Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Interview with Karen Harper - The Royal Nanny

I've had the pleasure of reviewing some of NYT and USA Today bestseller Karen Harper's Amish novels and I love her storytelling voice, my copy of The Royal Nanny is high on my tbr list and after you read our conversation I'm sure it'll be high on yours too!

ISBN-13: 9780062420633
Publisher: Harper Collins
Release Date: 06/21/2016
Length: 384pp
Buy It: B&N/Amazon/Kobo/IndieBound


Based on a seldom-told true story, this novel is perfect for everyone who is fascinated by Britain’s royal family—a behind the scenes look into the nurseries of little princes and the foibles of big princes.
April, 1897: A young nanny arrives at Sandringham, ancestral estate of the Duke and Duchess of York. She is excited, exhausted—and about to meet royalty. . . .
So begins the unforgettable story of Charlotte Bill, who would care for a generation of royals as their parents never could. Neither Charlotte—LaLa, as her charges dub her—nor anyone else can predict that eldest sons David and Bertie will each one day be king. LaLa knows only that these children, and the four who swiftly follow, need her steadfast loyalty and unconditional affection.
But the greatest impact on Charlotte’s life is made by a mere bud on the family tree: a misunderstood soul who will one day be known as the Lost Prince. Young Prince John needs all of Lala’s love—the kind of love his parents won’t…or can’t…show him.
From Britain’s old wealth to the glittering excesses of Tsarist Russia; from country cottages to royal yachts, and from nursery to ballroom, Charlotte Bill witnesses history. The Royal Nanny is a seamless blend of fact and fiction—an intensely intimate, yet epic tale spanning decades, continents, and divides that only love can cross.

Read an excerpt courtesy Karen Harper:


Monday April 6, 1959
Sandringham Estate, Norfolk, England

Here comes trouble,” I said aloud instead of just thinking it to myself as in the old days. Indeed, here came one of my dear loves and my worst failure. I opened the door and waited for him to exit the chauffeured Daimler. My life had been plum full of breaking bad habits in others, but I’d never been able to really calm or control him. There was one thing I could never forgive him for, though I’d tried, and it wasn’t his continued smoking. I watched as he took a big drag of his cigarette, then ground the stub under the toe of his shiny shoe. Good gracious, I wished this estate, where he’d been reared, would comfort him rather than make him more nervous. As he came up the walk of my small grace-and-favor flat, I glanced over my shoulder at Johnnie’s portrait. Oh, I’d hear
about that again, though I’d removed my precious, framed, hand-written note and the agate statue of the grouse from the mantel. Queer how childhoods could make or break the best and worst ofus, even my two kings. I swung open the door but felt I was opening the past again—the pain, the fear—oh, of course, the good and high times too. Everything rushed at me as if I were coming here for the first time to live it all again. The graves out by the church opened, and the beloved ghosts walked in my mind and heart. I wanted to flee, down the familiar paths of Sandringham, down the paths of time and memory to begin again. But I stood firm and let him in.

