Sarah Ferguson, a longtime author, has always been interested in history — royal or otherwise.
On Tuesday, the Duchess of York announced she's writing her first novel of historical fiction inspired by the life of her great-great-aunt, Lady Margaret Montagu Douglas Scott. Her Heart For a Compass, written with Marguerite Kaye, will be published jointly by HarperCollins Publishers and Harlequin UK on August 3, 2021.
"I wanted to write a novel for years and years and was searching for the right story," Ferguson, 61, tells PEOPLE in an email interview. "I was looking into my family history and I was struck by the fact that we shared a name: Margaret is my middle name. Since very little more information was easily found about her, it seemed she would be an ideal vehicle for me to weave my story around."
She continues: "The book refers to journeys Lady Margaret makes to Ireland and America, which in fact reflects my own personal journeys."
The book not only draws from the Duchess' life, she pulls from her research into her ancestry. Her Heart For a Compass is "an immersive historical saga that sweeps the reader from the drawing rooms of Victoria's court and the grand country houses of Scotland and Ireland, to the slums of London and the mercantile bustle of 1870s New York," reads the book's description.
"Rich in historical detail and grounded in extensive research, the novel offers a compelling look at Victorian England in the wake of Prince Albert's death," it continues, "and the fascinating journey of a woman born into the higher echelons of society, who desires to break the mold, follow her internal compass (her heart) and discover her raison d'être, falling in love along the way."
Ferguson has previously written several children's books and works of nonfiction, including her memoirs. After writing two works of nonfiction about Queen Victoria, Ferguson became the driving force behind the creation of The Young Victoria, the award-winning 2009 film.
Now, the Duchess of York is excited to explore a new genre altogether. While writing for adults was a very different experience than writing for children, she explains that readers of all ages "deserve the same amount of respect."
"If you write for children, you have got to know your audience and you can't tell them what to do or think," Ferguson tells PEOPLE. "You have to put yourself in a child's place, and the excitement I get from being very curious and childlike means I find great enjoyment in that."
She continues: "Writing for adults is obviously something different. With this book, I could completely immerse myself in my love of history. I also indulged my fascination and love for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and used the research I'd already carried out into their lives."
Her Heart For a Compass may be Ferguson's first foray into historical fiction, but she's loved the genre for a long time.
"As a teenager, I read Victoria Holt, Philippa Carr and Anya Seton historical novels," Ferguson writes. "More recently I enjoyed The Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki, the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon and Ken Follett's Kingsbridge series."
The Duchess of York's writing was also informed by research she's done for past projects.
"The research I did for my books on Osborne House and Queen Victoria's travels inspired me, as did my family's history with my mother's family at Powerscourt, an estate near Dublin, and the Buccleuch history on my father's side," she says. "It all inspired me to weave a magic kingdom of my own."
Writing has been a great escape for Ferguson, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I'm one of those people that still writes by longhand; I use a fountain pen I designed for the Italian pen maker Montegrappa. Every single day of writing this book was complete immersion in the story," Ferguson explains. "I felt I actually became Lady Margaret as I wrote it, and there was real sadness when I came out of character."
Her Heart For a Compass will hit bookshelves this summer.
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