Julia Lee, author of The Mysterious Misadventures of Clemency Wrigglesworth examines the different types of childhoods experienced by the children in the Victorian setting of her new book The Dangerous Discoveries of Gully Potchard.
In my latest book, The Dangerous Discoveries of Gully Potchard, I got to plunge back into the perilous Victorian world of The Mysterious Misadventures of Clemency Wrigglesworth. (I have to take a deep breath even to type those long titles!)
It’s a world where schooling is not a great priority. That might sound like fun, but in fact most children work for a living instead, as they do in my book. Their families need every penny they earn to feed themselves and keep a roof over their heads. Gully’s family, the Marvels, have links to the theatre and their children are lucky to have jobs that reflect that. Cousin Whitby is a dancer and dance-school assistant. Nine-year-old Impey has acted on the stage and hopes for greater things in future. Gully’s job is more mundane. He’s just a delivery boy, and wishes he had a special talent like his cousins. But they all share rather adult worries about money, whether they might lose their jobs, and how to find another.
Having so much independence and responsibility means that children are out and about all day, unsupervised by parents – so different from now. But that also means plenty of scope in my story for adventures and chance encounters, some exciting, some alarming. Bumping into an old school-mate is the start of a scary rollercoaster of events for Gully.
There’s one character who isn’t allowed out on her own – who isn’t allowed to do very much at all, in fact. Agnes Glass comes from a wealthy family. Although her life is comfortable she’s isolated and lonely. Her over-protective mother fusses about her health. Poor Agnes can only go outside on fine days and then she must be wrapped in blankets in a little pony-cart, led by a groom, going ‘at a sedate pace and only down the quietest streets’. Not much scope for adventure there! Until she decides to do something about it…
I’ve always loved those classic children’s books like Heidi and The Secret Garden where ‘sickly’ children manage to challenge the limitations imposed by illness or disability. So I had great fun helping to prise Agnes out of her narrow world and defy her mother. When she is thrown together with Gully and Impey, there’s quite a gulf between them and lots to discover about each other’s lives. Lots to discover about themselves, too, especially as the perils begin to pile up.
The Dangerous Discoveries of Gully Potchard is out now.
Julia Lee has been making up stories for as long as she can remember. She wrote her first book aged 5, mainly so that she could do all the illustrations with a brand-new 4-colour pen, and her mum stitched the pages together on her sewing machine.
Julia grew up in London, but moved to the seaside to study English at university, and has stayed there ever since. Her career has been a series of accidents, discovering lots of jobs she didn’t want to do, because secretly she always wanted to be a writer.
Julia is married, has two sons, and lives in Sussex.