Wendy Holden: Unlocking the Secrets of Historical Fiction

In this post, bestselling author Wendy Holden shares how her latest story literally fell at her feet, what her best piece of writing advice is, and more!
Publish date:

Wendy Holden was a journalist on The Sunday Times, Tatler, and The Mail on Sunday before becoming a full-time author. She has written 13 novels, all of them Top 10 bestsellers, characterized by their fast-paced humor and glittering style.

Wendy Holden (photo credit Laurie Fletcher)

Wendy Holden (photo credit Laurie Fletcher)

(21 authors share one piece of advice for writers.)

Wendy is married, has two children, and lives in Derbyshire. Learn more at wendyholden.net.

In this post, bestselling author Wendy Holden shares how her latest story literally fell at her feet, what her best piece of writing advice is, and more!



Whether history is a backdrop to your story or the focus of the story itself, this workshop will provide you with the tools to find the facts you need, organize the data in a functional manner, and merge that data seamlessly into your novel. You'll discover the appropriate level of historical data to include as a function of a particular writing goal, learn the definition of historical markers and how and where to unearth them, and uncover the tools to integrate history, research, and the fiction plot arc.

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Name: Wendy Holden
Literary agent: Deborah Schneider at Gelfman Schneider
Book title: The Royal Governess
Publisher: Berkley
Release date: August 24, 2020
Genre: Historical Fiction
Previous titles: Gossip Hound, Farm Fatale, and 12 other works of comic fiction

Elevator pitch for the book: The unknown story of the Queen's childhood.

Royal Governess cover by Wendy Holden

What prompted you to write this book?

I really feel it was Fate! I had wanted to write a novel about the Queen for ages, but I could never find the right way into the subject. 

And then, one rainy half-term day in a second-hand bookshop, Marion Crawford's memoir The Little Princesses, about her 17 years as royal governess, literally fell at my feet. I picked it up, flicked through and realized immediately it was exactly what I'd been looking for.

How long did it take to go from idea to publication?

I had the idea years ago. But I had a series of comic novels to write so "Crawfie," as the princesses knew her, had to be put aside. I never forgot her though. She nagged at me, demanding to be written, and the basic idea, about the progressive young woman who made the Queen, never changed. 

(On writing better historical fiction.)

I researched during my leisure time, reading all the histories and biographies of the period I could lay hands on. From idea to completion was probably four years.

Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?

The most enormous surprise came during a family holiday last year. I was in Cornwall, in the far south-west of England, and staying in a remote cottage which had no internet or phone signal. Out on a walk, my cellphone suddenly came into range and erupted with messages. 


It was my wonderful American agent, Deborah Schneider. She had spent three days trying to contact me to tell me that Berkley had bought The Royal Governess. I was following a path along the clifftops and was so amazed and delighted I nearly fell into the sea.

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?

The biggest surprises were always in the subject matter. Marion Crawford never intended to teach 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. But, having joined the royals, she did not leave her progressive beliefs behind. 

Determined to introduce her princess pupils to real life, 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. It's all so interesting and unexpected and was an absolute gift to fictionalize.

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

A completely fresh and original angle on a well-loved story. The Royal Governess shows a familiar period of British history from a point of view never explored before. 

Marion Crawford was with the Windsors during the Abdication, the 1937 Coronation and the whole of World War 2. She experienced it all exactly as they did; hers was a ringside seat at the greatest show on Earth. Readers also get a whole new view of the Queen, who can seem controlled, even chilly. 

But The Royal Governess shows her as a real human being; a loving and sensitive child. The relationship between "Lilibet," as her family called her, and Marion is the heart of the book.

If you could share one piece of advice with other authors, what would it be?

Don't tell anyone you are writing a book until you've finished it! Keep it secret. Otherwise people will ask you about it endlessly, you'll feel the pressure, and it will become a chore.


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