A Humble Companion has been in my Some Day, Maybe file for a very long time. In fact it all began so long ago I can no longer remember where I first heard the whispered story of Princess Sofy, but I do know it hooked my interest immediately.
I think it was when Young Adult emerged as a genre. Suddenly all kinds of novelists were getting into YA, the barriers were down and writers were leaping this way and that, like the Gymnastic Corps at the Edinburgh Tattoo. So when I told my publishers I’d like to write Sofy’s story they barely blinked.
I said, ‘I’ll do it under a different name, if you like.’
‘That’s okay,’ they said, looking at my sales figures. ‘These can’t get much worse. Just go ahead.’
I already knew Nellie Buzzard would be my narrator. Princess Sofy’s brother, the Prince of Wales truly did have a steward called Ludwig Weltje – there’s actually a street named for him in Hammersmith – and Mr Weltje did have daughters, one of whom married a confectioner. The Humble Companion role for Nellie arose from another of those strange but likely snippets whose provenance I’ve now forgotten. But it sort of makes sense. In George III’s vast family most of the boys were born before most of the girls and it’s possible the King observed how the Princes were turning out and thought there was room for improvement. George was a monarch who liked to get off his horse and talk to ordinary men so I find it quite believable that he thought the company of a sensible commoner would be good for his daughters.
Writing A Humble Companion has been such a pleasure. It required far more research than anything else I’d ever written and a morning spent at Kew Gardens is infinitely more fun than a morning seated in front of a blank page. Also, the period called for a more elegant use of language and I enjoyed that challenge too.
‘But Laurie,’ objected one friend, ‘historical fiction? How’s that going to work? You’ve always written comedy.’
So I would just like to reassure my loyal but perhaps apprehensive readers that humour is not a 20th century invention and that they will find my fingerprints all over this book.