I’m excited to have Michaela MacColl here today for an interview! Michaela MacColl is the author of the new historical fiction novel, Prisoners in the Palace. This was her first book. She studied multi-disciplinary history at Vasar College, which worked out perfectly for the subject of her book! Visit her online at her website.
What drew you to the time period that Queen Victoria lived in?
One reason people are so fascinated by the Victorian Era is because it is so darn long. She reigned for sixty two years! I was looking primarily at the 1830’s. During this time the people are gettting awfully impatient with their King. They’ve seen George III (the crazy one who lost the American Colonies), his son George IV (The Regent, then King – it’s from his reign that we get the term Regency to describe the 1790’s – 1820’s) and then William IV (not so affectionately known as Silly Billy). The Royal Family had a reputation for getting into debt and living dissolutely. People are questioning whether a monarchy is necessary at all.
And then there’s Victoria. She’s young, virginal and pretty enough. She’s been kept away from court so her reputation is pure. The people are willing to give the Crown a last shot because Victoria might redeem the whole monarchy. And she does!
I loved thinking about the pressures on this poor 18 year old girl – particulalry since she wasn’t really trained to meet the challenges she would face. Although I thought she was probably spoiled and definitely self-centered, I had a lot of sympathy for her. I think this sympathy kept her from being a caricature in Prisoners in the Palace.
Did you do a lot of research for Prisoners in the Palace? Did you ever have a super fun or crazy experience doing research?
I love doing research – it is so much easier than writing! I started by reading several good full length biographies so I would have a sense of her life. Then I began to concentrate on just her childhood years. Victoria has many, many biographies written about her, so this was a way to make that research manageable. From there, I research specific points that interested me. For example, I came across a broadsheet that was published while she was Queen. It pretended to be a letter from the grave of a woman the Queen had wronged and it was quite the indictment. I loved the idea that private quarrels could be played out in the press and that was where my story started.
How long did it take you to write Prisoners in the Palace?
I began researching in the spring of 2006. After a year, I had a first draft. When my agent began submitting in the summer of 2007, we had several nibbles, but nothing came through until winter of 2008. Then a major house wanted some significant changes. We decided to do it – but then they wanted more changes. By Fall 2008, the house had passed – but I was in love with the latest revisions. I polished it up and we sent out again in January of 2009. By March we had an auction! And it was released last week in October 2010. Sorry for the long-winded answer but it’s not a cut and dried question!
What drew you to Young Adult fiction? Do you think you will continue to write YA?
I think YA is the most exciting area of literature out there today. I love the books I am reading and the books my teenage daughters are finding. I feel like I have more to say to this age group than older adults, so I’ll probably stick with this. Besides, the kidlit community is amazing – I think it’s a colder world out there with the grownups!
Why did you chose historical fiction? Are you a big history fan?
I’ve always loved history. I majored in multi-disciplinary history at Vassar – I called it an independent major, but that’s what it was. I loved seeing how all the academic disciplines were necessary to get a picture of a particular time period or event. Literature, history, economics, politics, art – they are all necessary to understanding the past. I was psyched to find out 20 years later that there was a career where I could use this particular skill set.
What’s your favorite book you have read lately?
I loved The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly. It was so deftly written and the sense of the time period so well done. It deserved all the prizes it won! And it’s a debut novel.