Part One
London to York cottage

Chapter 1
Friday, April 2, 1897

Of course I’d been out on the for-hire steam launch on the Thames my father captained, but in the railway carriage, I felt I was flying. It was noisy too, here in third class with the huge engine just ahead, huffing and blow-ing smoky steam that dashed past the windows. Where I sat was quite plain, with the leather seats a bit worn and cracked, but I felt I was in a magic cart to the moon anyway. My father had said the tracks would be well kept since this was the route the royals themselves used to get to their Norfolk estate, which is where I was headed. But when he’d put me on the train, he’d been disappointed that none of the royal carriages were on this run. I was about to become under nurse to the royals at York Cottage on the Sandringham Estate, and it was my first time in a railway carriage and so far from home. I was going one hundred twenty miles from London, and didn’t have to pay for the passage ticket either!
Maybe that would be one of the grand things about being in service to the royals, because Mama said they were all rich, rich, rich. Honestly, I didn’t care a whit about that, just that I could better my station and send some money home in these tough times, but how I missed my former and now grown toddle kins from Dr. Lockwood’s family in London. They didn’t need a nurse any more, all grown up to only need their new stepmother. Truth was, I used to wish the widowed Dr. Edwin Lockwood, my former employer, would marry me, though I knew that was quite out of the question. But when I first went to work at his house as nursemaid, I was only thirteen and such a dreamer. People think I’m a no-nonsense person, but I still harbor flights of fancy in my head and heart, and to mean something to someone else is one of them. But in the nearly ten years I worked in London, I knew it was not that I loved the doctor, but that I loved his two little daughters and hated to leave them, especially after I’d been promoted to nurse after five years there. Now his new wife didn’t want me about because her stepchildren doted on me. But the doctor gave me a good character, which the Duchess of York’s friend Lady Eva Dugdale had somehow seen. So here I was, headed tot he Duke and Duchess of York’s country house to help the head nurse of two royal lads—one called David, nearly four years of age; the other Bertie, a year and a half—and a new baby to be born soon .I beat down the butterflies in my belly and practiced saying “Your Grace, milord, milady, sir, ma’am” and all that. What if Queen Victoria herself ever popped in for a visit, for the duke washer grandson—well, there were many of her offspring scattered across Europe in ruling houses, but he was in direct line to the British throne after his father, the Prince of Wales.
And since the Prince and Princess of Wales often lived on the same Sandringham Estate, so Lady Dugdale said, I'd wager I’d see them, right regular too, that is if the head nurse, name of Mary Peters, let me help her with the royal children when their kin came calling. “Ticket, please, miss,” the conductor said as he came through the carriage. I had a moment’s scramble but handed it to him and had it marked. When he passed on, I put it as a keepsake in my wooden box of worldly goods, which sat on the floor next to my seat. The carriage wasn’t too full, not to Norfolk with its marshy fens and the windy Wash my papa had described to me. Oh, I was so excited I could barely sit still. I was to disembark at a place called Wolferton Station, where someone was to meet me. I was just so certain everything would be lovely and fine and grandly, royally perfect. The three-hour railway ride took some of the starch out of me, but I ate my biscuits and had lukewarm tea from the tin flask Mama had given me. So I perked right up when we steamed into the tiny village of Wolferton a few miles from the great house of Sandringham, though I’d been told my final destination was a smaller house nearby called York Cottage. It sounded quite quaint, and I pictured a low, thatched place with rambling roses. Lady Dugdale had said it was much smaller than the Big House but it had been added onto to allow space for Duke George and Duchess May’s growing family. Of course, she’d said, the household moved to London, Windsor, and Scotland on a regular schedule, so I would get to do more traveling too. But, mostly, for the children, the Sandringham Estate was home, and now my home too.“Wolferton Station, miss,” the conductor told me as he passed through again.
