Do you use a mixture of historic figures and invented characters in the novel? Which is more difficult to write?
NT: The novel uses both, and I think each has its challenges. There’s enough research on Haydn for me to have an idea of his personality. It was harder to envision other characters, his employer, for instance, or the Estates Director, Peter Ludwig von Rahier. The problem with using one’s imagination is that one could so easily get it wrong, by which I mean the information needed for getting it right might later be discovered to be embarrassingly easy to find.
Fictitious characters, on the other hand, need to have not only a personality, but a compelling backstory, and you not only have to provide the latter, but remember all the details so you can be consistent.
Which do you prefer to write and why?
NT: I enjoy writing both. One of my favorite characters, besides Haydn, is Rosalie, a figment of my imagination. When I’m writing a historical character, although in a sense the character is ready-made, I have to be careful to be accurate, and make sure I’ve exhausted all research possibilities before I decide to take recourse to my imagination.
I have free rein with my fictitious characters—within the realm of plausibility, of course—but there’s a lot more to make up. Are their parents still alive? How many siblings do they have? Were there any significant experiences in their past that may have influenced their current behaviors and beliefs?
In an historical novel you must vividly re-create a place and people in a bygone era. How did you bring the place and people you are writing about to life?
NT: Bringing people to life isn’t very difficult. Documents from the period give you a sense of people’s attitudes. Anecdotes from Haydn’s earliest biographers, A.C. Dies and G.A. Griesinger, give one both a sense of Haydn’s personality as well as a sense of the time period, manners, and customs. Dittersdorf’s autobiography and Leopold Mozart’s letters provided a contemporary account of the time as well.
One of the things I’ve come to realize is that people across time and culture are largely the same. Underneath the superficial trappings of clothing and manners and customs, are the same desires and needs.
As far as bringing Eisenstadt to life was concerned, I had to rely largely on books, contemporary accounts, and my maps. Would traveling to the place, had I been able to afford it, have helped? Perhaps. But one must remember that places change.
Eisenstadt in the twenty-first century is the bustling, vibrant capital of the Austrian province of Burgenland. In Haydn’s day, it was a small, insignificant town on the Hungarian side of the River Leitha. It wasn’t considered important enough to be on the postal route. Street names have changed, the moat surrounding the palace has been filled in, and the Jewish Quarter separated from the rest of the town is now part of it.
So, the Eisenstadt of the eighteenth-century doesn’t exist anymore, and had to be reconstructed.
There often seems to be more scope in historical novels for male characters rather than female characters. Do you prefer to write one sex or the other. And, if so, why?
NT: A Minor Deception alternates between Haydn’s view point and Rosalie’s, and although Rosalie is a sub-plot character, she’s still important to the story. So, I’m not sure I have a preference. Writing men can be easier when you’re the kind of woman who takes no interest in fashion and womanly things.
On the other hand, it can be quite liberating to write about your own sex. I don’t have to think about how Rosalie would respond in an emotional moment or about physical behaviors and gestures she might use to comfort a friend.
When it comes to Haydn and his younger brother, Johann, I do need to ask my husband if certain gestures would be appropriately masculine.
At the end of the day, I think any writer needs to be comfortable writing both.
Thanks for giving us an insight into A Minor Deception, Nupur.
Readers can learn more about Nupur by visiting the official Haydn Mystery website for details on the Haydn series and monthly blog posts on the great composer. They can also connect with her on her Facebook and Goodreads pages.
A Minor Deception is available on: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Kobo
About Nupur Tustin: A former journalist, Nupur relies upon a Ph.D. in Communication and an M.A. in English to orchestrate fictional mayhem. The Haydn mysteries are a result of her life-long passion for classical music and its history. Childhood piano lessons and a 1903 Weber Upright share equal blame for her original compositions, available on ntustin.musicaneo.com.
Her writing includes work for Reuters and CNBC, short stories and freelance articles, and research published in peer-reviewed academic journals. She lives in Southern California with her husband, three rambunctious children, and a pit bull.