Creative Inspiration: The Victorian Era

There’s a joke I’ve seen on Pinterest, a cartoon of a writer watching TV. The character says, “I’m researching!” to the cynical-looking people standing nearby. For those of us who write fiction, we know that watching TV or movies, listening to music, or going for walks really is research because all of it becomes part of the writing process. Writers, especially fiction writers, need their imagination fueled regularly, and it’s the little things we do, such as stealing an hour here or there to watch a favorite TV show or listen to our favorite music, that help to fill the creative well so that we have a brain full of ideas when we sit down to write.

When it comes time to write, especially if I’m writing an historical story, I try to immerse myself in the time period as much as possible. If I feel as if I’ve traveled back in time, then it’s easier for me to carry my readers along with me on the journey. Here are some of the places I found inspiration while writing my Victorian era story When It Rained at Hembry Castle. My hope is that by reading over my list, others will discover places to find inspiration of their own.

Books

Nonfiction:

 How to Be a VictorianUp and Down Stairs: The History of the Country House Servant by Jeremy Musson

What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool

How To Be a Victorian: A Dusk-to-Dawn Guide to Victorian Life by Ruth Goodman (one of my new favorite historians—she lives what she studies)

The Victorian City: Everyday Life in Dickens’ London and Inside the Victorian Home: A Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England by Judith Flanders

The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in Regency and Victorian England From 1811-1901 by Kristine Hughes

To Marry an English Lord by Gail MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace

Below Stairs: The Classic Kitchen Maid’s Memoir That Inspired “Upstairs, Downstairs” and “Downton Abbey” by Margaret Powell

The Essential Handbook of Victorian Etiquette by Thomas E. Hill

Fiction:

When reading novels, I look for books written during the era I’m writing about as well as novels written about the era. Other times I’ll find inspiration in a novel that isn’t necessarily set in that time period but there’s something about the story that provides some ideas.

Bleak HouseThe Buccaneers and The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

Snobs by Julian Fellowes

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

I read A LOT of P.G. Wodehouse (but really, can you read too much Wodehouse?)

I read A LOT of Dickens (but really, can you read too much Dickens?)

Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel (set in the Tudor era—I know—but she’s such a master of historical fiction I needed to read the books again)

Television and Film

For me, TV and film are the same as fiction—some of what I watch is set in the era, some is not, but all stir my imagination in one way or another.

 Downton Abbey (Surprised, right?)

Upstairs, Downstairs

The miniseries of The Buccaneers

 North and South

 Lark Rise to Candleford

 Cranford

 Pride and Prejudice (Colin Firth’s version)

Miss Fisher's Murder MysteriesSense and Sensibility (Emma Thompson’s—and Alan Rickman’s—version)

I tried to watch the TV versions of Bleak House and Great Expectations, but to be honest screen adaptations of Dickens’ work rarely thrill me. They get the drama down all right, but you’d never guess Dickens was one of the funniest authors in the English language from the dreariness of the adaptations. I’m doing a little better with Dickensian, if for nothing else but Stephen Rea’s performance as Inspector Bucket.

Keeping Up Appearances—Another Bucket (It’s BooKAY).

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries—this outstanding Australian show is set in the 1920s, but I love Essie Davis’ Phryne Fisher so much I’ll use any excuse to watch it. Phryne Fisher’s clothes are even more fabulous than the costumes on Downton Abbey.

Music

Since my Victorian story is set in the 1870s, people were dancing to waltzes and polkas. Strauss and Chopin were favorite composers, which works well for me since I love to listen to classical music.

Victorian Love SongsI was also able to find a few mp3s of Victorian-era music. I wasn’t concerned with whether or not these were songs specifically from the 1870s, and the music didn’t necessarily make it into the novel, but I really enjoy listening to music from the general time period while I’m writing. It helps me get into the right frame of mind. Here are a few examples of what I found:

Victorian Dining by Peter Breiner and Don Gillis

Victorian Edwardian by Alexander Faris

Victorian Love Songs by Craig Duncan

If you’re writing historical fiction, I highly recommend listening to music from the era while you write. I find a lot of great songs on Amazon, and if you have Amazon Prime then you can listen to some of the music for free.

