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My Writer's Journal

Behind the Books: The Wild Queen

The Days and Nights of Mary, Queen of Scots
When MARY, BLOODY MARY, my first book in the Young Royals series, was published, I discovered that many people confused Mary Tudor, daughter of Henry VIII who became queen of England, with Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots. (They were first cousins, once removed.) And so Mary, Queen of Scots, was always hovering in the background. She moved front and center after I had written about Mary Tudor's sister, Elizabeth, and about Catherine de' Medici, mother of the boy my Scottish queen was destined to marry. It was all so interconnected--and so confusing!

Nevertheless, I dived in, rounded up a batch of biographies of Mary QofS and histories of the period, and Googled the castles and places in Scotland and France where the action took place. I had been to Scotland to research THE TRUE ADVENTURES OF CHARLEY DARWIN and to France when I was working on THE BAD QUEEN (Marie-Antoinette), and so a trip wasn't needed. (It would have been lovely, but sometimes you have to be practical.)

Mary's story is long and complicated, and my first task was to figure out the arc of the narrative. She became queen of Scotland when she was six days old, so that would not be the main conflict in the story, as it had been in the stories of Mary Tudor and Elizabeth. But her determination to become queen of England as well in the face of opposition by Queen Elizabeth was the driving force in the tragic trajectory of her life.

I decided to open the novel with Mary's departure from Scotland and separation from her mother at the age of six. I have always been fascinated and appalled by the willingness of royal parents to send a very young daughter so far away that they would likely never see her again, in order to marry the girl/child to a complete stranger. (Catherine of Aragon, Catherine de' Medici, Marie-Antoinette, for instance.) Mary Stuart was the youngest. Surely that event must have been traumatic and inevitably influenced the kind of woman that young girl would someday become.

Mary certainly had terrible luck with men and made some really dumb decisions, but did she do what many historians claim she did? Probably my biggest challenge was figuring out how to handle Mary's marriages and the fallout from them. Many of my readers are very young, and I want to handle the material carefully.

A question I'm often asked by young readers is, "But is the story true?" My answer: It's as true as I can make it. I don't change facts. But one of the things I've discovered in my years of writing historical fiction is the amount of disagreement among historians. One writer's "facts" are contradicted or refuted or interpreted entirely differently by another. I choose the ones that work best for the story I'm trying to tell, and then I fill in the gaps as best I can.

So how wild was The Wild Queen? The reader has to decide.
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