Friday, February 21, 2014

Curiosity or Research? Guest post by Grace Elliott

The Ringmaster’s Daughter

1770’s London

The ringmaster’s daughter, Henrietta Hart, was born and raised around the stables of Foxhall  Gardens. Now her father is gravely ill, and their livelihood in danger. The Harts' only hope is to convince Foxhall’s new manager, Mr Wolfson, to let Hetty wield the ringmaster’s whip. Hetty finds herself drawn to the arrogant Wolfson but, despite their mutual attraction, he gives her an ultimatum: entertain as never before – or leave Foxhall.

When the winsome Hetty defies society and performs in breeches, Wolfson’s stony heart is in danger. Loath as he is to admit it, Hetty has a way with horses…and men. Her audacity and determination awaken emotions long since suppressed.

But Hetty’s success in the ring threatens her future when she attracts the eye of the lascivious Lord Fordyce. The duke is determined, by fair means or foul, to possess Hetty as his mistress – and, as Wolfson’s feelings for Henrietta grow, disaster looms.


This week I'd like to welcome author Grace Elliott to the blog.  She has just launched her latest historical romance, The Ringmaster's Daughter, and I'm delighted to have her here to tell us about the research that underlies her story.  

First, a little about the author:

Grace Elliot leads a double life as a veterinarian by day and author of historical romance by night. Grace lives near London and is housekeeping staff to five cats, two teenage sons, one husband and a bearded dragon. 

Grace believes that everyone needs romance in their lives as an antidote to the modern world. The Ringmaster’s Daughter is Grace’s fifth novel, and the first in a new series of Georgian romances.

Grace Elliot

Curiosity or Research?

Hello, I’m Grace and I write historical romance but just because I write ‘romance’ does not mean I forsake historical accuracy. History drives my work and provides the premise behind each book. Take as an example ‘The Ringmaster’s Daughter’, set in the fictional Foxhall Gardens, which was inspired by the Georgian and Victorian visitor attraction, the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens.

My research takes two forms – reading papers and non-fiction books pertinent to the period and also visiting the places where my novels take place. I need to know the facts, but I’m also a ‘sensory’ writer. I need to be able to imagine the sights, sounds and smells of a place before I can write about it – and this means walking where my characters would have walked.

Research is not a linear process. A writer doesn’t start off to find out about ‘A’ to the exclusivity of ‘B’ and ‘C’. It was as an offshoot of research for ‘Verity’s Lie’ that I first visited the Foundling Museum, London. My intention was to learn about abandoned children in 19th century London, to see the tokens their mothers left, find out what the children ate and where they slept. As it happened when I went the museum also had an exhibition about Vauxhall Gardens. My knowledge of pleasure gardens was hazy but they were very popular in the 18th and 19th centuries so it seemed silly to pass up the opportunity and so I paid my £7 and went. 

I came away inspired. 

The exhibition opened with an enormous painting showing a panoramic view of Vauxhall Gardens, and a table mounted model of the layout. I saw the tree-lined avenues, the exotic buildings and fanciful lighting schemes and was hooked. My creative juices flowed and I had to know more as it seemed such a wonderful setting for adventure and romance (which indeed, was why the gardens were so popular in their heyday). There were artefacts such as tickets and metal season tickets (polished to a shine by the hands that held them), paintings that once hung on the walls of the supper boxes (and would have been gazed on as patrons ate their slices of cobweb-thin ham), and scores for the music composed by Handel to be played there. I learnt the Foundling Hospital had links to Vauxhall, and famous patrons such as the painter, William Hogarth, and the composer, George Frederic Handel, worked with the gardens on events to raise money for the foundling cause. 

This sent me off on a tangent, on a later date visiting Hogarth’s house in London, to chase the painter’s connection to Vauxhall and investigate his lifestyle. Visiting was another wonderful experience since his home is one of those places where you sense history in the walls, and thrill that you occupy the same space (albeit hundreds of years later) where the great man once lived. It transpired the Vauxhall’s proprietor in the mid 1700’s, Jonathan Tyers, employed master painters to provide high class pictures for the salons and supper boxes…

Curiosity or research? 

I decided to create my own fictional version of Vauxhall, and use ‘Foxhall’ as a common character running through a series of Georgian romances based there. This doesn’t mean the history is compromised, because I adhere to strict accuracy, but it gave me designing my own layout gave me scope for further stories. Indeed, having learnt so much about Vauxhall, January this year I visited the site of the old pleasure gardens (and blogged about it: London Then and Now: Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens ). However, I came away disappointed by the experience.

The gardens closed in mid Victorian times and housing built on the site. During the World War II the houses were bombed and mostly destroyed. In the 1950’s the council decided to return some land to being a green space again, in tribute to the famous pleasure gardens, but also none of the actual landmarks remain to the present day. Sad, very sad. However, all is not lost because the gardens live on in spirit within the pages of The Ringmaster’s Daughter…

You can buy The Ringmaster's Daughter here:

And you can learn more about Grace and about her work in these places:

Subscribe to Grace’s quarterly newsletter here:

Grace’s blog ‘Fall in Love With History’

Grace on Twitter: @Grace_Elliot

I'd like to thank Grace Elliot for joining us today with this interesting look at her research, and I know we all wish her much success with this new book.

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