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!
As you’ve probably already guessed, things are pretty busy on my end of the stick. My teaching and studies at UNLV are taking up all my time these days as I’m getting closer to finishing my PhD program. I’m finishing my required classes this semester, and I’m in the early stages of writing my dissertation.
I’m lucky enough to have stumbled upon a topic that has really captured my attention. At first, I was going to study how new teachers learn to teach writing. Sounds good, right? After all, writing is my life. For reasons I’m not even sure about, studying the teaching of writing felt lifeless and dry. If you’ve been reading this blog you know that I discovered the joys of art journaling over the summer, and art journaling gave me the idea about the use of creativity in teacher education. Creativity has sadly been removed from education in nearly every way due to the emphasis on standardized testing. Yet creativity is a necessary trait for success in the 21st century. How can we incorporate creativity into the training of new teachers? This is what I’ve been working on lately, but it’s an endeavor I’m enjoying because it’s a topic I’m excited about. If you’re interested in the importance of creativity for teachers, I recommend the book Creative Schools by Sir Ken Robinson (he gave that fabulous TED talk about ‘Do Schools Kill Creativity?’ Yes, they do, Sir Ken. Yes, they do).
Since every waking moment is taken with teaching my classes, doing my work for the classes I’m taking as a student, and reading for my dissertation study, I thought it was best to admit out loud that I’m not going to be able to post here for a while. I’ll keep you posted about what’s going on through Facebook and Twitter (the links to my social media pages are there in the right sidebar).
All the articles about my novels, writing historical fiction, and creative writing are still here and available for your reading pleasure. Check the Categories link (also in the sidebar) to find the articles you’d like to read.
Thanks to all of you who have been here from the very beginning, and to all the new friends who have signed up to this website. Stay tuned!
Here’s the interview I did for Many Books about my experience writing When It Rained at Hembry Castle. Enjoy!
Meredith Allard fell in love with Charles Dickens’ work when she was in college and after watching every Downton Abbey episode multiple times, she decided to create a work inspired by her favorite author and TV show. When it Rained at Hembry Castle is the perfect marriage between the humor and mystery of Dickens’ work and the upstairs/downstairs world of the English aristocrats. As our author of the day, Allard tells us more about what made her want to write a book set in the Victorian era, how she makes her characters come to life and how Hembry Castle has been brewing in her mind for 20 years.
Please give us a short introduction to When it Rained at Hembry Castle
When It Rained at Hembry Castle is set in Victorian England in 1870. It’s the story of American Daphne Meriwether, the granddaughter of the Earl of Staton. When the Earl dies, Daphne and her father Frederick return to England. It’s a challenge for Daphne, learning to live in the upstairs/downstairs world of her father’s family. And she may fall in love with the aspiring writer Edward Ellis while she’s there. Of course, obstacles get in their way. Hembry Castle is a love story at heart, though it has an interesting cast of characters who make life interesting for Edward and Daphne.
Why Victorian England? What fascinates you about this time period?
I fell in love with the novels of Charles Dickens when I was in college and I always wanted to write a book set in this era. The Victorian Era is interesting because it is a time that is both historical and yet in some ways it feels modern. I love learning about history, and writing historical fiction is a great way for me to do that.
Did it require a lot of research to keep your novel historically correct? Which part of the research did you find the most interesting?
This was one historical novel that I didn’t have to do a ton of research for because I already had a lot of knowledge about it from reading Dickens and reading books about the era. I did double check everything I wrote, but since I knew where to look for the information that made it a shorter process than usual for me. I was able to travel to London twice as part of my research, and I absolutely loved that. London is a great city. In fact, I’ve walked many of Edward’s walks through the city. I think being able to visit and see the places for myself make the story much more realistic.
What, would you say, makes the English aristocrats so interesting to read about?
When It Rained at Hembry Castle was partially inspired by Downton Abbey, and the popularity of Downton Abbey is largely based on the curiosity people have about the upstairs/downstairs world of English aristocrats. In America, the upstairs/downstairs world is not part of our culture the way it is in Britain, and I think that accounts for the fascination about that lifestyle. It’s an introduction to a world we knew nothing about.
Privilege and class division are recurring themes in When it Rained at Hembry Castle. Why?
