Olympia's Destination Wedding Locale

Greenwood Map of Kensington 1830. Red line is Olympia’s and Ripley’s route from Newland House (Campden House)

A previous post about A Duke in Shining Armor described my husband and my tracking Olympia’s escape route.

This time I thought it would be fun to take a closer look at the house she ran from, Newland House.

Seeking a wedding locale near but not in 1830s London, I discovered Campden House on a map of Kensington. It belongs to one of many areas that are now part of London but were rural retreats then. An online search turned up black and white engravings of a Jacobean mansion built more or less in the style of Holland House (more on that here, here, and here). That is to say, it had towers and turrets and lots of windows, and sprawled with a pleasing untidiness over a large estate. Because I intended to send my characters southwestward, its location was ideal: between Holland Park and Kensington Gardens, and a short distance from the Kensington High Street, where Olympia and Ripley would find a hackney stand.

Like other great houses, Campden House went through a series of transformations. These are described in Chapter IV of Kensington Picturesque and Historical, and explains my mentioning Queen Anne in my story. The chapter, which includes a rather poignant account of the queen’s one surviving son, describes the house’s interior, the 1862 fire*, and the rebuilding some years later. The second incarnation was demolished at the turn of the 20th century.

Campden House c. 1860, south-east view from the garden. Coloured litho by Edwin Smith.

But once again, though the book was completed, I still wanted to know more. Shortly after tracing Olympia’s route, my husband and I went to the Kensington Central Library, where Dave Walker, archivist/librarian/blogger, generously supplied mountains of material from the archives, and helped us—my husband, actually—scan and photograph dozens of images, including one describing the house’s location: “Old Campden House and its ground stood approximately within the square formed by the Sheffield Terrace (on the north) + Campden House Road (on the west) Gloucester Walk (on the south) and Church Street (on the east).” This helped us get our bearings.

“This photograph from the early 1900s shows the remains of tower that stood in the grounds of Campden House.“— Library Time Machine.

As many of you know, I have as much fun doing historical research as creating the story. One feeds the other. A Duke in Shining Armor inspired other investigations, as did my visit with Dave Walker. These in turn have inspired scenes in my work-in-slow-progress. You can expect more nerdy history material in the months to come.

Following are some of my sources, in case you’d like to delve more deeply into the history.

More about Campden House , with a detailed description of the Pitt estate, at British History online.

Description from The Old Court Suburbs: Kensington, in Old Kensington, in Old and New London: Volume 5.

Campden House after the fire.

Interiors are scarce. This is the schoolroom at Campden House, coloured lithograph by Charles Richardson.

You can find the house on this 1841 map of Kensington & Chelsea.

Here at Mapco is a Victorian era (some 30 years later) map segment you can enlarge considerably. By this time the area is considerably more populated.

*A better account of the fire begins here on page 773 of Chambers’s Journal, Sixth Series, Vol X December 1906 to November 1907.

The photographs, including those of materials from the Kensington Central Library, are the work of Walter M. Henritze III. Our thanks to Dave Walker and Isabel Hernandez for giving so generously of their time, for sharing so much fascinating material, and for their patience.

Following Olympia's Great Escape Route

My historical romances feature quite a few duke heroes, all rich, young, and good-looking. This was not the reality in early 19th century Great Britain and it isn’t the reality today. What is real though, is their belonging to the highest rank of the peerage, and their possessing, in the time of our stories, power, privilege, and wealth we can scarcely imagine. The duke is the mightiest of the noblemen—but in the idealized world of romance fiction, he meets his match in the strong heroine, who may have nothing but her brains to depend on.

So, I’m OK with the jillion fictional dukes.

The clothes, however, need to be correct (see my post on 1830s clothing). The streets need to be correct. And the houses. And other stuff. This is to make the story feel real. The characters are make-believe, but I place them in a world as close to historical reality as I can make it. Which isn’t to say I don’t take artistic liberties from time to time, or avoid many of the less appealing aspects of the time. It’s a historical romance, not a biography or history.

All the same, if the opportunity arises, I check my work, even after the book’s been published. Because of my brain. This happened with the Venice I described in Your Scandalous Ways. Though I traveled there well after the book was released, I visited the story’s various locations, to make sure I’d imagined correctly. I had. But that was Venice.