Pinterest

I adore Pinterest. For me, Pinterest isn’t social media as much as something I do for fun because I love it so much. When It Rained at Hembry Castle is the first novel I’ve written since I started on Pinterest, so it’s the first time I was able to use pictures from the site to inspire my writing. When I needed to describe the sitting room at Hembry Castle, for example, I simply needed to go onto my research board, find the pin for the photograph I wanted to use as inspiration, and describe what I saw. If you’re writing your novel on Scrivener, you can import those photos directly into your novel file so they’re readily available when you need them.

When I was researching the novel, I created a private board for Hembry Castle because I didn’t want to bombard my followers with my many research pins. Then, when I had everything I needed, I created a public board so people could see the inspiration behind the story. Want to check out the board? It’s here.

Travel

 I had a few things to say about traveling for research purposes in this post. Of course, it’s not always possible to travel, but if you can then do.

London, England: I’ll have more to say about my journeys to London for research purposes in a later post. For now, I’ll say that London is always a good idea.

Pittock Mansion in Portland, Oregon

Pittock Mansion in Portland, Oregon

Portland, Oregon: An odd place to travel when researching a novel set in Victorian England, I know. I didn’t actually travel there for that purpose, but when I arrived I found Pittock Mansion, an American, smaller-scale version of an English country house, and Pittock Mansion provided a lot of inspiration for Hembry Castle. In fact, the music room and the library in Hembry Castle were modeled after rooms in Pittock Mansion.

This is just the short list of places where I found inspiration for my Victorian historical novel. I hope you’ve discovered a few ideas for places you might seek inspiration for your own historical stories, whichever era they’re set in.

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When It Rained at Hembry Castle a Best Book of 2016

Hello everyone! Yes, I’m still officially on hiatus, but I wanted to drop a quick note letting you know that When It Rained at Hembry Castle has been named one of the best self-published books of 2016 by IndieReader in the historical fiction category. The article is currently on The Huffington Post. Thank you to the great people at IndieReader. It’s much appreciated!

The Book in Your Head Versus the Book Your Readers Read

Since February 9, When It Rained at Hembry Castle has sold over 1000 copies. Thank you! I’m sure there are other authors who can sell that many in a day, but I think those are pretty snazzy numbers.

After the release of my new book, I had an interesting conversation with a fellow author about what happens when you put a book out into the world. As writers, we spend hours, weeks, years living with a story, and then one day we have to set the story free. But what happens when other people (also known as readers) begin to read that story?

images-1I have a friend who is struggling with this issue while she’s getting ready to release her first novel, a venture into Steampunk complete with Victorianisms and fancy-pants machinery. The fear that nearly paralyzes her is the worry over bad reviews. I’ve tried to explain to her that it’s all part of the game. Every book gets bad reviews. I want you to check your favorite book’s Amazon page. I’ll wait. While you’re looking, you’re likely to see some bad reviews there.

I had a few things to say about negative reviews here. Focus on the people who like what you do, I say. They’re the ones who will look forward to your new releases. And if you really can’t handle book reviews, you can always do what I do—not read them. I kid you not. I don’t read negative reviews of my own books. My mother tried to catch me out once when I was talking about a movie review I had read. “I thought you said you don’t read reviews,” she said. What I said, I explained, is I don’t read my own reviews. I read other people’s reviews all the time.

The discussion with my friend about book reviews led into another conversation about the book writers think they’re writing versus the book the readers read. Think of it this way—when we’re writing a story, we know what we intend to do, why the pieces of the puzzle are set out the way they are, why this character says one thing when she means another. But when readers read, they’re not in our heads, they’re in their heads. Which is just as well. My head is crowded enough with only me in there. Readers have their own experiences, their own likes and dislikes, their own tastes. In the end, it doesn’t matter what I intended when I was crafting the story. To the readers, it only matters what happens when they engage with the story.

