Laura Wood chats the power of knowing one’s own value in the Agency for Scandal
Eighteen-year-old Isobel Stanhope is keeping a lot of secrets. There’s the fact that her family is penniless but nobody in society knows about it; and then there’s her job at the Aviary, an investigative agency run by women that specializes in digging up scandal on powerful men. The Agency for Scandal follows Izzy as she finds herself pulled into a case that involves gaslighting, blackmail, and missing jewels, as well as the Duke who holds her heart but does not know she exists.
We are honoured to chat with Laura today on The Agency for Scandal.
The Agency for Scandal was so much fun to read! We absolutely loved it. How would you describe the Agency for Scandal using 3 movies/series?
Well it’s been described by others as Bridgerton meets Enola Holmes meets Charlie’s Angels and I can’t think of anything better than that, what a joy!
The Aviary is set in a very lush haberdashery. What’s the inspiration behind the Aviary? What was on your mood board when you created it?
I think with the book being set in the Victorian period my mood board was definitely full of images of the sort of Sherlock Holmes-esque, foggy London setting that I absolutely love. My last book, A Single Thread of Moonlight, is also set during this period and in the same world, and that story is about a dressmaker, so I think the idea of a haberdashery came from there originally. I think it makes sense as a venue for The Aviary because it’s something that others may easily dismiss as being feminine or frivolous, but the characters in these books know the true value and importance of what they do.
Can you share with us why you decided to call those who work at the Aviary, the Finches?
The idea for the Finches came originally from the Jane Eyre quote that features in the book – “I am no bird” – and the fact that in the Victorian period it was common to keep birds like finches in these very beautiful, ornate cages. To me that felt like an obvious metaphor for the world that Izzy and her friends live in, one where women were trapped, their wings clipped, put on display – even if the cages were gilded ones, they were still cages.
The other details about the period also mattered, from food, smells, to furniture. You made each detail shine through elegantly. What do you like to research the most about?
That’s so nice of you to say! I love all those details and find researching them so much fun. I think my favourite thing to research is usually the clothes, but in this book I set part of it at a party that really happened – the Devonshire House Ball of 1897 – which was an incredibly lavish costume party. Researching that was my favourite thing I’ve done – everything from the food to the schedule of events to the costumes is as accurate as I could make it and I had so much fun.
There are many transformations here – when Izzy dressed up as a boy and walked around London, she felt like “a girl with the freedom of a boy”, not just a boy. Why is it important to differentiate between these two?
I wanted to make it explicit that Izzy’s experience of dressing as a boy was different to the experience of Joe, a trans character in the book. For Izzy the clothes are part of a convenient disguise, but for Joe they are an enormous part of his identity.
When Izzy, the self-proclaimed wallflower, dressed up for a ball, she clarified that she was not “an ugly duckling who had turned overnight into a magnificent swan”. Why is it important to stress she has just changed into a different version of herself?
I think I felt in that moment that I wanted Izzy to feel empowered by her beautiful costume to feel even more herself. The costume didn’t make her look or feel like she was another, better person, it simply helped her to feel more confident as she already was. There’s another scene in the book where she talks about the things she likes about her face and her body and I always feel like that’s important too – Izzy’s used to being overlooked, but in many ways she knows her own value and there’s power in that.
Readers of A Single Thread of Moonlight have recognized some Easter eggs. Can you share with us how you planned these Easter eggs?
It was slightly complicated because A Single Thread of Moonlight is set in 1899, then when I was researching that book I found out about the Devonshire House Ball and knew I wanted to set something there – The Agency for Scandal is that book, and it’s set two years earlier, in 1897. After I’d made that choice I knew I wanted to keep the books in the same world and it was really fun to think about where some of the characters in ASTOM would have been and what they’d have been up to. I didn’t really plan too much, it was almost like the characters popped up on their own – Iris is a dressmaker so it made sense to include her in making Izzy’s ballgown, Nick has a family connection so he comes in for a moment right at then end. I honestly just loved seeing them again, they’re characters I fell very hard for. There are a few other things too – one of my favourite characters in The Agency for Scandal is Izzy’s best friend Teresa, and she already existed because she has a very small part in A Single Thread of Moonlight. When I originally wrote that character I didn’t have other plans for her, but I just loved her so much and in true Teresa style she elbowed her way into the new book and stole the show!
And can we expect more interlinked stories from you?
Oh, I certainly hope we’ll hear more from The Aviary!
Get your copy of The Agency for Scandal here.