> Zed Book Club / Her Heart For A Compass

Photos: Ship (Print Collector/Getty); Compass (Riorita/Getty); Sarah Ferguson (Courtesy of Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York)

> Bookshelf

Her Heart For A Compass

Sarah, Duchess of York, draws on her own life as a Royal and that of her great-great aunt to pen a historical romance set in the Victorian era / BY Leanne Delap / August 13th, 2021

The greatest appeal of the British Royal Family is the fairy-tale romance part. When the flame-haired, free-spirited Sarah Ferguson married her prince in 1986, her love story became part of the myth making. Although Prince Andrew and Sarah, Duchess of York, separated in 1992 and divorced in 1996, the couple get on famously, and live in separate wings of Royal Lodge in Windsor Great Park. But Ferguson, who was stripped of her HRH title, has had to earn a living and continues to try her hand at an unusual array of new ventures. The latest is her first novel for adults, Her Heart for a Compass, a historical romance inspired by an ancestor.



While not exactly the bodice-ripper it was rumoured to be, this light and frothy tale weighs in at more than 500 pages. (There are three rather chaste smooches in the saga, but one is with a hot priest, so bonus points for evoking Fleabag.) Though the reviews have been mixed (“interminable doorstopper” was the verdict in London’s The Telegraph), the book has traction. Variety reported this week the Duchess is in talks with top streaming services to adapt the saga for film. After the success of Bridgerton, it seems there is an appetite for the fan-fluttering, heavy-breathing-in-corsets genre. Note that Ferguson was a producer on 2009 miniseries Young Victoria, so she has some experience in this area.

Ferguson is the rare celebrity who openly and fully shares credit with her co-author, Marguerite Kay, who has penned some 50 books for the venerable romance house Mills & Boon. In the business of heaving bosoms since 1908, Mills & Boon was celebrated as a national treasure in the Second World War when the few books it printed under rationing were shared throughout the land as a welcome distraction. The publishing house merged with Canada’s Harlequin romance books in the 1970s. Her Heart for a Compass was published Aug. 10 HarperCollins Canada.

Ancestral Ties

Little is known about Lady Margaret Montagu Douglas Scott, Ferguson’s great-great aunt, who was born in Scotland in 1846. She was daughter of the fifth Duke of Buccleuch and his wife, Charlotte, and made her own ambitious marriage to Donald Cameron of Lochiel, the 24th Chief of the Clan Cameron; the couple were evidently chummy with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. After raising four sons, Lady Margaret died in 1918 at 71. Ferguson has been tinkering with the idea of building a character around her great-great aunt, who shared her bold, red hair, for the past 15 years. She explained her creative process to Tatler: “With real historical events and facts to hand, my imagination took over,” she said. “I invented a history for her that incorporated real people and events, including some of my other ancestors. I created a friendship between my heroine and Princess Louise, Queen Victoria’s sixth child, and I drew on many parallels from my life for Lady Margaret’s journey.”

Indeed, the element of female friendship is stronger in the novel than the romance stuff, as shown through correspondence from the fictional Lady Margaret to her girlfriends at home in England and Ireland. It is set in the mid-1800s, but reimagined through a modern, feminist lens.

Sarah Ferguson


Runaway Bride-to-be

The novel’s protagonist is a firecracker. We meet her in 1865, moments before her parents are set to announce her engagement at a ball at midnight. Her mother arranged the marriage for political and dynastic and financial reasons. Lady Margaret admits her husband-to-be seems good on paper, but secretly suspects he does not admire her, and he certainly does not make her heart flutter. In fact, he has an annoying, strangled cough that makes her skin crawl. At 17, she doesn’t even know herself yet and yearns madly for freedom. That is a wishful-thinking kind of anachronism: the fact that freedom for women was not really possible in the mid-1800s, especially for a noblewoman, is not impediment to this story. But where there is a will, Lady M finds a way!

It is not spoiling the plot to say that Lady Margaret bolts from the announcement and is banished by her mortified family. In an unlikely but cinematic turn, she flees to Ireland, and lands, eventually, in New York. The authors toss trials and challenges and roadblocks at their intrepid protagonist, who establishes a career as a ladies periodical journalist and children’s book writer with a solid resume of hands-on charity work. Some 400 pages later, circa 1876, she does find her soulmate. Revealing more would be uncharitable to readers who make their way through the breathy pages.

