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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

TRACY GRANT WRITES OF APSLEY HOUSE, AKA NUMBER ONE LONDON


Welcome author Tracy Grant, who newest title, London Gambit. is released tomorrow.  She is continuing her series about Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch...and this time, they are to be found at none other than our favorite Apsley House, residence of the Dukes of Wellington and the Wellington Museum.

Tracy's website can be found here.



From Tracy Grant: 
A decade ago, on a research trip to London, I spent a wonderful morning at Apsley House, the Duke of Wellington’s London home, now the Wellington Museum, which stands at Hyde Park Corner. Along with taking in fascinating details, from the beautiful and surprisingly livable rooms, to the Waterloo memorabilia, to the naked statue of Napoleon Bonaparte at the base of the stairs, I learned about the banquets Wellington gave for Waterloo veterans on the anniversary of the battle. The idea of those banquets stayed with me through the years. Through writing the adventures of married spies Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch at the Congress of Vienna, the battle of Waterloo, and post-Waterloo Paris (the latter of which two books, Imperial Scandal and The Paris Affair, include Wellington himself and several of his officers as characters), through the birth of my daughter (now four), through researching numerous other settings and bringing Malcolm and Suzanne and the series back to London. 

Apsley House (English Heritage)

The timeline of the series naturally set the most recent book, London Gambit (which will be released tomorrow, May 5), in June 1818. Perhaps the date, three years after Waterloo, subconsciously influenced me, because as I developed the plot,  I found echoes of the battle running through the story, both for the fictional characters - Malcolm and Suzanne, their friend Harry who was wounded at Waterloo, Harry’s wife Cordelia, their friends David and Simon who helped Suzanne and Cordelia nurse the wounded during the battle - and the real historical characters such as Fitzroy Somerset, Wellington’s military secretary, who lost his arm at Waterloo. 

I needed a major social event for the denouement of the book, and I really wanted it to revolve round the anniversary of Waterloo on 18 June. But in 1818, Wellington was still British ambassador to France and based in Paris, though he already had come into possession of Apsley House. The house was designed by Robert Adam and built in the 1770s for the second Earl of Bathurst (who had been Baron Apsley before he succeeded to the earldom). Wellington's brother Richard, Marquess Wellesley, purchased Apsley House in 1807 and engaged James Wyatt to improve it (with the assistance of Thomas Cundy). Though the grateful nation offered to build Wellington a London home, Wellington instead bought Apsley House from his brother in 1817 (to help Richard out of financial difficulties). In 1818 Wellington engaged Benjamin Dean Wyatt, James Wyatt’s son, to make repairs to the house. Wyatt installed the nude statue of Napoleon by Antonio Canova, which Wellington had acquired, at the base of the stairs. 


Napoleon by Canova, in Apsley House (Victoria's photo)


Though he purchased Apsley House in 1817, Wellington probably didn’t give his first banquet for Waterloo veterans at Apsley House until 1820, and the first of his banquets took place in a dining room that could only seat 35, so the guests were limited to senior officers. After the Waterloo Gallery was completed in 1830, up to 85 guests could attend, including guests who had not been present at the battle, but the guest list was limited to men. There’s a painting of the banquet in 1836 by William Salter (capturing the moment when Wellington proposed a toast to the sovereign, after which the band played the national anthem) that shows some ladies standing by the door, including Fitzroy Somerset’s wife Emily Harriet, who was Wellington’s niece, and a “Miss Somerset” who may be their daughter who was a baby at the time of Waterloo, born in Brussels in the weeks before the battle. Perhaps they had been dining separately in the house and joined the gentlemen for the toast.


Waterloo Banquet by William Salter, 1836


While I worked on the first draft of London Gambit, I danced round what to do with the Waterloo anniversary. I thought about having a fictional character give a dinner on 18 June. I even thought about having Wellington come over from Paris for the fictional dinner. And then I thought—Wellington did own Apsley House in 1818. He could have given a dinner on the anniversary of Waterloo (even if in fact he did not). And, since the dinner in my book would be fictional, he could include women among the guests…

Historical novelists always to a certain degree combine fact and fiction because we fill in gaps in the historical record. This is even more true when one writes novels such as I do with fictional main characters and real historical figures in major supporting roles. One inevitably combines historical events with fictional ones. I try to stick closely to the historical record, but of course I end up taking some liberties with it whether it's Lady Caroline Lamb, a childhood friend of my fictional Cordelia Davenport, putting Lord and Lady Castlereagh at a fictional ball they of course wouldn’t have attended, having Malcolm pressed not delivering messages for Wellington during Waterloo (though in point of fact with so many of his aides-de-camp wounded, Wellington did press some civilians into service), or having Castlereagh, Wellington, and Sir Charles Stuart preoccupied with the intrigue surrounding the death of my fictional Antoine Rivère in post-Waterloo Paris. I try to stick to having real historical characters only do things they might have done. For instance, if a real historical figure was known to have a string of love affairs, I might involved them in a fictional one, but if they were known to be a famously faithful spouse, I wouldn’t think it was fair to do so.