He helped me lift my box, then set it on the plat-form. Toward the back of the railway cars, men were unloading barrels and boxes and what looked to be crates of coal. My legs were wobbly after all that moving and swaying. As I took a few steps, I hoped whoever was sent to fetch me would be here soon. But the brisk breeze felt good on my face, shifting my hat veil and long coat and skirt .I’d worn my only walking suit, blue wool and a bit scratchy for such a nice day. The jacket had a stand-up collar that chaffed my neck, and my new, pointed shoes pinched, but I knew I’d soon be wearing the daily work or dress uniforms of my new position. Both my sisters had said I was to write them all about what the fancy folk wore. “Miss Charlotte Bill?” a voice called, and a young man appeared looking hale and hearty as if country living did him good. “Yes. Are you sent from York Cottage?” “Jack of all trades on the estate, all seven hundred acres of it, not a better place to be. Chad Reaver by name, sent to take you to the Yorks. Ah, good, you are a sensible one,” he said with a smile as he shook my hand and nodded at my box, which he easily hefted onto one shoulder. “You should see the massive trunks the prince’s London friends arrive with for their fancy Saturday to Mondays, clothing boxes so big we call them Noah’s Arks. ”I smiled at that picture. Chad Reaver looked to be about my age, early twenties, maybe a bit older. His square jawed face was sun darkened, and his brown eyes almost matched his hair. He was clean-shaven, muscular, half a head taller than me, dressed in work garb, and if I had to describe him in one word, I would say solid.
“I apologize for bringing you in with the lading.” He said as led me to a wagon being loaded with crates from the platform. He put my box under the seat and helped me up to sit beside him. “I’ll make amends someday,” he promised, “and take you and the little Yorks for a ride in the estate omnibus . . . if we can pry her duck-lings away from Mrs. Peters.” “Oh, their nurse. I’m to be her under nurse. ”He nodded, yet looked a bit grim. As we rode the long, uphill, pine tree–lined drive from the station toward the house, he became my guide, and, in my heart even then, my friend. “Over thirty years ago, it was, when Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, bought this place for their heir, now Prince of Wales,” he explained. I was entranced by the slight burr to his voice. “ ’Course, Prince Albert picked it because he thought it would be out in the country, away from the temptations of London. But, as Prince Albert is long dead and the prince’s fretful mother the queen’s at a good distance, the prince imports his par-ties, though that’s all in the Big House, not the cottage. Himself and the Princess Alexandra love being near their grandchildren, that’s sure. Just sit back now and look around. It’s a three-mile drive to the residence. I tell you, this place has been so changed and improved over the years.” “Does Her Majesty ever visit here?” “At her age, they go to her. Look—a ruffed grouse taking wing,” he said, pointing at a flapping, russet-hued bird and sounding more excited than when he’d mentioned the royals. “They’re rare here as it’s mostly pheasant and woodcocks, partridge too. I’m the head gamekeeper’s son, you see.” “So you hunt game for the royal tables?” “Oh, no,” he said looking at me more than serious—almost stern. “I never shoot them myself. We feed and protect the birds for the family and their guests to shoot.
Meanwhile, we keep a good eye out for poachers. Guns make such a bang that the thieves use snares attached to sticks or canes, but I know their shifty ways. This spring you’ll hear the grouse males make a drumming sound by beating their wings to attract their female friends, but that can attract poachers too. We feed and tend the birds, or they’d eat the buds off the trees. We must always take the bad with the good, you see. ”I nodded. So much to learn here. I did admire the beauty of this place with its scattered woodlots and encircling, deep forests, vast fields, and a few small, distant villages surrounded by fens and the marsh beyond. He pointed out to me the nearby village where he lived, West Newton by name. It was tiny, a mere score of houses edged by fields and trees with a fine looking church nearby. And ahead, at the end of this straight road, loomed a grand house and a smaller one. “That gray slate roof up ahead . . . the Big House,” he told me, pointing. “That’s what we all call it here. It has as many rooms as there are days in a year, pretty fancy ones. I’m sure you’ll get to see them eventually. ”I couldn’t hold back a gasp at the sight of it. And this was called a country house? As we drew closer, I saw it was red brick with an imposing front and wide lawns and terraces. “Don’t fret if you hear dogs at night too,” he told me. “The Big House kennels hold some fifty hunt hounds.” “I shall listen for them, and the drumming of the grouse wings, but mostly, the even breathing of my little charges at night.” “Well, from what I’ve seen, Mrs. Peters keeps a good watch on them, ’specially the heir, of course. And that,” he said, pointing again, “is York Cottage.” “Oh, it’s on the banks of a pond, very pretty.”