The writing is commensurate with the genre. It carries you along, occasionally stopping you short with some ye-olde-time tropes and expressions. “I am your daughter and not your chattel!” is a classic. There are loads of interactions with dogs, which Lady M really likes, and there are, of course, horses. Here is an example of how many words it took in posh circles to say you went riding: “Though I have really no grounds for complaint, for I was permitted to try out one of Mr. Astor’s mares, and he deemed me competent enough to grant me the use of her every day, which was a real treat.”

The literary devices, such as Lady M’s letters, journalistic reports (sadly less arch and gossipy than Lady Whistledown in Bridgerton) and fleeting historical mentions help explain the grand politesse of the Victorian era. This is the book’s press account about Lady M’s arrival in America aboard the Scotia ship: “Readers who are imagining a faded, aged spinster peeress and her down-at-the-heel paid companion should prepare to have their expectations quite confounded. Lady Margaret is 21 years of age, flame haired and perfectly proportioned … with a charming and unaffected manner.”

Sarah Ferguson
Portrait of author Sarah Ferguson. Photo: Courtesy of Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York


Real-life parallel

Ferguson herself has always been the jolly and relatable royal. She is unabashedly herself, and the genteel, daredevil character of Lady M reflects the woman we have come to know. Ferguson has overcome many scandals – from the pictures that surfaced in 1992 of her lover sucking her toes on holiday in France that is mentioned in virtually every story about her, to the 2010 News of the World sting operation when she agreed to sell access to Prince Andrew for cash. She has tried many different career hats on, from shilling for Weight Watchers to Wedgewood China.

But books are not new territory for her. As her nephew Harry and his wife Meghan’s book deals start to pile up, they have Auntie Fergie’s example to follow in the publishing world. Ferguson, in a “Lunch With” column in the Financial Times to promote the novel, threw roses to Meghan, whose first children’s book, The Bench, has been panned by critics. “I really am proud of William and Harry and their wives,” she says. As for Meghan’s book, “For anyone to write anything like that is good.”

Dismiss Ferguson at your peril: her books to date have sold some 1.5 million copies. In addition to her 2012 memoir, Finding Sarah, there have been bestselling self-help books such as What I Know Now and Reinventing Yourself with the Duchess of York, plus dining and dieting books to round out her personal brand. Long before her grandchildren started arriving, she was writing children’s books: in addition to her Budgie the Little Helicopter series, there has been Arthur Fantastic, a Little Red series (about a red-haired girl) and a Genie Gems series.

You can’t accuse Ferguson of resting on her laurels, or sleeping on her deadlines. You also have to admire her tenacity as she survives the slings and arrows of the Royal Family. Prince Philip famously shunned her after the aforementioned toe-sucking incident. She has stood by Prince Andrew as the scandal around his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein grew and the Queen removed him from official duties. Fergie, who calls Prince Andrew “her rock,” has been a rock for her ex. Last week, when the book was launched, Virginia Giuffre filed a civil lawsuit in New York claiming she was a victim of sex trafficking and that the prince sexually assaulted her when she was 17 at the London home of Epstein’s friend, Ghislaine Maxwell, and at Epstein’s homes in New York and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

With Princess Beatrice expecting the couple’s second grandchild this fall, the real-life, flame-haired rebel is doing her best to keep calm and carry on.


Prince Harry’s ‘Spare’ Continues to Break Worldwide RecordsThe book also seems to have put a dent in the popularity of members of the Royal Family — including the Prince and Princess of Wales.

Prince Harry’s Memoir Breaks U.K. Sales Record On First Day of ReleaseThe publisher of the new memoir, 'Spare", says it had sold 400,000 copies so far across hardback, e-book and audio formats.

Barack Obama’s Favourite Books of 2022The former U.S. president’s 13 titles include Canadians Emily St. John Mandel and Kate Beaton, as well as tomes from Michelle Obama, George Saunders and Jennifer Egan

Here are the 5 Books on Bill Gates’ Holiday Reading ListThe billionaire philanthropist is giving hundreds of copies to little libraries around the world

Sheila Heti and Eli Baxter Among 2022 Governor General’s Literary Award WinnersToronto writer Sheila Heti took home the fiction award for 'Pure Colour,' a novel the GG peer assessment committee called "a work of genius."

Suzette Mayr Wins $100,000 Scotiabank Giller Prize for ‘The Sleeping Car Porter’The 2022 Giller Prize jury called Mayr's novel "alive and immediate — and eerily contemporary."

Writers’ Trust of Canada Awards: Authors Nicholas Herring, Dan Werb Nab Top PrizesThe Writers' Trust of Canada awards amounted to a combined monetary prize value of $270,000.

