Friday, January 21, 2011

Big Old House Day!

I thought today would be a good day to share some of my inspirations for the setting(s) of The Enemy Within. This is because I have been writing this week (gasp!) and so my attention is currently engaged in that pursuit. I thought a quick dip into some of my research would not tax my writing abilities too much, so here we go.

While the first half of The Enemy Within is set in Kentucky, the second half is set in Jolly Ol' England. Being the good Anglophile that I am, I have striven to remain as accurate as possible in my depiction of London and the countryside of Victorian England. I thought a I knew a lot about the time period, but I've actually increased my knowledge as I have travelled the internet looking for sources of inspiration.

My setting in England is Northamptonshire. The county seat is in Northampton, approximately 75 miles northwest of London. I had a rather convoluted way of choosing this area. When Julienne flees Kentucky, her destination is France. But when she arrives in New York, the only steamer leaving the port is bound for Liverpool. Naturally, she does not want to tarry long in England, given that it is her traitorous husband's homeland. Once I got Julienne to Liverpool, I had to get her to London and then on to Dover so she could catch the packet to France. I think this was the hardest part of my research: finding an accurate map of railways in England. I was fortunate in that I stumbled on a website devoted to the history of the London and Great Northwestern Railway. Taking a map from the period, I was able to trace the route from Liverpool to London. Since Julienne gets stranded and eventually has to stay in England, I needed to pick a place along the rail line that had a few substantial castles. Northampton fit the bill in that regard as there were three substantial estates in the countryside around it. Here are some early 20th century postcards of Northampton. 

Now the three estates that I speak of are Althorp, Castle Ashby, and Holdenby House. As many of you know, Althorp was the late Lady Diana Spencer's ancestral home, and is still owned by her brother, the ninth Earl Spencer. I thought it was fitting to write this post as we are a few months away from Lady Diana's son, Prince William's marriage (Anglophiles rejoice!) 

Althorp is my inspiration for Alex's family estate. As mentioned in a previous post, Alex is viscount and heir to his father, the earl. They are a fabulously wealthy family, and the earl is very powerful in the House of Lords. In the novel, their estate is called Everwood.

Althorp was built towards the end of the sixteenth century, but as with most of these old houses, improvements and additions were made. It was built of red brick originally, and had a central courtyard. The courtyard was eventually filled in to house a grand hall and staircase. The present house is the result of Henry Holland's neo-classicising of the facade in the 1700s. Also Le Notre (of Versailles fame) designed the gardens.      

My second inspiration is a mixture of two houses: Castle Ashby and Holdenby House. I took the name Ashby and applied it to Julienne's landlord, Lord Richard Ashby. Castle Ashby was originally the seat of the Earls of Compton, and is a beautiful building. But I wanted something a little different in design for Lord Richard's home and so I chose Holdenby House. It is a lovely Jacobean style castle that I simply adore.

Holdenby House
The picture that you see to the left is what remains of Holdenby. It was restored in the 1870s by Lady Clifden and Victorian architect Richard Carpenter. The original house was much larger, in fact when it was built in 1583, it was the largest in England. Owned by Queen Elizabeth’s Lord Chancellor and favorite, Sir Christopher Hatton, the house was designed around two courtyards and featured 123 glass windows—quite a feat for the sixteenth century! The house had quite a sad history following its completion. Sir Christopher died suddenly, and since he was bankrupt, the house reverted to the crown. Several decades later, Charles I was held prisoner here following his defeat in the Civil War

 The house was later purchased by Adam Baynes, who pulled down the whole thing save for the current wing. Fortunately, after reverting to the crown once again, the home was purchased by the Duke of Marlborough in 1709. Descendents of his line own the house today and it is available for meetings and weddings.   

So now you know some of the places that are featured in the later half of The Enemy Within. Compiling all this information has certainly been a chore, but also terribly interesting. Have you uncovered any interesting information in your novel research? 

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Breaking Free from Mental Writing

I've always been a mental writer. What's that you ask? It's someone who writes in their head, but can't seem to put it on paper.

Mental writing is how I started out. As I have mentioned in previous posts, when I was about ten or so, I started concocting stories in my head. Eventually the stories were sewn together to create a novel, and before I knew it I was losing track of what I had "written."

