We all love princesses, right? It would be cool, most little girls think, to be a princess.
All princesses are beautiful. Rich. Adored. Who wouldn’t want to be one?
Me. I wouldn’t want to be a princess. I decided that when I was quite young, and I’ve never had cause to change my mind.
I was one of those girls who resisted being put into fancy dresses (partly because anything made of polyester or nylon, eg lace, makes me come out in a rash). I liked plain.
Furthermore, it was clear to me from watching the Queen on TV that the royal family had a horrible life. Everyone watching them all the time. Always having to be in your good clothes (and we all know that good clothes = uncomfortable clothes). And Princesses, in particular, it seemed to me, had to be boring. Sitting around quietly and smiling All The Time.
Princess Anne was, I admit, an exception to that, and I remain vastly admiring of her hard work and talent (no one gets into the Olympic horse jumping team because they’re royal).
But the princesses in books… no thanks.
On the other hand, I’ve always thought that girls could have adventures just as well as boys, and that our culture derides female ‘virtues’ as worthless. So the first children’s story I ever wrote was called The Virtues of Felicity, and it was about a princess who, when told that there was a dragon who had taken over a hangar at the airport who wanted to talk to her, ignored all the protests of her family and security detail, walked to the airport because their wouldn’t drive her there (all the dancing at balls every night had made her quite fit), and talked to the dragon, because she was brave. He told her all about all the places he had visited. She took notes, because she had learned patience sewing enormous tapestries for the castle walls. And when he had finished, she thanked him, because she was very polite. As soon as she did, he turned from a dragon into a prince dressed in very old-fashioned clothes, who had been cursed by a wizard. The wizard hadn’t thought he would ever find a princess who was brave, and patient, and polite. So they got married, of course!
Later on, I wrote a story called Betony’s Sunflower, which was about a princess who was trying to get around the old fairy-story idea of setting a quest for some princes to decide who to marry. She set them a quest all right – to take care of a garden bed for a year and a day, because she wanted to marry the gardener’s apprentice. Which she did.
That was the first appearance of Princess Betony, and I’ve been filling in the years between her birth and that moment ever since.
Now I’m older and can buy my own clothes (silk and cotton are fine), I’ve come to appreciate a good frock, so the basic idea of the Betony books is that a girl can have great adventures, be brave and decisive and interesting – and be polite and kind and like nice frocks.
In other words, a girl doesn’t have to turn herself into a fake boy in order to have adventures.
On the other hand, princesses still seem to me to have a boring life, and as someone living in a democratic country, I’m not comfortable with the whole class system which underpins royalty. So Betony’s stories are also about her challenging that role, that sytem, and pushing to be allowed to explore the magical and rather wonderful world she lives in – and by doing that, she discovers a great deal about herself.
So far, we have three Betony books in hardback, with a fourth, Princess Betony and the Hobgoblin, coming in July, along with the other three in paperback. I’m so excited to see this book – it’s my favourite of the Betony books!
Pamela Freeman is an Australian author of books for children and adults. Her books include the junior novels Victor's Quest and Victor's Challenge. Pamela's most recent books include the picture book Desert Lake: The Story of Kati Thanda - Lake Eyre (part of the Nature Storybook series) and Princess Betony and the Hobgoblin, the latest book in the Princess Betony series (released in July 2016), both published by Walker Books. Visit Pamela's website for more information about her books and author events.