What was it about the year before Victoria became queen that drew you to tell the story of Prisoners in the Palace?
I enjoy writing about famous people when they are young. It seems to me that the teenage years are so full of possibility. Princess Victoria has a life that should be so wonderful. She lives in a palace and has a fabulous destiny of wealth and pomp. The contradiction between what we think her life should be like and what it was is where I found my story. And anyway, who doesn’t want to read about a real life princess?
Any plans on writing about Victoria’s years as queen?
Originally I planned to take my story as far as Victoria’s marriage to Albert. Fortunately, I have a critique partner who makes me stop (and since Prisoners came to 368 pp – you really are happy she made me stop!) She convinced me that Victoria’s part of the story ends when she becomes Queen. I wouldn’t mind writing about Queen Victoria – she makes a lot of questionable decisions – but I don’t know if Liza would still be the best point of view character.
Why did you choose Victoria’s maid as your main character over the princess herself?
I started with Victoria. But her life is so constrained – there was only so much I could have her do and still be consistent with the historical record. Let’s face it, as much fun as it would be to have Victoria wandering in the East End of London it just could not have happened. So I thought about what Victoria the girl (not the Princess) really needed. And that was a friend. But a Princess can’t make friends with just anyone. Liza needed a reason to be in contact with the Princess and most importantly a plausible reason for being alone with her. The spying stuff came later, but it cemented their friendship in a way that gossiping and confidences never could.
Have you seen the movie The Young Victoria? Your book covers some of the same time period and events as the movie. Did you know anything about this film while you were writing your book?
I knew the film was coming… and it took forever to come to the USA. The filmmakers worked from the same facts I did – so watching the film was like seeing all my research come to life. (And the beautiful costumes!)
One of the parts of your novel that I found most interesting was the character of Inside Boy. I know he was based on a real person, what can you tell us about him and why you included him in your novel?
Inside Boy was my favorite character. He could be described as the “Queen’s Stalker.” He broke into Buckingham Palace several times to be near Queen Victoria. Security at the palace was so lax that he was able to get into the Crown Princess’s nursery. I loved the idea of him and even though he shows up in history a few years later, I took the liberty of having him start his career as a Palace-squatter a little earlier. Liza needed a friend and an ally and Inside Boy was perfect.
What was one of the most interesting tidbits that you discovered while researching for this novel?
I was probably most interested in how constrictive Victoria’s life was. My own children are always complaining that I’m too protective, but they can walk down stairs by themselves. They can choose their own friends and go out alone. Poor Victoria couldn’t. My favorite detail was probably that she couldn’t write her journal in ink until her mother had reviewed the entry. I had a great time in my story playing with what Victoria’s mom-approved description of a scene was and what might have happened in my imagination.
Are you currently working on anything new? Anything you can share with us?
My second book comes out in November, 2011. It’s called Promise the Night and it’s about Beryl Markham. Beryl grew up in colonial East Africa and was raised by the tribe who worked for her father. Beryl was addicted to risk and danger. She was mauled by a lion and went on hunts with the tribe. When she grew up, she became a bush pilot at a time when flying was the ultimate adventure. She set the record for being the first person to cross the Atlantic east to west. Promise the Night is about her childhood crossed with the story of her flight across the Atlantic.
Thank you so much Michaela for taking time to answer these questions for us. I can't wait for Promise the Night!
Michaela attended Vassar College and Yale University. She earned degrees in multi-disciplinary history. Unfortunately, it took her 20 years before she realized she was learning how to write historical fiction. Her favorite stories are the ones she finds about the childhood experiences of famous people. What happened that helped them to be great? Michaela has two daughters so she's hoping to identify those moments firsthand. She and her family live in Connecticut, but she will travel at the drop of hat to do local research. So far her travels have taken her to London and Florence and Amherst, Massachussetts. A trip to Shanghai, China is in the works. Prisoners in the Palace (Chronicle, October 2010) is her first book. You can visit Michaela at her website.
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