Linda Rodriguez McRobbie, wrote the book Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories from History Without the Fairy-Tale Ending, a collection of mini-biographies from far and wide of the strong, crazy and brave female members of the royal households. Ms McRobbie, an American journalist living in London, has just released the book and was kind enough to answer a few of my questions.
Q. What made you want to write about Princess Behaving Badly?
A. Mostly being asked to! My publishers, Quirk, very kindly approached me with the outline of the idea and we went from there. What I loved, however, was that though it was a topic I hadn’t given much thought to before, it quickly became absolutely fascinating – especially uncovering women whom history had left by the wayside, and whose stories were just tremendous.
Q. Which princess did you find the most fascinating and why?
A. I think perhaps my favourite princess is “Princess” Caraboo, although Caroline of Brunswick runs a close second. I have an abiding affection for late 18th, early 19th century British history – it could be a Jane Austen thing, if I’m really honest, but I also love the sense of this period of time when the world is just about to dramatically change – and they’re both women who inhabit weirder parts of that era. Caraboo, in reality Mary Baker, the daughter of a Devonshire cobbler, managed to fool a shocking number of people into believing that she was a lost princess of the Malaysian island of Javasu. That she managed to pull it off for so long is a testament to her imagination, her commitment, her gall and quite possibly, her unbalanced mental situation.
Caroline, the wife of George, Princes of Wales, later George IV of Britain, was just a very strange, very colorful woman. Saddled with a husband who hated her almost from the moment the moment he met her, she endured through a combination of bizarre, scandalous behavior, pettiness, and getting her kicks where she could find them. Not exactly graceful, but certainly fascinating and definitely real. Even better, this took place at a time when British newspapers and magazine were really coming into their own, so the level of reporting about her and her husband, whom everyone seemed to hate, was, if not always accurate, at least entertaining.
Q. Are there any stories which you wanted to keep but had to cut out of the book?
A. Oh, for sure. One of my favorites, Pauline von Metternich, was an Austrian princess who fought a duel with a Countess over a disagreement about some charity function. She suffered an injury to her nose. Space, however, wouldn’t allow her!
Q. Why did you decide on the mini-biography format?
A. We wanted the book to offer a series of quick reads, sort of article-length, and a variety of stories. Certainly, each of these women deserves a book unto themselves, but in the interest of bringing together a wide swath of women with interesting stories to tell, we had to sacrifice a bit. (This was tough for me: I’m one of those writers who you ask for 100 words, I’ll give you 1,000. Who was it that said I would have written less if I had more time?)
Q. What are the challenges of book promotions in the social media age?
A. Goodness, I think largely being heard. Social media offers a rare, unprecedented opportunity for writers to find a following, connect with their readers, be creative, and to really get their names and their works out there; at the same time, there is a real sense of trying to shout above the din. That, coupled with the fact that so, so many books are published a year, you’ve got to fight a bit to make it happen.
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Zohar – Man of la Book