|Stella Duffy interview
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Date: 8 March, 2012
Suzanne Elvidge talks to author Stella Duffy about her latest book, 'Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore'.
She has written detective novels, historical novels, literary novels, plays, short stories, reviews, newspaper articles and a blog.
She is an actor and theatre director, and wrote and presented the BBC4 documentary How to Write a Mills and Boon (harder than you think, and they can tell if you do it tongue in cheek).
Stella also has a Twitter feed @stellduffy but her top tip for writers – when you are tweeting, you are not writing!
When she was invited to come to Greenbelt, Stella registered a certain amount of surprise, saying that it’s not often a “lesbian ex-Catholic Buddhist married to an Indian Jewish woman gets invited to a Christian festival.”
However, faith is very important to her and the Greenbelt literature crowd welcomed her with open arms (and an I am not Carol Ann Duffy T shirt) as she talked about her 12th novel, Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore, the story of the rise of a prostitute and actor to Empress of the Roman Empire, and her conversion to Christianity.
Unusually, the mosaic gave equal prominence to Theodora as to her husband, the Emperor Justinian I.
There is little historical record of Theodora, but she is known to have improved the legal lot of women, including prostitutes, and to have set up the first halfway home for prostitutes in a time when prostitution was (perhaps ironically) both illegal and taxable.
It is likely that Theodora was a prostitute, and she underwent a conversion to a non-orthodox form of Christianity – she was a Monophysite, believing that Christ had one nature, including human and divine. Justinian was a Chalcedonian, where Christ is of a dual nature.
The sequel, The Purple Shroud, is on its way, described as ‘Theodora – The Power Years’. It’s going to be tougher and darker, exploring the themes of power corrupting.
This, and Theodora’s higher profile meaning that there is more historical information available, has made the book harder to write – as Stella admits, and as all writers know, it is easier to make things up, and when there is more fact, it is more difficult to keep it as a story – the craft is how to get it off the page.
Stella has touched on religion, specifically Marian theology, with earlier books – in Immaculate Conceit, Gabriel tells Sofia the lap dancer that she is pregnant with the new Messiah. Her other themes include family, truth and lies, and the sins of omission.
She describes her own search for faith as ‘looking for something’, which wasn’t the Catholicism of her upbringing or the evangelical Christianity of her homeland, but had to involve be able to eat meat, drink, and be gay – she was drawn to the discipline of Buddhism, likening the daily chanting to the discipline of writing.
She started writing because she wanted to change the world, and keeps going because writing is a way to touch people and keep them thinking about injustice.
Buy a copy of Theodora from Amazon and raise money for Christian Aid