If Lord Byron came back from the dead and visited, he’d recognize the place. But London? He’d feel the way I did when I visited Tirana, Albania, after several decades: Where am I? More to the point, Where did all these buildings and cars and things come from? Help! What is this place?

As you’d expect, then, when I was in London—after A Duke in Shining Armor had gone into production and it was too late to change anything—I had to make sure I’d got things right. Thus, Olympia and Ripley’s great escape from her uncle’s house in Kensington? That run down Horton Street to the cab stand? Yes, I followed their route, to make sure it made sense and the timing worked.

The house she ran from, Newland House, was based on Campden House. It’s long gone (more about that on another post). But I knew approximately where it had stood—or sprawled, rather, over a large property. And, this being London (Kensington, to be precise), I found equivalents of the various landmarks I’d pictured. There was, as described, a tall wall around a large property. There was, as described, a locked gate in the wall. And I found these features in the general area where the garden of the house would have been.

And there was Horton Street. As the map shows, Kensington was much more rural in 1833. A great many more buildings line Horton Street now than in the time of my story. But the street, unlike some others, remains, as do other landmarks. And lo and behold, when we reached the Kensington High Street, we came upon a cab stand, about where there had been one at the time of my story. Maybe exactly where it had been, because that is one of the marvelous things about London: If you look, you find the past, maybe where you least expect it. And some things don’t change all that much.

Image of Campden House courtesy Kensington Central Library, with special thanks to Dave Walker and Isabel Hernandez for their patience and help.

Endings and Revivals in the Blog Department

Harry Willson Watrous, Just a Couple of Girls circa 1915,

As many of you are now aware, Susan Holloway Scott and I have decided to write “The End” on the Two Nerdy History Girls blog. The blog brought us many delights and benefits. Among other things, we got to meet virtually and in person a great many more history lovers than we ever dreamt was possible, made contact with historians and historical bloggers worldwide—many of whom welcomed us into their libraries, museums, and historic houses—and, of course, discovered tidbits we put to work in our books. But the blog also took time, and as the years passed, the demands of our main job—our novels—were increasing. Clearly, something had to give, if we wanted to give proper attention to our writing careers.

It feels good to get the time back, yet it’s sad, too, to say goodbye to a project that was so much fun for both of us, and whose support from readers was beyond what we’d ever imagined.

The good news is, you will get to see interesting and amusing, (I hope) historical nerdiness here, direct from my website, and more posts in general, though never enough to flood your inbox. As one who spends far too much time hitting the email Delete button, I am sensitive to this.

But while you may get Loretta Chase blog posts a little more often than before, I shall aim to offer more amusement as well as more substance. Along with new stuff, you can expect some enhanced editions of blogs from the 2NHG archives. I’ve done this occasionally in the past, and it gives me a chance to offer more pictures, among other things.

But mainly, one hopes, saying Goodbye to 2NHG means saying Hello to shorter times between my books.

Me & William Smith, the man whose map changed the world. His work was one of the inspirations for Miss Wonderful.

Oh, and one more thing: Please consider this a fresh opportunity to ask some of those questions that arise when you’re reading my books. Like, What’s a ticket porter? How could an English couple get married in somebody’s house instead of in church? What on earth is a pelerine and why would anybody want to wear one? Why the lurcher? If your enquiring mind wants to know, please use the email form and send me your question.

Difficult Dukes #2 is Recovering from Its Sulks

Willems, Florent Joseph Marie, The Important Response 19th C.jpg

A few readers have contacted me recently, to ask about the second Difficult Dukes book. Those who subscribe to this blog may remember a plaintive post last spring, wherein I lamented the book’s refusal to cooperate with its author.

Matters did not improve.The Duke of Ashmont’s story did not proceed smoothly during the summer and early fall. Oh, I managed to write the first quarter of the book, and there were some good scenes, but something was off. I had no idea what it was, only that every new scene, instead of bubbling up naturally as a result of the scene before, had to be dug out in bits and pieces. And then it still looked ... off.

Here is the thing you learn after 30+ years’ writing professionally: When this kind of creative slowdown goes on for so long, something essential is wrong.

