Archive of ‘research’ category
To celebrate the publication of Villains in Venice, I thought I’d share some recommendations of other children’s books set in the city. Reading other works of fiction set in a particular place is one of my favourite ways to research the settings for my books – so whether you’re planning a trip to Venice and want the perfect reading material to take along, or simply plan to travel there in your imagination, here are a few suggestions:
The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke
In modern-day Venice, brothers Prosper and Boniface are on the run. There’s a detective on their tail, and they’re hiding among the canals and alleyways of the city. Soon they are taken in by a gang of street children and their leader, the mysterious Thief Lord, and find shelter in an old, abandoned cinema.But that’s just the beginning of an extrordinary adventure involving a beautiful merry-go-round with magical powers… This enchanting Venetian fantasy is perfect for readers looking for a story of mystery and magic.
Unveiling Venus by Sophia Bennett
In the sequel to Following Ophelia, a historical YA novel inspired by the Pre-Raphealite painters, we rejoin heroine Mary, formerly a maid, now reinvented as glamorous artist’s model Persephone Lavelle. Setting out from Victorian London to Venice with her friend Kitty, she hopes to escape scandal and gossip. But when she encounters a mysterious masked young man on the Grand Canal, there’s trouble in store… Complete with bohemian artists, Venetian masked balls, and of course, plenty of romance, this is a delightful young adult novel, which will transport you back in time to 19th century Venice.
The Undrowned Child by Michelle Lovric
Author Michelle Lovric has written several books set in Venice, but I’d especially recommend this unusual critically-acclaimed fantasy, which takes place in the same period as Villains in Venice. This is the story of Teo, a young girl who has always longed to visit Venice. But when she finally gets her wish, all kinds of strange things begin to happen to her. Teo is quickly subsumed into a remarkable secret world of ghosts, talking statues, librarians that turn into cats, mermaids that run underground printing presses… and terrible danger. With the help of a Venetian boy, Renzo, and a mysterious book entitled The Key to the Secret City, she soon discovers that she alone has the power to save the floating city from the sinister ‘Traitor’.
Stravagaza: City of Masks by Mary Hoffman
The first book in Mary Hoffman’s Stravaganza series introduces us to Lucien – a teenage boy who is dealing with a serious illness. Lucien’s life takes an unexpected turn when an old Italian notebook transports him from his sick-bed to Belezza – a city rather like the Venice of the 16th Century. There he meets Arianna, a girl dressed as a boy who is risking everything in the hope of being chosen as one of the Duchessa’s ‘mandoliers’ and learns that he has become a stravagante – a kind of time traveller. He is soon immersed in the intriguing world of Belezza, becoming a mandolier himself and even saving the Duchessa from an assassination attempt. But what will be the consequences of his remarkable adventures for his life back home? Whilst it isn’t set in Venice itself but an ‘alternate’ version, this engaging fantasy story is full of fascinating detail inspired by the city’s real history.
The Mask of Aribella by Anna Hoghton
In this charming magical adventure for young readers, Aribella is the daughter of a lace-maker, growing up on the island of Burano in the Venice lagoon. But Aribella has a deadly and dangerous secret – when she gets angry, sparks shoot from her fingertips! She knows she mustn’t let anyone know about her strange magical powers, yet when dark spectres rise from the lagoon, her abilities save her life. Soon, she has been discovered by the Cannovaci – a society of masked, magical warriors, who have sworn to protect Venice against the dark spirits that menace the city.
Finally, of course, I have to mention Villains in Venice itself!
Set in 1912, the third book in the Taylor & Rose Secret Agents series follows intrepid young secret agents Sophie Taylor and Lil Rose to Venice on a new mission for the British Secret Service Bureau. But there are villains lurking amongst the city’s piazzas, canals and crumbling palaces, and in the shadows an old enemy lies in wait…
What are your favourite children’s books set in Venice? I’d love to hear any other suggestions in the comments!
If you enjoyed this list then do also check out my other Taylor & Rose inspired booklists:
When I first started writing the Sinclair’s Mysteries, while I loved the idea of Edwardian girl detectives, I had a feeling that it was unlikely that my heroines Sophie and Lil had many real-life counterparts. Although I’d come across works of fiction like Revelations of a Lady Detective, and The Female Detective published in the mid-19th century I suspected that real lady detectives at this time had in fact been few and far between. And although many new opportunities were opening up for women in the early 20th century, I couldn’t somehow imagine that there were really many young women who had the opportunity to work as professional detectives as Sophie and Lil do in my stories – never mind setting up their own detective agency. However…
Reader, I was entirely wrong.
