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Victoria mourned for over 40 years… Too long? This article in Victoriana Magazine tells you exactly how long to wear black for the sister of your brother-in-law’s cousin….
I’m off to Wallingford CT on Wednesday October 5th to visit the Mother Daughter Book Club to discuss Prisoners in the Palace. The lovely Donna Marotti and her daughter met me at RJ Julia’s last spring and invited me. I can’t wait to meet the group. Read more here.
Colleen Mondor, Bookslut in Trainig, wrote this thoughtful review of Prisoners in the Palace!
Michaela MacColl carves out a delightful notch in historical fiction with her look at the surprising life of future Queen Victoria in Prisoners in the Palace: How Princess Victoria became Queen with the Help of Her Maid, a Reporter, and a Scoundrel. I never thought much about teenaged Victoria, assuming her life was similar to anyone else destined to rule and filled with many dull moments of pomp and circumstance, but as MacColl explains in her lengthy (and valuable) afterword, Victoria was not actually supposed to be queen, and when her destiny became more apparent due to deaths in the line of succession, her weak mother and the machinations of a man seeking to be the power behind the throne left her with a childhood that was miserable. MacColl tells the tale through a fictional character, Liza, who is forced to be a lady’s maid after the sudden deaths of her parents, instead of a debutante. With little knowledge of life “below the stairs” and a healthy amount of arrogance and righteous anger, Liza is the perfect foil for the frustrated Victoria and her retinue of servants (dedicated and not) and hangers-on (devious one and all). That there was a very real plot to wrest control of England going on in the background ups the stakes of what would otherwise still be a compelling read.
The plot for Prisoners is fairly straightforward: through family connections, Liza is able to apply for a job with Princess Victoria’s staff. She obtains the position largely because of her ability to speak more than one language and thus serve as a spy for the princess and those loyal to her (not including her mother). Stuck between the royal bedrooms above and the gossipy center of the house below, Liza is woman without a country in many respects and quickly decides to throw her loyalty in with those who side with the princess — on the hopes that when she becomes queen she will gain a reward and thus alleviate her severe financial position. Soon enough she is swept along by history, however, and while MacColl had plenty there to keep the narrative going, she expands the story to include a fascinating peek at the powerless lives of women during the mid-nineteenth century, a view that includes everyone from maids to royalty. (The portrayal of the sitting queen, Victoria’s aunt, is particularly heartbreaking.) While I am never interested in limiting a book’s audience to any one gender, I have to say that Prisoners will especially appeal to young women because it shows so effectively how much times have changed. While we all chafed under parental rules as teens, our complaints were nothing compared to what the women in this novel have to go through. The stark difference between opportunities for men and women is staggering, and while MacColl firmly keeps Prisoners of the Palace a book of household intrigue (and spying) with a sweet touch of romance, it was the social history that gave me pause. In many ways, this is a consciousness-raising read; the fact that it is does so in such a subtle manner just makes it that much more of a winner.
So I’m battened down for Hurricane Irene and then we were without power for four days. It’s tedious and after the first flush of “we’re all in this together” — it’s easy to get bitter when the next street over gets power back and we’re still in the dark. In the midst of all this negativity, my lovely publicist, Lara Starr, sends me this review from Sue at Bookshelf: What We’re Reading. It totally brightened my day (and not coincidentally I’m sure, the power came back on!)
The Maiden’s Court is a lovely blog that focuses on historical fiction. I always find a new book to read here. I was so pleased that Heather liked Prisoners in the Palace. She gave it 4.5/5! Check out her review here.
Sam at 10.3 Bookblog just wrote the most heartfelt and enjoyable review of my debut novel that I’ve ever read. I was smiling the whole time. Sam is my target reader — a young lady who HATES History (she even thinks the word is boring). But after she read Prisoners in the Palace (and despite feeling like a nerd) she actually looked up Queen Victoria. Great review and I think Sam is Awe-Spiring too!
I just received this link from my publicist at Chronicle (the incomparable Lara Starr). How nice to think that bored teenagers in another country might pick up my novel for their summer reading!
Last Saturday a lovely lady named Doe Boyle (you know she has to be writing kidlit!) invited me to be a speaker at her 13th annual garden workshop. (In the order of appearance) Adam Gidwitz (A Tale Dark and Grimm), Rob Buyea (Because of Mr. Terupt), Ann Haywood Leal (The Finder Keepers Place), me!, and finally but definitely not least, Caragh O’Brien (Birthmarked) discussed the choices we make when we write for middle grade and young adult.
This is an issue I’ve thought a lot about. When I write my books, I’m borrowing stories from the past. When I wrote Prisoners in the Palace, I wanted to write about Victoria in the year before she became Queen. She was seventeen. Since one of the easiest rules of thumbs about Middle Grade v. Young Adult is the age of the protagonist…. I guess I’m writing Young Adult. This influenced teh story I told. A sixteen year old can be thinking about marriage (especially back then). Her interests are balls and gowns. And when Victoria is confronted with the unpalatable facts of life, it her naivete that keeps her from recognizing them, not her age.
My next book, Promise the Night is about an eleven year old named Beryl. She grows up in colonial Africa, seeing things that most American children her age would never ever see! But she only experiences adventures her young pre-teen self can handle. There’s not a lot of romance but there are some terrific friendships. Yup, middle grade.
Anyway, I spent a wonderful afternoon in the sun, under the shady trees, in Doe’s amazing colonial house. The attendees brought lawn chairs and a (delicious) pot-luck entree. Everyone was a writer — some well-published, others just starting. What we all had in common was a love of children’s literature and a respect for our readers. I learned so much from my fellow speakers too. Adam made the terrific point (which I knew as a parent, but not necessarily as a writer) that kids understand what they are ready to, and the rest flies over their head! Rob, a wrestling coach, couched writing in wrestling terms — there is no room so large as the room for improvement. Oh yeah, there’s a lot of discipline required too. Ann amazed us with her recollection of and tolerance for her 12 year old self. Caragh reminded us that writing is its own reward — publication, sales, awards are all gravy!
A terrific day!