If, like me, you are fascinated with the Victorian period, then I have a feeling that the portrait Michaela MacColl paints of the young, Princess Victoria will delight you. As part of a blog tour, the author of Prisoners In The Palace took some time out of her busy schedule to respond to my burning questions about her novel, her writing process, some of her favorite historical fiction authors for children, and some of the things she does when she isn’t writing. Check it out.
YA Book Shelf: Writing historical fiction creates some constraints – the historical record – but allows you room to move through the secondary characters that wouldn’t have made it into the history books. How do these constraints help and hinder the writing process?
Michaela MacColl: I’m a big fan of constraints actually. I find that the record is an excellent scaffolding to build a story on. I don’t know how people write fantasy and create their own worlds…I wouldn’t get past figuring out the landscape.
When I was a kid, I read Jean Plaidy’s royal novels. She’s an alter ego of Victoria Holt the romance and suspence novelist. Her books were very factual and found every bit of drama there was in the actual record. But when I returned to them as and adult, I realized how limited they were because she doesn’t have fictional characters!The fictional characters are what give the book life. And let me take my plot wherever I choose.
YABookShelf: While you studied history, I studied English literature and specialized in the Victorian period, so when I first heard of Prisoners In the Palace, I was really intrigued. What was it about the Victorian period and about the young Victoria that first sparked your creative interest?
MM: I too came to this area from literature. I love Jane Austen (who was writing at the time that Victoria was born) and Charles Dickens and William Thackeray are particular favorites. This time is so fascinating…it’s an era of relative peace, the Pax Brittanica, so we can focus on what’s happening in England. And Victoria’s story is so good…how can you not be interested?
YABookShelf: Not only are Liza’s expectations for life changed completely when her parents die, but also the expectations she has about Kensington Palace when she goes for the interview to be Princess Victoria’s maid are disappointed. Since young adult readers might be unaware of these facts, were these disappointed expectations meant to be a way for you to connect your readers with Liza?
MM: I hate to say it, but when I began writing about Kensington Palace and Liza’s disappointed expectations, I wasn’t really thinking about my readers. I was fascinated that this palace was where all the poor and unpopular royals were dumped and that no one would pay for maintenance. When Liza arrived, it gave just the right atmosphere for her disappointment.
YABookShelf: In a recent interview, you said that the most surprising thing about Victoria’s journals was that the record isn’t reliable because both her mother and daughter censored them. If the Princess was sad as you suggest because she doesn’t have privacy of thought, what do you think Queen Victoria would have said if she knew that her daughter would censor them further after her death?
MM: I suspect that Queen Victoria had given her daughter detailed instructions about her journals. I don’t think she would have left the fate of those thousands of words to chance.
YABookShelf: Historical fiction is often assumed to be boring, just as many teens consider their text books. How would you present this novel to a teen audience to peek their interest?
MM: I think any teen who thinks that current historical fiction is anything like a text book, hasn’t read any of the new stuff. I think there are many wonderful voices out there, telling stories that happen to take place in the past. Prisoners In The Palace is meant to be an easy and painless way to get sucked into history. Much of the “history” in the novel is actually characterization. Any history you pick up is incidental to the story.
YABookShelf: If teens read and love Prisoners In The Palace, what other historical fiction would you recommend they check out?
MM: I think anything by Karen Cushman, Laurie Halse Anderson, and Avi would be great. I just read The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate and loved it. If the Victorian period is what a reader craves, I just read a fun novel called The Agency by Y.S. Lee which takes place in Victorian London (think La Femme Nikita meets Vanity Fair).
YABookShelf: Using the “In Which” phraseology to begin your chapter titles follows the typical standard of Victorian novels. What are the good and bad points about using this constraint when developing your chapter titles? Why use chapter titles at all?
MM: I adored doing the chapter titles. I felt they gave the novel a richness and texture that is so Victorian! I never considered not using them. It was also fun making them feel ambiguous. You think you know what it means, but do you?
YABookShelf: Other than writing, I’ve heard that one of your other passions is international politics and that you’ve done a lot of volunteer work with the UN. What was the most exciting experience you’ve had volunteering? What is the most rewarding aspect of it?
MM: I loved studying international politics, especially the history of international cooperation. I ended up doing history, but part of me always wanted to be involved with the UN. Until I moved to Westport, I didn’t know how to do this. Our committee has been involved with international visitors since the 1940s – our little town of 25,000 people has welcomed over 50,000 visitors over the years. I love doing it and luckily for us, we’ve not had any excitement (excitement is bad for international relations). We did have Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad come to speak. I got to work with the Secret Service to make sure our venue was secure.
Melissa, thank you for such thoughtful questions.
YABookShelf: Thanks very much for taking the time to reflect and respond accordingly to my questions, Michaela. It was a pleasure having you stop by my site as part of this blog tour today.
Like what you read today? Enjoyed my questions or think there is something I could improve upon with them? Leave a comment, and I’ll be able to suit your needs more easily!