Interview with Sharon Biggs Waller, Author of ‘A Mad, Wicked Folly’.

Sharon Biggs Waller

About the Author

Sharon Biggs Waller is the author of debut young adult novel, A Mad, Wicked Folly. From her biography on her about page you can find out she is well placed to write an Edwardian novel, having worked at Buckingham Palace, where she had the opportunity of meeting Queen Elizabeth. Her novel has been named one of the Top Ten Historical Fiction for Youth and was nominated for the ALA Amelia Bloomer Project.


How did you come up with the title ‘A Mad, Wicked Folly’? How does it relate to the characters and theme of the book?
The title comes from a letter Queen Victoria wrote in 1870 in response to a report of a meeting in favor of women’s suffrage. She called “Woman’s Rights” a mad, wicked folly.  And stated that the woman named in the report “ought to get a good whipping.”  The hypocrisy in this statement is so incredible to me, coming from a person who was the most powerful woman in the world at the time.  She had no idea what life was like for women who weren’t rich or royal, and how much they needed to have a voice.  As far as my novel and characters go, the title reflects the story’s theme: the death of a dream, preventing someone from being who they really are, giving up on an authentic life, failing to stand up for something you believe in, marrying the wrong person, remaining in a situation because it’s safe, swallowing your own opinions because they are frowned upon…these are all mad, wicked follies.

At one point Vicky poses nude for an art class. Do you have any favorite Edwardian art or artists?
Yes, Vicky poses nude at the beginning of the book.  She’s taking a life drawing class on the sly, and one day when the model fails to appear she volunteers.  Vicky doesn’t feel it’s right to ask someone to do something that she’s unwilling to do.  And this is also a big part of her character arc in the book, especially when she meets the suffragettes.  “Deeds not Words,” was their motto, and Vicky learns how important this philosophy is as the story unfolds. As far as Edwardian artists, I absolutely love J.W. Waterhouse, who was an inheritor of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.  The PRB was a group of Victorian artists who painted myth and legend and the natural world.  Waterhouse’s A Mermaid is Vicky’s favorite painting and it features heavily in the book. It’s also my favorite!  It’s housed in the Royal Academy of Art in London but it’s not on display, sadly.  I would love to see it in person someday.

A Mad, Wicked Folly shows a young woman rebelling against tradition. Did you ever go through a rebellious time in your life? How much of her journey can you relate to?
I never really rebelled like she did mainly because my parents were very encouraging when I was growing up.  They wanted us to follow our hearts and dream big, and they would help us out as much as they could.  They couldn’t afford a lot, but they would do what they could.  I wanted a horse so badly, but even though that was out of the question, they made sure I went to horse camp every year and took lessons through the YMCA.  The rest was up to me.  This is how relate to Vicky.  I had to find a way to get horses in my life, so I turned over rock.  When I was 14 I actually called people who had advertised horses for sale in the newspaper.  I figured if they were selling, they probably didn’t have time to ride.  I was right.  I found a farm that needed help with their horses and one thing to the next.  I really learned that if you want something bad enough, you could make it happen.  It also took me 17 years to find an agent.  I promised myself I wouldn’t give up and I used every rejection to get better at writing.  You have to have patience and confidence in yourself, and that comes in time.  Vicky had to learn that there is no easy way; that sometimes the better life and better opportunities are found down that road less travelled.

What did you want to become when you grew up?
Oh, gosh, so many things!  I was a creative kid so I came up with a lot of ideas.  I wanted to be a ballerina, an archeologist, a park ranger, a conservationist, and a horse trainer.  I did become a park ranger and a horse trainer, and I suppose I’m a conservationist now with my organic farm.  I never imagined being a writer.  I was really good at writing in school, and I loved it, but I wanted to be outside, not inside tied to a desk.  I did a lot of writing as a part ranger, and then later after I had shoulder surgery, I started writing for horse magazines.  That led to writing novels and here I am now.  I live on an organic farm next door to a national park, so I divide my time between inside and outside.  The best of both worlds!

Have you ever had to give something up to get what you wanted?
Well, I gave up my horses to move to England.  But I found good homes for them and I was ready for a new adventure.  I have horses now, but I’m not so intense about them.  I used to train dressage, and I was really serious about it.  It was basically all I did.  So I gave that up to move overseas, and although I had a chance to train again in England, I wanted to travel and write and do other things.

