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Wendy Holden | 20 Questions: THE ROYAL GOVERNESS

August 28, 2020

1–What’s the name of your latest release? 

The Royal Governess

2–What is it about? 

The childhood of Queen Elizabeth II. In particular Marion Crawford, the unknown young Scottish teacher who helped make her the monarch she is today.

3–What word best describes your main character(s)? 

Contradictory! Marion Crawford never intended to work for royalty. She wanted to work with children right at the other end of the social scale; in the slums of Edinburgh. She wanted to make a difference and help close the gap between the haves and have nots. Then a chance meeting with the Duchess of York, mother of Princess Elizabeth (now the Queen) changed her life forever. She was a royal governess for nearly twenty years, but her story ended very sadly. After a perceived betrayal, the royal family cut her off forever.

4–What makes your story relatable? 

It shows the Queen as a vulnerable human being. She can come across as controlled and formal, but The Royal Governess reveals her as a loving and sensitive child. The warm and close relationship between her and Marion is the heart of the book. The two of them show a familiar period of British history from the entirely new angle (and unlikely partnership) of a small princess and a progressive young woman from outside the British Establishment. ‘Crawfie’, as they called her, was with the Windsors during the Abdication, the 1937 Coronation, and the whole of World War 2. She experienced these amazing events exactly as they did; hers was a ringside seat at the greatest show on earth.

5–Who are the people your main characters turn to when they need help? 

My heroine, the royal governess! Two of the main characters are Princess Elizabeth and her sister Princess Margaret. The bond between them and Marion was strong and close. Whether they were hiding from Nazi bomber planes in the dungeons of Windsor Castle, struggling to cope with the tumult of the Abdication, or falling in love for the first time, the girls relied on Crawfie’s loving and unfailing support. For nearly 20 years she wasn’t just their teacher but also their close companion, confidante, and friend

6—What do you love about the setting of your book? 

It’s just so darn glamorous! The action moves from the spires of ancient Edinburgh to the bustle of London and thence to the various royal palaces – Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, Sandringham House, and Balmoral. We’re behind the scenes at all of them. But Marion Crawford felt her pupils were worryingly remote from normal life and so she took them out of the palace gates and on to the London Underground as well as shopping at Woolworth’s and swimming at public baths. She even started a Buckingham Palace Girl Guides pack. So we see all that as well.

7–Are you a plotter (follow an outline) or a pantster (write by the seat of your pants)?

I’m a pantster turning plotter! I used to be a pantster in my early days and through my career as a comic novelist. That sort of freewheeling approach can work well for funny books. But now, as a historical novelist, a tight plot is crucial as the action tracks a sequence of real events. I have also had to be very selective about what episodes I fictionalize and dramatise. But it’s a very rewarding experience; the effort means a better read in the end, and my readers are what it’s all about, after all!

8–What is an ideal writing day for you? 

When I have made lots of progress! But this varies. Some days are very productive, others less so. But you have to keep at it. In terms of what actually happens physically, as opposed to in my head, I like to be up early with a big cup of English tea followed by a jog round my sprawling northern English garden. Thoroughly woken up and energized, I go to my desk with its view over the rolling Derbyshire hills and get to work! I take an hour off for lunch and potter in the garden as I listen to the radio news, then back to the hut.

9–Do you listen to music while you write, need total silence, or do you have the TV on?

Silence and the sound of the birds outside, not to mention the delicate patter of the Derbyshire rain against the windows!

10– How do you approach research? 

For The Royal Governess, I read every major historical source concerning the period (1930s Britain) and the people (the royal and aristocratic circles of the time) I could lay my hands on. Chief of these was The Little Princesses, Marion Crawford’s own ill-fated autobiography about her time with the royal family. But minor and obscure sources were just as useful. I trawled through endless second-hand bookstalls in English market towns looking for out-of-print books about royalty. Hordes of them appeared in the 1950s (after the Coronation) and while they are often quite hagiographical, they also contain amazing details, such as the nicknames the family gives each other. For instance, at naval college, George VI (the Queen’s father) was known as ‘Batlugs’ because of his big ears.

11–What is your publishing journey story? 

I was a journalist on the London Sunday Times and was asked one day to ghost-write a column for a celebrity socialite. That was the inspiration for my first novel, Simply Divine, and the start of my writing career. I wrote comic novels for 20 years and was very successful; I had ten consecutive top ten bestsellers and a number one. But I always secretly hankered to write historical fiction and a book about the British Royal Family in particular. They had always seemed to me to be larger than life characters, like something in a novel. And now they are!!