In my case, since what’s essential in my stories is character, it’s always the protagonists who are displeased with my take on their behavior. Unfortunately, they do not offer helpful suggestions or even clues. Instead, they sulk like the immature things they are (thanks to me) until I figure them out.

If I’d written them correctly in the first place, they would be mature and therefore would not sulk and everything would move along at a reasonable speed, always allowing for the periodic, “OK, what happens now?” And as to that, I do have a story arc in mind, but each scene needs to evolve naturally from what went on before. This means the specifics aren’t clear until I get there. And scenes don’t ring true if I don’t truly understand the characters, because the lack of understanding causes them to behave in ways that are not true to them.

Finally, after a series of consultations with my professional team—no, we couldn’t pinpoint the problem immediately; it took some work—we narrowed things down to the heroine. It finally became clear that she had two different personalities going at the same time, and one was wrong. No wonder she was furious with me.

I gave myself a dope slap, went back and revised all the scenes (yes, from page one) ... and lo and behold, the story came alive. At last. At any rate, the hero and heroine seem to have stopped hating me.

Behold me now, chastened, but with confidence restored. I shall do my very best to get this book finished in time for a 2019 publication date. Can’t promise that will happen, but it won’t be for lack of trying.

Difficult Dukes #2 and Other Things

from Egan, Pierce & Cruikshank, Isaac Robert,   The Finish to the Adventures of Tom, Jerry, and Logic

from Egan, Pierce & Cruikshank, Isaac Robert, The Finish to the Adventures of Tom, Jerry, and Logic

Sometimes the writing gods gaze down benignly upon me and send encouraging rays of sunlight and gentle breezes to waft me on my way from the beginning to The End of the story.

Sometimes I have all I can do to launch my boat. Then, having launched, it promptly sinks. Or I fall overboard.  Repeatedly.

“There is always a point in the writing of a piece when I sit in a room literally papered with false starts and cannot put one word after another and imagine that I have suffered a small stroke, leaving me apparently undamaged but actually aphasic.”—Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem

All of this is to say that Ashmont’s story is still in the process of being written and he’s being a ducal pain in the neck about it.

In other, better news:
A Duke in Shining Armor has continued to receive stellar reviews, most recently in the current (9 April 2018—Naomi Judd on the cover—lots of red) issue of First for Women, currently on the shelves of many, many supermarkets. (Yes!) The review is titled “7 books we’re loving now.” There I am with the likes of Margaret Atwood and Jodi Picault.

The image was sent by my dear friend Claudia on Cape Cod.

And what do you think my amazement (and fear) was when I found out it had been reviewed in the New York Times Book Review? And when I discovered only mild snark in the review?

Another happy moment was seeing the book reviewed by the Historical Novel Society, which covers all historical fiction, not romance exclusively.

From the writer’s traveling cave:

Between storms

I’ve lived in New England all my life, but must say that the cold, snow, and dark started wearing on me a few years ago, and my husband and I started heading south during late winter. This year, due to an unfortunate series of events, we left later than we liked. But we did narrowly escape the cascade of blizzards.

We are in our last days in South Carolina. We’re on an island, and there’s a lot of marshland. Plus we have a golf course, more or less  in the back yard, which has the usual water features. In this part of the world, though, the water features harbor critters you don’t see on New England golf courses.

As I write this, it’s early evening. Today we’ve had a series of thunderstorms and we’re on the lookout for tornados. My computer is unplugged from the electrical outlet, and we’re listening to thunder, thunderous rain, and intermittent hail.

An alligator. Not ours. This one's from Florida

During the late morning thunderstorm, we watched an alligator swim toward our side of one of the golf course’s lagoons. It’s still a looong way away from us, but it was pretty thrilling. We have counted three alligators so far, on the golf course, in whose lagoons they lurk when they’re not lying on the bank, sunning themselves. The island is chock full of the kind of swampy territory they enjoy. I know this isn’t a plus for most people, but I have great respect and admiration for alligators and crocodiles, who’ve managed to survive all this time.

I feel lucky to be able to travel and make a writer’s retreat just about anywhere I go. What a job! So, yes, I bang my head against the wall, as indicated above, but you know I’ll keep at Ashmont’s story until it’s done right.