When I began writing Prisoners in the Palace, I started with biographies. Victoria is one of the most heavily biographed women in the world (!!!) so there are a lot to choose from. But my task is easier because I concentrate on her childhood, usually only a chapter or two in most biographies. Within those chapters, I looked for nuggets to start me thinking… and that’s where the story comes from. The nuggets in this case were the restrictions on her childhood and the dreaded Kensington System which was what her education regimen was called. Since I’m a parent of teenage girls myself, I knew that the life Victoria led would be intolerable to my kids. But the everyday details of her life were fascinating too because they are at once so similar and so different to our lives today. The way I described her schooling, the music she studied, the tutors she had, what she ate, her daily toilette, etc. are all based on fact.
Another nugget was about broadsheets. It turns out in the 1830’s you could print anything you wanted on broad sheets of paper and sell them on the street. They were often used to promote political agendas. When Victoria was Queen, more than one was addressed to her and designed to influence her thinking – much like we might see a full page ad in the New York Times today. I began to think about how dangerous this kind of publicity could be… and my plot emerged.
The challenge writing about a public figure is that you cannot alter the known facts just because it would improve the story. I can’t make Victoria 20 just because I feel like it. Although one of my critique partners insisted it would be amazing if Victoria snuck out of Kensington Palace and had adventures in London, I had to (regretfully) hold my ground. There was no way that someone as protected as she was could ever have slipped away for any length of time. So I created a character, Liza, who could be close to Victoria but who had the freedom to leave the palace. Liza is a ladies’ maid, and I portrayed her life as accurately as I could, based on my research about servants to the aristocracy. The fate of poor Annie, the maid whose place Liza takes, was also based on research about the working poor of London at the time.
It’s ironic that some of the most useful research about this time in London can be found in literature. Dickens and Thackeray were great sources for language and social mores. One of my favorite research tools was a book called What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool. Another amazing tool is a website called www.victorianlondon.org run by Lee Jackson (an author of Victorian mysteries). He has assembled a massive full-text indexed amount of literature and commentary about Victorian London.
Thanks so much Michaela! Don't forget you have a chance to win a copy of Prisoners in the Palace or one of 5 bookmarks:) Click here to enter!
About the book:
London, 1836. Sixteen-year-old Liza's dreams of her society debut are dashed when her parents are killed in an accident. Penniless, she accepts the position of lady's maid to young Princess Victoria and steps unwittingly into the gossipy intrigue of the servant's world below-stairs as well as the trickery and treason above. Is it possible that her changing circumstances may offer Liza the chance to determine her own fate, find true love, and secure the throne for her future queen?Interested in reading the first chapter? That's easy, click here!
Meticulously based on new interpretations of history, this riveting novel is as rich in historical detail as Catherine, Called Birdy, and as sizzling with intrigue as The Luxe.
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Cross-posted at: He Followed Me Home...Can I Keep Him? on 26 October 2010.