This summer marks the start of an exciting new historical saga series. THE PALACE GIRLS by Emma Royal will be published by Century (Penguin Random House) on 3rd August in paperback and eBook.
In anticipation of this new series, Emma answered a few questions about what inspired the book, her historical research top tips and why royal history draws so many readers.
What inspired you to set THE PALACE GIRLS in this period and moment in royal history?
“I’ve always loved history and have always thought the 1950s is a hugely interesting and underwritten period. The country was still recovering from the devastation of the second world war, rationing was still in place up until 1954, but change was coming. This was the decade that saw washing machines, telephones and fridge freezers become commonplace in homes. It was basically a time of immense social change and that’s really interesting to explore.
When Queen Elizabeth died and I watched the funeral, it got me thinking about the start of her reign and how she came to the throne following her father, King George VI’s death. He was beloved by the nation for steering the country through the Second World War and taking over from his brother after he abdicated to marry Wallis Simpson. The new young Queen faced lots of challenges. It was a time of so much tension and a great period in which to set a novel at Buckingham Palace.”
How did you find the historical research?
“I’ve got a Masters degree in history so I was used to researching, though my skills were a little rusty at first! I did a lot of reading about the different members of the royal family, especially King George VI who I’ve now got a bit of a soft spot for, and of course Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret. The British Newspaper Archive was also exceptionally helpful and I’d definitely recommend it to any historical fiction writers.”
What inspired the story of Milly Hendry and the other Palace Girls?
“While doing some initial research, I read the phrase ‘the Royal army of cleaners’ and that was where it all began. Milly jumped into life as soon as I started thinking about setting a story below stairs at Buckingham Palace and that doesn’t always happen, so I was very relieved it did! Having her as a cleaner made me immediately think of Downton Abbey where there’s as much drama below stairs as above!”
What was the most interesting thing you found during your research?
“While researching I discovered an audio file of King George VI’s last Christmas Day address from 1951. Hearing his weak and raspy voice and knowing that he would be dead a few months later was a strange experience. Then I found Winston Churchill’s address to the nation after the King’s death and it was incredibly moving. When I read that the wreath he sent to accompany the coffin simply said, ‘For valour’, I was sobbing!”
Due to recent events such as the Coronation of Charles III, interest in royal history is especially high at the moment. What do you think makes this part of British history so compelling to readers?
“When I was watching Queen Elizabeth’s funeral, I suddenly realised that though she was a queen, and a state monarch, she was also someone’s mother and grandmother. I think as a nation we suddenly felt for the royal family in a way we hadn’t for a long time. There was also the feeling that we were watching history be made and I think it must have been the same when King George VI died. I’m also a huge admirer of Queen Elizabeth. I think she led the country with dignity and integrity and it was wonderful to explore her as a character at the very start of her reign.”