Bob Dylan Releases ‘The Philosophy of Modern Song,’ a Book of Essays Dissecting 66 Influential SongsIn his new book, Bob Dylan offers up both critique and historical insight into various musical recordings of the last century by a variety of popular artists.

Prince Harry’s Memoir ‘Spare’ Will Be Published in January 2023The long-awaited memoir will tell with "raw unflinching honesty" Prince Harry's journey from "trauma to healing", his publisher said on Thursday.

Sri Lankan Author Shehan Karunatilaka Wins 2022 Booker PrizeKarunatilaka won the prestigious prize on Monday for his second novel ‘The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida’, about a dead war photographer on a mission in the afterlife.

Canadian Council for the Arts Reveals Governor General’s Literary Awards FinalistsThe finalists for the Governor General's Literary Awards spotlight books in both the English and French language, as well as translated works.

New Penguin Random House Award Named After Michelle Obama Will Honour High School WritersMichelle Obama Award for Memoir will provide a $10,000 college scholarship to a graduating public school senior based on their autobiographical submission.

French Author Annie Ernaux, 82, Becomes First French Woman to Win Nobel Prize for LiteratureThe author said, of winning, that "I was very surprised ... I never thought it would be on my landscape as a writer."

Hilary Mantel, Award-Winning British Author of ‘Wolf Hall’ Trilogy, Dies at 70Wolf Hall, published in 2009, and its sequel Bring Up the Bodies, released three years later, both won the Booker Prize, an unprecedented win for two books in the same trilogy and making Mantel the first woman to win the award twice.

Prince William “Cannot Forgive” Prince Harry, According to ‘The New Royals’ Author Katie NichollPrince William “just cannot forgive his brother,” according to Katie Nicholl, author of 'The New Royals: Queen Elizabeth’s Legacy and the Future of the Crown.'

Five Finalists Announced for Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for NonfictionThe winner — to be announced on November 2 — will take home the annual $60,000 prize.

Peter Straub, Bestselling American Horror Writer, Dies at 79Friend and co-author Stephen King has said the author's 1979 book, "Ghost Story," is his favourite horror novel.

Rawi Hage, Billy-Ray Belcourt and Sheila Heti Make the 2022 Scotiabank Giller Prize Long ListThe jury read 138 books to choose 14 titles for the long list, one of which will win the $100,000 prize, one of the richest in Canadian literature

Salman Rushdie, Novelist Who Drew Death Threats, Is Stabbed at New York LectureThe Indian-born novelist who was ordered killed by Iran in 1989 because of his writing, was attacked before giving a talk on artistic freedom.

Raymond Briggs, Creator of Beloved Children’s Tale ‘The Snowman’, Dies at 88First published in 1978, the pencil crayon-illustrated wordless picture book sold more than 5.5 million copies around the world while a television adaption became a Christmas favourite in Britain and was nominated for an Oscar.

Canadian Author Emily St. John Mandel Makes Barack Obama’s 2022 Summer Reading ListObama's list includes everything from fiction to books on politics, cultural exploration and basketball.

Canadian Author Rebecca Eckler to Launch RE:books Publishing House Focused on Female Authors and Fun ReadsThe former National Post columnist says her tagline is ‘What’s read is good, and what’s good is read.’”

Brian Thomas Isaac’s “All the Quiet Places” wins $5,000 Indigenous Voices AwardThe B.C. author, a retired bricklayer, drew on his childhood growing up on the Okanagan Indian reserve for his coming-of-age story set in 1956

Canadian-American Author Ruth Ozeki Wins Women’s Book Prize for “The Book of Form and Emptiness”The UK judges said her fourth novel, inspired in part by the Vancouver Public Library, contained "sparkling writing, warmth, intelligence, humour and poignancy."

The Bill Gates Summer Reading List Includes a Sci-Fi Novel On Gender Inequality Suggested by His DaughterBill Gates' summer reading list includes fiction and non-fiction titles that cover gender equality, political polarization and climate change.

American novelist Joshua Cohen wins the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for “The Netanyahus”The 2022 Pulitzer prizes include this satirical look at identity politics, focused on the father of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at a crucial time in the Jewish state’s history

Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro Among Canadian Authors Recognized in Commemorative Reading List Marking Queen’s Platinum JubileeThe authors are among six Canadian scribes included on the The Big Jubilee Read list.