12–Do you have critique partners/writing groups you want to give a shout-out to? 

I love hearing from book bloggers on social media and people who get in touch through my website. They give me great feedback, for which I am very grateful. I adore writing for US readers – they are so passionate and interested. And I am so lucky with my publishing colleagues at Berkley, in particular, my editor Kerry Donovan who has been a great guide, support, and inspiration.

13—What’re the most frustrating things about being an author? 

That I can’t write all the books in my head right this minute! I have so many ideas, for historical novels in particular. But they take a long time to write, as indeed they should. My readers deserve the very best – perfection, nothing less.

14–What’s your favorite scent?

Chanel No 5. I am fascinated by Coco Chanel, she features as a character in the novel I am currently working on. As I write now, I am in London, where the lamp-posts feature Chanel’s famous interlocking double Cs in gold. They were put there in the 1920s  by her then-lover, the richest aristocrat in England, the Duke of Westminster.

15–What movie will you watch no matter what if it’s on TV? 

The Queen. I love fictionalizations of real people and events – it’s what I do with my historical novels. And this is a fascinating dramatization of the events surrounding the death of Princess Diana. I remember it all so well, I was a journalist in London at the time, and it was an extraordinary thing to live through. I think it changed Britain forever, it has not really been the same place since.

16–Do you like breakfast, lunch, or dinner best? 

Dinner, definitely. And I like it anyway – from a spaghetti and salad kitchen supper to a full-blown French restaurant experience with silver and crystal and that kind of thick white linen tablecloth that makes you feel you’re getting into bed!

17–What’s one thing you wish you knew more about?     

America. I feel that I’ve only really scratched the surface. It’s such a diverse and fascinating country and of course, it has a great and noble past, one of the greatest and noblest. I’d like to get to know it much better and perhaps write a historical novel set there someday.

18–What’s the silliest thing you’ve recently done?

I went on an Instagram course which showed me how to send ‘stories.’ I bombarded my family with silly flashing pictures with things written and scrawled all over them. I thought they were great, but my kids thought I was ridiculous.

19–What can readers expect from you next? 

I’m writing a novel about Wallis Simpson, the American queen that never was and heroine of one of the most famous love stories of all time.

20–How can readers reach you

Through my website and Twitter @Wendy_Holden and Facebook Wendy Holden Author and Instagram wendyholdenauthor


The Royal Governess

A Novel of Queen Elizabeth II’s Childhood

Sunday Times bestselling author Wendy Holden brings to life the unknown childhood years of one of the world’s most famous figures, Queen Elizabeth II, and reveals the spirited young governess who made her the icon we love today— a story that has never been told until now.

In 1933, twenty-two-year-old Marion Crawford accepts the role of a lifetime, tutoring the little Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose.  Her one stipulation to their parents the Duke and Duchess of York is that she bring some doses of normalcy into their sheltered and privileged lives.

At Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and Balmoral, Marion defies stuffy protocol to take the princesses on tube trains, swimming at public baths, and on joyful Christmas shopping trips at Woolworth’s. From her ringside seat at the heart of the British monarchy she witnesses twentieth-century history’s most seismic events. The trauma of the Abdication, the glamour of the Coronation, the onset of World War II. She steers the little girls through it all, as close as a mother.

During Britain’s darkest hour, as Hitler’s planes fly over Windsor, she shelters her charges in the castle dungeons (not far from where the Crown Jewels are hidden in a biscuit tin). Afterwards, she is present when Elizabeth first sets eyes on Philip.

But being beloved confidante to the Windsors comes at huge personal cost. Marriage, children, her own views: all are compromised by proximity to royal glory. In this majestic story of love, sacrifice and allegiance, bestselling novelist Holden shines a captivating light into the years before Queen Elizabeth II took the throne.

Women’s Fiction Historical | Historical [Berkley, On Sale: August 25, 2020, Hardcover / e-Book, ISBN: 9780593101322 / eISBN: 9780593101346]

About Wendy Holden

Wendy Holden

Wendy Holden is a British novelist of comedies of manners. She’s authored ten Sunday Times top ten bestsellers and has sold over three million copies worldwide.


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