ALL FOUR KIDS: An Interview with Sharon Biggs Waller, author of A Mad Wicked Folly

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Today we’re interviewing OneFourKidLit author Sharon Biggs Waller, whose debut novel A MAD WICKED FOLLY comes out today!

Here’s the official summary for A MAD WICKED FOLLY:

A Mad Wicked FollyWelcome to the world of the fabulously wealthy in London, 1909, where dresses and houses are overwhelmingly opulent, social class means everything, and women are taught to be nothing more than wives and mothers. Into this world comes seventeen-year-old Victoria Darling, who wants only to be an artist—a nearly impossible dream for a girl.

After Vicky poses nude for her illicit art class, she is expelled from her French finishing school. Shamed and scandalized, her parents try to marry her off to the wealthy Edmund Carrick-Humphrey. But Vicky has other things on her mind: her clandestine application to the Royal College of Art; her participation in the suffragette movement; and her growing attraction to a working-class boy who may be her muse—or may be the love of her life. As the world of debutante balls, corsets, and high society obligations closes in around her, Vicky must figure out: just how much is she willing to sacrifice to pursue her dreams?

I feel so lucky that I got to read A MAD WICKED FOLLY early. I fell in love with it pretty much from the first page, and stayed up until 4am because I simply had to finish it. It’s lush and thought-provoking and emotional and addictive, and I can’t wait for everyone else to discover how fabulous this book is too!

RT: A Mad, Wicked Folly is a novel about a young artist attempting to find her place in restrictive Edwardian England against the backdrop of the Suffragette movement. What was your initial inspiration for the book? An idea, a character, a song, a painting?

SBW: My first inspiration for the story was the statue of Emmeline Pankhurst in Victoria Tower Gardens in London.  When I lived in England I used to walk by it and I’d think about what life was like for women and teenage girls during the suffrage movement. What if you wanted to be something other than a wife and mother and then be told you couldn’t do it because you were a girl? I couldn’t get this idea out of my head but I was told that historical fiction wasn’t selling, so I didn’t pursue the story.  When I moved back to the US, I decided to write what I wanted to write, regardless of the market, and Vicky’s story started to take shape.

RT: In A Mad, Wicked Folly, Vicky’s favorite painting is A Mermaid by John William Waterhouse. What was it about this painting that made you connect it to Vicky?

SBW: The theme of mermaids kept popping up while I was writing the story. I really think mermaids and the women’s movement had a lot in common.  Mermaids are independent and carefree beings, living their lives as they want to.  Yet, they are looked at with suspicious and cast as these wanton creatures out to destroy men.  When I thought about what Vicky’s favorite painter would be I knew it would be Waterhouse because he was around during the Edwardian era and was considered a modern Pre-Raphaelite.  I knew that Vicky would have to find inspiration through works hung in the RA because it was a place she could get to on her own.  I’ve always loved the painting A Mermaid but I didn’t know that it’s housed in the Royal Academy of Arts.  When I discovered that it had hung there during my book’s time period I knew it had to be Vicky’s favorite.  It fit perfectly into the story for so many reasons. Sadly, the painting isn’t out on display at the RA anymore.  At least it wasn’t when I was there a couple of years ago, so I’ve never seen it in real life.

RT: Do you have a favorite painting? Is it the same as Vicky’s?

SBW: It is!  It’s A Mermaid.

RT: The novel features a few real people, such as the Pankhurst sisters. How did you go about researching their personalities and their lives? And were any of the other characters inspired by real people or stories from the time?

SBW: I started by interviewing a curator at the Museum of London.  She was very helpful and she answered so many questions for me.  I looked through the museum archives and read a lot of letters and looked at photos. It was there that I learned about Sylvia and how she was the WSPU’s main artist.  I bought several books about the Pankhursts in the museum, including one called Sylvia Pankhurst, A Maverick Life by Shirley Harrison, which is where I got a lot of information about her life and how she felt about her art and women’s rights.  I also had the good fortune to talk with her granddaughter, Dr. Helen Pankhurst.

The character of Lucy Hawkins is modeled on two American suffragettes: Alice Paul and Lucy Burns.  Both women were living in England during my story’s timeframe and were part of the WSPU.  Alice Paul was said to be very brusque with women who weren’t taking part in the movement, and so I gave Lucy Hawkins that same type of personality.  By the way, Iron Jawed Angels is a great film about Paul, Burns, and the American suffrage movement.  I highly recommend it.

RT: You’re American, but you spent a few years living in the UK. What inspired you to write about the English Suffragettes, rather than the American movement?

SBW: The English movement was much more militant than the American movement.  Although Alice Paul was force-fed and women were arrested, it was nothing like what the Brits went through, so there was a lot of drama built in already.  The Brits had the added tension of class structure, as well, but ultimately the story was set in the UK because Vicky is British!  : )

RT: If Vicky were at Hogwarts, what house would she be sorted into? And what house would she think she should be sorted into?

SBW: Oh, I love this question! I think Vicky would be sorted into Slytherin, simply because the house is all about ambition and resourcefulness.  And Slytherins will do anything to get what they want.  That’s certainly Vicky! But she would probably assume she’d be sorted into Ravenclaw because of the creativity and wit required of that house.

RT: As this community is fearless, we’d like to know something you’re afraid of, and something you’re not afraid of.

I’m terrified of clowns.  Absolutely terrified of them!  I won’t even look at pictures of them.  I’m not afraid of snakes.  I used to be a park ranger and I ran programs about them, and I even had a live milk snake as a visual aid.

Thanks so much, Sharon! Congratulations again on a fabulous debut!

About Sharon:

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Sharon Biggs Waller grew up around artists and developed a passion for Edwardian history and the Pre-Raphaelites when she moved to England in 2000. She did extensive research on the British suffragettes for her novel, A MAD, WICKED FOLLY when she wasn’t working as a riding instructor at the Royal Mews in Buckingham Palace and as a freelance magazine writer. She also writes non-fiction books about horses under her maiden name, Sharon Biggs. She is a dressage rider and trainer and lives on a 10-acre sustainable farm in Northwest Indiana with her British husband, Mark.

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SBS130424-RHIANNONTHOMAS-023Rhiannon Thomas grew up in the north of England, but moved to the US in 2007 to study English Literature at Princeton University. She now lives in York, England, where she is attempting to master the art of making her own bubble tea. When she isn’t lost in YA fantasy, she writes about feminism in the media at her blog, FeministFiction.com. Her debut novel, A WICKED THING, will be released from HarperTeen in Winter 2015.
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