November 18, 2010

Author Interview: Michaela MacColl

Today I am happy to welcome Michaela MacColl, author of the newly released Prisoners in the Palace, a fascinating and exciting look at Queen Victoria's life the year before she was crowned, to Psychotic State.  She has graciously answered some questions about her writing, inspirations and, of course, Queen Victoria. 

Hi Michaela, welcome to Psychotic State and thank you for taking the time to chat with me and my readers.

I just finished reading Prisoners in the Palace and absolutely loved it! What gave you the idea to write about Victoria in the year before she was crowned Queen?

MM:  I’m so glad you liked it! An editor gave me the idea originally. She wanted to see Phillippa Gregory but for teens. Queen Victoria is such a good subject because we have a view of her as an old woman – in perpetual mourning, stooped and stout… but she was a teenager once. She liked boys and dancing inappropriate dances (the waltz!) and judged every party by how late she stayed up. That was the Victoria I wanted to introduce readers to. Picking the time before she is crowned gives me some flexibility. After she is Queen, every moment of every day is documented. But before… all bets are off!

I found Victoria to be an enchanting character - - headstrong, willful, charming, spoiled and still very much a child while awaiting for the throne of Great Britain. Did you keep solely to history when writing her or did you inject your own quirks and characteristics on her?

MM:  I started with the quirks that are part of the historical record. She gobbled her food and preferred bright colors. Her mother wouldn’t let her sleep alone or go down stairs by herself. She kept her chin unnaturally high because her mother would tie a piece of holly under her chin to help keep up her posture. From there, I began to wonder how does this shape a girl’s personality? I came up with a girl who had natural charm but had very little experience considering other people’s feelings. She’s got a good heart though and changes through the course of the novel.

The supporting characters in Prisoners in the Palace were a varied bunch but I thoroughly enjoyed each and every one of them and found each of them extremely significant to the story. Who was your favorite character from Prisoners in the Palace to write and why?

MM:  I’m not supposed to have a favorite… but I do! The character that I enjoyed writing about most was Inside Boy. He’s such a personality who lives between the strictures of society. He’s not part of the palace, nor is he of London; he lives in the walls. He was just what my main character, Liza, needed. An ally in the palace and a guide to the outside world.

The descriptions of Kensington Palace, the back alleys of London, the fashions and way of life as presented in Prisoners in the Palace were phenomenal! I could literally picture each and every scene in my mind, as if I was watching a movie. How much research goes into writing historical fiction like Prisoners in the Palace?

MM:  What a nice compliment! I have had a few people contact me about film rights… so let’s keep our fingers crossed. Luckily there are a lot of sources for description about Victorian England, including many works of fiction. I also took a trip to London after the first draft was done – that helped enormously with the little details that make a story work. For example, after climbing up to the top of the Fire Monument, I realized that I had to ratchet up the tension if my character was going to run to the top!

How long did it take you to write Prisoners in the Palace from inception to completion?

MM:  I started in January of 2006 and sold it in March in 2009. It was finally published in October 2010. At least six months of that was research.

Did you always want to be a writer?

MM:  Alas, I think I did, but I forgot. I got distracted by academia and then the necessity to work for a living. Then I got married and had kids. Happily, when I was traveling with my daughters I rediscovered my love for finding stories in history.

Did you receive any advice as a struggling or new writer that you’d like to share with budding writers out there?

MM:  Patricia Reilly Giff is my teacher and mentor. She’s amazingly generous with new writers. Her advice is always born from twenty-five years of writing. She tells us to write every day – even if it’s just for ten minutes. The other bit of advice was when you finish something – send it out. It’s a product that you have to sell. Save your love and attachment to the work in progress.

Are there any particular authors that inspire you or that you enjoy reading?

MM:  I’m a huge fan of Karen Cushman’s work. I also love Madeline l’Engle and Lloyd Alexander.

Can you take us through a normal day in the life of Michaela MacColl?

MM;  It’s so dull – why would you want to make that journey? I have two daughters, four cats and one husband. My mornings are all about feeding everybody (I count down). Once everybody is out of the house, including the cats, I try to write for a few hours in the morning. I have a critique group that meets weekly which is the highpoint of my week. I’m active with the local historical society and an International Visitors Committee – so I’m often helping out with their events. Right now I’m planning a Victorian Christmas event at the historical society and arranging for 40 international guests to come to my town to join local hosts for Thanksgiving.

Can you tell us what you’re working on now? Any chance that you may revisit Victorian England?

MM:  I’m putting the finishing touches on a book about Beryl Markham. She was an aviator in the 1930’s who was the first to cross the Atlantic solo from East to West. She crashed, but lived to tell the tale. But what interested me most was her childhood in Colonial Africa. Her father was one of the original colonists in the Highlands above Nairobi. She was raised by an African tribe and learned to hunt lion and warthog. The novel comes out next Fall, also from Chronicle. I can’t wait to see what they do with the cover (since they did such an amazing job with Prisoners in the Palace).

If you could ask Queen Victoria any question, what would you like to ask her?

MM:  I would love to ask her if it was worth it? Was being Queen and the first and only Empress of India was worth giving up a normal life?

If you could time travel back to Victorian England for one day, what would you like to see? What would you think would be the best part of being in Victorian England? What would be the worst part?

MM:  I think I’d like to ride along Rotten Row in Hyde Park and see the lords and ladies strutting their stuff. I would love the language – I’ve always wanted to live in an era that spoke like Jane Austen’s characters. But I’m not sure I’d be too happy about the sanitary facilities!

Lastly, if you could use one word to describe Prisoners in the Palace, what would it be?

MM:  Can I pick two? Because I’d love to call it a Modern Historical.

Thank you so much, Michaela, for taking the time to answer my questions and best of luck with the fantastic Prisoners in the Palace!


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?

On sale now!  

Special Offer From Chronicle Books:  We’ve got a special promotion code PRISONER that you can offer your readers. When they use it to check out at they’ll get FREE SHIPPING and 25% off their entire order!

For more information about author Michaela MacColl, please visit her website

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