 “Righto,” he said, looking sideways at me, “very pretty.” I caught his gaze and started a big blush that crept up my throat to my cheeks and temples. I looked away to study the house that was to be my new home, a fairy-tale place with gabled roof and lots of chimneys, not what I would call a cottage at all. Not as grand as Sandringham House or Buckingham Palace, where I’d taken Dr. Lockwood’s girls to peer through the iron fence, but it looked lovely to me, reflected in the little lake with wild ducks and two small, strangely antlered deer drinking. So peaceful, so perfect under a spring sky with clouds like clotted cream. Chad Reaver helped me down and put my trunk on his broad shoulder to escort me to a side door. I was glad that he was with me and wanted to thank him for the tour and tidbits he’d shared. But, sadly for me, the moment he rang a bell and a middle-aged woman appeared, with a tip of his cap and the words “Mrs. Went-worth, the new under nurse from London, Charlotte Bill, delivered safe and sound,” he was gone. Mrs. Wentworth the York Cottage housekeeper, gave me time to wash and compose myself in a small attic bedroom, then took me on a tour of the house—that is, the servants’ area and the staircases and hallways, for I saw many closed doors she called“ the private rooms.” I was a bit disappointed she didn’t take me straightaway to see the children’s quarters. “York Cottage was built higgledy-piggledy, first as a place to put extra guests when the Big House parties overflowed,” she explained. She had a kind face but had a habit of standing so erect that her gray eyes seemed to be looking down her long nose. Her black skirts rustled when she walked.“
“Twas called Bachelor’s Cottage until the Yorks came here for their honeymoon and made it their country home. It’s small enough that everyone can get underfoot,” she told me with a lift of her silver eyebrows that matched her hair. “But His Lordship likes small rooms, from his navy days, you know, like on a ship.” “Oh, yes. I’m used to small rooms and lots of people from my own  home.” “I warrant we’ll see a large family from the lord and lady. Why, three children close together, if you count the one coming soon, ”she said, her eyebrows rising even higher. “So you are used to a large family?” “My sister Annie is two years older than me. She was in service but is now married to a river man. Then my brother Ernest, three years younger than me, and last Edith, three years after Ernest.” “Years apart at least, instead of a bit over a year. I’ll soon introduce you to the children’s nurse, Mrs. Peters, as I believe she’ll have the lads down for a nap now. Of course, in this small a place, It’s a challenge for the young ones to be seen and not heard—not even seen sometimes. But they are presented to their parents at teatime each afternoon promptly at four when the duke and duchess are here. ”Presented to their parents? I thought. Well, I guess people were presented to royalty, evidently even their own flesh and blood. “And today,” Mrs. Wentworth went on, with the keys on her waist chain jingling as we went downstairs, “her ladyship has asked that you be brought in with the children so that she can greet you, but don’t speak unless spoken to first, of course. ”I was starting to lose track of all the of courses, though I knew things would be done differently here and I must learn new ways.
She showed me how to use the back stairs when I fetched things from below. She introduced me to the servants, though their names didn’t all stick at first, and I thought I’d be taking my meals with the children anyway. But one of the servants, who all seemed eager to catch a glimpse of me too, gave me a sweet smile as her eyes swept over me, hat to shoes. I caught her name—Rose Milligrew, lady’s maid to the duchess—since she seemed so welcoming, even without saying a word. Rose, so blond and pale that it seemed she had no eyebrows or lashes, was sitting at a table in window light, mending a taffeta and net evening dress in a rich amber hue that shimmered and nearly took my breath away. Oh, I’d have to mention that garment in my first letter home. Upstairs again, but not the attic where the female servants—including myself when not on duty—would sleep, but this time at the back of the house, with a green baize swinging door shutting off their parents’ chambers, where two small rooms were set apart for the children. I found it hard to fathom that Dr. Lockwood’s daughters had far more room to play, sleep, and roam. I learned there were two newfangled bathrooms in the house, but both were for the use of Their Graces. “The children, you see,” Mrs. Wentworth added, “are bathed in their nursery each Saturday evening, and that is a lot of water for the nursemaids to tote up from the kitchen. There are two of them to help, at least, though Mrs. Peters has them down in the basement washroom, fetching and ironing right now, Martha Butcher and Jane Thatcher. They go by their given names as the duchess didn’t care to hear a Butcher and Thatcher were caring for her children.”
I wasn’t sure if that was a jest or not, but she was off on another turn, both in the hall and in her talk. I tried to keep track of all the new names. At the second door, she whispered, “The day nursery.” Mrs. Wentworth opened the door a crack and “a-hemmed” without sticking her head in. Out came a square- jawed woman with her hair parted in the middle and pulled so hard back that it looked painted on beneath her lace and linen cap. Under her thick raven brows, her dark eyes looked me over. “You’ll be called by your first name, Charlotte, like my other workers,” she told me, “since I hardly need an under nurse called Bill. You and I shall talk after I tuck up the children tonight, about rules and regulations, timing, behaviors. I am the boys’ head nurse. Besides the nursery footman, Cranston, I have two nursemaids. But couldn’t see promoting the likes of them to under nurse, and Her Ladyship Mrs. Dugdale says you come recommended.” Though surprised by her cold manner, I knew I had to manage a proper reply. “I tended two girls for five years as head nurse and was nursemaid before that.” “Well, then, the demands will soon be much greater as we’re about to have a third child. The baby will need close watching byyou, while I tend my boys, especially the heir, a delicate, darling child. Poor duchess,” she said, lowering her voice to a whisper, “doesn’t like pregnancies any more than, they say, the queen her-self did, but that will be over soon, and you’ll be very busy. I’d best get back in to my boys, prepare them to meet their parents at tea, for which I hear you are to tag along. I usually take a nursemaid to keep an eye on Bertie, but you can do that now, and when the new baby arrives, you’ll carry him or her.”
“I’m sure it will be a special time for the lads with their parents.”“ We’ll see,” Mrs. Peters said and, without further ado, went back into the day nursery and closed the door. I felt crestfallen, and I’m sure Mrs. Wentworth knew it. “She becomes overtired,” she told me, patting my shoulder. “Poor thing works so hard and never agrees to take even a short holiday, so it’s good you are here. And she’s so protective and concerned that all goes well with the boys, especially David, but both lads have problems.” “Problems? Such as what, Mrs. Wentworth?” “I’d best let her tell you. How about you come down and have a spot of tea with me in my room to buck you up after your journey? Of course, you won’t take tea with Their Graces, just stand back to tend to the children lest they roil their father and have to be removed. ”Removed? Presented and then removed? I had been so certain that royal children would be well behaved and that the nurse who tended them would at least be welcoming. Suddenly, I missed my Lockwood charges terribly and, for the first time in years, was homesick for my own family too.

