Q and A with Wray Delaney

Interview by Rowan Pelling

Wray Delaney is the pen name of Sally Gardner, winner of the Carnegie Medal and best-selling YA author. Delaney has just published her first novel for adults, An Almond for a Parrot, a fantastical erotic romp set amidst the brothels, mansions and back streets of 18th Century London. The book’s heroine, Tully Truegood, is Moll Flanders re-imagined (and given paranormal powers) for a new generation of enthralled readers.

Why did you decide to change tack from YA (young adult) fiction and write an erotic novel instead?

I feel it was a natural progression to move into adult fiction because there is freedom to be found in the novel, not so much in the ideas but in the execution of the writing. When I write for young adults I’m aware that I have to be a gatekeeper, conscious of the effect my story will have on them. The same goes for younger children. Writing for adults you can just spread your wings and fly off into forbidden territories.

The character of Tully seems a close kissing cousin of Moll Flanders. Did you take inspiration from 18th century literature?

The 18th-century is my favourite period in history. I especially like its feisty literary heroines like Fanny Hill and Moll Flanders, who both showed outright enjoyment of sex. Such freedom was soon to be lost to women in 19th-century literature, where guilt and morals take over. Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina definitely did not fare so well under the pen of male retribution.

In the 18th-century, sex work was the one way a woman of humble birth could rise to prominence. Does that intrigue you?

In the period I’m writing about women really didn’t have much in the way of financial assets, because everything they had belonged to their fathers or husbands – apart, that is, from their body and their looks. There are some wonderful stories about women who rose from the gutter to become duchesses. Yes, I know the period is sprinkled with horrendous stories too, but then so is the whole of history. At least in the 18th century there was an honesty about the enjoyment that sex could bring, and all tastes are catered for, unabashed.

Where did the Fairy House come from? Did you find accounts of high-class brothels?

It was based on Mrs. Theresa Cornelys, who opened a high-class brothel in Carlisle house, Soho, known as the Fairy Palace. It was a little later than the date of my book. At the time she was one of the most successful high-class brothel keepers of her day. Her downfall came when she introduced opera. Not having a licence, her enemies went for her and her Fairy Palace disappeared in a puff of smoke. She died penniless, as so many do.

Tully has three key lovers in the book: young and virile, old, rich and wise, and female. Which do you think would be best in bed, and why?

I think the wise lover appeals to me most. I’m tempted by virile but not so much by rich, because that means nothing in bed. Great wealth does not guarantee great sex. Unfortunately I never went to bed with a woman so I have no idea as to where that would come on the Richter scale. Still I think a woman or man who is wise, with a generous dollop of wit, is the recipe for good loving.

It’s not the men in your life that matters, it’s the life in your men
Mae West