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EXCLUSIVE: Sarah, Duchess of York in conversation with Royal Central

On the eve of her new children’s books, Genie Gems and The Enchanted Oak Tree, being released through Australian publisher Serenity Press, Sarah, Duchess of York discussed with Royal Central reporter, Kylie Wallace all about her new seven-book deal, how her family inspires her writing and Princess Beatrice’s upcoming wedding.

Kylie Wallace – Congratulations on your new book deal! We’ve seen a peek of three of your books covers on Instagram. Are they stand-alone tales or part of a new series?

Sarah, Duchess of York – Thank you! I am very excited. The books are stand-alone, although Genie Gems does appear in Arthur Fantastic.

Genie Gems meets Arthur Fantastic is a children’s chapter book for children aged 6-8 years old.

Photo Courtesy of Serenity Press

Genie Gems: Mission to Devon is a chapter book for older children aged 8-10 years old. The Enchanted Oak Tree is a charming tale about an old oak tree that is not what it seems, for frolicking fairies make their home among its sheltering branches.

From the covers, it looks like you have created a wonderful fantasy world of talking trees and unicorns, what can you tell us about the new books?

The books encourage kindness, empathy and respect for one another. It is important to show young people the importance of respecting each other. The books central themes are imagination, happiness and self-confidence.

Photo Courtesy of Serenity Press

The face of The Enchanted Oak is based on my father with his bushy eyebrows, kind eyes and wisdom. I love trees. When I first moved to London, before I got married, I felt lonely. Although I was living in a city, I was away from all that was familiar and took comfort from walks in the parks as I missed the countryside as well as my family.

So, when I decided to address loneliness as a topic for children, I wrote a fairy tale about a tree that felt lonely. People would come to the garden and just walk past and ignore The Enchanted Oak. The Frolicking Fairies had their homes in him, but they would go off on adventures whilst he stayed behind. The Enchanted Oak learns of a lamb that needs rescuing. He tells the fairies who facilitate the rescue and the Enchanted Oak is recognised as the secret heart of the garden.

Genie Gems was inspired by my daughter Eugenie’s passion for reducing the use of single-use plastics. Eugenie is strong, determined and always looks for the truth in everything she does. In her work with the Anti-Slavery Collective is a commitment she steadfastly campaigns to give everyone the chance to have a voice, as does my heroine Genie.

This encouraged me to visualise Genie Gems and how I could use her as a vessel to educate children on the importance of looking after our planet. Her first project is to help the fish made sick by micro beads in the river, but she will continue on her crusade to help the environment and make a better future for our children and grandchildren.

I called her Genie Gems as she utilises the magical, colourful stones as messages of hope, joy, love, harmony etc. I love the use of colour in my life and adore Nature’s gift of Gems. Everyone needs colour to make their life more beautiful.

Photo Courtesy of Serenity Press

As I have previously said I love horses, and I want to bring magic into people’s lives. Arthur Fantastic is about a very colourful unicorn, but because he is different, he doesn’t fit in. All the brown horses who live in the field with him, believe Arthur is weird and tease him.

I strongly believe that there needs to be more kindness in the world. Why should someone be mocked because they have ginger hair, a mole on their chin or a cleft palate, for example? I want children to see that it is okay to be different.

The grumpy, brown horses cannot understand why he is so happy. These horses are afraid of standing out from the crowd; consequently, their lives are limited and boring. They want Arthur to be like them. Arthur wants them to be happy and have colour in their lives. So, the horses tell him to go and find Happy.

The book tells the story of how Arthur goes in search of Happy. On the way, he makes friends and learns valuable lessons. He is helped by Genie Gems. Happy is made up of many different strands, not just one thing. You will see the plaited ribbons (like the Maypole) where Happy is many different strands plaited together… When Arthur returns to the field of horses, he transforms their lives.

Andrew Parsons / i-Images

My next book is going to be called Trixi-Belle which is for Beatrice. Beatrice is the happiest I have ever seen her in my life, and she and Edo have a great love for each other and passion for life. For them to be getting married fills my heart with joy. The great thing about Beatrice is that she believes in education in every way. She has founded an organisation, Big Change, that upholds everything that we all stand for and therefore both my girls maintain strong boundaries and goodness.

You’ve been authoring books for over 30 years. What inspired you to write for children?

