The Diamond of Drury Lane: Reader's Guide
About this book…
Prepare to be transported back to London, 1790. Your guide, Cat Royal, a foundling who lives backstage at Drury Lane Theatre, will take you in to her world of dukes and divas, boxers and baddies, diamonds and danger.
The adventure begins when Cat over hears her guardian, Mr Sheridan, discussing the hiding of a diamond within the theatre to keep it safe from his enemies. Caught eavesdropping, Cat promises to defend it without knowing exactly where he has concealed it. She soon finds out that many people are after the jewel and she will have her work cut out for her. Cat has to decide who she can trust to side with her on her mission. Violin virtuoso Pedro, a young African who was once a slave, seems trustworthy—but is he? Lord Francis and Lady Elizabeth appear pleasant new friends, but are they too much above her to be relied on? And what about their noble father, who wants to keep Cat far away from his posh household. A new face at the theatre, Mr Johnny Smith, is an ally, but he has his own problems being on the run from the law. And worst of all, local gang leader, Billy Shepherd, is out to impress Cat, but once rumour of riches reach him, he is hot on the scent and will cut anyone down who gets in his way.
But all is not what it seems. The diamond has a hidden facet that brings peril rather than plenty to those that try to protect it.
Questions for discussion
1. The theatre lies at the heart in the book with many scenes both on and off stage. Cat clearly is in love with it as she even writes her book like a five act play. What surprised you about the differences between modern theatre and that of Cat’s world? Would you like to live backstage like Cat?
2. Cat has a great many friends from all walks of life, something only made possible in 1790 by the boundary-crossing nature of Drury Lane. Most people in her time had a very strong sense of their place in the world, thinking those of lower classes were their inferiors. What did you think about the different characters’ prejudices against those from other classes and races, for example the Duke of Avon? Who do you think had the most enlightened views?
3. Revolutionary thought is a key theme in the book. Johnny in particular has been inspired by the American and French revolutions to take a stand against the government of the day. Considering his privileged background, do you think he is right to act as he does, running foul of the law, or is Cat correct to think that some of his more extreme ideas about setting up an ideal community in the USA are ‘a load of moonshine’?
4. I wrote the book partly as an antidote to the Jane Austen adaptations we see on TV which makes Georgian England look very tidy and pretty (I hasten to say JA is my favourite writer!). I wanted to show the underbelly of this period. That’s why I included the gangs and slums so you see the grittier side to living then. Were you surprised at how close rich and poor lived in those days, not a mile apart but each in their own bubbles of luxury or squalor? And did you spot the ‘guest appearance’ of a young Jane Austen at one point?
5. Boxing was the football of Georgian England, giving poor boys a chance to earn fame and fortune in the ring. Syd is on the first rungs of this ladder. But it is also a vicious sport, without gloves or modern rules. Would you have liked to have gone to see a fight or would you have been watching through your fingers like Cat? Do you think Syd is on to a good thing or should steer well clear?
6. I researched the book in depth, even going to the extent of looking at the payroll of the real Drury Lane at that time and borrowing some of the names. I find writing historical fiction similar to fantasy – once you know enough you can step through the wardrobe, as in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia, and enter a new world. Did you feel that enough detail was given to allow you to experience Georgian London with all your senses?
7. Cat provides the reader with a glossary. Did you have a favourite Georgian phrase? Do you think we should start using any of these obsolete words again?
8. The balloon pantomime is a real play written by Cat’s contemporary, Elizabeth Inchbald, who both wrote and acted. It was very hard for women to make a living independent of a male guardian in the 1790s. Were you surprised by the attitudes characters such as Lizzie and Cat had to their prospects? If you were/are a woman, would you have liked to live then?
Want to take explore Cat’s World further?
- Why not look up the pictures of cartoonists such as Gillray and Rowlandson and compare them to cartoonists working today
- Follow up the lives of the great actors, Mrs Siddons and Mr Kemble – the Helen Mirren and Johnny Depp of their day. You could even imagine a celeb style interview with them.
- Visit ‘Backstage with Cat’ on my website for a video interview with Mr Sheridan
- Write your own pantomime for Cat and friends to perform
- And if you are feeling very inspired: make a puppet theatre, with all your favourite characters in the leading roles (you can find lots of paintings of Georgian people on line if you look!)
But please, whatever you think of my questions and suggestions, enjoy the book!