UnknownNext, my friend asked how to write a novel that will appeal to everyone. The answer is you can’t. I mean, really, you can’t. I see articles all over Pinterest and Twitter with headlines like “10 Steps to an International Bestseller” or “How to Make Everyone Love Your Book” or “I Don’t Suck at Writing Anymore, and Now You Won’t Either” (for a fee, of course). Here’s the secret that’s not really a secret: you have to write something that could only come from you. I love this quote from Barbara Kingsolver because it explains the point far better than I ever could (yes, I found it on Pinterest): “Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the only thing you have to offer.” How true.

When we write, we figure out what we have to say and we say it the very best way we know how. And if what people read is different than what we thought we were writing? As Toni Morrison once said to Oprah Winfrey, “That is called reading.” Readers are going to bring their own perspectives to the page. They’re going to see the characters and the events through their lens, not yours. And you know what? It’s all good. Many times readers see our stories in a completely different light than we intended, and often they see possibilities the writers never considered.

Here’s a case in point, and one close to my heart because it involves Hembry Castle. When I began writing Hembry in 2014, I had just come off the success of the Loving Husband Trilogy and I thought Hembry would be a great way to go back to writing a love story that readers would cheer for. Edward Ellis and Daphne Meriwether were always the focus for me as I was writing the novel. Yes, Daphne has to figure out how to live in this Downton Abbey-like world, but all along I saw When It Rained at Hembry Castle as a great love story. And here’s what happened…

Before I continue I should say that, while I don’t read reviews of my own books, I do read every email that comes my way. Readers who emailed me about Hembry weren’t gushing over Edward and Daphne. They were asking about Richard, Daphne’s uncle, the 9th Earl of Staton. In the reader’s mind (at least those who contacted me), Richard was the center of attention. He is the Earl of Staton, after all. But I was intrigued by their questions about Richard when to me Edward and Daphne are the stars of the show. Is it wrong for readers to focus on Richard? Of course not. But realizing that readers were not necessarily reading the book I thought I had written was a huge revelation to me and a continuing source of fascination.

Over the years, I’ve learned to keep my focus on writing the best stories I know how before sending those stories off into the world with my blessings. Everything else is beyond my control—even how readers respond to the books I’ve written. If, as writers, we can learn to make peace with that, then there will be much more smooth sailing ahead.

When It Rained at Hembry Castle is Now Available

Enter the giveaway for a chance to win a paperback copy of When It Rained at Hembry Castle.

Enter the giveaway for a chance to win a paperback copy of When It Rained at Hembry Castle.

Finally! My first new novel in two years! When It Rained at Hembry Castle is now available on Amazon, BN, iTunes, and Kobo in ebook and paperback formats. The ebook is on sale for .99 cents from now until April 30 when it will go up to its regular price of $2.99. The paperback is $16.99.

Love Downton Abbey? From New in Books: Six Books to Read if You Love Downton Abbey

Here’s the blurb for When It Rained at Hembry Castle:

From Meredith Allard, author of the bestselling Loving Husband Trilogy, comes When It Rained at Hembry Castle, a lush historical novel set in Victorian England. Perfect for fans of Downton Abbey, it’s the story of an aristocratic family, secrets that dare not be told, and the wonder of falling in love.

When the 8th Earl of Staton dies, his eldest son, the unreliable Richard, inherits the title and the family’s home—Hembry Castle. The Earl’s niece, the American-born Daphne Meriwether, is intrigued by Edward Ellis, a rising author with a first-hand knowledge of Hembry Castle—from the servants’ hall. And Edward, though captivated by the lovely Daphne, has his own hurdles he must overcome. Can Richard come to terms with his title before bringing ruin on his family? Will Edward and Daphne find their way to each other despite the obstacles of life at Hembry Castle?

When It Rained at Hembry Castle is a page-turning, romantic novel with vivid characters and an engrossing story that will keep you guessing until the end.

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Press Releases:

Bestselling Author Meredith Allard to Publish a Downton Abbey Inspired Novel 

A New Read for Fans of Downton Abbey

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