Fashion

Carnival Row star Tamzin Merchant opens up about mental health & releasing her first children's book


We have all had big lockdown dreams – be that writing a book or taking up a niche online course – but actress Tamzin Merchant has actually gone and done both! Claps!

Tamzin, who has notably starred in everything from Pride and Prejudice to playing Catherine Howard in The Tudors and starring alongside Cara Delevingne and Orlando Bloom in Amazon Prime Video’s Carnival Row, has now just released her first novel, a children’s book, The Hatmakers.


The book follows the tenacious Cordelia who descends from a family of magical milliners, who don’t just serve the style when it comes to stunning hats they serve a little magic too. When Cordelia’s father Prospero is believed to be lost at sea, Cordelia sets off on a determined mission to find him – but an ancient feud and a brewing war soon become obstacles in her way. Drama!

If that wasn’t enough of an achievement, Tamzin is also in the midst studying herbalism. Here, the actress turned wonder woman – who notably lost the role of the Mother of Dragons after filming the pilot of Game of Thrones – opens up about success, failure and the ‘negative’ moments in her life that ultimately became her most empowering moments….

By penning your own book, The Hatmakers, was it a way of you controlling the narrative of your own career?

I would say that I’ve always in my career liked to do my own things. Being an actor is an amazing adventure. It’s so much fun, but at the same time there was a lot of spare time especially when you sign onto a show, a big show that has multiple seasons like Carnival Row, those contracts can be quite restrictive. You have lots of time between seasons where you’re actually not really allowed to do a tonne of stuff so this is a way of fulfilling other creative parts of my soul, which actually acting doesn’t necessarily fulfil. Actually right now I’m studying herbalism.

You are studying herbalism! What has that been like?

It’s amazing, I’m learning so much great stuff. There’s this woman on Instagram called Marysia Miernowska. She wrote this book called A Witch’s Herbal Apothecary and she’s teaching this online course about herbs. I did a garden design course about six or seven years ago too and I studied oil painting. It’s not so much me trying to take control of my career because I think as an actor, you are on a ship and you’re sailing and you can’t control the sea. You can just control your ship.


What inspired you to create The Hatmakers – what sparked the idea?


I had the inspiration in a dream! I was filming Carnival Row season one and me and David Jesse were doing these scenes where we both go to this fancy auction in Carnival Row and we wear these hats. David has horns so he had to have a special hat made to fit over his horns. I was in the costume department that night having a late night costume fitting – as you do on a crazy busy TV show – and then that night I dreamed about a family of magical hat makers who make these enchanted hats. It was really, really vivid – I dreamt the book! I dreamed really quite detailed things about the hat makers, I woke up and then I woke my boyfriend up and it was half past four in the morning. I was like, “Buddy, I’ve just had a dream.” He’s a very patient man! He told me to write it down and that started the book! It took ages and ages to actually write it. I did seven drafts and it took a year for it to be a readable draft!

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Do you feel like sitting here knowing that you’ve achieved this goal, is the proudest you’ve ever been of yourself?

The proudest I’ve ever been in myself? Oh, my gosh! Well, the thing about finishing book one is that I’m in the middle of writing book two and that’s very much you getting right back to the bottom again. It’s like you roll back down the mountain. I appreciate how humbling it is. It’s been a different kind of challenge, but gosh, I don’t know when I was most proud? Probably when I played Snow White when I was seven years old at my school play. It was a sweet gig.

Has writing been therapeutic for you?

It’s allowed me to communicate some thoughts that I have about life, how good life can be and the beauty of life in what hopefully isn’t a super cheesy way. You have your own voice as a writer and when you’re acting a part that has been written by someone else, created by someone else, and you’re coming in to bring yourself to the part, you can’t say things about life through the part necessarily. With a book, there’s this amazing opportunity to almost give a vision of life and thoughts about how good and beautiful life can be. That’s been nice. I definitely wreaked a little bit of revenge on some silly actors that I’ve known in my past through the character of Sir Hugo Gushforth – who was a very silly actor – but it’s affectionate as well. It’s not all like a character assassination by any means.

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What do you think you’ve learned about yourself through becoming an author?

That’s a good question. I think I didn’t really realise how much work would go into writing a children’s book and maybe there are other people that do it much more effortlessly than I have. For me, it felt like very heartfelt work, but that took a lot out and required a lot. You really have to make your own resilience. It’s almost like building a bridge across a canyon and you walk on it and you build the next bit. That’s how it is. It’s very precarious. I think I realised that it’s given me an understanding of what hard work can do and what wholehearted work can do as well. I think so often it’s easy to be a bit dismissive, maybe of putting your whole self into something, but I wouldn’t want to put a book out there that didn’t have my whole heart in it. It’s also taught me to jump in with both feet and be brave about being fully invested in something.

When it comes to acting people just look at the success on the surface level. You recently opened out about losing the part of Daenerys after filming the Game of Thrones pilot – is there a no in your life that is an empowering moment looking back?

I think it’s so important to realise that when you’re carving your own path and it feels like yours – there’s something so empowering about that. Whereas, if you’re doing something you don’t fully believe in you get dragged along by it maybe or pushed along by it and it doesn’t really come from within. I’ve realised that when I’m creating something that I fully believe in, whether that’s an acting role or writing a book, it gives you life rather than takes your energy. I would imagine that every successful person out there is like a swan. They look amazing and they’re gliding along, but under the surface, those legs are paddling hard. I think we need to pretend less that we are just the top half of the swan. I think pretending that things are effortless doesn’t do justice really to things and to people’s souls because the effort is when you dig deep and you put your soul into something.

I would say there are jobs that you think would be great for you. There have been jobs that I thought I really wanted and that seemed almost like a mirage. They seem great, but actually the reality is it’s really not great. For me, every turn in the road and every change of direction that I’ve had, where I’ve been the driving force behind that, whether it’s been like a show getting canceled, like Salem got canceled. At the time, I felt really sad in a way, but then I wouldn’t have been able to do Carnival Row if that had gone on. It’s hard to feel like anything that felt bad at the time has not ultimately been something that’s been really great.

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It’s so important that people actually talk about the failure as well as the success in life isn’t it…

Yes! I had depression for about a year and at the time, obviously that felt really sh*t and terrible, but actually after I climbed out of that valley of depression, it’s one of the most life-affirming empowering things that has happened to me because my empathy grew massively for other people. I feel like, yeah it was dark, but there’s this amazing saying, ‘In your darkest cave lies your treasure.’ I think that’s really cool. I think that we’ve been taught to fear the dark, but actually I think that the bad times can bring forth amazing things.


Children’s books tend to have very deep, powerful life lessons in them. What lasting message do you want people to take away from The Hatmakers?


I would like people to take away from the book that everyone has their own unique magic. You could call that soul, you could call that spirit. It’s like the thing that feels like a flame in your belly. Cordelia Hatmaker’s father says this to her, ‘We all have our own unique magic and it’s up to us to adventure into our own hearts and head and belly and find out what that magic is.’ That’s what I’d like people to feel, children and adults. To read it and feel empowered to find, discover their own magic, grow it and feed it and nourish it no matter what it is and no matter what that leads them to.

It might be telling stories, dancing or it might be in reaching out to other people. That’s a kind of magic to be able to talk to other people. I think in this time as well, in COVID times, we all spend a lot of time with ourselves and I think to love ourselves and to celebrate and cherish ourselves in a way that allows for everyone else to celebrate and cherish themselves as well!

The Hatmakers from Puffin Books is out now



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