Author Q&A: Getting Mad & Wicked with Sharon Biggs Waller

Welcome Folks,

I’m happy to be one of many bloggers participating in the blog tour for A Mad, Wicked Folly which is expected to be out on January 23rd, 2014. Here’s a synopsis:

Welcome 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 had the pleasure of interviewing its author, Sharon Biggs Waller, on writing fiction versus non-fiction, the suffragette movement and her favourite breed of horse.

sharon biggs waller

1. Hello, Sharon! One of the things that drew me to this book was the backdrop of the suffragette movement. Why did you chose to write about the movement and why place it in 1909?

Hi! Thanks so much for having me on your blog.

The suffrage movement has always been a source of fascination to me, ever since I saw the Schoolhouse Rock cartoon Sufferin’ ‘til Suffrage in 1976 when I was ten. When I lived in England I used to walk by Emmeline Pankhurst’s statue in Victoria Tower Gardens and I’d wonder what it was like to be a teenage girl during that time. I placed the timeline in 1909 because that’s when force-feeding started and when the Women’s Social and Political Union, aka the suffragettes, became militant. I also love the Edwardian era because this is a time when women really started questioning things and when opportunities were starting to open up for them.

2. Discussions on feminism are becoming not only more frequent but also more accessible to people via social media and, in fact, your book talks about using art as a way of helping spread the ideas of the suffragette movement. Do you think access to information has helped with causes today than it was in 1909 and do you think art still has a role in movements today?

I do. I think art can speak volumes and touch emotions inside us like nothing else. Speeches can feel preachy, and oftentimes the speaker is talking to the converted anyway, but art sneaks up on you and makes you confront thoughts and feelings you may have buried. I think the Representation Project does this really well with their media content and their film, Miss Representation. I also like the Guerilla Girls, which is a group of female artists who expose sexism in art, film, and pop culture through the use of posters, billboards, exhibitions and street projects.

3. You’ve written non-fiction books on horses before but this is your first fiction piece. What was the experience like writing fiction as opposed to non-fiction and do you plan on writing any fictional horse related stories?

I’ve written fiction alongside my non-fiction work since the early 90s and so I have several “practice” novels languishing in a drawer, which is where they belong! : ) But to answer your question, non-fiction and fiction are very different beasts. Novel writing is in some respects harder because you have to create everything from scratch, whereas non-fiction is there, waiting to be discovered. But there’s a lot of pressure to get it right with non-fiction, lots of fact checking, which can be stressful. I would say that novel writing is more fun, but also scarier. Non-fiction is less fun, but not as challenging as fiction. But non-fiction helped me with fiction writing because it’s given me discipline, organization, and critical thinking skills. I’m revising a historical novel now, based in 18th century Scotland, that includes horses as a major plotline. I hope to have it completed and in my agent’s hands in the next couple months.

4. The title of your book, “A Mad, Wicked Folly”, comes from a quote by Queen Victoria in regards the suffragette movement and I wanted to know if there’s something out there in the world right now that you see as a “mad, wicked folly”? Or maybe something you think isn’t but others think it is?

I worry about how young women perceive themselves. I think it’s a mad, wicked folly when women allow themselves be shaped by outside influences rather than what’s truly in their hearts. We are not our bodies, we are not how we adorn ourselves, and we are not what others tell us we are. We are all unique with something valuable and important to say. I love seeing young women in pursuit of their dreams and passions, and it really upsets me to see talent and potential go to waste. Yes, it’s hard to step outside and take a risk, but there’s so much life waiting down that rockier path.

5. What advice would you give people who want to pursue impossible seeming dreams?

Turn over every rock to search for every opportunity. Often the best chances are where you least expect them to be. For instance, I found my agent on Twitter after he posted a request for Downton Abbey type books. Don’t wait for someone to hand your dream to you and don’t wait around for it to happen. Just start; get on the path. That might mean finding a mentor to help guide you or taking a class. Don’t worry about rejection. Rejection to some extent is protection because you might not be ready yet. Rejection might be a sign that have more work to do. Most of all, make a promise to yourself that you won’t give up. Work at your craft, practice, and have confidence in yourself. Also don’t be hard on yourself. Nothing can turn a dream into a nightmare faster than torturing yourself. I mean, we’ve all seen Black Swan, right? That’s a cautionary tale if there ever was one.

6. What’s the decade/time period that you want to experience most?

I would want to experience the Edwardian period, in particular 1909.  I’d love to march with the suffragettes and chain myself to railings.  Plus the clothes are so beautiful!

7. Would you rather never read again or never write again?

I’m kind of over dystopian novels. I read The Hunger Games and loved the trilogy but it’s not a favorite genre of mine, mainly because I don’t like reading about violence. As for never writing something again, I’ve written every equine breed profile there is, around 200—some of them more than once, so I’d be fine with not writing another one of those.

8. What’s your favourite breed of horse?

I love Spanish breeds, in particular Lusitano and Andalusian/PRE.  But I also love a Dutch Warmblood.  I have a real soft spot in my heart for the big guys, too, in particularly Percherons.

9. What are you currently reading?

I’m reading a non-fiction book called CAT SENSE by John Bradshaw, who I had the pleasure of interviewing several years ago. I’m also reading a YA historical novel called STRINGS ATTACHED by Judy Blundell. She’s a fabulous writer.

10. Who would you Kiss, Marry, Kill? (Edward Cullen, Peeta Mellark, Will Fletcher)

I would not want to kiss or marry Edward Cullen—too cold! Also I’d have to be a vampire first and I’m not interested in being a vampire because of that special diet they’re on. : ) Peeta would be a good one to marry because he can bake for me, always a nice perk. And I’d definitely love to kiss William Fletcher!

Thank you to Sharon for the interview and Penguin Canada for setting it up (especially the lovely Vikki VanSickle). Happy reading folks!

A. A. Omer

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