Lecturer’s witty take on story is fit for a princess

Karin Fernald’s book animates history for children

Karin Fernald is used to entertaining audiences worldwide with her dramatised lectures on historical figures,

As a speaker for the National Association of Decorative and Fine Art Societies, The Rada trained actress has given lectures on Fanny Burney, Florence Nightingale and Queen Victoria, as far afield as Japan.

Now one of her lectures has inspired a witty book for children. The Dumpy Princess (Frances Lincoln �9.99) tells the tale of the early life of Queen Victoria. Inhabiting a rarified world of palaces and pets, she has to contend with four bad uncles and the wicked Sir John Conroy for company.

These extraordinary characters who loom large in her life make for a witty approach to history that is comically illustrated by Sophie Foster.

“I wanted to explore her fascinating life, how she grew up. She had such varied experiences,” says the author, who has lived in Belsize Park for nine years.When I wrote it I had my god-daughter in mind, who was 12. I do think it has an appeal for all ages though.”

Fernald’s already successful dramatised lectures, which use music and theatre to tell historical stories, inspired her writing for children. “I used to have a lodger, he suggested I turn my lectures into something for children because they were already lively,” says Fernald. “I wrote it 15 years ago and then it was very politely turned down by publishers. I thought: I can’t throw it away.”

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A condensed and accessible version of Victoria’s early life, Fernald used three years of research into archives and Queen Victoria’s diaries to piece together the story, adding humour along the way.

One chapter involves Princess Victoria being seriously ill and Conroy sneakily delaying a doctor, to prevent the princess from taking the throne. Fernald adapted this from archive research. “I found a letter that I got from the Windsor Archives from Lehzen (Victoria’s governess) to John Conroy,” she says. “It was fascinating. It detailed a scenario where Victoria was ill and a doctor could not be reached.”

Fernald credits Hampstead children’s author Kathryn Cave for helping her to get the book published with Kentish Town publisher Frances Lincoln. “Kathryn saw the book and loved the story, she said it had a good flow,” says Fernald. “She absolutely was the reason why the book has been published.”