Since Downton Abbey was such a big influence on Hembry Castle, it seemed appropriate that privilege and class division should play a part in the story. My love for all things Dickens also inspired the novel, and privilege and class division are often themes in his stories. While I love watching Downton Abbey and am fascinated by the lifestyle of the upper classes, I can’t imagine ever having to live according to such arbitrary rules and regulations. Daphne represents the way I would look at that lifestyle if I were thrust into that world—with a sense of detachment and maybe some humor about it all. The fact that Daphne falls in love with the butler’s grandson when her grandmother means for her to marry a duke allowed me to probe a bit deeper into what seems to be the pointlessness of class division, but, again, I’m American and would see it that way.
How did you manage to describe England’s countryside and other locations in your book so vividly?
Partially it was through reading, partially it was through photographs on Pinterest, but mainly it was my imagination. I was able to picture the scenery in my mind’s eye and I did my best to describe what I saw. And watching every episode of Downton Abbey many times helped!
Which classic author do you admire the most?
Charles Dickens, if you haven’t already figured that out. I read Dickens for the first time in college and knew that that’s what I wanted to do—write stories that were entire worlds unto themselves. I love his sense of humor, his spot-on observations, his way of pointing out things that were wrong in his world, many of which are still wrong in our world today. He’s the smartest, funniest writer I’ve ever read. Dickens has been the biggest influence in my own writing.
When it Rained at Hembry Castle contains many hilarious scenes. Why do you find it important to use humor in your writing?
This goes back to my love for Dickens. Dickens was a hilarious writer, and from him I learned that if you’re going to write truthfully about people then you have to include the light as well as the dark. People are funny. We do and say funny things all the time (sometimes without meaning to do so—which makes it even funnier). And besides, a sense of humor goes a long way in making a story fun to read.
Your book has a very Downton Abbey feel to it. Was that intentional? Are you a Downton Abbey fan yourself?
I love Downton Abbey and it was absolutely intentional to include the upstairs/downstairs feel of the show. In fact, Downton Abbey gave me an angle from which to tell the story. I came up with the original idea for Hembry Castle about 20 years ago (no joke) when I decided I wanted to write a story set in Victorian England about a writer who would be loosely based on a young Charles Dickens. I went on to write other novels and kept the Victorian story on the back burner for years. After I fell in love with Downton Abbey I realized that I could take elements from that TV show and use it to bring my Victorian story to life.
What are some tricks you use to create such believable characters?
Mainly, I use my imagination. It took me longer to write Hembry Castle than I thought it would because it took me some time to get to know all the characters. I can’t write about a character until I get a sense of his or her personality. Hembry Castle has a larger cast of characters than I usually write about, and it took me some time to get them all straight in my head. Really, it’s about not thinking too much during the first draft, allowing the characters to materialize in front of me, and then writing down what I see. Sometimes I’ll put a favorite actor in the “part” of that character and imagine that actor acting out the scenes. That helps me get a sense of cadence when the character speaks, the types of movements the character might do, and so on. But really, it all boils down to allowing my imagination freedom.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
Writing is my most obvious superpower, but when I’m not writing I love to read. I also love to cook, and I just started art journaling, which I really enjoy.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
The best place to find me online is my website, www.meredithallard.com. I’m also on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/authormeredithallard/. My favorite social media is Pinterest, and you can find me at https://www.pinterest.com/meredithallard/. I could stay on that all day!
When It Rained at Hembry Castle
About the Author
While I’m busy starting a new semester at UNLV, I thought I’d reblog this oldie but goodie about my decision to return to college after 20 years. Enjoy!
I’ve been following Catherine Ryan Howard’s blog Catherine, Caffeinated for a few years now, and I love her insights into indie publishing, her sarcastic sense of humor, and I freely admit that I share her love for all things caffeine. Recently, Catherine posted an article about how the hardest thing about a decision is making it. In her post, Catherine talks about her long-time desire to attend Trinity College in Dublin, and how, finally, at the last minute she applied, and how, finally, she’s attending the university she dreamed about. I nodded as I read Catherine’s post because I had the same realization—that the hardest part about a decision is making it.
Like Catherine, I had university dreams for years. I knew from the time I was working on my BA in English that I wanted to pursue my PhD so I could teach at the university level, but you know…
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