My dream is for children to grow up in a world where kindness and empathy rule; where differences are celebrated rather than mocked. In my charity work, I love the colour and vibrancy brought into my life from experiencing different cultures and hearing people’s dreams and personal stories. I want to share this excitement and appreciation with the children who read my books. The world would be a boring place if we all ate the same food, wore the same clothes, followed the same routine in our lives. It is diversity that colours our world for the better.

Photo: Debbie Hare

From a talking plane to Little Red you have created some wonderful characters, who is your favourite and why?

I love all the characters that I have created. Budgie came from my desire to share and understand Andrew’s role as a helicopter pilot. I studied to become a helicopter pilot myself. I wanted to share the excitement and joy I felt at being able to fly with my children and to show them how even a little helicopter can make the world a better place.

I first sketched the red-haired doll Little Red on a paper napkin as a logo for my American charity, Chances for Children. She was turned into a doll as a fund-raising project for a young boy called P.J. who had suffered 95% burns to his body during the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995. Then, on Sept. 11, 2001, a firefighter pulled a Little Red doll from the rubble of the World Trade Center, where the charity had its offices. So, Little Red came alive as the strong, confident and kind little girl I wish I had been as a child, to raise more money. Roany the Pony was based on a roan horse I rode when she was a girl and often starred in stories I told the girls.

With Tea for Ruby, I wanted to show the importance of good manners in a humourous way. As a child, I was energetic and pretty focused on my own essential needs so I often got into trouble for “forgetting my manners”. I thought I would find a fun way to teach children the how to behave, the way I wish I had learnt.

Ballerina Rosie came from my experience of ballet lessons at my school, Hurst Lodge. I loved to dance, but lacked confidence and my ballet teacher, Miss Natalie, inspired me with belief in my ability to dance. I wanted to show children how important it is to believe in yourself.

Why do you think it’s important to encourage young children to read?

I think storytime is an important bedtime ritual, a time to share adventure and imagination, but also a time for your children to know that your attention is wholly given to them and that they can open up to you – tell you about their day, any concerns they might have, who they played with, who is their favourite character in the story… anything at all!

Did you read your books to your daughters as they were growing up? What was their favourite?

I read the Budgie and Little Red stories to Beatrice and Eugenie. As you can see from the dedications at the beginning of my books, many of my stories are dedicated to my girls, who are my inspiration. I would often tell them impromptu stories, and this could lead to plots for my existing characters or new books.

Like most parents, I introduced the girls to my favourite books from my childhood such as Winnie the Pooh, the Tales of Beatrix Potter, Snow White, Cinderella and books like Angelina Ballerina that were popular with children at the time.

Stephen Lock / i-Images

Speaking of Princess Beatrice, congratulations on her upcoming wedding. It must be a very exciting time for you?

I have never seen Beatrice as happy as she is right now with Edo. It’s a dream come true for me to have acquired two new members of the family in Jack and Edo.

  • Since the interview, the Duchess of York has confirmed that Princess Beatrice’s wedding to Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi, planned for 29 May, has been postponed due to the global coronavirus pandemic

With the upcoming wedding and Princess Eugenie marrying 18 months ago, you must be excited about the prospect of one day sharing your books with grandchildren? Do you think we can expect any special news for the palace soon?

If I am lucky enough to be blessed with grandchildren, it will be the most wonderful sense of joy for me and of course, I will be making up stories every day for them.

Stephen Lock/i-Images

Do you have any other projects or charitable work you wish to discuss?

I have a platform and want to be able to use this for good, to help those children who have nothing and give them hope. I founded Children in Crisis 25 years ago to help those vulnerable and forgotten children in some of the most inaccessible and dangerous places in the world, with particular focus on education. I’m immensely proud that through its work we have educated 1.4 million children. CIC is now merged with Street Child and Liberty Global, and the merged charity, under the name of Street Child, remains dedicated to helping the 125 million children around the world who are not in school.

The Duchess’s new books are available for pre-order through Serenity Press. They can also be purchased through Booktopia.

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About author

Kylie is a writer, editor and royal commentator. She has written about the royals for some of Australia's best loved magazines including Marie Claire, Who, Royals Monthly and New Idea. When not writing, you'll find her searching for Sydney's best high tea spot. Follow her on Instagram @kyliewallacewrites