Lord Byron’s influence on the new books

In 2016, I had the pleasure of visiting Newstead Abbey, the property that Lord George Byron inherited from his great uncle in 1978, when George became the sixth Baron Byron.  Byron was a colourful man, and led a life full of intrigue. I had read his work and read letters and stories about his life, but I went to his home to seek more inspiration. He is of course the perfect draw for storytellers, when you are seeking ideas for captivating characters. That is why I went to his home, because I wanted to be able to touch on his life and discover what it was really like rather than just read about him in books. And oh my gosh, I am so glad I went there, because I walked into room after room of inspiration.

As most people know, Byron was a lover of the macabre and Newstead oozes that in a way that made me wonder what came first, the house he inherited or his love of gothic style games. Of course, you can tell from the name, that the property was previously a medieval abbey. What Byron inherited was a tumbled down medieval ruin that had been rebuilt into a Tudor manor. This is probably easier for me to imagine than it is for others to see  because Newstead Abbey has had many later amendments to its layout. But Lacock Abbey, which is just up the road from me, was also converted from an abbey into a stately Tudor home, and that is still very much as it was in the Tudor period.

However at Lacock some of the ruins have been kept in place underneath the Tudor house, so you can still walk about the nuns’ cloister in the middle of the property and in and out of great arched rooms that were once kitchens, storage rooms and the chapter house with its wallpainting and medieval tiles still in situ. At Newstead some of the outer ruins have been preserved . Below you can see the magnificent arch of an old abbey window, that was kept as nothing else but a piece of artwork in the gardens. The arch is not even the entrance to the garden; that is through a very small door to the left.

cropped-img_3758.jpgIn Byron’s day, the stairs were at the front here, though, and the steps went up to the first floor, so the door opened in to what was once the Abbey’s great hall, where the monks would have dined with any travelling pilgrims as guests. Lacock does still have it’s steps that lead directly to the great hall.

The other abbey that has stuck in my mind, as another property sold off by Henry VIII to his nobility from them to turn into a house, is the home that belonged to Jane Austen’s family – Stoneleigh Abbey. At Stoneleigh the entrance directly to the first floor has also been removed, but it’s Jacobean wing gives another context to help you imagine how Newstead would have looked in Byron’s day. Byron’s house also had a newer wing, which he used for guests.

Byron did not inherit much money to accompany his title, and so he could not repair and redecorate the house to any great extent. But he did choose a few small rooms to make a bit more luxurious. Today the other rooms have been changed and completed by the owners who have lived in the property since Byron’s day, but the rooms Byron had decorated are still very much as they were.

The dining room.

 

The study. Where he wrote when he was at home.

The library, where the goblet he had made from a skull he had found in the gardens was kept. It is only a replica on the table, though. The wife of the man who bought the property from him had it destroyed.

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A cellar in the undercroft of the Abbey, beneath the great hall, where he had a table and chairs put out to host small parties, for his friends and female guests.

Lastly his bedroom, which contains the bed he had brought to the Abbey from Cambridge.

The room Byron decorated for himself was in the medieval area of the house, on the opposite side of the house from the Jacobean wing that his guests used (and am I guessing where his mother lived as she shared the house with him and looked after it when he was not there).

To reach his rooms the passages are narrow, climbing up spiralling stone medieval staircases with leaded, small windows cut through the stone, that leave passages cold and shadowy.

There is one example of what the rooms that Byron was unable to renovate would have looked like at the time, (and felt and smelt like – which is why I like going places because pictures only let you experience one sense). This room was Byron’s dressing room. Image the large hall below in the same state then…

If you have already read The Thread of Destiny I am sure you can now see whose house this is in the book. The great hall had its roof replaced and the room was redecorated by a later resident, but in Byron’s day it was where he used to fence and shoot.

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Byron used his house as a playground, but he also used the vast grounds that surrounded the Abbey to play in. He kept a pet bear and entertained the bear (without a leash) in the grounds, even playing blind man’s buff. On one side of the grounds is a large lake, where his Great Uncle (who I think was just as eccentric as Byron) used to have mock naval battles with real boats. Byron loved his dogs, and he swam in the lake everyday when he was at home. One game he used to play in the lake with one of his favourite dogs, was to throw himself into the lake instead of a stick to get the dog to drag him out. (My George’s follies are ideas from elsewhere, though, Byron’s uncle was not much of a folly man).

At the back of the house are beautiful formal gardens.

 

Many other inspirations for the stories in The Thread of Destiny and The Lure of a Poet come from Newstead Abbey, because there is a fabulous area there that has been set up as a museum of Byron’s possessions. In the pictures below are just a few of things that made me think of elements of the stories that have become the first books in The Wickedly Romantic Poets series.

The story in the first of my new books, The Thread of Destiny,  begins at the home of my George, Bridge, Lord Bridges, The Duke of Stonemoor, and as his home is very much as Byron’s was, his character is also very Byronesque. – and how wonderful to be such an exceptional character during your lifetime that a word is created to describe the essence of the personality shown by your life and your work. 

There will be lots more reality based behaviours from my poets in the rest of the series that will be out in 2019.  