Find out more about Sharon and her work on a variety of social media websites, where you can easily go and say hello.

Author Website | Facebook | Instagram | Goodreads | Twitter | Pinterest

buy from: Powell’s | Amazon | B & N | Indiebound

Hullo, Tango! and Popular Music of 1914

Costume design for Ethel Levy in Hello Tango by L. Bakst

Costume design for Ethel Levy in Hello Tango by L. Bakst

Perhaps the theatre community of 1914 possessed a bit of clairvoyance, for the rise of musical revues over the past two years was a harbinger for the type of glittering, American-style entertainment the Edwardians would seek during the darkest days of WWI. Hullo, Tango! followed the popular revue Hello, Ragtime! in late 1913, and broke box office records. These revues were very popular because of their large casts, glamorous sets, fantastic costumes (the costumes for Hullo, Tango! were designed by Leon Bakst), and the latest ragtime music and dances.

The revue devised by Max Pemberton and Albert de Courville. Music by Louis Hirsch; Lyrics by George Arthurs. Additional songs by Maurice Abrahams, Grant Clarke and Edgar Leslie

Cast included: Frank Carter, Isabell d’Armond, Teddie Gerard, Morris Harvey, Shirley Kellogg, Gerald Kirby, Ethel Levey, Violet Loraine, Eric Roper, Harry Tate [SOURCE]

Below is a sample of some of the songs of the revue, which also became smash records (this was, after all, the age of the gramophone too!).

Preparing for Travel to 1900s Europe

Cie. Gle. Transatlantique, C.1910, Ernest Louis Lessieux

In going from America to Europe, the first and most costly step is always the ocean journey. A note to the different steamship companies, whose boats sail from all the great Atlantic seaports, will bring by return mail an immense amount of literature, wherein the advantages of each particular route are fully set forth, with accommodations and rates suited to all tastes and purses. The second class in some ships is fully equal to the first of others, and there are a few lines which carry only one or two classes.

For “tramp tourists” of the male sex, steerage may be possible at a pinch, but where ladies are concerned, the first or second class cabins alone can enter into consideration. In choosing a cabin, individual idiosyncrasies and tastes must be studied to insure as much comfort as possible. Midship there is the least pitching motion; aft the tremor from the screws is greatest, but usually the odours from the machinery and kitchen are more remote. Outside cabins are more desirable only if the portholes can be opened, height above the water and weather permitting, otherwise the ventilation is exactly the same as for all other cabins, namely, through the ventilating funnels on deck.

The wash of the sea against the hull, the scrubbing of decks at dawn, and the endless tramping of promenaders immediately overhead, prove disturbing to many. Cabins adjoining corridors where there is much passage to and fro are noisy. Therefore they are undesirable to some, while others object to those that are difficult of access from the deck or saloon.

It is always well, if there is any prospect of your crossing during the “rush season” (i. e. outward bound May 1 to July 15, homeward bound August 15 to October 15), to secure the refusal of your cabin by a deposit which will be returned to you, under certain stipulated conditions, in case you find you cannot sail. These conditions are set forth in the steamship companies’ prospectuses, with brief, useful directions about luggage, etc., which it is always well to follow carefully. However, in case the information you desire is not forthcoming, inquiry at the nearest steamship office or through some tourist agency will be sure to elicit all you wish to know.

It is always prudent to secure a round trip ticket in advance, for then you are certain of your return passage, of a cabin or berth when you want it, and you save a trifle besides.

General Tips

(1) Decide your route in such a way that your visit to any district may not be during the close season, and, at the same time, avoid the high season, unless you like crowds and are prepared to pay high-season prices.

Among districts most frequented between April and October are 7: Switzerland, north-west coast of France, Inland France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Austria, Norway, Sweden, Denmark. Between September and June: The French and Italian Rivieras, Algiers, Egypt, Sicily, Spain, North Italy, Greece, Palestine, Canaries and Madeira, and the following parts of Switzerland: Swiss-Italian lakes (spring and autumn), the Lake Léman Riviera (almost all the year), and the high mountain resorts, which have their season in mid-winter and mid-summer.

(2) Carefully select hotels at each place you intend to visit, and communicate with the manager, stating approximately the length of stay and the number of party, and asking for terms.

(3) Arrange your luggage in such a way that on arrival everything is suitable for the climate of the country. At table d’hote in Continental hotels men chiefly wear dinner jackets, and ladies high-necked bodices. For dances dress is the same as at home.

