... Ying S. Lee on her book "The Agency", the Victorian age and Womens' Rights ...

Ying S. Lee... Ying S. Lee on her book "The Agency", the Victorian age and Womens' Rights

zur deutschen Version Hmmm ... the Victorian era, spies, a "strong" woman ... what a lure. I couldn't resist and had the chance to read the first book of the trilogy "The Agency" by Ying S. Lee in English.

I wanted to know more about the person Y.S. Lee (this is the author`s name the book is published with) and contacted her.

Ying was born in Singapore and raised in Vancouver and Toronto. Today she lives in Kingston, Ontario, together with her husband and one son. In 2004, she completed her PhD in Victorian literature and culture. This research, combined with her time living in London, triggered an idea for a story about a women's detective agency.

The Agency - A Spy in the HouseZauberspiegel: Hello Ying, thanks a lot for taking the time for an interview with us. Ying, I contacted you while reading your book “The Agency”. Please do tell us a bit about the book(s).
Ying Lee: The Agency trilogy is set in Victorian London. Its heroine is Mary Quinn, a smart, feisty 17-year-old with a criminal past and an uncertain future. The first novel in the series, A Spy in the House, follows Mary as she's rescued from the gallows, trained as an undercover agent, and sent on her first assignment, into the house of a rich merchant suspected of smuggling. The world of The Agency, a secret all-female intelligence force, is dark and dangerous - far from the "tea and scones" stereotype of historical fiction.
Zauberspiegel: The Victorian setting is – at least I assume it is – pretty popular in Britain and the States. It was the time when Britain still was the great British Empire, with clear social laws and levels, just before the industrial revolution began to change everything. Why do people like
Victorian settings?
Ying Lee: I’m not sure why others like the Victorian period, but I love it because it’s such an exciting time: technology is evolving, world maps are being redrawn, social values are being revolutionized. It’s true that the British Empire was well established, but it was also being challenged and transformed. And while there were clear social hierarchies, women and men constantly rebelled against these. Right now, we think we live in a fast-paced, exciting, potentially confusing era full of change, but the nineteenth century wasn’t that different. It’s simultaneously very like and unlike our own time – a sort of fantasy universe, except that it really did exist.
The Spanish editionZauberspiegel: Does the Agency sell well? How does the media respond to your book? Do readers like it? And have you already managed to have international licenses sold – perhaps even to Germany?
Ying Lee: Sales so far have been very good and I’ve had terrific responses from readers – which is a huge relief, as well as an honour. A Spy in the House, the first novel in the trilogy, will be published in the USA in spring 2010, and I’m so excited to report that DTV has bought German-language rights for the whole trilogy! They’re scheduled to publish the first novel in October 2010. We’ve also sold rights in Spain, Italy and Japan.
Zauberspiegel: You have a degree in Victorian literature, studied history. What made you decide on the Victorian era? What was so appealing to you?
Ying Lee: I was drawn into the period by its literature. I love the work of Charles Dickens, George Eliot, the Brontës, Elizabeth Gaskell, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Tennyson. These writers shaped the way I thought about the era, and made me love the cultural context in which they created their art.
Zauberspiegel: Whenever I think about Victorian, I think about women rights, a rigid social scale and about corsets. About Charles Dickens and the Brontes … Why did you choose this time as the timeperiod for your book?
Ying Lee: I began by wanting to write about the nineteenth century, and for me it was a question of finding a story that fit the period. It’s interesting that you mention the struggle for women’s rights. Women’s choices were grim, even for the clever. You could be a governess (underpaid, powerless – look at Jane Eyre, and remember that’s a happily-ever-after story!).
You could live with your rich relatives as a semi-servant (Jane Austen has a lot to say about that). You could try for a job as a clerk (and earn half what the man next to you did, for doing the same work – some things haven’t changed that much). And to do any of these jobs, you had to be respectable, educated, and extremely long-suffering. Just thinking about it makes me want to scream. So this is where I’ve gone my own way and written a novel that is, in some ways, totally unhistorical. It’s a book about trying to be independent at a time when that was especially challenging.

Zauberspiegel: The Agency reminds me slightly of Charlies Angels and of Sally Lockhart by Philip Pullman. Have others referred to your book in a similar way? And what is it like when ones work is being compared to others in order to identify it in some way?
Ying Lee: I think comparisons are inevitable because they’re an easy way of describing a book quickly. People do mention both Charlie’s Angels and Sally Lockhart, and I generally find it flattering. I watched Charlie’s Angels as a kid, and wanted to be one of them (the dark-haired one).
And I first heard of the Sally Lockhart trilogy after I’d written the first draft of the novel that became A Spy in the House. I panicked and immediately read The Ruby in the Smoke. After reading it, I relaxed – the two books aren’t that close – and felt good about carrying on with my novel. (I changed the heroine’s surname, though: she was originally called Mary Lockett, and that was just too weirdly close.) While I hope The Agency novels have their own merits, I’m always pleased to be mentioned in the same breath as Philip Pullman!

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