Editor of Booktopia’s Six to Twelve BUZZ,
Amelia Vahtrick, talks to
about her new book
The Ruby Talisman
1. The Ruby Talisman was so full of historical detail! Did you do a lot of research for this book?
It took me months! My family and I spent about six weeks in France in 2007 so I wandered the gilded salons and lavish gardens of Versailles, explored extravagant chateaux and townhouses like the ones owned by the Montjoyeuse family and crept through the dank tunnels and catacombs under Paris.
I read dozens of historical books, not just about the history of the French Revolution but about life, clothing, food and etiquette in France during the eighteenth century. Some of these were written by people who experienced the revolution firsthand such as the Memoirs of the Private Life of Marie-Antoinette by Madame Campan (1818), and others were modern histories such as Marie Anotoinette – The Journey by Antonia Fraser (2001), all of which gave me lots of facts to base my story on.
I searched the internet for menus, court protocol and even weather, and kept a notebook of interesting facts and details. We even cooked many of the meals described in the book. The whole research process was fascinating!
I love France – its culture, cooking, landscape, language and history. As a child I remember being fascinated by Queen Marie-Antoinette and reading adventure books such as The Scarlet Pimpernel, with daring plots to rescue innocent aristocrats from the guillotine. While travelling through France, there seemed to be reminders of the French Revolution everywhere we went, so I began imagining all sorts of exciting adventures.
3. Do you speak French? I loved the vocab list at the beginning of the book.
French is such a beautiful language – I love the sound of it being spoken. I learnt French at school (many years ago), and can speak rusty traveller’s French. When I was homeschooling my three children, we started learning French together to prepare us for our time in Europe, but I do find it a difficult language to speak fluently. I used a lot of French phrases in the book, but tried to keep them simple and consistent so hopefully it added to the flavour of the book, not distracted readers from being able to enjoy the story.
4. Can you explain what exactly a time-slip story is, and how it’s different from a time-travel story.
This is a tricky one! My understanding of a time-slip story is where the protagonist travels back in time through supernatural or magical means, such as falling asleep wearing a magic locket or talisman, whereas time travel depends on a more scientific explanation such as a time travel machine or falling through a wormhole. In my last book The Locket of Dreams Sophie, falls asleep wearing a magic locket and slips back and forth in time for short periods, like an invisible ghost, to experience events in the past. In The Ruby Talisman, Tilly also falls asleep wearing a magic pendant, but she stays in the past for the whole adventure, and is physically present as an active, living person.
In many ways, Amelie is how I imagined Queen Marie-Antoinette to be as a teenager. She loves fashion and jewels, she enjoys dancing and horse-riding and being pretty, she is told to marry someone she has never met to suit her family’s aspirations. In the beginning, Amelie is totally thoughtless about the plight of the peasants, however she is essentially a kind and good-hearted person.
Henri is more aware of the political and cultural climate of France, and critical of the regime, yet he is more talk than action, until he personally experiences the plight of the peasants. So for these particular aristocrats, I don’t think they deserved to be murdered, or to lose their home and family. However, while I could never condone the violence of the revolution, I can understand how desperate and angry the French peasants were at the extreme inequality and injustice of their lives, compared to the extravagant lifestyles of the aristocracy. The peasants had been treated so badly for so long, that the resulting revolution was excessively bloody.