In my research for the Sinclair’s Mysteries and Taylor & Rose Secret Agents series, I’ve discovered that there were many women engaged in detective work both in London and further afield in the late 19th century and early 20th centuries. In fact, one of the first lady detectives Kate Warne got a job at the famous Chicago agency Pinkerton’s as early as 1856. By 1894, Henry Slater (head of one of London’s largest detective agencies) was advertising Slater’s Women Detectives and at around the same time, Moser’s Ladies Detective Agency was set up by his rival, the ex-Scotland Yard inspector Maurice Moser. Meanwhile, Kate Easton was one of the first lady detectives to set up her own agency in London, which she established in 1905, declaring: ‘Blackmail, divorce, evidence, robbery, I undertake it all; I have touched everything except murder.’
Meanwhile, although women could not officially work for the police in the UK, Scotland Yard had been quietly hiring lady detectives to help with their cases as early as 1899. And across the pond in the USA, Isabella Goodwin was hired as New York’s first woman police detective in the 1900s, investigating burglars and swindlers; whilst Frances Benzecry worked as a detective for the medical societies of Brooklyn and Manhattan to expose fake medical pracitioners.
Anyone who has read the Sinclair’s Mysteries and Taylor & Rose Secret Agents will be interested to hear that another place women detectives could often be found in the 1900s was in London’s department stores! Stores like my own (fictional) Sinclair’s would frequently hire women to help prevent shoplifting, as women detectives were better able to blend in with the customers. When it opened in 1909, Selfridges hired a detective named Matilda Mitchell as the head up its very own ‘secret service’. She and her staff helped to catch thieves and frustrate the efforts of gangs like the ‘Forty Elephants’ who would sweep into the shop and cause a rumpus, while others quickly stuffed furs and expensive trinkets into outfits fitted with pockets especially for the purpose.
I recently read a fascinating new book The Adventures of Maud West, Lady Detective by Susannah Stapleton which explores the intriguing story of one of these early lady detectives, Maud West, in more detail. I was especially interested to discover that Maud had a surprising number of things in common with Sophie and Lil!
Maud reportedly set up her own detective agency in 1905: she had a number of both male and female detectives working for her, and an office in Bloomsbury. She had a particular eye for publicity, placing advertisements in the press (‘Maud West, Lady Detective. Are you worried? If so, consult me! Private enquiries and delicate matters undertaken anywhere with secrecy and ability’) but also writing colourful newspaper stories about her cases, seeking out publicity stunts, and circulating pictures of herself in various disguises.
According to her own accounts, her detective work involved everything from unmasking blackmailers to foiling jewel thieves to infiltrating dangerous gangs. She frequently used disguises, changing her appearance with wigs and make-up, and often dressed as a man, occupying rooms in a hotel as a ‘titled Englishman’ and following her suspects ‘into their clubs, playing baccarat beside them at the Monte Carlo Casino. She would reportedly disguise herself as ‘a shabby old scrubwoman’ at 5pm before being at the Ritz elegantly dressed for dinner by 7pm. She even claimed to have been involved in catching foreign spies, and just like Sophie and Lil, apparently worked for the British intelligence services during the First World War.
Something else that I was particularly intrigued to discover about Maud is that just like Sophie she appears to have started her career as a shop assistant – possibly even working in millinery – and that just like Lil she may have spent some time on the stage.
Later, her two daughters also came to work for her as detectives. One newspaper reported that her daughter Vera (described as ‘a pretty fair-haired girl of 17’ when she first started working for Maud) was such a clever young detective that she was dubbed ‘Miss Sherlock Holmes’.
It seems that my idea of Edwardian girl detectives was not so very far-fetched after all!
Check out my other ‘Behind the Scenes’ posts exploring the historical background of the Sinclair’s Mysteries and Taylor & Rose Secret Agents
Following on from my list of children’s books set in Paris, I wanted to put together a new list to celebrate Taylor & Rose Secret Agents: Spies in St Petersburg!
There are obviously lots of children’s and young adult books set elsewhere in Russia, or that are inspired by Russian folk tales. However, these five all have scenes that are set specifically in and around St Petersburg (or Leningrad) itself.