Karen hi! Welcome back to The Reading Frenzy.
Tell my readers about your new novel, The Royal Nanny.
 I could call this book “The Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous—and Royal.”  It is based on the life of a real woman, Charlotte Bill, a lower class Cockney nanny who became the “emotional mother” of the six royal children of King George V and Queen Mary, the current queen’s grandparents.  Two of these children became kings of England:  David who became King Edward VIII and Bertie (remember the movie The King’s Speech?) who became King George VI.  John, the youngest child was epileptic and autistic, and Charlotte had to fight to keep him from being “put away” as an embarrassment. 

Charlotte had a love story of her own but she sacrificed much to protect her young charges.  The story begins in the Edwardian era and ends after WW I, so there are a lot of triumphs and tragedies along the way.  It’s a glimpse behind closed doors of both the upstairs royals and downstairs servants.

What an interesting concept for a novel.
How closely does the novel follow the real story?
 The Royal Nanny is what I call “faction,” a term coined by Alex Haley, the author of the novel Roots.  Faction is a mingling of fact and fiction.  I followed history, the people and places to the extent I could research them.  But, of course, some incidents, dialogue and minor characters are invented. 

Staying on this subject and for the layperson, when a book is based on a real story or person, what makes it fiction instead of fact?
 Good question, since it’s a blend of the two things.  Nonfiction is more like the research books I read to be able to bring each character and setting to life.  A biography, , for example, giving details about the lives of the main characters.  Or a book about the fashion or food of that time.  I read a book just describing the Sandringham Estate in England, where much of the action takes place.  But my fiction tries to bring that all to life with walking, talking people interacting with places and other people.

