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Posts tagged ‘Caraboo’

The Curious Tale of The Lady Caraboo by Catherine Johnson


I would like to thank the publisher Corgi Books for sending me a copy of the book (this in no way affected my view of the book or my review that follows.)

The Curious Tale of the Lady Caraboo by Catherine Johnson (read my interview with the author here) has just recently been published to much praise. When I received it, I had no idea what I was in store for (I received a proof copy with no blurb on the back!) and so I dove into it without knowing what genre or indeed even what story I was entering into. This, I might add, is actually a great way to start reading – I went in with no preconceptions or ready-made ideas about the story and therefore judged it entirely on its own merit.

A very curious tale indeed . . .

Out of the blue arrives an exotic young woman from a foreign land. Fearless and strong, ‘Princess’ Caraboo rises above the suspicions of the wealthy family who take her in.

But who is the real Caraboo?

In a world where it seems everyone is playing a role, could she be an ordinary girl with a tragic past? Is she a confidence trickster? Or is she the princess everyone wants her to be?

Whoever she is, she will steal your heart . . .

This book is rich with beautiful language, vivid images and scenes, a strong sense of place and an abundance of interesting characters. It is based on the real life story of Mary Baker, nee Wilcocks, a real-life imposter who fooled people in England in the 1860s that she was really Princess Caraboo, an exotic young woman from a far away land. The book has fictional elements, and adds character and drama to make the story even more exciting and readable.

Catherine Johnson has a real flair for creating scenes and imagery that makes the reader feel like they are really there in that time and place:

He left the room and went out into the sunshine. It was a perfect summer’s day: swallows criss-crossed the high blue sky, and the distant hills shimmered. On the terrace his sister and Diana were giggling over some joke of Edmund’s. Fred could hear the wheels and hoof beats of a two-seater coming down the drive…

She makes England in the 1800s feel completely accessible and feel like home; her language is poetic and vivid. Often, when reading historical novels, I struggle to immerse myself into the story because the language creates almost a barrier between myself and the world I’m trying to delve into. This wasn’t the case at all with this book.

Catherine also builds characters and personalities to great effect to add depth to the story. One of the main characters, Cassandra, the daughter of the Worrall family, is a sweet and kind enough girl, but is endlessly fickle and easily swayed by outside forces. She really has no idea of her own mind or indeed her own feelings, which seem to change along with the weather. She acts as a stark and effective contrast to Caraboo, who, behind her mysterious exterior mask, is headstrong and sure of herself. She can take care of herself in a way that Cassandra can’t, because Cassandra has been cushioned and protected by her privilege and good fortune, whereas Caraboo (Mary) has had to build a resilience to world and all of its cruelty. She builds herself this new identity because she has been horrifically abused and tortured in the past. The only person she can trust is herself. This is so different to Cassandra, who takes an immediate liking and forms an immediate trusting bond with Caraboo. Cassandra is bored and sees in Caraboo a sister, a friend, someone to occupy her.

Caraboo has an effect on everyone around her, and everyone becomes either mesmerised by her or suspicious of her. Cassandra’s brother Fred, initially portrayed as a selfish, one-dimensional character with a one-track mind, quite rightly distrusts her from their first meeting. However, this is an example of how much power Caraboo has on other people, because slowly she begins to win him around and eventually convinces him of her identity as an estranged princess. What follows throughout the novel is how she uses Fred’s trust, and the trust of people around her, to gain what she needs in order to stay alive.

Because we know a little bit of Caraboo’s past, as a reader we can sympathise with her, we understand why she does what she does. Catherine Johnson has built a character in this book with two identities; both of whom we fall in love with. Her journey is fascinating, fast-paced, heart-wrenching and uncertain. She faces terrifying enemies and makes sweet and loving friends. But how will it all end? What will happen if they find out who she truly is?

This is an absolute treat of a novel. I genuinely raced through the book and came away from it having had a truly valuable reading experience. I urge you to try it.

Introducing Author and TV Writer Catherine Johnson

I am absolutely thrilled and very lucky to be able to host an interview with the wonderful Catherine Johnson, writer of many, many books and TV projects (her CV includes writing for Holby City). Her most recent book, The Curious Tale of the Lady Caraboo, has just published (and is immensely enjoyable – review to follow) and in this interview she discusses her excitement about the book and her experience working with children, prisoners, and publishers. Enjoy!

