Guest Post: Jane Austen and Me by Eileen Dreyer
Don’t worry. I’m not comparing myself with the godmother of romance. But I do have something in common with her. No, not her inimitable style, her restricted life, her sharp wit. But I did find myself in a position that might have looked familiar to anyone who knows her work. I got to visit Lyme Regis, the little town in Southern England where Jane famously once visited. In fact, I not only visited, I did a walking tour of Persuasion and climbed the Cobb. Fortunately, unlike Louisa Musgrave, I survived the incident unscathed.
How did I get there, you ask? Well, in my last book, ALWAYS A TEMPTRESS, one of my Drake’s Rakes, Colonel Ian Ferguson, ended up shot, accused of treason, and bobbing around in the English Channel. I knew his would be the next book, but when I shot him, I had no idea what I was going to do with him.
Came the time to write his story, ONCE A RAKE, I realized that I had to put him somewhere. Okay, so he was going to have to wash up to shore, but where? I wanted him on the run, and hiding out in a fairly isolated place, but not too far from London(and along the route of the Naval vessel he’d fallen off of when he got shot). I also realized through research that one of the characters integral to my nefarious spy plot, Princess Charlotte, was at that very moment (truly) living in Weymouth.
So. Someplace on the south coast of England, near Weymouth, but not too close, since there were lots of naval security around her. I also needed someplace that could be acquainted with smugglers. I knew one of my bad guys would be involved with the Gentlemen(as it happens, one of the good guys was, too). I did a lot of research, developed a close relationship with Google Earth. And then, in a moment of serendipity, my friend Karyn Witmer told me about a book she was reading called REMARKABLE CREATURES by Tracy Chevalier(which I have listed along with my other research on my Research page on my website) about fossil hunters in an area called The Jurassic Coast, which just happened to be about fifteen miles west of Weymouth.
Well, I read the book, thinking I might get a feel for the area. I did. I also learned about fossils, paleantology, and Mary Anning, an amazing girl who discovered the first intact dinosaur skeleton in the cliffs just east of Lyme Regis. I have no idea why that book spoke so strongly to me. Something about the fact that the late 17th and early 18th Century was a real renaissance for amateur scientists caught my imagination(this fact also impacts the other books in this second trilogy). When I found out that Mary Anning hunted fossils along the Jurassic Coast and worked at her family’s Fossil Shop in Lyme Regis.
After doing a bit more mapreading, I decided that Ian would spend most of his time being nursed by Sarah, Lady Clark at her run-down estate on the cliffs west of town in an area known as the Undercliff. And, of course, when Ian kidnaps Sarah to help him escape, they travel inland as far as Cerne Abbas(where I have a scene I had to delete in which Sarah and Ian run across the Cerne Abbas Giant. I’m also putting that up on my website.) But Sarah had to make journeys into Lyme for various reasons. She even had to use the post office(the one Jane Austen also visited, which is still there). So when I next had a chance to go back to Ireland, I stopped in at Lyme Regis first.
The first thing I have to tell you is that if Jane Austen did, in fact, walk that town, she must have had the legs of a mountain goat and the lungs of a horse. Lyme Regis is steep. Every step of it, all the way down Broad Street to Bridge Street and the waterfront, where the Anning shop used to be, and back up Church Street to the post office and St. Michael the Archangel, where Mary Anning is buried.
Lyme is definitely a tourist town, tarted up for the summer and a bit grim off-season(I always travel off-season), but the countryside is gorgeous, and the crumbling cliffs both north and south still able to give up the odd ammonite or devil’s toenail that once fascinated Mary so much. Smuggling was not unknown during this time, and there are certainly hidden nooks and beaches in which to hide a fast ship. The beach is a shingle beach, the rocks round and large, so that the waves make a chuckling noise when they roll over them.
It ended up being the perfect home for ONCE A RAKE. From the vast sea to the shaded, fern-rich crannies of the Undercliff to the narrow, friendly streets of Lyme and rolling farmland that stretches away north, I could truly see my characters working, loving, fighting and fleeing across this ancient, rich landscape. I consider the Jurassic Coast almost another character.
Is the backdrop important to you? Do you like to feel as if you walk right alongside the characters, smelling, seeing, hearing what she hears, and knowing that it really is like that? Does it make a difference if an author makes the setting as real as the characters who inhabit it? Or does that stuff just get in the way? I’d love to know.
About the Author:
New York Times bestselling, award-winning author Eileen Dreyer, known as Kathleen Korbel to her Silhouette readers, has published 28 romance novels, 8 medico-forensic suspenses, and 7 short stories.
2012 sees Eileen enjoying critical acclaim for her first foray into historical romance, the Drake’s Rakes series, which follow the lives of a group of British aristocrats who are willing to sacrifice everything to keep their country safe. After publication of the first trilogy in the series, she has just signed for the next trilogy, following the graduates of the aptly named Last Chance Academy, who each finds herself crossing swords with Drake’s Rakes. Eileen spent time not only in England and Italy, but India to research the series (it’s a filthy job, but somebody has to do it).
And if you can, stop by Facebook, or Twitter(@eileendreyer), or my website where I have more about my research for ONCE A RAKE, and even the outtake with the Cerne Abbas Giant.