(4) Through tickets (single and return, available for a limited period) can be obtained from London to the principal continental resorts by various routes, and in some countries special facilities are offered in the way of season tickets (as in Switzerland and parts of Italy). Reliable tourist agents, like Messrs Thos. Cook and Son, Ludgate-circus, E.C., and Dr Lunn, Endsleigh-gardens, N.W., also supply tickets to and from almost any station. Sleeping car tickets should be ordered well in advance at the Sleeping Car Company’s offices, or at the offices of a reliable tourist agent.

(5) Luggage is registered from London to the principal Continental towns. It should be locked in such a way that at the request of the Customs officer it can be opened without delay. Only light articles should be carried in the railway carriage, and they should in all cases be limited to a portmanteau and travelling bag. Where possible send heavy luggage out ten days or so in advance by petite vitesse or (if wanted soon) by grande vitesse.

(6) English sovereigns and notes pass everywhere, but as Cook’s have banking departments at all their offices abroad, travellers should arrange matters with them before leaving England.

(7) Always tip before leaving hotels—not lavishly or stingily: the former injures fellow travellers, and the latter yourself.

On how to apply for rooms at Continental Hotels

(1) Always write, if possible, in French or German, or the language of the country, whatever it may be. If unable to do so, write a letter in the clearest possible English, couched in very polite terms. The curt, businesslike letter, suitable to a correspondence with an English hotel-keeper, is likely to be resented by the foreign one.

(2) Do not imagine that when you ask for rooms at a fashionable resort in the height of the season, at the lowest imaginable figure, you are conferring an inestimable favour on the hotel you propose to honour, and demand rooms to be reserved accordingly. (Hotel-keepers have shown me such letters from Englishmen.) It is better to ask the proprietor to be good enough to let you know whether he has room, and can see his way to accept the terms you propose, in consideration of length of stay, number of guests, &c.

(3) It is also as well, if he does accept your terms, to ask him to kindly state the position of the rooms he proposes to give you, the aspect, which floor, and whether they are quiet, &c. You will not then be disappointed by finding that you are given a top-floor room looking on to a stable or a blank wall, when you have arrived in the full confidence of finding your rooms on the first floor, with a. view of the sea, or the Alps, at a cost of l0 fr. a day tout compris (when other people are hopelessly offering 25 fr. a day for permission to sleep in a bathroom).

(4) Keep a small supply of unused foreign stamps, and inclose one for reply to your letters.

(5) It is as well to remember that the foreign hotel-keeper takes a somewhat higher position socially than his counterpart in England, who is usually the servant of a company, and that the lady in the bureau is often his wife or daughter, and expects you to take your hat off to her when you say good morning. It is a mistake to resent as familiarity what is merely meant as friendliness and hospitality.

(6) Don’t tell the proprietor to carry your luggage up to your room. He will probably be quite willing to do it, if the porter is not there, but he has a dislike to being taken for the latter.

(7) Do not, if you have any complaint to make, march into his private office with your hat on. as if it were the smoking-room, and expect him to be delighted to see you, and eager to hear what you have to say, when he is possibly getting the weekly accounts made up. Speak to him quietly. when you see he is at liberty—an hotel-keeper has a good deal to see to—and, whatever is wrong, assume that the matter has only to be mentioned to him for him to do his best to put things right. It probably is not his personal fault if there is no water in your water jug, or if your boots have not been taken away to be cleaned, and he may even know nothing of the occurrence.

(8) If you do not like the performance of melodious musicians, who are permitted to come and play outside the dining-room during dinner, try to refrain from giving orders to the head waiter that he is to drive them away. Other guests may not find them disagreeable.

(9) If the windows require opening or closing during table d’h6te, it is thought more considerate by your “foreign ” neighbours (who are possibly natives) if you consult them first as to what they think of the state of the atmosphere, before commanding alterations. It confuses the waiters if‘ they get contradictory orders in divers tongues, and delays the dinner.

(10) Bow to your foreign neighbours on taking your seat next them, and on leaving the table, however much you dislike the look of them. They are scarcely ever as bad as they look (even Germans), and if they are it is, after all, the usual thing to do.

How to Prepare for Europe by Hélène Adeline Guerber & The “Queen” Newspaper Book of Travel: A Guide to Home and Foreign Resorts

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