The gorgeous Catherine Johnson

The gorgeous Catherine Johnson

Please can you tell me a little bit about yourself and an overview of your career so far?

Gosh that’s hard. It’s been a long and not quite illustrious career although I have managed to be a full time writer since about 2007. I’ve worked around writing, as well as written, for most of the last twenty years. I’ve published 17 books, written one feature film (that got made- Bullet Boy – I have one in development), worked as a writer in residence in a prison and several schools, worked in local bookshops and in literature development, written for radio and TV and feel that I am amazingly lucky still to be published.

Tell me a little bit about the first time you got published and how it came about.

Oh this is a long story. I didn’t start writing until after I had two children. I trained at film school and thought that was what I was going to do. So when I had two little children I started writing a film script which went into development. That stalled but I sent an outline for a kids’ drama show to a TV company. I had a massive stroke of luck, someone in the TV office knew someone starting up a small publisher who was looking for books set in Wales for teens. They sent it on – I would never have thought I could write a book (all those words) – and the small publisher sent me on lots of courses at Ty Newydd (which is like the Welsh Arvon) and on a master class with Bernice Rueben (Booker prize winning novelist, now dead) and I learnt and learnt. Then when I had done one I enjoyed it so much I wrote another….and another.

“It’s the character. Get the character and you have the voice.”

What attracts you to writing historical fiction? How do you go about researching for your historical works?

I’m really not a historian – in fact I wasn’t allowed to take History GCSE (They were O levels when I was 15) as I had the worst mark in my whole year. But I loved historical dramas on TV – there was lots of Leon Garfield and I love the clothes. I always wanted to wear the frocks. And there was never anyone like me on TV when I was growing up wearing fantastic frocks. My first ever historical novel was set in regency London just because I liked the dresses!

It’s also important to me to write stories that remind readers that London has been a world city forever. I love Liza Picard’s books about London, and Peter Fryer’s Staying Power. I also use maps. Lots and lots of maps. That’s another brilliant thing about London, a lot of the street patterns are just the same as they were hundreds of years ago.

How do you go about finding the right voice and tone for your Young Adult novels?

It’s the character. Get the character and you have the voice.

You write novels, short stories, film and TV scripts. Which would you say is the most rewarding, and why? Which is the most difficult?

Financially rewarding? TV! I do love writing books but I can’t make a living at it. You can just do what you want in a book because it’s all down to you, which is lovely but I also enjoy the collaborative way of writing for TV. I like both! I am very lucky to do both.

What project/book/published pieces of yours are you currently most excited about?

I am so scared and excited about Caraboo. [Her new book The Curious Tale of the Lady Caraboo – review to follow shortly.] It’s horrible just before a book comes out because you try and try to keep a lid on your expectations but you always hope it will do well. But it’s also scary because people might actually not like it.

Catherine's book has just recently published.

Catherine’s book has just recently published.

You do school visits and run writing workshops. Which have particularly stuck in your memory and why?

Ooh, that’s interesting. I enjoy seeing lots of different schools. I’ve been very lucky I’ve been writer in residence in Holloway prison which was really fascinating. And I got invited back to my old school which was terrifying. I love seeing the stories school students come up with.

Why is it important to run workshops and talks for young people? Do you find there is a strong interest in writing among young people?

I think when you’re at school it’s often the case that students think if they’re no good at writing essays then they’re no good at writing stories. I see it as a bit of a mission to prove otherwise!

What awards or achievements are you most proud of?

I’m proud of my children (I know) and all of my books (except maybe the first) and last year after years of being nominated for prizes but never winning, Sawbones won the Young Quills award for best historical fiction for 12+

What are you working on at the moment, and what are you reading?

I read loads. Just loved Poppy in the Field by Mary Hooper, Liberty’s Fire by Lydia Syson, Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge and Viper Wine by Hermione Eyre. I’m working on a contemporary YA set in my new hometown, Hastings, I’ve got a film project in development and (so excited) a TV series optioned…

This is my website:
But I also blog once a month on the 14th at and on the 28th at

You can also follow me on Twitter at @catwrote

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