|The gorgeous cover by Laura Bird and Bella Otak|
Last week in an interview about something else a perceptive young woman reminded me that most of my books, even Sawbones, have liars as central characters (Loveday teaches Ezra lying is sort of OK). This might be the old canard about us mixed race people (like bisexuals in gender politics) being never one thing or another, never pinned down, always shifty, untrustworthy, never belonging anywhere. And Princess Caraboo, the inspiration behind this book, the Devon cobblers daughter who passed herself off as a Princess in early 19th century England was most definitely a liar.
|Princess Caraboo of Javasu, Thmas Baker 1817|
To recap the true story, Mary Wilcox was a young woman who loved dressing up and stories and who'd lost a child (and probably suffered at the hands of 19th century doctors who had tried to treat her 'mental exhaustion' with grim surgery). She was walking west from London (possibly back home) and begging en route. She had begged before pretending to be French and when she collapsed on the road outside Bristol she pretended to speak no English and was rescued from the workhouse by a the local Lady of the manor, Mrs Worrall (who was very interesting herself, she was an American born bluestocking with a penchant for the exotic).
|Princess Caraboo Edward Bird 1817|
That wasn't the end of the true story - Mary didn't do well in the states, I expect because many new American immigrants had all done a little re-inventing already. She returned, lived quietly and became a successful business woman, breeding medicinal leeches for the Royal Bristol Infirmary. If you are interested, the best factual book about her life is by the satirist John Wells who wrote the script of the 1987 film staring, the then American heartthrob Pheobe Cates, it's called simply Princess Caraboo.
That, in a nutshell, is the truth I built my tissue of lies that is The Curious Tale of The Lady Caraboo, about.
And aren't all stories pretence? Of course there's always truths in every tale. But for most of us writers isn't the joy of writing trying out other people shoes? Being a different person with an infinitely more exciting life?
I want as little real edge of seat anxiety in my actual life. I want consistency, no shocks please. But in books, in stories I can indulge in all of those terrifying life or death, heart in mouth situations, that are scarily exhilarating.