F is for King Fred of Castle Marsh
Here's the skinny on King Fred:
In a nutshell: one-time princeling who became a king by a set of curious chances. He may believe in democracy, but its philosophy's not all he thinks it is
Biggest secret: While castles obey him in times of need, Fred will never be deposed.
Favourite line: This one's from an interview Fred did with author Jemima Pett. It sums him up so well--smart and precise but humble.
“No, it’s really The Castle In The Marsh, but we let people call us Castle Marsh because otherwise it seems so pedantic.”
I have reviewed most (all?) of the Princelings books as they came out. Here are links to those that feature Fred and his twin, George:
Princelings of the East
The Princelings and the Pirates
The Princelings and the Lost City
Since there are so many books, follow this link to Jemima's Amazon page for purchases, and get ready to enjoy the Princelings!
And now for a special treat, I am re-running an interview I did with Jemima Pett in September 2015, when she first brought out the paperback copies of all the books to date.
Since Jemima lives in Norfolk, UK, I have left her British spelling in place!
NL: I know that you started by telling stories about the adventures of your own guinea pigs, but how did you get from Fred and George in your garden to princelings, pirates, and flying machines?
JP: I think it originated in an online guinea pig forum where we had a thread which was telling stories a few sentences at a time. I remember a castle with a tunnel in the corner, and guinea pigs going through it to an alternative universe which ran on strawberry juice. One of the pigs that they met was a large white woolly one called Random – who turns up as the ghost in the Pirates adventure! I think the online story petered out, and it didn't star Fred and George, I don't think, but that's where the inspiration for castles and tunnels, and strawberry juice came from. Then I came up with the titles, and away we went.
When they were out in the garden eating the grass, George used to look up when a small blue biplane from our local flying club went over. He seemed to track it across the sky, although guinea pig eyesight is not supposed to be good at distance, so maybe it was the sound. But that inspired me to make him keen on flying – and that's why we're only at the biplane stage in the Realms, around 100 years after they were invented in our world.
NL: Many of your characters are based on, or at least named for, real cavies you have known. Do their real personalities ever get in the way of the characters you are trying to develop for the stories? I’m assuming these tales have rather run away from their origins as fun adventures for your own pets!
JP: Yes, my boys (sorry, pets) don't get up to these sort of adventures on their own! Although it's amazing how close some of the characters stay to the characters of the original animals. Humphrey in Book 5 is pure Humphrey as I knew him. Colman (Book 5 onwards) is the problem character, since when I wrote him in the first place, the guinea pig had not been with me long, and resented having been rehomed from a very loving home. He was angry with me for having taken him from his former 'Mum' and let me know it with his teeth, a lot! Ten months later he decided I wasn't so bad after all, and now he is the most loving of all the pigs I have (although he occasionally reminds me of George), and has reached the grand old age of 7, which is well over 90 in human equivalent. But he's still the baddie in the books, along with Smallweed, who he used to live with. Finding baddies for the books is a problem, although the character interviews on my blog of Ludo (not a guinea pig) and Smallweed (someone else's), show that some of these characters have some decidedly nasty streaks!
NL: Totally unfair question: who among your characters is your favorite?
How long have you got? Fred and George, Victor and Hugo will always be very special to me, as they were in life. It's why, despite writing him out of the timeline as the baddie in the first book, Hugo (Mariusz) will just not go away! The favourite is probably Kira, though. I don't have any female guinea pigs, which is why, especially in the first book, it seems such a male-dominated society. That changes as things go on. Kira is the sort of person I'd really like to be. She's a real hero.
NL: George is constantly inventing new things, especially forms of transportation. In what way are these bringing him closer to fulfilling the promise made to Mariusz at the end of the first book?
JP: At the end of book 6, Bravo Victor, we get a pretty good steer from George where he thinks these inventions are leading. When I wrote Book 1, I had no idea what was going to happen, except that they did fulfill their promise. In a way I wish I hadn't put that epilogue in the first book, but left it open ended. On the other hand, if I can write it well enough, I hope I'm going to be able to create a sort of 'will they, won't they' tension, like I saw in a fabulous musical called 1776, which is about the writing of the Declaration of Independence. You really can't believe that they'll come to an agreement by July 4th, as the days tick down off the calendar at the back of the set!
Anyway, I haven't answered the question yet. Yes, you'll see that George's flying machines get more elaborate as time goes by. He's learning, and other people are learning and sharing their ideas, and that's how technology progresses – mostly by small steps, but sometimes by giant leaps. And most giant leaps are due to conflict, I'm afraid to say. 'Necessity is the mother of invention' is very true.
NL: While we are on the subject of George’s inventions, how do you see them impacting the essentially feudal agrarian society in which the books are set?
JP: This is a fascinating subject, the social change that is brought about by technological change. Look at the changes in society brought about by the Industrial Revolution, people leaving their lives as peasants on farms and working in factories and in mines and so on, and the changes in the way urban life was organised as a result. I'm trying to avoid mining in my Realms, but there is a small amount going on, in order to make metal goods – and glass. Social change in the 20th Century is another example – from lords and servants to a far more egalitarian society. People don't have such specialised jobs any more and look what we are doing with the massive computers we keep in our pockets! Reading books written by authors we would otherwise never have heard of, chatting to people on the other side of the world from our bedrooms, or on buses.
The trouble with social change is that if you start with a feudal world with some people who set all the rules, there is a tendency for some of the 'peasants' to say "hang on, we are capable of doing this ourselves, who gave you the right to tell us what to do?" So there is going to be a huge change in the world of the Princelings. After book 6 the vampires mostly leave because of the garlic in the strawberry juice fuel cells! Displaced people and population growth are becoming pressure points, and this will be made worse by kings who exile 'troublemakers', i.e. people that disagree with their right to rule.
NL: Sounds like there's a lot of interesting stuff to look forward to!
One final question: The series currently has 6 books* (I’m not sure, but I think The Princelings and the Pirates might be my favorite. Or maybe Talent Seekers. Or Bravo Victor…). Do you have an idea how many more books there will be? There is a story to complete still, so I know there will be more (even though it’s been a long wait while you write for a more grown-up audience)!
JP: Interesting that you picked Pirates first. My out and out favourite is Lost City, despite its dark secrets. I'm planning two more Princelings books, with working titles, Chronicles of Willoughby the Narrator (I think I've written about a third of it, but it's too long) and Princelings Revolution. From what I've said about change you might guess that revolution is on the way. I'm just not sure where Willoughby's story stops and where the last one starts. I think I need to write them both, to make sure all the detail ties up. As you have spotted, I'm writing a science fiction series for grown-ups, the Viridian System series, the first of which, The Perihelix, is due out this winter, and the second probably for the following autumn/winter. Then I can immerse myself back in the turmoil of the Princelings world. Maybe we're talking about Willoughby coming out in 2017. That would work well for me, since the last book will end in 2021, even though it will probably come out before that.
There'll probably be a short story or two about the Princelings world before that, and I usually do a serial for Christmas on the Princelings website each year, the last two of which have taken events in their world forward and introduced Willoughby to the fans. That helps me measure the pace of change in the Realms, too!
Thanks for inviting me to your website today, and good luck with your own books – I'm a fan of the Ninja Librarian too!
And thank you so much for coming! I look forward to the next books, both in the Viridian System and the Princelings.
*Watch for the 7th book on April 27--that's W for Willoughby the Narrator!