Why did I write a book about a boy? I had in mind a story about a child alone and on the road in Elizabethan England. I knew a girl likely would not survive there in those somewhat brutal times. And I don’t believe that in a world with so little privacy, she could successfully disguise herself as a boy for long. She wouldn’t have access to a private bedroom or dressing rooms or bathrooms. London did have one public restroom—a plank with 18-holes, emptying directly into the Thames River. In fact using the whole world as a toilet—streets, fields, the halls of great houses—was so common that a book of manners from 1731 stated that it was impolite to stop and greet someone who is urinating. So it had to be a boy, and Will Sparrow was born.
It was important to me to build a Will who was believable, true to his character, his gender, and his times. My first attempts made Will more like a girl in britches so I had to do a lot more research. I read books on psychology and child development. I spoke to boys and mothers of boys. I watched boys at the bus stop and my husband and his friends at play. The resulting Will has boundless energy, his voice is changing, he distrusts displays of emotion, and he longs to grow facial hair. But he lives in a time that was more chaotic and dangerous so he is extremely vulnerable. There was no concept of adolescence so a boy of thirteen, no longer a child, was considered a man, with the responsibilities of a man.
I hope I have managed to construct a Will who is believable, not a stereotype, and wholly entertaining. Let me know what you think.
This article originally appeared on the Green Bean Teen Queen blog.