Today we’re thrilled to celebrate the release from Viking Juvenile of Sharon Biggs Waller’s debut novel, A MAD, WICKED FOLLY! Below the gorgeous cover, the Corsets, Cutlasses and Candlesticks team has asked Sharon some questions about the book BCCB calls, “[A] compelling coming-of-age tale that’s as good as any British period drama,” and School Library Journal, in its starred review, says is a “must-have.”
The year is 1909. After posing nude for her illicit art class, Victoria Darling is expelled from her French finishing school and returns in disgrace to her home in London. Shamed and scandalized, Vicky’s parents inform her that she is is to marry the man they’ve selected. But Vicky dreams of so much more, of the freedom to pursue her ambition of becoming a painter. When she falls in with a group of suffragettes and when she connects with a working-class man who might be her artistic muse—or might be the love of her life, Vicky must figure out: just how much is she willing to sacrifice to pursue her dreams?
From Jennifer McGowan: Sharon, in your book you manage to combine suffragism AND the high-society whirl of 1909 London AND the dynamic art scene of that time. What was the most interesting/challenging to write about, and why?
The suffrage movement was pretty challenging to write about because there was so much material to draw from and I started to get really overwhelmed. The curator of the Museum of London recommended a book called The Women’s Suffrage Movement by Elizabeth Crawford, which is over 800 pages and just packed with good stuff. In the end I decided to stick with a timeframe. I chose the year for the first forcible feeding and I was lucky enough to have several events fall into that time frame, such as the Women’s Exhibition, where Vicky helps paint the murals, and Emmeline Pankhurst’s deputation, where a riot broke out and many women were injured and arrested. I reached out to Elizabeth Crawford via email and she very kindly answered many of my questions. I also made contact with Dr. Helen Pankhurst, Sylvia Pankhurst’s granddaughter, and she answered some questions about her grandmother. So although the suffrage storyline was tricky to research and write, it ended up being a lot of fun.
From Cat Winters: My own 2014 release deals with turn-of-the-century suffragists in the United States, but I admit, I’ve envied you a bit for getting to dig into the really fun side of women’s voting history: the militant suffragettes of 1909 England. What was your favorite real-life story you uncovered about English women’s fight for the vote?
As a YA writer, my favorite story has to be about the 16-year-old baby suffragette, Dora Thewlis. I was worried that the British suffrage story would not be a teen’s story, but the Museum of London curator assured me that teens were very much involved. They marched in poster parades, helped make banners and sashes, and even took part in a Fife and Drum band. All that stuff is very well and good (and I used it for walk-on characters) but it was a bit staid; I was looking for a teen with a bit more moxie. I know I don’t need to have a historical counterpart, after all it just has to be plausible, but I feel more confident if there’s evidence that it actually happened. And then I found it, a photo taken in 1907 of Dora Thewlis held between two police constables, her skirt torn, hair in disarray, and mouth open wide as though shouting at the crowd. Dora was a tabloid sensation, and when she was arrested, she stood tall at her trial, never flinching.
From J. Anderson Coats: If you could introduce your main character to any other fictional character, who would it be and why?
I think Vicky would love to meet Meg Murry from Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. I think Vicky would take to Meg immediately, treating her as the little sister she never had. Vicky knows what it feels like to be an outcast and misunderstood so the two girls have that in common. And since Vicky has issues with her father; Meg, with her own missing father, might be able to help Vicky see her papa in a different light. And I can just see Vicky and Meg holding hands and tessering to another planet together.
From Laura Golden: Which character in A MAD, WICKED FOLLY is closest to your heart? Is there a character you’d like to take to task? Why?
Aside from Vicky, I really love Freddy. He’s such a good brother and he really wants what is best for his little sister. He’s torn between what he knows would keep her safe and what he knows would make her happy. He’s the kind of guy you can turn to and who will never let you down. I’d love to take Rose to task for being so judgmental of Vicky. I kind of wish I would have shown Rose’s softer side, because Freddy does bring out the best in her, but there are people in life who only show their prickles to most people, and that’s certainly Rose.
From Katherine Longshore: I know that you were inspired by the time period and by the suffragettes, but I believe you were also inspired by art, and certain pieces in particular. What drew you into Vicky’s world as an artist, and what is it about those particular pieces that inspired both of you? And are you an artist yourself?
I really wish I were an artist, I’ve tried but I just don’t have the talent. I grew up around artists; my dad is an artist and he used to be on the board at a sculpture studio. We hung out there all the time, and I remember the art students treating us like little grownups. I remember watching the artists as they worked and how their faces would change, and how intent they were. It fascinated me. We were so accepted by the students and I just loved that. When I was about five my dad took me to the Art Institute of Chicago and held my hand in front of Georges Seurat’s a Sunday on La Grande Jatte. So art has always been inspiring for me. I can get lost in a painting. As far as Vicky goes, I was searching for a painting that she would find inspiring and the theme of mermaids kept popping up while I was writing the first draft. Mermaids are independent creatures, yet they are cast as wanton creatures out to drag men down into the ocean! So I think mermaids and suffragettes have a lot in common. Waterhouse’s A Mermaid is one of my favorites, and it hung in the Royal Academy of Arts during my book’s timeframe, so it was the perfect choice. Sadly, the painting isn’t on display anymore so I’ve never seen it in real life.
From Jessica Spotswood: Is Vicky’s interest in art something you share? Who are some of her favorite painters – and who are some of yours?
I’d always loved the French Impressionists. I’m a big Monet and Renoir fan and I’ve been to Monet’s Garden twice, but I didn’t really want Vicky to be a plein air painter, I wanted her to paint the figure, so I thought about the Pre-Raphaelites. I became interested in the Pre-Raphaelites when I moved to England in 2000. I love their passion and use of color and myth, plus they have such a lascivious background! The Pre-Raphaelites were like rock stars are today, and their models were like today’s supermodels. The artists were always in the Victorian tabloids for their scandalous behavior. JW Waterhouse was an inheritor of the PRB’s legacy, and since he created Vicky’s favorite painting, A Mermaid, I decided that Waterhouse and the Pre-Raphaelites would be Vicky’s favorite artists.
From Susan Hill Long: What about your writing day, Sharon? Early bird or night owl? Soundtrack or silence? Plotter or pantser?
I love to write in the morning, but not too early because I’m out feeding the farm animals, mucking out, that sort of thing. I’m usually at my desk by 9 or 10 and I write for two to three hours. After that I go for a walk in the woods with the dogs and mull over the story and any problems I’m having. I jot any ideas down when I get home and then I’m done writing fiction for the day. I will, however, do research or work on ideas, but I try not to let my work take over (ha, ha). I love to write to music. I make a soundtrack—I’ve found lots of good songs while listening to Pandora—music always inspires me as I’m writing. FOLLY’s soundtrack includes lots of Florence + The Machine, Tori Amos, Mumford and Sons, and Vienna Teng. I have it on my website if anyone wants to have a listen. I am definitely a plotter, but I don’t do anything formal. I scribble down ideas in my notebook for scenes, especially “signpost” scenes that I know are important to the plot. I have a general idea of how the story is going to play out but I’ll change it as I need to. After I make a draft I create a scene tracker and a plot planner, which is something Martha Alderson, the Plot Whisperer, teaches. I’ve worked a lot with Martha and she is absolutely amazing. So the plot planner helps me see the story stripped down to its bare bones. I can see what works and what doesn’t work. After that I write and re-write and then show it to my critique group and my agent. And then rewrite some more!
Find out more about Sharon and A MAD, WICKED FOLLY at her website,
barnes and noble, and