Thursday, November 2, 2023

Q&A with Deborah Hopkinson


Photo courtesy of Josh Millman

Deborah Hopkinson is the author of the new middle grade historical novel The Plot to Kill a Queen, which is set in Elizabethan England. Hopkinson's many other books include Titanic: Voices from the Disaster. She lives outside Portland, Oregon.


Q: What inspired you to write The Plot to Kill a Queen, and how did you choose Emilia Bassano as your protagonist?


A: I love history, and was already somewhat familiar with the life of Elizabeth ever since writing the story of Katherine Parr (stepmother to Edward and Elizabeth and wife number six) in Fatal Throne: The Wives of Henry VIII Tell All.


I first heard of the 16th century writer Emilia Bassano Lanyer in 2019, when I happened on a piece in The Atlantic entitled, “Was Shakespeare a Woman?” It explored the case (debunked by Shakespeare scholars) that she could have written Shakespeare’s plays.


Even so, I loved the idea of writing about a contemporary of Shakespeare – especially a woman who accomplished something rare: publishing a book under her own. I decided to make her a wannabe playwright since my own career included a stint as the marketing director for a community theater in Honolulu.


One of the most fun things about this book was that I wrote a one-act play myself! It’s called The Princess Saves the Cakes and is included as an appendix for students to perform.


Q: How did you research the novel, and what did you learn that especially surprised you?


A: Emilia and her trusty spaniel, Mouse, are sent on a mission to spy on Mary, Queen of Scots, held captive in Sheffield Castle. That castle is long gone, but I researched medieval castles, signed up for online historic talks about the Scots Queen, and read academic research papers as well as books about daily life in Elizabethan England. We included some period illustrations to help set the stage!


I think what surprised me the most was learning more about the very complicated life of Mary, Queen of Scots, and how both Elizabeth and Mary, although royalty, were very much influenced by the male advisors in their lives.


Q: The Kirkus Review of the book called it a “fully packed feminist treat.” What do you think of that description?


A: I love it! I’ve written several middle grade historical fiction novels with boy protagonists, so this was a special treat for me. Of all the main characters I’ve imagined, Emilia is probably closest to myself as a young teen.


I remember being shocked to discover all the rights women have had to fight for throughout history, or the barriers erected that prevented women from pursuing professions. To be honest, sometimes I still can’t believe it. 


Q: What do you hope kids take away from the book?


A: First and foremost, I hope they enjoy it. And for readers who love audiobooks, narrator Rosie Jones has done an absolutely incredible job as Emilia. To hear a sample, visit:


And I also hope anyone who has tinkered with the idea of acting onstage, or even just mounting a production at home (as Jane Austen and her family used to do each holiday season), will learn something about theatre and maybe try their hands at acting.


Break a leg!


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I enjoy alternating between fiction and nonfiction. Presently I’m working on a nonfiction book about the Battle of the Bulge, part of a series called World War II Close Up. The first book, They Saved the Stallions, comes out in September 2024. It’s about the rescue of the Lipizzaner horses at the very end of the Second World War.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Kids always ask me if I put people I know into my books. I don’t usually do that – but I DO put my animals.


My cat, Beatrix, appears as Princess Bea (a rat) in my new early reader series, The Adventures of Trim. And my spaniel, Little Rue, is Mousekin in The Plot to Kill a Queen. Rue has previously appeared in another middle grade, How I Became a Spy, set in 1944 London.  She’s quite a time-traveling canine!


Thanks so much for having me!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Deborah Hopkinson.

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