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FROM THE AUTHOR - About The Heart Has Its Reasons
What can an author do when she uncovers a scandal in the family? Write about it, of course!
I discovered a salacious situation when I unlocked a mysterious branch of my family during genealogical research. In 18th century England, a divorce! A well documented court case was connected, too. And so I wrote a short story about it and included it in the collection Stories of Life, Stories of Love. When I read more about the people involved, I needed little encouragement to expand the tale into a historical romance novel. There’s None So Blind evolved into The Heart Has Its Reasons.
Of course, I used a little dramatic licence, but at its heart, the novel is grounded in truth. Research was involved. Not just of the genealogical sort, but in the way people talked then, the clothes they wore, the environment they inhabited.
Finding the contemporary account of a scandalous court case involving an ancestor at the heart of the story was a huge plus. Of course, a facsimile edition just would not do. And asking it be sent through the post was also out of the question. So I travelled to San Francisco, to a shop on a seedy street which proved an Aladdin’s cave of precious old law books and related art work. At last, at huge cost, I had the work in my hands. Written in the 1790s. With illustrations. And verbatim accounts of the affair by servants and friends of the parties involved. I couldn’t resist researching some of these witnesses. One was involved in an escapade with a very fat actress in a hot air balloon! There’s a story there.
I loved writing The Heart Has Its Reasons. It was a great excuse to immerse myself in costume design in London’s Victoria and Albert museum. What a treasure trove of clothing and furniture design that establishment is. We really pushed the boat out on that particular visit to London, staying in the heart of Bloomsbury where I could explore the squares with their private parks, open only to residents of the surrounding palatial terrace houses. My family had inhabited several of them. No longer, alas.
Of course, genealogical research can sometimes uncover skeletons. Several of the real life people related to this story owned slaves and plantations in the West Indies, and traded in sugar. And yet some of those in the next generation were closely allied with William Wilberforce and campaigned to end slavery. Time and again, research reveals a dichotomy in the views and actions of related people. Like nowadays, I suppose.
I find it impossible to stick with just direct ancestors. I explore the lives of their siblings, even their cousins. Fortune has favoured me. Many were friends of, or married interesting people, though sometimes these friends could backstab! But because so many were famous, their opinions of my family are often found, not just in newspapers of the day, but in their collected letters. I don’t like name dropping, but people like Elizabeth Barrett Browning (she was a piece of work!), Wordsworth, Benjamin Disraeli, Elizabeth Fry, Lord Byron… Well, their notoriety has proved extremely useful.
Not all my family mixed with the great and the good. I’ve copies of begging letters from poverty-stricken actors, for instance. My three times great grandfather proved himself to be the black sheep within that generation of his family. One of the children of the real life equivalents of the hero and heroine in The Heart Has Its Reasons, he was born in Surrey in 1808, went to India as a cadet officer with the East India Company, came back to London and became a partner in a business, neatly quitting just before the enterprise was bankrupted. He married a lady from London, in Paris (I still haven’t worked out what they were doing there). They lived in England for a while, then it was off to Canada. I’ve surmised he may have been involved in building a railway, but that’s conjecture. My two times great grandmother was born there, along with one of her sisters, then it was back to England, before they sailed for Australia. Various adventures followed, his wife died, he married a widow 37 years his junior and started a new family before becoming involved in all sorts of hot water, so he fled to Canada ahead of his creditors, leaving all his first family in Australia. Eventually he and his wife and small children drifted to a swamp in Florida, but then they dragged themselves back to respectability in Jacksonville, where he died in his eighties. He and his children, both the Australian and US branches, have provided me with yet more material. An abundance!
So, there’s been more than enough material found since I started exploring the family who inspired The Heart Has Its Reasons. There’s many a historical romance novel in my future.