A Conversation with Marissa Doyle
In the story, Persy and Pen are fascinated by Princess Victoria and everything that surrounds her. Do you share their fascination with royalty?
Only if they’re interesting royalty. There were (and still are!) some remarkably dull and unattractive ones, and I’m not drawn to them. George I and II, for example, are a major snooze-fest as far as I’m concerned. But I love Victoria, closely followed by the Tudors. And I used to get a kick out of following Princess Di’s changing hairstyles.
Though they’re twins, Persy and Pen have very different personalities. Do you identify with one twin more than the other?
Er, well…there’s probably more Persy in me, but I’d love to be as un-self-consciously brave as Pen. I have identical twin daughters, and while they’re nothing like Persy and Pen personality-wise, they too are very different people.
What is it about pre-Victorian England that drew you to set your story in that period?
The history itself. It’s so juicy. All the circumstances in this book—Victoria besieged by Sir John Conroy trying to force himself on her as her private secretary—are true. In fact, just a few months before Victoria became queen, Sir John wrote to her much older halfbrother that she should be locked up until she agreed. Heady stuff, huh? I just took it a step further and asked, “What if Sir John had been able to resort to magic to achieve his ends?”
How did you do research for your story?
I’m not joking when I say I’ve got a ludicrous number of research books in my house. I already knew a lot of the general history, but for the details I accumulated books on clothes, social history, dance…and read them for pleasure as much as for the research.
Tell us about your writing process. Where do you write? When? What do you eat/drink while crafting a story?
I took over the guest bedroom a few years back. There’s still a bed in it, but it also has my desk with my computer and a lot of my books as well as my sewing and quilting stuff. I like it because it’s my cocoon—I’m cozy and safe and shielded from the world there, though I have to have a window at hand (I have a pair of antique opera glasses on my desk to birdwatch with). I tend to write in the mornings as soon as my kids are on the bus because I feel mentally freshest then and because later on there are the distractions of helping with homework, getting dinner, etc. Which means I always have my uber-sized mug of coffee early in the day, and later, endless glasses of water because I don’t really care for soft drinks. I also like to crunch on those sugarless Icebreaker mints sometimes, though when I’m really deep into the writing I forget anything but the screen in front of me.
What are you reading right now?
A lot of non-fiction—Napoleonic history for a possible new book, books on disease and epidemiology just because I think it’s a fascinating field. And I recently discovered Eva Ibbotson’s YAs that have been reissued and am loving those. The new Jasper Fforde is also on my to-be-read pile.
What was your favorite book as a child?
A better question might be what wasn’t your favorite book? I barely moved without a book in my hand. I obsessed over Laura Ingalls Wilder, of course, and Joan Aiken’s Nightbirds on Nantucket because it was set more or less in my backyard. And Harriet the Spy got me to keep a journal, which is probably the best thing a budding writer can do. Then I had a long period of early teen angst when I only read Edgar Allen Poe and Ray Bradbury, and then slid into classic science fiction like Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov. I also read Paul Rival’s The Six Wives of Henry VIII after seeing the mini-series on PBS at age nine or so. It was a perfectly dreadful book—the research was less than thorough in a lot of places—but it’s what got me into history.
Marissa Doyle on Betraying Season
We first met twin sisters Persephone (Persy) and Penelope (Pen) in Bewitching Season, where Persy got to play the lead role in the story. In Betraying Season, it’s Pen’s turn. What was different about letting this sister loose on the page?
I didn’t have to channel my inner shy teen anymore and write through that lens. Pen is a lot more confident than her sister, maybe a little more impulsive and quick to draw conclusions and make judgements. What surprised me a little was that it wasn’t harder to write her—just different. Both Persy and Pen are very real people in my head.
What made you choose Ireland as Pen’s destination in this book? Did you consider having her stay home in England?
Ireland came in very naturally through Michael Carrighar in Bewitching Season. When Ally agreed to marry him and Pen resolved to make up her neglected magical studies, it just seemed to make sense to have her accompany them back to Michael’s home in Cork in order to continue to be taught by Ally. What Pen does there and whom she meets ties in neatly with the big conspiracy theory that gained wide circulation after Victoria became queen and until she married—that her “wicked” uncle, the King of Hanover, was plotting to have her assassinated because he was heir presumptive to the British throne until she had children. I am not making that up, by the way. Isn’t history fascinating?
Have you always been interested in history, even as a kid?
Is this a leading question? Absolutely! I’ve been a history geek ever since about the age of nine when Masterpiece Theatre aired The Six Wives of Henry VIII on our local PBS station, and I was riveted to the TV. We happened to have the book on which it was based and I immediately read and re-read that…it wasn’t a very good or accurate history, I understand now, but it made those 16th century people come alive in my head. I’ve been hooked on history ever since and read historical fiction, especially Jean Plaidy, all through my teens. I’ve tried in turn to give kids a glimpse of just how fascinating history can be through the blog I cohost, NineteenTeen (www.nineteenteen.blogspot.com). We post snippets about how upper- and middle-class teens lived in the 19th century and about the personal lives of figures like Queen Victoria, the Prince Regent, and others—the history behind the history, so to speak.
There are so many fascinating aspects of Irish myth and magic involved in this story. Did you do lots of research?
Oh, always. It’s such a rich field to explore. The best part was researching one thing and running across something else that could enhance yet another part of the story, which would in turn alter another thing. For example, looking at a map of southern Ireland to find names to use in the story led me to Bantry Bay—and the realization that it sounds like the Irish term for witch, bean draoi (pronounced ban dree)—which led to my naming the witch Lady Keating’s house Bandry Court. Research can get distracting at times, and often there are conflicting viewpoints and sources, but sifting through it all is what makes it such a delightfully fun part of writing.
What is the difference between a clurichaun and a leprechaun?
A clurichaun is a leprechaun relative from southern Ireland. They preferred to live in wine cellars and stand guard over them, especially from servants who fancied sneaking an illicit snort from their masters’ stores. They often wore red coats and buckled shoes, were generally inebriated (or at least appeared that way), and were smaller than standard issue leprechauns.
If you had magical powers, what would you use them for?
Umm…cleaning my house, keeping my yard weed-free, and promoting world peace?
Facetious answers aside, though, that opens up a question I think about a lot— writing about people using magical powers. I like Harry Potter as much as anyone, but it annoyed me when he got into difficulties that he could have solved with spells but didn’t, even when he’d used them to solve other problems (and when, indeed, a big deal had been made about his learning them). So I’ve spent a lot of time trying to think like a person with magic, and define just what magic in my world can or can’t accomplish, in order to avoid that pitfall. I hope I’ve succeeded.