All YA Love: Interview with Y.S. Lee

Filed in All YA Love , Interview , The Monster Lover , Y.S. Lee Posted on April 7, 2010 @ 5:30 am 1 comments

Today I am honored to share an interview with Y.S. Lee. I recently had the pleasure of reading her debut A Spy In The House (The Agency #1)  and  loved this unique spin on the Victorian era.

Can you tell us about the book?
Spy is a novel about keeping secrets, uncovering truths, scheming women, and the Great Stink of 1858 (a disgusting heat wave that paralyzed the city of London). It’s also a zippy adventure and a lighthearted joke about mystery novels. It contains not a single vampire.

My favorite scene took place in the carriage as Mary & James talk marriage & sonnet sequences, I’m smiling just thinking about it. What was your favorite scene to write?
I could write dialogue between Mary and James all day. I ended up pruning quite a lot of it because if I’d left it all in, the book would be 120,000 words long with no action. (Note to self: consider writing a play?) But if I had to choose one favourite scene, it would be the final conversation between Mary and James in the park. There are so many undercurrents, so many things left unsaid, that writing it felt like a high-wire act.

Mary is such a great character, very independent, strong willed with a great sense of humor (so not what I think of when asked to describe a Victorian woman). Your Victorian literature & culture PhD obviously is the inspiration for the setting, but was the contemporary feel something you had decided when you first started writing?
Thank you! Yes, absolutely, I wanted to bring a modern sensibility to the Victoria era. As a reader, if I wanted utter authenticity, I would simply choose a Victorian novel. There’s so much fine nineteenth-century fiction and I don’t think there’s much to be gained in slavishly copying that model. But there is value in revisiting the period with fresh eyes because it’s such a complex, frustrating, exciting time in history. This is especially the case for the underprivileged – working people, poor people, and all but the richest of women. In creating Mary, I was pushing back against certain stereotypes while playing around with others.

What was the most shocking thing you discovered when researching the Victorian era?
There’s so much to be scandalized by – child labour, primitive medical practices, industrial pollution – it’s a long list. (On my recent blog tour, I wrote eight mini-essays about these subjects. You can read them on my website. But I think what startled me most, as I learned about the era, was how very close we still are to the Victorians. We pride ourselves on our modernity but we’re not that different. We still rely on child labour (cheap imports), medical knowledge is always in flux, and we produce more industrial waste than ever before. We’ve developed but we haven’t changed.

Can you tell us a bit about The Agency #2? (if not too spoiler-ish: Will we see more of Cass & James in the series???!!)
I’d love to. In The Body at the Tower, Mary faces a double challenge: she goes undercover as a twelve-year-old boy to investigate a mysterious death on a construction site – but in doing so, she’s forced to re-live her early years of poverty and isolation. She’s barely managing to keep her balance – and then James Easton turns up.
You asked about Cass, and the short answer is that I haven’t decided what will happen with her. She has lots of potential but I haven’t yet found the right way to reintroduce her character. I’m sure her future is exciting, though.

Thanks for stopping by ! I am excited to see what happens next for Mary (and James!)

About the book:

Introducing an exciting new series! Steeped in Victorian atmosphere and intrigue, this diverting mystery trails a feisty heroine as she takes on a precarious secret assignment.
Rescued from the gallows in 1850s London, young orphan (and thief) Mary Quinn is surprised to be offered a singular education, instruction in fine manners — and an unusual vocation. Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls is a cover for an all-female investigative unit called The Agency, and at seventeen, Mary is about to put her training to the test. Assuming the guise of a lady’s companion, she must infiltrate a rich merchant’s home in hopes of tracing his missing cargo ships. But the household is full of dangerous deceptions, and there is no one to trust — or is there? Packed with action and suspense, banter and romance, and evoking the gritty backstreets of Victorian London, this breezy mystery debuts a daring young detective who lives by her wits while uncovering secrets — including those of her own past.

About the author:

Y S Lee was born in Singapore and raised in Vancouver and Toronto. In 2004, she completed her PhD in Victorian literature and culture. This research, combined with her time living in London, triggered an idea for a story about a women’s detective agency. The result, A Spy in the House, is her first novel.

Ying is also the author of Masculinity and the English Working Class (Routledge). She now lives in Kingston, Ontario with her husband and young son.

For more information, check out her website at

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  • MissAttitude April 12, 2010 at 8:33 pm

    Good interview 🙂

    I can't wait for more Mary, James and London! I have a feeling book 2 will consist of more fun facts like child labor and unsanitary habits of the Victorians. hurrah. It will be interesting, authentic and I'm sure, never too depressing/digusting.

    Perhaps Cass will re-appear in the 3rd one? hmm 😮

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