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.

Sunset on the Beach and Other Things

As I’ve told many people, writers can work just about anywhere. Yes, I’m in Southwest Florida, and yes, I’m working. It definitely beats working in New England at this time of year. Without having to put on five layers of clothing, I can hop on public transportation and head to a restaurant to meet my friends (authors Victoria Hinshaw and Kristine Hughes Patrone L-R below) or stroll to the UPS drop-off or the USPS office. In fact, I’m getting much more exercise than I do at home in the winter.

Nearly every day, I take a walk on the beach at sunset. Every day it’s a different picture. Here are some of them from the last couple of weeks. The seashells were simply there, found art on the beach. I’m not wanting to make anybody envious, just wanting to share the beauty.


Looking Toward the New Year

This was a tricky year, professionally, as my last couple of blog posts have indicated. Since my life revolves around my writing (to the detriment of my housekeeping, among other things) and since I had an extremely recalcitrant book on my hands (exactly like its hero and heroine, surprise, surprise) there was a lot of growling and stomping around and swearing, 19th, 20th, and 21st century style (what can I say, I’m a multi-century curser). Also tears. What else do you do but weep, when you can’t actually strangle your characters?

On the other hand, I have you, patient you, and the many kind messages of support and encouragement you’ve sent in response to my posts.

Yes, the book, as previously reported, at last seems to be finding its way.

While the next scene percolates, let me tell you a little about the lurcher in A Duke in Shining Armor.

Some years ago, a friend kindly invited us to join her in Tuscany at a gorgeous place called Col di Lavacchio. It was there, on that first of what turned out to be several visits, I met Finty. She was the first lurcher as well as one of the finer dogs I have ever personally encountered. When I was writing A Duke in Shining Armor, she just popped into my head, and the scene came to life. I changed her sex and named her Cato, because I am the author and can do things like that.

in the photo she is with the beautiful Gilli, whom I also met on that trip. A passionate animal lover, Gilli won’t mind my mentioning both her and the dog’s wonderfulness in the same sentence.

The winter solstice is past, and little by little, the days will grow longer. I leave you with a summer night in Tuscany and a full moon, and wishes that your 2019 will bring you memorable times in books and for real, and the good health to enjoy them.

And let us hope the New Year will bring the world some badly needed peace, love, and understanding, too.

Fifes and Drums of Colonial Williamsburg

This is the "Red Carriage." (Yes, I know. It's a CW thing.) This is an open carriage, with facing seats. It's something like the landau that Ripley and Olympia travel in (in A Duke in Shining Armor) when she takes him back to Camberley Place after he tries to run away to London. But the landau has folding hoods, while this is completely open.

Whenever I'm in Virginia, I try to spend some time in Colonial Williamsburg. This year, our schedule allowed me to have two full days of exploring the site. It's not nearly enough time. For instance, I could have stayed in the Print Shop's Press Room for hours, the presentation was so fascinating. And that's just one shop!

Even though I write books set in England in the before-Victoria part of the 1800s, CW is incredibly helpful. Things changed more slowly a few centuries ago, and British influence is there, whether one is talking about the colonial period or afterward. Until the American Revolution, much of what appeared in the shops was imported from England. The latest fashion ideas traveled across the ocean from Paris and London. Of course, Americans gave things their own distinctive approach, but for a researcher like me, there's always historical gold in CW. All the interpreters have something to teach me.

Among other things, I took a carriage ride and pestered the driver with questions, because, while horse-drawn vehicles changed over time, basic principles remain: the way the harness works, the correct way to hold the reins and whip, etc. And of course, horses are horses. I had studied all this in books—a lot of books—but there's nothing like experiencing the real thing. For someone like me, with no personal experience of horses and driving a carriage, simply watching the coaches at work was educational, and will, I hope, make my stories feel more authentic. I watched and watched. And took pictures.

And then, when I was still hanging around, late in the day, came the Fifes & Drums.  Remember that my thing is Great Britain and its aristocrats some fifty-plus years after the War of Independence began. But the first sound of the fifes and drums had me at attention. People crowded along the sides of Duke of Gloucester Street to watch and listen. And I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who found the experience deeply moving. You can watch some video clips here.

Next time I will try to have the presence of mind to shoot my own video. Meanwhile, here are my photos. I have to say, it was a terrific, unexpected experience.