The Girl in the Picture

A guest post from Ally Sherrick

Award-winning children’s author Ally Sherrick reveals the inspiration behind her new middle grade historical adventure, ‘The Queen’s Fool’ …

‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ As you might guess, it’s probably the question authors get asked the most when they visit schools. And of course the answer is – from everywhere! From old photographs, intriguing newspaper articles and letters in old shoe-boxes, to objects found in cobwebby junk shops, snatches of conversations overheard on a train or the strange and often unsettling stuff of dreams and nightmares.

For me though, the most promising and tantalising ‘story-sparks’ come from visits to historical places. For my first book, Black Powder, it was a trip to see the ruins of the once-magnificent Cowdray House near Midhurst in West Sussex, former home of Lord Montague, a powerful Catholic noble and one-time employer of a certain Mister Guy Fawkes. And for my wartime-set tale of Nazi treasure thievery, The Buried Crown, it was the atmospheric site of the Sutton Hoo ship burial discovery, so vividly reimagined in the recent Netflix film, The Dig.

In the case of my new, Tudor-set adventure, The Queen’s Fool – the story of brave young orphan girl, Cat Sparrow’s bid to rescue her beloved sister, Meg after she is kidnapped by a mysterious stranger on a ‘thundery-black horse’ – it was a visit on my husband’s birthday, one cold February day, to the great Tudor palace of Hampton Court. When I was little, my sister and I had spent many happy hours exploring the palace gardens on family outings with my grandparents, who lived nearby. But I hadn’t actually been inside the palace itself for many years. I’ve always loved the Tudors so I found myself naturally drawn to the oldest part of the building and the rooms inhabited by its original owner, Cardinal Wolsey, and then, later, his royal master, King Henry VIII.

Amongst the many impressive exhibits, it was a painting – a portrait of the king and his family – which stood out for me. But it wasn’t the royal subjects – King Henry, his beloved third wife, Jane Seymour and his three children, the Princesses Mary and Elizabeth and the young Prince Edward – which caught my eye. Instead I was drawn to two small figures framed in the windows on either side of the royal family. One, a man with a monkey on his shoulder, is said to be Will Somers, the king’s favourite jester. The other, a young girl in a close fitting cap and gown, is believe to be ‘Jane the Fool’ who lived in the household of the king’s controversial second wife, Anne Boleyn and then, after Anne’s execution, in the household of Princess Mary, Henry’s daughter by Katherine of Aragon. The moment I saw Jane, my writer’s curiosity sparked into life. Who was she and what had her life been like at court? And what had brought her there in the first place?

So my journey into discovering my heroine, Cat Sparrow and her own story began. The road led me from reading fascinating articles on what little is known about the real-life Jane into researching the role of ‘holy innocents’ and the treatment of people with learning disabilities in Tudor England. And thanks to a second painting seen on that same visit, which depicts King Henry’s arrival at the great pageant of The Field of Cloth of Gold to meet his rival, the French king, François I, I had the perfect setting in which to plunge Cat and her new-found friend, French actor, Jacques Bonhomme as they work to thwart a plot hatched by traitors which threatens them all. Two story-sparks in one! What more could an author with itchy fingers ask for?

If you’d like to find out more about The Queen’s Fool, you can read an excerpt of the story here. And for a set of excellent teaching resources, make sure to visit the Schools’ Hub on the Chicken House website.

For more information about Ally and her books visit: www.allysherrick.com and follow her on Twitter @ally_sherrick

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