Queen Elizabeth II’s Aide Reveals Details of Life in Royal Pandemic Lockdown in New Addition to BookAngela Kelly, who's worked for the Queen for 20 years, discusses everything from cutting the Queen's hair to "the light and laughter that was shared ... even in the darkest moments."

New Leonard Cohen Story Collection, ‘A Ballet of Lepers,’ Set for October ReleaseThe collection features a novel, short stories and a radio play written between 1956 and 1961.

Archived Letters Reveal How Toni Morrison Helped MacKenzie Scott Meet Future Husband Jeff BezosBezos hired Scott at the hedge fund where he worked after receiving a recommendation from Morrison. Shortly thereafter, the pair married and Scott helped Bezos launch Amazon.

Prince Harry’s Memoir is Set to Rock the MonarchyFriends say the California-based royal got a million-pound book deal to write "an intimate take on his feeling about the family."

European Jewish Congress Asks Publisher to Pull Anne Frank BookThe Congress says 'The Betrayal of Anne Frank' has "deeply hurt the memory of Anne Frank, as well as the dignity of the survivors and the victims of the Holocaust."

Canadian Author Details Anne Frank Cold-Case Investigation That Named Surprise Suspect in Her Family’s Betrayal in New BookAhead of the 75th anniversary of the publication of Frank's 'The Diary of a Young Girl' in June, a team that included a retired FBI agent and around 20 historians, criminologists and data specialists identified a relatively unknown figure as a leading suspect in revealing her family's hideout.

Man Who Tricked Authors Into Handing Over Unpublished Manuscripts Arrested by FBI in New YorkFilippo Bernardini, an employee of a well known publication house, has been arrested for stealing hundreds of unpublished manuscripts.

Hollywood Legend Betty White Has a Last Laugh in New Biographic Comic BookThe creators of the biographical comic book have released similar books about Hollywood legends like Carrie Fisher, Lucille Ball, David Bowie and Elizabeth Taylor.

Barack Obama Reveals His List of Books That Left “A Lasting Impression” in 2021Obama's favourite 2021 reads include two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author Colson Whitehead's 'Harlem Shuffle' and 'Klara and the Sun,' by Nobel Prize-winning author Kazuo Ishiguro

“Interview With the Vampire” Author Anne Rice Dies at 80 — Tributes Pour in From Stuart Townsend and OthersThe author, who was best known for her work in gothic fiction, died on Saturday evening as a result of complications from a stroke.

Norma Dunning wins $25,000 Governor General’s English fiction prize for ‘Tainna’The Edmonton-based Inuk writer explores themes of displacement, loneliness and spirituality in six short stories

Omar El Akkad wins $100,000 Giller prize for “What Strange Paradise”The former Globe and Mail reporter, who published "American War" to acclaim in 2017, tackles the global migrant refugee crisis in his second novel

South African Author Damon Galgut Wins the Booker Prize For ‘The Promise’Galgut received nominations for his 2003 and 2010 works before finally taking home the prize this year. 

Hollywood Legend Paul Newman Discusses Life, Acting and Aging Gracefully in Newly Discovered MemoirPublishers of the newly discovered memoir say the Hollywood legend wrote the book in the 1980s in response to the relentless media attention he received during that time.

Here’s What You Need to Know About the Toronto International Festival of AuthorsDirector Roland Gulliver lands in Toronto to open his second, much-expanded virtual festival with more than 200 events

Tanzanian Novelist Gurnah Wins 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature for Depicting the Impact of Colonialism and Refugee StoriesGurnah, 72, is only the second writer from sub-Saharan Africa to win one of the world's most prestigious literary awards

Miriam Toews Garners Third Giller Prize Nomination for “Fight Night” after Shortlist AnnouncedSophomore efforts from novelists Omar El Akkad and Jordan Tannahill join debut books from Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia and Angélique Lalonde

Tina Brown’s New Book, ‘The Palace Papers’, Covers the Royal Family’s Reinvention After Diana’s Tragic DeathTina Brown's sequel to her 2007 release 'The Diana Chronicles' is set to hit shelves April 12, 2022. 

Audible.ca Releases Andrew Pyper’s Exclusive Audiobook “Oracle” For New Plus Catalogue LaunchThe thriller about a psychic FBI detective is one of 12,000 titles now available for free to members

Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen to Release Book Based On Their “Renegades” PodcastThe new book will feature a collection of candid, intimate and entertaining conversations

Prince Harry Will Publish a Memoir in Late 2022Harry says he's writing the book "not as the prince I was born but as the man I have become."


Sign Up for the Weekly Book Club Newsletter