Three old houses that inspired the settings and a part of the plot of Treacle Moon: House No. 3 is Townend, Farmhouse.

The last house out of the three, Townend Farmhouse in the Lake District, I only came across recently. I was in the final stages of editing Treacle Moon, reading and re-reading to sift out all the mistakes (as all my followers on here know, I have dyslexia so editing is quite a task and I don’t like sending books to a professional editor until the book is nearly perfect ūüėÄ ). I was also still tweaking scenes I was not 100% happy with. At this time, there was a room … I will call it, a sticky room … in my imaginary house.

It’s very normal for authors to have sticky points in books, but it is usually with the plot. It is usually when the story you initially thought of ends up forcing a character to do something out of character, and so you need to come up with a different story direction. Or when you are missing the step change to take the story line from one point to another. But, no, this was a “sticky” room. I have never had that before.

IMG_3365Most of the scenes in my character’s house take place in the parlour/dining room, a room like the one in Swarthmoor Hall. A¬† room with different uses, unlike those found in upper class homes. There was another of these diverse rooms in Townend Farmhouse. A room where the family would have gathered to eat in the evening, where the women may have sat down to spin or sew in the afternoons, and to entertain themselves after dinner by reading or playing music and singing.

Other scenes take place in a bedchamber, like the bedchambers in Swarthmoor and Townend.

But I wanted a smaller more intimate setting for other scenes that needed to take place in a downstairs room. I wanted a room that was kept for a particular use, so that it wouldn’t be a busy space. This room could then have been deliberately preserved to keep a moment in time in place.

Initially the room was an office.

I have used offices before, but this is more fitting for a character who is steward, and the furniture I have seen in these settings in real life does not fit with intimate window-seat conversations. The descriptions just did not feel right.

DSC_0022In the Marlow Intrigues a lot of the most emotional scenes happen in the library.¬† Which I have always pictured as being very like the library at Stourhead. But of course this is no good for my lost-in-time manor house which was created in a different era and much smaller than the Duke of Pembroke’s Palladian Mansion.

There is a smaller room at Swarthmoor, but that isn’t really definable by any standard description. There are chairs against the wall and a writing desk, and that is it. My mind just would not turn that image into what I wanted the room to be. That room felt stark, a place for working not living in. I needed a comfortable space, where people would spend happy times but not a separate parlour because it would not be right for the period of the house.

I changed all references in the book to call the room a study, trying to think of it more like Byron’s rooms at Newstead Abbey, which I have been using as an inspiration for Lord Bridges small personal space.

But again, that just did not fit what I thought would be right for this lost-in-time manor house. It was too modern for that period, and it still didn’t feel like an intimate happy space. Again, it felt like a working room, and a masculine space, that would have been preserved for the use of the men in the house. I wanted a female character to feel just as at home there.

Then we visited Townend and yet again I am walking around a middle-class house, with dark oak panelling and rooms packed full of a preserved way of life that is whispering stories. Even before we walked into the house my thoughts were flowing with the issues of this “sticky” room. Because I had been working on Treacle Moon in the car while we were travelling.

Where as Swarthmoor added a sense of peace and happiness into my old house, Townend spoke of a busy way of life and a bustling atmosphere. It seemed to bring the people to life not just the spaces. Where that was most apparent, though, was in the very small library. It is tiny by comparison to Stourhead, probably less than a tenth of the size, more like a small bedroom. But this little library at Townend feels as if it was a family hub. It really was about what it felt like not what it looked like.

Literally in a second, just leaning in to look at the room, because you can’t even walk into the room as the books there are so rare, and I fell in love with that library. I knew I had found the perfect little room for the more intimate scenes in Treacle Moon. It had never even occurred to me until that moment that a middle class family would have built up a small library like this. But it was obviously a treasured space, where people in the house hid out to seek quiet, comfortable moments. It was the room I had been trying to, and failing to, imagine.

So there is not too much more to say about the library, because before I decided to share my figurative journey in development of the house in Treacle Moon, I had already shared the details in a post on this blog: A beautiful family library full of historical treasure.

IMG_4700But I will add that I did¬† allow other little things I discovered at Townend to creep into the story. For instance the weaver’s bowl lighting. I could imagine how, in a dark house, where people would not have been able to afford to burn beeswax candles all the time, and so would have used tallow/reed candles, how much of an atmosphere the light reflected by a large bowl of water would add. So you will find that light mentioned in one middle-of-the-night scene.

However,¬†macon was too obscure, even though I loved discovering that they used to smoke a sheep’s, aka mutton, leg, just like bacon.

So, having given you an insight into the real houses and homes behind my fictional home, I hope you will feel as if you can really see my characters walking about and sitting in the rooms in the scenes in my lost-in-time middle class home in Treacle Moon.

As always, thank you for all your support, if you read these posts than I know you must be a real fan who likes to help others discover the books. I wish you well, and I hope you enjoy Treacle Moon as much as I loved writing it <3.

x

Jane

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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.

~

The Thread of Destiny

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The Lure of a Poet

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