Karen, you went on a research trip to the UK for the novel.
During your research, what did you learn that most surprised you?
 Once again, I’d have to say at Buckingham Palace, which the royals call Buck House.  Seeing it in pictures or on film or researching it on the page does not give the impact of the huge rooms and high ceilings.  Of course, the tour I took does not include the private rooms, but what a place!  We even spent time on the lovely grounds behind the palace where the royals have garden parties.  The queen is not in residence when tours take place. 

You write in many different eras.
Do you have a favorite?
 I have written about a dozen books set in the days of the Tudors, King Henry VIII and especially Queen Elizabeth I.  But I have always loved the Victorian and Edwardian eras (Downton Abbey, anyone?)  It sounds a bit crazy, but my favorite historical era is whatever I’m writing in—as long as it’s in England.

What genres do you like to read?
 I do love to read the genres in which I write.  That includes romantic suspense and thrillers.  I also like biographies of famous people.

Karen, you also have a new romantic suspense series coming starting in December of ’16. 
Tell us about them please.
 THE SOUTH SHORES TRILOGY, which will become a series, is set mostly in Florida (where I’ve lived for 30 lovely winters!) and the Caribbean Islands.  Claire Britten, a forensic psychologist, works for criminal lawyer Nick Markwood, and gets in deeper than she intended with a dangerous case—and with him.  Her life is complicated by a handsome ex-husband, an international pilot, and her precious four-year-old daughter.  Of course, dangerous secrets and situations keep up the pace and passions.  The books can stand alone or be read in order:  Dec., CHASING SHADOWS; Feb., DROWNING TIDES; May, FALLING DARKNESS.

Karen, thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, good luck with the novel.  Will you be attending any authors/signing events in the near future?
 I’m only doing local/Midwest events for a while since my husband is recovering from surgery, but I love meeting readers and often attend the large, national reader signings.  Please visit my website at www.KarenHarperAuthor.com or my fb page at www.facebook.com/KarenHarperAuthor

Thanks, Debbie.  Readers and authors too love THE READING FRENZY.
Awe Thanks Karen! 

 Connect with Karen - Website - Facebook

MEET Karen:
A New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, Karen Harper is a former college English instructor (The Ohio State University) and high school literature and writing teacher. A lifelong Ohioan, Karen and her husband Don divide their time between the midwest and the southeast, both locations she has used in her books. Besides her American settings, Karen loves the British Isles, where her Scottish and English roots run deep, and where she has set many of her historical Tudor-era mysteries and her historical novels about real and dynamic British women. Karen's books have been published in many foreign languages and she won the Mary Higgins Clark Award for 2005. Karen has given numerous talks to readers and writers across the county.
Her author collection is with The Ohio State University Rare Books and Manuscript Library.


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  1. Ooo now this I would enjoy..plus the mention of Russia as a setting!

  2. I like when authors can combine fact with fiction, they make for great stories. ;)

    1. Yes I totally agree Kindlemom, I often wish it was how they would teach history in school, then no one would hate history. :)

  3. This sounds fantastic. I love this blend of fact and fiction particularly around such a key player in the life of the royals.

  4. We need more books that's set in Russia

  5. Oh Debbie. Sh! I love the royals!! I have to read this and so am putting it on my list. I love the idea of the blend and just can't wait to read it.

    1. Well I'm glad I put this in your face then Kathryn :)

  6. Oh that would be amazing "research" getting to see the building and grounds in real life. My house would probably fit in one large room. Ha! Sounds like an awesome read :D

  7. i hope karen harper has watched the lost prince as it shows perfectly the relationship between johnny with his older brother georgie and his nanny Lala. in the queens lost uncle which is actually about johnnys older brother george it also states georgie never gave up on johnny and was the only one in the family who spent time with him whenever he could. it also states that georgie had a closer relationship to lala than the other children minus of course johnny and he was a warmer individual. it doesn't explain that a lot in most sources but in the lost prince it does perfectly