Monday, April 28, 2014

Author Spotlight: Sharon Biggs Waller

Hi! I’m Sharon Biggs Waller. My debut young adult novel, A Mad, Wicked Folly, will be published by Viking/Penguin January 23rd, 2014.  It’s an Edwardian-era novel about a young artist finding her own way during the time of militant suffragettes.
My husband, Mark, and I live on an organic farm in Northwest Indiana with a flock of chickens, a gaggle of geese, six dairy goats, two horses, a beehive, and multiple dogs and cats.

Twitter: @sbiggswaller

Hi Sharon, welcome to To Another World! Tell us a bit about yourself and A Mad, Wicked Folly?

Hi Charli! It’s so nice to be here. Let’s see, a little about me…well, I’m a writer of historical YA fiction and my debut novel, A MAD, WICKED FOLLY, came out in January. Even though I’m American, I love to set my stories in England. My husband is British and we lived in Kent for six years. England is such a beautiful and inspiring place for me, and we try to go back once a year to visit family and friends.  My husband and I live on a little farm on the southern tip of Lake Michigan in northwest Indiana, not far from Chicago.  We have goats, horses, chickens, geese, bees, cats and dogs.  I also write non-fiction.  I’ve written three books about horses; my latest is THE ORIGINAL HORSE BIBLE.

A MAD, WICKED FOLLY is about Victoria Darling, an upper class Edwardian teen who longs to become a fine artist but is restricted by society.  When she’s caught posing nude for an illicit art class, she’s expelled from her French finishing school and sent home in disgrace.  Her parents try to tame her by taking away her art and arranging a marriage to a wealthy young man.  But she doesn’t give up on her dream. On the sly, Vicky sets about trying to apply to the Royal College of Art.  When she falls in with a group of suffragettes and meets a handsome police constable who becomes her muse, and maybe the love of her life, Vicky has to decide whether to remain in a world where she feels safe or to step out into an unknown world where her voice is heard and her opinions matter.

I saw on your website you love horse riding! How and when did you get into that?

I’ve been riding since I was a tween. My parents couldn’t really afford a horse, but they always sent me to horse camp in the summer and paid for few lessons in the winter.  I ended up cleaning stalls just to be near horses and that led to working for some trainers and taking more lessons.  Eventually I became a trainer and then an equine journalist. My husband is a former Metropolitan mounted police constable and we both used to teach the Civil Service riding club at the Royal Mews in Buckingham Palace. 

How did the idea for A Mad, Wicked Folly come about after writing non-fiction?

I love thinking about what life was like for teenagers in the past, and I’ve always been fascinated by the women’s rights movement.  The suffragettes were incredible, and I don’t think we really understand fully what they went through to get the vote.  They chained themselves to railings to prevent being arrested for giving speeches, were victims of police brutality, and endured force-feedings in prisons, both in the UK and the US. I started thinking about what it would be like to be a teen during that time.  What if you wanted to be something other than a wife and mother and then be told you couldn’t do it because you were a girl? And then Vicky’s story started to come together. I found out that teenage girls were suffragettes, too.  One 16-year-old girl, Dora Thewlis, was called the baby suffragette by the tabloids when she was arrested and sent to prison.  There’s an amazing photograph of her being held by two police constables.  Her mouth is open and you can just tell that she’s yelling at the crowd. I love that picture. I really love a badass girl!

You used to live in England, and live in America now. What's different about it?

It’s much easier to drive around in the United States! I got my British driving license, which I’m really proud of because the test was really, really hard! I feel like I’ve truly accomplished something because I can drive on the right and left sides of the road.  In England I couldn’t just jump in my car and run errands.  It took forever because as you know you have to find a place to park, pay for the parking place, walk to the town center, etc.  Here I can do most of my running around pretty quickly, and some places, like the bank and the pharmacy, have drive-through service.  Still, I’d trade it all for the beautiful buildings in England and amazing food.  There’s nothing quite like a Sunday lunch.  I also miss the pubs, especially those old country ones where you can sit outside by a river or a meadow. 

A Mad, Wicked Folly sounds amazing. How excited were you when you found out it was to be published?

When I signed with my agent I could not stop smiling.  It took me 17 years to find an agent, and I signed with John M. Cusick (an amazing writer himself) three days after I queried him, which is crazy fast.  When John sold my manuscript to Viking, I happened to be running the aforementioned errands.  I was sitting in my truck outside Barnes & Noble bookstore and eating a frozen yoghurt when he called.  I knew Viking was interested because I’d spoken to the editor a couple of weeks before, but you never know.  I think I drove home in a daze! 

Are any of your characters based around yourself or someone you know?

There are real characters in the story, namely the Pankhurst family, but no one is based on people I know.  I suppose Vicky and I share the same stubbornness and tenacity.  And the character Lucy Hawkins, the American suffragette, is based on Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, two important American figures who fought for women’s rights.  I share Lucy’s directness and her inability to let things drop. I admit that.  :)

Now, I ask all the authors I host here at TAW this question: which 3 items would you take on a desert island, and they can't be things to help you off (because I know you creative types)?

Hmmm, I love this question.  Let’s see, I would take a book, probably this anthology I have called THE WORLD TREASURY OF CHILDREN’S LITERATURE because it has loads of stories that I wouldn’t mind reading again and again. It has chapters from HARRIET THE SPY, CHARLOTTE’S WEB, and TOM’S MIDNIGHT GARDEN. The second thing I would take would be my bed, because it’s my favorite place to hang out. Third thing would be a huge crate of Kind bars, which are these really yummy protein/granola bars. That way if I didn’t feel like climbing trees for bananas I could loll around in bed and eat my Kind bars and read my book. 

What type of music do you enjoy?

I have really eclectic taste. It’s easier to say what I don’t like than what I do like. I don’t like heavy metal or rap.  I’m a big fan of Florence + The Machine, Tori Amos, Ingrid Michaelson, and Vienna Teng.  I also love Daft Punk, Birdy, Mumford and Sons, Dolly Parton, Frank Sinatra, The Chieftains, Crowded House, and YoYo Ma. Oh, and also Broadway tunes.  My favorite band is Pink Martini, which is a band so unusual that I can’t even explain what it is.  You just have to listen to it. 

Woo go Florence and The Machine! <3

Who is your favourite author/book? (You can have two, because I'm nice!)

I have so many…so let’s see if I can pick two.  I love Diana Gabaldon and her Outlander series.  And I love Laurie Halse Anderson. She’s amazing.

And just some quick this or that!

Pen and paper or computer? Both?

Twitter or Facebook? Twitter.

Cake or chocolate? Cake.

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