Sarah, Duchess of York is already planning to put the bunting out for the Coronation of King Charles III. Speaking to Royal Central as her latest book, A Most Intriguing Lady, is published, the duchess also opened up about her experiences of being a granny and preparing to welcome a new arrival to her family. Sydney Zatz chatted with the duchess about her new novel, her future plans and her inspiration.
Sydney Zatz: Your new book, A Most Intriguing Lady, centers around a Duke’s daughter, Lady Mary Montagu Douglas Scott as she works to find a balance between being the perfect lady, a talented detective, and finding love. What gave you the idea for the novel?
Sarah, Duchess of York: I became obsessed with my family history. I’m naturally curious, and I think diving into history is a vitally important part of life. The most interesting thing I found out about my family was that it’s all in the DNA: strength, resilience, courage, kindness. It felt really good to discover that my ancestry had these characteristics, particularly when it came to a long line of strong Scottish and Irish women. I’ve always believed in the motto Ex Adversitas Felicitas: out of adversity comes happiness, and now I know where I got that from.
Lady Mary, the heroine of my new book and my great-great aunt, is like me acutely observant, and fascinated by people. She only lets people see what she wants them to see, that she presents herself in such a way that everyone thinks they know her, but they don’t. People will spot parallels between me and her and I hope that is part of the fun. I also wanted to move into a new genre with this book: it’s much more of a whodunnit, with lots of crime-solving, and this is an area I want to explore further in future books.
Lady Mary is the youngest child of Queen Victoria’s close friends, the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch. As a Duchess yourself, how do you think your experience has helped you write this book?
Marrying into the royal family is obviously an enormous privilege but it also comes with certain expectations. I always think of a quote from Sidney Poitier, who told Oprah Winfrey in an interview: “It’s difficult when you’re carrying other people’s dreams. You have to hold on to the dream that’s inside yourself and know if you’re true to that, that’s really all that matters.”
I think that’s really important, not to forget your own dreams whatever position you are in, and I feel like mine are being realised in this new career as a novelist, which I’m so proud to be embarking on in my 60s. Not many people get this opportunity.
Being you have had experience with royal life, how did this impact your imagination when creating Lady Mary’s world?
I think the theme of duty being pitted against other desires in life was important. When it came to creating Lady Mary’s world, I have always been fascinated by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and have written two history books about them, so that research was really important. We tried very hard to make this book historically accurate. At one point I wanted Lady Mary to literally walk a tightrope and I said to my co-author Marguerite Kaye: ‘We have to make sure this is historically correct and could really have happened”, which we found it could. There were plenty of circuses in Victorian times.
You have written several types of books including memoirs, children’s books, and lifestyle books. In 2022, you released your first novel, Her Heart for a Compass. What made you decide to write another novel?
I see myself as a novelist now. I was so proud to have made the Sunday Times bestseller list with the first book and for my editor to tell me that my second book would be published. Apparently most authors don’t make a second book, it goes to the book graveyard, so I’m incredibly lucky. I am already embarking on book three and if I’m able to, I’d like to do this for the rest of my life.
What is one type of book or genre you have not written yet but you would like to explore?
I’m moving into lady detectives next. Lady Mary does her share of sleuthing but I’d like to write a real crime novel. I also love the stories of the extraordinary women of the two World Wars, so I’d like to explore that too.
Your last memoir, Finding Sarah: A Duchess’s Journey to Find Herself was released in 2011. A lot has changed within the last decade or so. Do you imagine yourself writing another memoir at some point?
Yes, I do. Watch this space.
Please walk through your process of writing a book. Do you find the ideas and words are easy to come by? Or do you find yourself brainstorming for a while before the words are put onto paper?
For many years, writing has been my means of escapism. I’m old fashioned and I write in longhand, with a Montegrappa fountain pen I designed myself. The book is the result of a genuine collaboration with my co-author, Marguerite Kaye – in fact we call each other ‘collaborwriters’. We worked together very closely on every single part of the book from plotting right the way through to the editing and production process. I’ve written countless books for children, and two history books, but I recognised that writing a novel is very different. Marguerite and I play to our individual strengths – my storytelling skills and vivid imagination, her experience in giving it structure.
Marguerite and I had coffee time phone calls in the morning, which could last from half an hour to several hours, depending on the subject matter. At the end of each call we’d agree what we would work on next – our homework. That could be writing, reading, editing, research, plotting, thinking up names, thinking up a history for a secondary character or an ending for one we already had.
Emails and WhatsApps followed, sometimes in huge volumes. We would involve our researchers, and there was always research to be reviewed. And of course there would be scenes and chapters to review, and think about. And then the process would start again.
Your grandchildren are fairly young and one could say you are still “new” to the grandmother game. How have your grandchildren impacted your writing and how do you share your love of it with them? How are you feeling with another grandchild on the way?
We all thrilled that Eugenie is expecting another baby. I am absolutely loving being a grandmother – I model myself on Super Gran. My grandchildren seem to find me very, very funny. I test my children’s stories out on them.
The coronation of King Charles III is just months away. Will you be participating in the event in anyway?
I don’t think invitations have gone out yet and I don’t know whether I will be there. But one way or another I will have the bunting out.
What’s next for you? Both on a personal and professional level?
I want to write more fiction. I really see this as a new phase in my career and I’m proud to be called an author.
I am co-founder of Vestapol films, a new independent production house based in Paris, and I’m working with scriptwriter Mark Gill on a screenplay about Princess Louise, the mother of Prince Albert, that I hope will be made into a film. I have experience in that world having conceived the idea for and been a producer on the film The Young Victoria. I’m also hopeful that my novels will come to life on screen: I see it as a TV series. We’re already in talks with some programme makers about making it into a historical drama – I can’t say any more at this stage but I am very excited.
A Most Intriguing Lady by Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York and Marguerite Kaye (Mills & Boon, £14.99) is out now