Bestselling author Wendy Holden's first historical novel about a royal governess has sold to Berkley in the US for a six-figure sum following an exclusive pre-empt based on a partial manuscript.
Holden, known for her romantic comedy novels, is now writing about Marion Crawford, the royal governess to Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret when they were children, aimed at fans of Netflix series "The Crown".
In an exclusive submission, Berkley executive editor Kerry Donovan pre-empted North American and audio rights to former journalist and British bestselling author Wendy Holden’s The Governess with a six-figure sum (sterling). Jonathan Lloyd, of Curtis Brown, negotiated the deal with publication slated for next summer.
Lloyd said: “The original plan was to submit when Wendy had delivered the full manuscript in June. However, I kept feeding Deborah Schneider chapters as they came in, and finally she could not contain her enthusiasm and we were then forced to accept a pre-empt. As far as the UK is concerned, the original plan still stands, and I’m looking forward to submitting in July.”
Holden said: “It’s my first historical novel and thus a new direction for me. But one I’ve wanted to go in for ages. Crawfie was the perfect subject, the ultimate behind-the-scenes story of the greatest show on earth.nI have been obsessed with this story ever since I found a copy of Marion Crawford’s autobiography, The Little Princesses, one rainy day in a second hand bookshop.
"In 1933 she joined the royal family as governess to six-year-old Elizabeth. She stayed for 17 years, lived with the royals on the most intimate terms and had a ringside seat at some of the most seismic events of the 20th century; the Abdication, the 1936 Coronation and World War Two, where she sheltered with the princesses in Windsor Castle’s medieval dungeons as the Heinkels flew overhead.
"It’s the story we all know and are endlessly fascinated by, but told from a completely new angle, one that has never been explored before."
The author was intrigued by Crawford’s initial reluctance around being a governess. "What’s really fascinating is that Crawfie, as the Royal Family called her, had never wanted to be a royal governess or anything like. She was a 22-year-old Scot from an ordinary background who actually intended to teach in the slums. Having accepted the royal job she was determined that Elizabeth would have as many normal experiences as possible. Among other things she took her to Woolworth’s, on the Underground and set up a Guide pack at the Palace. She did her level best to drag the girls out of the stuffy, practically Victorian court and into the 20th century.”
"Her personal life took a pounding though; when she finally left the royals it was too late to have children of her own and a catastrophic rift over the publication of The Little Princesses led to a lonely old age.”
She added: "I’ve used Marion Crawford’s own accounts, plus a wide range of historical sources and my own imagination to shine a captivating light into the childhood of the world’s most iconic figure, Queen Elizabeth II, and reveal the light-hearted young woman who made her who she is today."
Holden's 17 books have sold 1.47 million copies for £7.7m, according to Nielsen BookScan, and she has been published by Headline and Head of Zeus among others. She also judged the Costa Book of the Year for 2017.