Casting a wide net, with Anna Campbell
Recently, someone asked me where I got my ideas and I answered ‘everywhere’ which is true. Something that often sparks ideas is reading nonfiction based outside the Regency. I read a lot within the Regency period too - I’m currently in the middle of Men of Honor by Adam Nicolson about the Battle of Trafalgar, a book well worth a look.
But I want to talk about those ideas that come from left field. Those ideas that catch my interest and start me asking, “What if that happened in the Regency? What would be the implications?”
One of the germs of my courtesan story was The Glitter and the Gold by Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan. It’s the autobiography of the Vanderbilt heiress who became the Duchess of Marlborough in 1895. It’s a long time since I read it – I borrowed it from a friend. But I still remember Consuelo’s description of visiting Monte Carlo in the Belle Epoque and seeing the grandes horizontales, the famous courtesans of the day. The one who really captured my imagination was La Belle Otero. You will see why if you read the Wikipedia entry about her:
Another woman who really appealed to me was Catherine ‘Skittles’ Walters who was famous in the Victorian period both for her reputation as a demimondaine and also for her innate style. I’m writing another courtesan story and Skittles is with me as I create my heroine. Skittles was smart and brave and never kissed and told which is pretty classy, given who she was kissing, including the future Edward VII. I always get a kick out of the fact that she had herself sewn into her riding habits (she was a famous horsewoman) to show off her amazing figure. Here’s the wikipedia entry for her:
Another woman who inspired my current heroine is the French writer George Sand (Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin – and with a name like that, you can see why she plumped for George!). I was a dedicated piano student for most of my school life and of course, Chopin featured strongly in my education. If you’re into Chopin, poor George is something of a villain. But since then, I’ve found out more about this amazing woman who was a feminist before her time, who wore men’s clothing and smoked (shocking!) and made her living writing. And she died in the arms of her much younger lover at the age of 72. Go, George!
It’s been fascinating reading about these women although only George Sand lived close to the era I’m writing about (she was born in 1804 and my current story is set in 1826). They all had attributes that were easily transferred to a notorious Regency courtesan, the glamour, the independence, the courage, the sheer street smarts.
So thinking about this subject has left me with a few questions I’d love your thoughts on. Have you ever read anything in a book and transposed the situation to another time or place and wondered how it would all work out? Are there areas of the Regency you’d like to see explored more often? What do you admire in a heroine?
The best answer gets a signed copy of Claiming the Courtesan, my debut release from Avon which was released on 27th March.