So I turned to paper. And I wrote...and wrote...and wrote. I have binders filled with notebook paper stories and half finished novels. Of course as the computer age dawned, I turned to word processing and finally to a real computer. But to this day, my inspirations often stay locked in my head. I just can't get them out on paper. It's either finding the time or the gumption to just do it. Lately, it has been the gumption. I have been mentally revising some portions of The Enemy Within. I haven't completely worked out all of the details, so I have been afraid to sit down and start writing. I keep getting these bursts of creative energy and I do nothing with them. Perhaps this is some sort of writer's block or maybe it's just a fear of doing my characters (and their stories) an injustice.

It's sad when I realize how much time I waste doing nothing. Earlier this week I was snow bound and had two days off from work. Did I write? Nope. And now I feel bad because I had the opportunity to accomplish a great deal and I just let it pass me by.

I can see the end of this thing. There are times when I just want to jump in and start querying. But I know it's not time yet. I know how to get to the end, so what's holding me back?

Do you ever feel like there's an invisible something holding you back from your writing? How do you overcome it? I need some inspiration!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A British Soldier of Fortune in the American Civil War

In my research for The Enemy Within, I have run across quite a number of interesting characters. Lately I have been reading up on John Hunt Morgan, a dashing Confederate Calvary officer who was famous (or rather infamous) for his raids through Union territory. In reading some accounts, I stumbled across a mention of a British soldier named George St. Leger Grenfell. As you might imagine from the name, he was quite the personality. Born in Cornwall, England into a wealthy, aristocratic family, he was a bit of globe trotter. He participated in numerous wars as a mercenary or soldier of fortune. He apparently said, "If England is not at war, I will go find one..."

And so he did. Grenfell ran the Federal blockade and made his way to Richmond where he met with General Robert E. Lee. After presenting letters of introduction and asking to join the Confederate Army, Lee sent him to John Hunt Morgan's regiment in Kentucky. Lee told Morgan that Grenfell should, "be given every opportunity to gratify his rather extraordinary appetite for hazardous adventure.”

Grenfell served with Morgan for eight months before disappearing. Some say that he wanted command of one of Morgan's regiments, while others say that he was tired of the undisciplined soldiers that he had to interact with. When Grenfell resurfaced in Richmond, he briefly served under J.E.B. Stuart before being recruited into espionage. Together with other Confederate spies, Grenfell was in charge of fermenting a rebellion in the Midwestern states, which were teeming with Union democrats who contested the war.
Grenfell was eventually captured (along with another 150 men) after an aborted attempt to take over Chicago. He was initially sentenced to hang but the war ended, and President Johnson had his sentence reduced to imprisonment. Grenfell was sent to the Dry Tortugas to Fort Johnson, where he was jailed with Dr. Samuel Mudd (the physician who tended John Wilkes Booth's broken leg following Lincoln's assassination). In March of 1868, Grenfell and three other prisoners attempted to escape the fort. According to reports, their destination was Cuba, however a storm at sea capsized their boat. All four men were reported lost.

An article later appeared in the New York Times stating that Grenfell had reached his destination, but most historians believe this story was fabricated. The only certainty was that Grenfell was never heard from again.

I was certainly intrigued by this larger than life mercenary turned spy. It has set my creative juices into percolation, and I am now contemplating some serious revisions to The Enemy Within. After all, Alex doesn't have to be a detective...

We shall see what becomes of these machinations.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Breaking for...Historical Movie Candy!

I thought I would take a brief break from the travails and triumphs of historical fiction writing to discuss Masterpiece Theatre's new series, Downton Abbey. It starts this Sunday at 9pm, and runs through the end of January. I am so excited.

The series was a smash hit in England, where viewership exceeded 10 million. Apparently it has been the most popular series since Brideshead Revisited aired in the early 80s. It's not based upon a book, but it was written by Julian Fellows (who did Gosford Park), so I'm sure it will be fascinating anyway.

The basic premise is that complexing issue of English entail. The Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) only has a daughter, and so the estate and his title will go to a distant relative after his death. From what I gather, the Dowager Countess (played by the luminous Maggie Smith) and the current Countess (Elizabeth McGovern) scheme to make sure that the estate and the money go to the daughter, instead of this distant relative. He, of course, will inherit title.

I am very interested in this premise since it echoes a plot line in my own novel, and since I have had a lot of trouble researching how a family could disinherit an heir, I will be eagerly taking notes. And drooling over the costumes since it is set in one of my favorite periods--the Edwardian era.

According to Wikipedia, Highclere Castle in Hampshire was used as the Abbey.

For more information on the series, as well as some juicy previews, visit the Masterpiece Theatre website. And steer clear of the fan site, I just accidently read a major spoiler. Grrr....