The Compulsive Reader: Interview with Michaela MacColl!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Interview with Michaela MacColl!

Michaela MacColl is the author of a new historical fiction novel called Prisoners in the Palace, which is a story of young Queen Victoria, told from the point of view of her maid. I met Michaela at GLIBA a few weeks back, and she was super nice, but unfortunately she wasn't signing books when I saw her! Still, I was able to talk to her for a few minutes, and she agreed to an interview to celebrate the release of Prisoners in the Palace! But first, here's what the book is about:

"London, 1838. 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 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?

Meticulously based on newly discovered information, this riveting novel is as rich in historical detail as Catherine, Called Birdy, and as sizzling with intrigue as The Luxe."

Here's Michaela!

TCR: What drew you to writing about a young Victoria?

MM: I like writing and researching about famous people when they were young. I mean really famous people – people that you are sure you know all about. Like Victoria. So many of us have a vision of her as an old grouchy widow. But she wasn’t always like that. Check out Victoria at seventy and seventeen:

I mean, who would you rather write about? I was interested in seeing how Victoria’s upbringing influenced the Queen she became.

In the end, I decided her childhood had been so sheltered, that she would have been a better Queen if only she had met some commoners. So that’s what I did – I gave her a servant who could become a friend. My hope was that Victoria might learn to consider the consequences of her actions. 

TCR: What sort of research did you have to do for Prisoners in the Palace?

MM: I always begin with biographies. I read them cover to cover, to get a sense of my character’s whole life. Then I read every biography I can get my hands on, but only the parts about my character’s childhood. Otherwise, I’d be reading biographies forever (Victoria is the most biographed woman in the world).  If there is an original source, such as Victoria’s letters and diaries, I read those too. Then as I write I find additional topics to research. For example, in Prisoners in the Palace I did a ton of research on domestic servants in the 1830’s. I also read a lot about the newspaper business. I visited Kensington Palace as well as Fleet Street, the Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese and of course, the London Fire Monument. For me, the research is the easy part. So much simpler than writing!

What was the hardest part about Prisoners in the Palace? The easiest?

The hardest part for me was to define my main character, Liza.  She began as a foil for the Princess. I needed a way in to the palace. And I needed someone who could more or less move freely. It’s a lousy way to create a character – because those aren’t things that make her a living breathing person. It’s like the exercises my daughter is doing in drawing class with ‘negative space.’ The kids don’t draw a stool, they draw the space around the stool. That’s what I did with Liza. Fittingly, until I fixed this, the book wasn’t accepted for publication.

The easiest thing… hmmm. I’ve already said how easy the research was. I think I found it easy to incorporate little details that I unearthed into my story – Victoria considered her hair to be her best feature and was devastated when illness forced her to cut it. Or that a maid was dismissed from Kensington Palace for lewd behavior. Most of the details made it into the book.
Do you have any more historical fiction books in the works?

I’m in the final editing stage of a novel about Beryl Markham. She was an aviator in the 1930’s who was the first person to cross the Atlantic solo going East to West. It was a much more difficult flight in that direction that from say New York to England. She crashed, but survived. She wrote about her adventures in a brilliant memoir called West Into the Night.  Again it was her childhood that most interested me. Her father was one of the first colonists in the highlands of British East Africa (now Kenya). She grew up hunting with the natives who worked for her father. She was mauled by a lion, survived a sadistic governess and led a revolt from boarding school. The lessons of her childhood gave her the fortitude to survive her flight. This novel is for a slightly younger audience. I don’t have a title yet.

TCR: What are some of your favorite historical fiction reads you'd recommend to your readers?

MM: I’m a huge fan of historical mysteries. I love the Brother Cadfael books by Ellis Peters. And anything by Karen Cushman is wonderful, also Avi. Recently, I’ve really enjoyed The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Woodson and Storyteller by Patricia Reilly Giff. 


Anonymous said...

I loved this book.... and the new one about the pilot sounds like it will be awesome.

Lauren said...

looks cool, I think I'll read it!

Ever read the Young Royals books? (Mary, Bloody Mary, etc)