By that logic, since Wellington could have come to London and given a dinner on the third anniversary of Waterloo, having him host a dinner in the book was in line with the sort of historical liberties I take in the series. Fitzroy Somerset was Wellington’s secretary at the British embassy in Paris in June 1818, but he stood for and won a parliamentary seat at Truro in the General Election in 1818, and he was in Truro for the election, so I had already decided it was all right to have him visiting England in June so he could be a character in the book. I debated some more about the banquet, wrote the ending with Wellington giving the dinner at Apsley House, debated changing it in subsequent drafts. In the end I left it, with an historical note explaining the liberties I had taken. Reading over the galleys, I was glad I did. The Waterloo anniversary ties the themes in the book together beautifully and having the event at Apsley House with Wellington present gives the added resonance to the echoes of Waterloo that run through the story.

Author Tracy Grant with her daughter and their kitties


For more information about Apsley House and Wellington, the Victoria and Albert Museum offers an excellent publication book Apsley House: Wellington Museum (London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 2001). The Apsley House website is here.

Readers, how do you feel about writers taking liberties with the historical record? Writers, what liberties have you taken with historical figures, events, and timing?

Monday, May 2, 2016

KERRYN REID LEARNING TO WALTZ

Last fall, when I found out Learning to Waltz had been chosen best Regency romance for 2014 by Chanticleer Book Reviews, Victoria and Kristine invited me to Number One London to share my excitement. (See that post here.)



I’m back again, because at long last I have received my prize: A free Chanticleer review. Five stars! I’d say it was worth the wait. (Read the review here.)

“Reid's focus,” says the reviewer, “is on her richly developed characters, not just costumes and carriages.” She is right that character comes first. A novel without memorable characters isn’t worth reading. And beyond memorable, there has to be at least one I really like and can root for, however flawed he or she might be. (In Learning to Waltz, of course, there is more than one. In fact, I have a soft spot for each and every one of them. Yes, even Doctor Overley and Deborah’s feckless brother!)

But setting runs a pretty close second, and that makes “costumes and carriages” important too. Setting encompasses a lot of different elements, from geography and climate to the scene outside – and inside – the window. But in historical fiction, so much of setting is wrapped up in when the story takes place. Costumes and carriages, of course, but also language, food, holidays, religion, political events… aargh, the list goes on forever. Yet these details of daily life add so much! They make it feel authentic, realistic. They help draw a reader into the story and persuade her it really could have happened.

Which brings me (finally!) to today’s topic: research. Most of the historical writers I know love research as much as they love writing. Many of us could get lost in it and never come out again. After all, if we didn’t like history, we would probably choose a different genre.

Research is critical to a good historical novel – thankfully there’s a lot of information out there! Too much, I sometimes think. Books from the period ran the gamut from Gothic novels to sermons, travelogues to gardening. Newspapers covered politics, entertainment and more. (Even the ads are fascinating.) A wide variety of periodicals provide abundant information  about literature, science, fashion. And there are the personal documents: letters, ledgers, household lists and “receipts” (recipes), and so much more.


Plenty of important history took place during the Regency, from the Napoleonic wars on down; there were bound to be historical researchers digging in and writing about their findings. But it makes a difference, I think, that Regency Romance has been popular for so long. Since Georgette Heyer published Regency Buck in 1935, this brief ten-year span (1811-1820) has received more than its share of attention from novelists. While the historians pry out political secrets, others delight in discovering the daily facts of life and write their own books, not only novels but also non-fiction to help other writers and enthusiasts.

My humble Regency research library consists of some 70 volumes. Sounds like a lot, yet there are probably thousands more. Unfortunately I don’t have the money to buy them, the space to keep them, or the time to read them. In fact, I don’t often sit down and read the books I have; when I have a question I need answered, I pull out the most likely ones and utter some swear words about inadequate indexing. Then I go to the internet, where there are hundreds of blogs and newsletters on the subject, most of them easy to navigate. Maybe that’s because they’re mostly published by my fellow Regency writers, who know how important it is to be able to find what you’re looking for!

My second book will have the benefit of another type of research! I expect to have a complete first draft by the time I visit Yorkshire in October, but there will still be time for changes. I want to see those northern moors in person, and the 1808 library in Leeds where I’ve set a crucial scene. I want to see historical buildings large and small, rich and poor, and find out what they’re made of. Leeds has some fantastic online resources, but I want more! I only wish I could see it as it was in 1822! A couple of hours would do, just until I needed a proper toilet.

I’m sorry I couldn’t give Learning to Waltz that kind of attention. Measham, where most of the action takes place, is fictional, but Lydford, where Deborah grew up, is very real. Dawlish too, where Evan explores the natural arch in what was then Langstone Headland and rides breakneck down the beach in a storm. Finding that arch online inspired the scene, which is a turning point in the story. I’m sure the local residents in both places – particularly the town historians – would have no trouble finding inaccuracies.

Dawlish Beach, 1881

(You can see the arch at the far left in this 1881 photo. At low tide it was, and still is, approachable on foot – or horseback. What you can’t see is the railroad, built directly along the beachfront in the 1840s. In laying the railbed, they also cut through the headland. The arch, and the rock that contains it, still exist, however. And I sure would have liked to see them before I wrote about them!)

I could, and probably should, have spent ten years doing research before ever setting pen to paper. And traveling all around the British Isles taking notes on absolutely everything! But I’m betting there would still be questions. I would still be searching books and the internet to find the answers. And alas, I would still be making mistakes. I just have to hope the reviewers don’t catch them!



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