Perfect Period Drama

The rule of the red thread of destiny says that everything that is unresolved will be resolved.

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The Thread of Destiny

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The Lure of a Poet

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Downton Abbey’s X Factor… Why do people love Downton Abbey?

The LibraryThe week Downton Abbey returned to our screens in the UK, the viewers perception was captured on the UK TV programme, Gogglebox. It was really interesting to hear what people said, to help try to work out – what is the X factor in Downton Abbey? Why have so many people fallen for the show?

Viewers were captured on camera as it began saying things like “Oh… Downton Abbey…” “I love it…” “We’ve been waiting all summer for this…” “It’s lovely to have our friends back…”  “It’s just like a warm hug…” “It’s just a lovely programme…”

So people enjoy it… but why, why Downton Abbey and not another programme? What does it bring to the historical genre that other show’s haven’t? WHAT is the magic, the X gene in Downton’s DNA that makes some people love the show?

The Gogglebox viewers gave some clues, they asked questions of each other like, “What do they do as a job?” The lover of the show’s answer was… “Well they don’t really, they have dinner parties…” they then went on to say “Oh but they do have land,” and they mentioned “shares”.

“It’s all about love and stuff…” Another person described – although if you look at the story lines it has just as much been about death and hardship but then loss is still about love.

Then in families where some were lovers of the show and some were not, conversations debated a scene between Lady Mary and her latest admirer. It was interesting then to see how people emotionally engaged with the scenes. Earlier people had talked about the characters as ‘our friends’ well now you hear different viewers talking about characters like they are truly people they know and have a personal relationship with… “I can see something starting here…” She’s quite uptight, Lady Mary, isn’t she…” Then Lady Mary’s beau offered to “make your life simpler…” “How much simpler can it get… she has people to do everything…”

Bedchamber  2Then there was the scene where a fire began in the house, which started in Edith’s room. “Please God say they don’t kill Edith,” a young man shouted out. Then there was a close up on the eyes of one of the viewers and the look in her eyes said she was completely and utterly absorbed in the programme, she was emotionally connected to the characters and the scene as it played out. I shan’t tell you what happened I wouldn’t want to spoil it for viewers in America, but the body language of those watching the scene was fascinating…

How does Downton Abbey do it?

Well, their priority is not to get every fact of the historical setting correct. I have heard historians pull the scenes and the story lines to pieces, it is not at all historically or factually based – it is firstly fiction, and secondly a drama – I heard the person who helped the story developer for the film RUSH (something completely different – and I know not historical in the terms people think of historical) but it was someone who knew the fact behind the story, and he said, when he complained that the film wasn’t really about what actually happened “they told me they weren’t making a documentary they were making a film.” Like wise the director of Downton Abbey isn’t make a documentary, but making a drama… something they want to pull people into at an emotional level not an intellectual level.

Some of the viewers on Gogglebox did challenge the facts about the show they watched, “As if he’d be fighting the fire himself… he’d be watching…” “Did they have a fire service then? They got there a bit quick…” They got there a bit quick because the programme is only an hour-long and if the fire service are going to arrive they need to arrive in the time allowance of the programme without dragging out a boring – the fire service are coming – or we’re waiting for the fire service – stage in the story… 😀

So this is the X Factor that I pull through into my historical books…

1. I don’t make the priority in my books the historical fact – I don’t worry about exact, historically correct, language, people may not even know the words people used in the past, one of the things about Downton is its accessibility to anyone, it gives people the sense and feel of a historical setting, but it does not push people away by using words they don’t know or situations and characters they can’t relate to. Primarily people need to understand the characters, and understand how they feel and what they say.

2.So  I focus primarily on the characters I create. I want people to feel as emotionally engaged with my characters as people do with the Downton Characters… and I hope for those readers who love to be lost in a historical setting… I’ve achieved that… One reviewer said to me, when she read The Illicit Love of a Courtesan, when Ellen gripped her dress, I actually gripped my maxi dress as if I was going to climb up onto the horse with her… That made me feel like I was doing something right, and the viewers of Downton seem to connect with the story to that degree.

3. I create settings that allow people to feel as though they are escaping reality, “they have dinner parties…” “It’s all about love and stuff…” “How could you make her life simpler…” the story lines are about more than the viewers perception but because it steps them so far away from their reality, it is like a fairytale… and people still aspire to fairytales even in the 21st Century, so even though they are travelling through a story in which bad things occur, they still connect with the story as an ideal they aspire to.

So those are the three elements I would say are the genetics which create the X Factor for Downton – Historical Fiction not fact – Characters who are easy to connect with – Settings that allow people to completely escape their reality…

If you would like to discover how I try to translate that in books then The Desperate Love of a Lord, A Free Novella, is now available as a taster, and if you are quick, the Marlow series is currently discounted in both the USA and UK from $1.99 in the USA and 69p in the UK…  Click on the covers in the side bar to view on Amazon.

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Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional Historical and New Adult Romance stories, and the author of a No.1 bestselling Historical Romance novel in America, ‘The Illicit Love of a Courtesan’.

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