The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell, illustrated by Gelrev Ongbico
Deep in the snowy woods, Feo lives in a wooden house, with her mother – a ‘wolf-wilder’ who helps to re-wild the wolves that foolish men have tried to tame. Feo has grown up amongst the wolves, and could howl before she could talk. But when the Russian Army appear and kidnap her mother, Feo’s life is turned upside down. Now she must travel through the harsh winter landscape to St Petersburg to try and rescue her mother, teaming up with some unexpected new friends she meets along the way. This is an enchanting story from Katherine Rundell, with wonderfully atmospheric illustrations from Gelrev Ongbico.
Egg & Spoon by Gregory Maguire
In this reimagining of the classic story of The Prince and the Pauper set in Tsarist Russia, Elena lives in the impoverished Russian countryside. Her future is bleak, until the night that a grand steam train stops unexpectedly at her village’s abandoned station. Aboard is Ekaterina, a girl who looks just like Elena, although in every other way she couldn’t be more different. Soon the two girls have switched places and Elena is on her way to St Petersburg – beginning an extrordinary adventure that also features a Fabergé Egg, the mythical Firebird, a prince in disguise, and the famous Baba Yaga herself.
Rendezvous in Russia by Lauren St John
In this instalment of Lauren St John’s engaging Laura Marlin series, young detective Laura, her faithful husky Skye and her friend Tariq have left behind their Cornish home for another adventure abroad. This time they’re joining a film crew in the faraway city of St Petersburg. But once on the set of ‘The Artistocratic Thief’, a new movie about an art heist, they find themselves mixed up in a real-life mystery.
The Raven’s Children by Yulia Yakoleva, translated by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp
Set in 1938, during the time of Stalin’s purges, this is the intriguing story of 7-year-old Shura. He leads a normal life in Leningrad, going to school, playing with his friends, and fighting with his big sister. But then his Mama, Papa and baby brother Bobka suddenly disappear without trace. The neighbours are saying they were enemies of Stalin, who have been taken away by the mysterious ‘Raven’. Desperate to reunite his family, Shura sets out to hunt down the ‘Raven’ – but there are strange adventures ahead.
The Wolf Princess by Cathryn Constable
On a school trip to St Petersburg, Sophie and her friends get aboard the wrong train. They are rescued by the beautiful and mysterious Princess Anna Volkonskaya, who takes them to her winter palace and mesmerises them with stories of lost diamonds and a tragic past. But as night falls and wolves prowl, Sophie discovers that secrets – and dangers – are lying in wait for her in the crumbling palace …
Finally of course I have to mention Taylor & Rose Secret Agents: Spies in St Petersburg! In the second in the Taylor & Rose Secret Agents series, it’s 1911 and Sophie is missing in action after an explosive Secret Service Bureau mission in Paris. Lil decides to take matters into her own hands, setting out to track her down in misty and mysterious St Petersburg. But can they uncover the identity of their true enemy – and can they trust anyone, even the Bureau itself?
If you have a favourite children’s book set in St Petersburg I’d love to hear about it – leave me a comment below!
If you enjoyed this list then do check out my other Taylor & Rose inspired booklists:
To celebrate the publication of Taylor & Rose Secret Agents: Peril in Paris, I wanted to share a few more children’s books with a Parisian setting. If you’re planning a trip to the City of Lights – or simply want to imagine yourself there, here are some recommended reads:
Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell
As a baby, Sophie was discoveed floating in a cello case after a shipwreck on the English Channel. She finds a home in London with her eccentric guardian Charles – but when a child welfare agency threaten to send her to an orphanage instead, the two of them set off to Paris on a quest to find her lost mother. From an attic window, Sophie soon begins exploring the rooftops of Paris with a boy called Matteo and his friends, who have adventures above the busy city streets. Can they help Sophie find her mother before she is caught and sent back to London? This enchanting children’s story is absolutely charming – a deserving winner of the Blue Peter Book Award.
Paris Up Up and Away by Helene Druvert
The Eiffel Tower decides to cut loose and fly over the night-time rooftops of Paris in this gorgeous and whimsical illustrated book. Through a series of delicate paper-cuts, Helene Druvert captures all the sights of the city, from the Seine to the Opera to Notre Dame. There’s something about this book which perfectly evokes the feeling of Paris, making it a really lovely introduction to the city for younger children.
Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
One of my favourite young adult romances, this is the tale of American girl Anna, who is not at all happy about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris by her parents. But when she meets the charismatic Étienne St Clair, and everything changes. This is a truly delightful love story that will make you fall in love with both Paris and Étienne along with Anna, and will leave you yearning to stroll around the city streets.
Blade and Bone by Catherine Johnson
I’m a huge fan of Catherine Johnson’s historical fiction for children and young adults, and her two books featuring young surgeon Ezra McAdam (the first is Sawbones) are some of my absolute favourites. In this story, Ezra must hasten to Paris to rescue his friend Loveday and her charge Mahmoud, who have been caught up in the Revolution. On his journey, Ezra travels through the battlefields of Northern France, putting his surgical skills to work – but when he finally arrives in Paris, he realises that finding Loveday and Mahmoud will not be easy…
The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner
Another gripping novel for young adults which is set during the French Revolution, this is an enthralling fantasy with an intriguing cast of characters. Yann is a boy with amazing magical abilities: a brief meeting with Sido, a lonely, shy young heiress will change his life forever. After crossing the sinister Count Kalliovski, Grand Master of a secret society, he finds himself in danger, and must escape to London. But before long he returns to Paris to find out Kalliovski’s darkest deeds – and save Sido from the guillotine…
In Paris With You by Clementine Beauvais
Inspired by Pushkin’s novel and Tchaikovsky’s opera Eugene Onegin, this verse novel is definitely one for older young adult readers. A chance meeting aboard the Paris Metro reunites Tatiana and Eugene 10 years after their summer when they were 14 and 17, stirring up all kinds of emotions. What really happened that summer? Could they ever be together after everything that has passed? Beautifully translated from French by Sam Taylor, this is a wonderful, nostalgic and wistful Parisian love story.
Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
‘In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines…’ No list of children’s books set in Paris would be complete without the classic Madeline series of picture books, which are now over 80 years old. Full of charm, the glorious illustrations perfectly evoke a delightfully old-fashioned Paris.
Liberty’s Fire by Lydia Syson
Amongst the tummult of Paris in 1871, 16-year-old Zephyrine is lured by the ideals of the city’s new government, and the prospect of freedom, hope and equality. Young musician Anatole is soon swept up with her – but his friends are not too sure. Opera-singer Marie and photographer Jules are uncertain about what life under the Paris Commune will mean for them. Soon all four must the reality – and dangers – of life during a revolution. In this historical novel for young adults, Lydia Syson paints a vivid picture of the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian war and the Paris Commune.
William and the Missing Masterpiece by Helen Hancocks
William the detective cat sets out to Paris — ‘the city of art and cheese’ — to solve the mystery of a stolen painting in this delightful picture book. The quirky and colourful artwork is perfect for this hilarious riff on the classic detective tale, featuring mysterious clues, a sinister villain, lots of silly cheese-based puns, and a dramatic final reveal. But as well as being a fun story for children and adults to enjoy together, it’s also a lovely portrait of Paris — complete with art galleries, noisy traffic, stylish fashions and long lunches.
Piglettes by Clementine Beauvais
This is my second pick from the brilliant French author Clementine Beauvais, and it’s not even really set in Paris, but I couldn’t resist including it as I adored this book. After being voted the three ugliest girls in school by their classmates, the three ‘Piglettes’ – Mireille, Astrid and Hakima – climb aboard their bikes and set off on a summer roadtrip to Paris, with fame and adventure in store. Witty, irreverent and joyful, it’s an absolute treat.
Although my list of ten is complete, I want to finish by mentioning some books of my own! Rose’s Dress of Dreams, illustrated by Kate Pankhurst, is my story inspired by Rose Bertin, Marie Antoinette’s dress-maker who is often considered to be the world’s first fashion designer. Young Rose dreams of sewing stunning dresses for the women of Paris, but when a chance encounter with royalty changes her life, Rose must draw on all her skills to create the most breathtaking dress of them all…
And finally, there’s Taylor & Rose Secret Agents: Peril in Paris
which sees young detectives Sophie and Lil setting out on a mission amongst the boulevards and grand hotels of Paris in 1911. But danger lurks beneatht the bright lights of the city – and intrigue and murder lie in store. As aeroplanes soar in the skies overhead, our heroines will need to put all their spy skills to the test to face the peril that awaits them…
Do you have a favourite children’s book set in Paris? Let me know in the comments below…!
Edit: if you enjoyed this list then do also check out my other Taylor & Rose inspired booklists:
The clock on the mantelpiece had chimed four o’clock and the light was already fading, but down below her, all along the street, the shop windows were bright and twinkling, and the pavements were thronged with people, wrapped up in overcoats and mufflers. Groups were gathering before the windows of Sinclair’s to admire the parade of Christmas trees, beautifully dressed with gleaming silver stars, candied apples and bonbons wrapped in shiny paper…
Beyond, uniformed porters hurried out to waiting motor cars and taxi cabs, their arms piled high with Sinclair’s parcels, and all the while, Sidney Parker, the Head Doorman, stood at the top of the steps ringing a bell to welcome people in.
When I was writing the Sinclair’s Mysteries I knew that the final book, The Midnight Peacock was going to be set at Christmas in 1909. I was excited to write about snowy Edwardian London and Sinclair’s department store during the festive season – but although I already had a good idea of how the Edwardians celebrated Christmas, before I got started, I wanted to learn more about their festive traditions.
Here’s an overview of the Edwardian Christmas:
Christmas trees were a firm fixture of the festive season, having become popular in the UK from the 1850s onwards. Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, who was German, is usually credited with having introduced them to the UK. Many people put up their Christmas trees on Christmas Eve itself. Christmas decorations would typically have included plenty of evergreens – holly, ivy, laurel, and mistletoe – as well as paper-chains and other home-made paper decorations.
Christmas crackers were first invented in the 1840s by a confectioner called Tom Smith. Originally they were sweets wrapped in pretty paper, containing a motto or message: the idea of making them ‘crack’ is supposed to have been inspired by the crackle of logs burning in the fireplace. Later the sweet inside was replaced by a small gift. Smith’s growing cracker business was later taken over by his sons, Tom, Walter and Henry: Walter introduced paper hats into the crackers, and travelled in search of new ideas for gifts to put inside them. The company went on to develop many different ‘themed’ crackers, including some specially designed for the Suffragettes! By 1900, Tom Smith & Co sold 13 million crackers each year.
Christmas cards were also sent in the UK from the 1840s onwards. Postage was cheap and as a result, sending Christmas cards became very popular: by 1880, 11.5 million cards were sent in the UK each year. But not all of the designs were quite what we’d expect today: far from the traditional images we might imagine, Victorian and Edwardian Christmas cards could feature rather more surreal pictures like these…
Hanging up stockings for Father Christmas to fill was a relatively new tradition, which didn’t begin in the UK until the late 19th/early 20th century. Children’s stockings would have included toys and sweets as well as the traditional orange and nuts. Father Christmas himself looked a little different on Edwardian Christmas cards – often shown wearing a blue hooded robe rather than the red-and-white suit we think of today. Sometimes he was also depicted with a wreath of evergreens around his head.
Christmas dinner wouldn’t necessarily be turkey. Many people in the 1900s would eat roast beef or roast goose for their Christmas meal – but a grand Edwardian Christmas dinner could have included a vast array of dishes such as pheasant pie, an ox-heart in aspic, or even a whole roasted pig’s head. Mince pies and plum pudding would certainly have featured on the Edwardian Christmas menu.
The idea of Christmas shopping was still fairly new. The Edwardians did exchange gifts at Christmas, but not on the same scale that we do today. Many people would give handmade gifts; however, by 1909 department stores like Selfridges were becoming popular for buying Christmas gifts. They had sumptuous Christmas window-displays which for the first time were lit up at night, for passers-by to admire. The first Christmas illuminations arrived a few years later, in 1912.
For more about Edwardian Christmas-time, there is a lovely little book of illustrations called An Edwardian Christmas by John S. Goodall, shown above (sadly now out of print but available secondhand). Lots of Edwardian children’s books have wonderful Christmas scenes – try The Story of the Treasure Seekers by E Nesbit, A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett or The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graeme. Less well known is Christmas with the Savages by Mary Clive which is a funny tale about a little girl’s Christmas holiday in a large Edwardian country house.
Or of course you could also read The Midnight Peacock which as well as Sinclair’s at Christmas will take to a Christmas country house party at snowy Winter Hall, and to Mr Sinclair’s very glamorous Midnight Peacock Ball for New Year’s Eve!
Find out more about The Midnight Peacock | Buy now from Waterstones | The Hive | Amazon
The pictures in this post all come via my trusty Edwardiana Pinterest board (click on an image for the source)
Check out my other ‘Behind the Scenes’ posts exploring the historical background of the Sinclair’s Mysteries