Macabre or beautiful? ~ mourning treasures

I’m going backwards again and sharing another inspiration behind the story of Entangled. I mentioned yesterday, my leaning toward the macarbe (it is definitely no wonder that I’ve ended up moving into writing thrillers). Like I said, I’d prefer to stand on Lyme Regis harbour wall watching a threatening, storming sea thrashing the stone wall, than laying flat on a sunbed on a tropical beach.

So the fascination I have with antique mourning jewellry shouldn’t really come as a surprise. Although, I don’t think I’ve shared that on my blog before. By the time of the regency period many people wore jewellry with an artfully placed lock of hair held in place by glass, to remember a loved one. It might be to remember a living person, but more often it was to remember someone who had passed. It may sound strange today, but it’s not really, they didn’t have a stack of albums or computer folders full of photographs. Perhaps they had a minature portrait, it they were lucky, often just one. Employing artists was a more expensive luxury than jewellry. There were more jewellers than artists because you can’t just learn to be a painter who can precisely capture someone’s appearance as you can learn to manipulate metals, there has to be some rarer natural skill. Therfore, a jeweller’s time was less expensive than a good artist’s. The phrase ‘paying an arm and a leg’ for something comes from the fact that a full portrait was expensive and most people, even the upperclass, would only pay for the head and shoulders. But also, someone’s hair means you retain a part of their presence.

There’s a mourning brooch at Jane Austen’s cottage museum at Chawton containing her father’s hair. If you look out for peices of jewellry in museums and antiques shops, you’ll see a lot, and some, like those in the heading images are really beautiful. I think it’s brilliant. I imagine people regularly looking at their pieces or touching them, rubbing a finger or a thumb over the glass as they think of their missing loved one. It would bring the memories and the good emotions back. Wearing a brooch or a ring with a loved one’s hair inside, meant you always had a part of the person with you.

Of course, because I love mourning jewellry, I had to weave it into the story of atleast one book ( 😉 ). Remember also that last week I told you about Ed Sheeran’s song Photograph, which is about a locket, inspiring aspects of Entangled. James, one of my Wickedly Romantic Poets, is a lover of keeping hair, and that is also an intergral part of the story which links the first book in the series to the last. He cuts a lock of Clio’s hair in the prologue of the Thread of Destiny, and he’s already wearing a ring containing the hair of his deceased mother.

I have recently discovered that I have dyspraxia as well as dyslexia and the way my mind works perhaps makes a little more sense now, because I litterally look at a piece of mourning jewellry and my mind races with questions and the desire to see and know that person. So when I saw this minature with what I think must be a lock of his hair, I had to buy it. It makes the image of him more real, giving it a 3D context.

I’ve tried to find out who this gentleman is, without any luck unfortunately, nor can I tell who owned this, his wife, mother, lover … I don’t know. It must be someone who wanted to keep him close while he was distant, because I assume it was made when he was alive, due to the painting. But then the thing with not knowing is that I have to make it up, and that’s a joy and exactly where stories begin …

I didn’t say above, but this bracelt in Beatrix Potter’s cottage is not only displaying human hair, the actual braclet is woven peices of human hair.

Oh and one more cheeky fact before I end this post, I have said it before in my Scandalous Women posts, but I’ll share it again. Lady Caroline Lamb and Lord Byron shared pubic hair, so, I’m sure a lot of that went on too. I didn’t put that act of his in my poets novels, though. 😀

Inspirations for the Wickedly Romantic Poets Series

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How a novel begins …

I’ve said it before here, and in other places, that I love how a whole novel can unfold in a moment from seeing something that inspires you, and I’m fascintated by other people’s inspirations. You may remember my previous blog on Inspirations: From J. R. R. Tolkien, Jane Austen, Arthur Ransome, Beatrix Potter, John Fowles to The BrontĂ« sisters and me .

As I said last week, I didn’t share the inspirations behind Entangled, the historical novel I released at the beginning of the summer, because I wasn’t well at the time. So, I thought this weekend I’ll do some catching up.

A little like The French Lieutenant’s Woman, the setting for the last book in the Wickedly Romantic Poets series is a windswept coastal town. The first encounter with the characters is on a deserted beach. I always intended from book one that Clio would end up moving to Hartlepool to hideaway, and that James would encounter her on the beach there several years later. As readers know, there’s a long prologue in book one that starts their story and then through the series you read about the years of their seperation through the lives of others. In book four, their story picks back up when they meet unexpectedly on Hartlepool beach, with the wind whiping up the sand around them. Clio is flying a kite with her son and James walks across the otherwise empty beach with his daughter.

My Nanna and Grandad were born and grew up in Hartlepool, on the northeast coast of England. They left Hartlepool when they were in their twenties. I didn’t visit there until after they’d both passed away. I wish I had. I wish I’d visited with them so I could ask them the stories of life there.

After Nanna died we were staying in Yorkshire, near Whitby, I was researching settings for The Marlow Family Secrets, and I decided to visit Hartlepool in a sort of pilgrimage to explore where she’d come from. I walked through the town to find the street and the house on the Headland (a dairy in the late 1800s and early 1900s) where Nanna grew up. I’d seen pictures of the house, but it was a suprise when I reached it to discover it was only a hundred meters from the harbour wall. We walked down to the harbour and then walked on around the historic Headland. People who know something but not much about Hartlepool will think it’s industrial, and relatively modern, and very large. They are right, but, at the heart of that is a settlement on the Headland that dates back centuries. A monastry was built on the Headland in AD640. That is the area where Nanna and Granded grew up.

When my husband and I went to Hartlepool it was a cold, windy, autumn afternoon. There wasn’t much to do, so, we carried on walking and came across a Headland Story Trail board. We followed the Headland Story Trail boards around the Headland to a long windswept beach. I didn’t know my Nanna grew up so near an amazingly, dramatic, beach. It was a bigger surprise than the harbour. I didn’t even know Hartlepool had beaches. And, in my opinion, beaches are more interesting when there’s a storm 😀 I might not be normal, I love watching a wild sea more than lying on a sunbed. I don’t have a copyright free picture to share but if you follow the Headland link you’ll see it. The waves were rolling up the sand and crashing down in a froth of angry foam, and the wind rushed at us with a strength that made sure you knew you needed to be suitablely in awe of the force of nature; the few trees along the edge of the beach grew with a lean that said the wind was fairly constant too. It was a very BrontĂ« setting.

I’m one of those people who always finds those classic, harsh, BrontĂ«, Wuthering Heights like, environments inspirational. No one was on the beach that day. No one else was on the headland path looking down at the beach. It drew the emotions of someone who needed to isolate (of course that was years ago, so put COVID-19 thoughts aside) they were hiding for some reason. The Wickedly Romantic Poets series began in that moment.

The BrontĂ« family, in their real lives, lead me to take the step from there to the tragic lives of the romantic poets. In the same trip, we visited the parsonage in Haworth, where they used to live. It was another stormy day. The clouds above were a dark steel grey at the edges. It wasn’t raining but it was very windy. The moor began a couple of hundred yards from the parsonage front door, so they would have looked out at the windswept landscape constantly. It is a very macabre setting on a stormy day. Which probably put me in a macabre mood. In the Parsonage Museum I then learned not just about the sisters but their brother, Branwell. Another creative person, who fell in with the wrong gathering of men and lived a hedonistic life – as many of the artists and poets did. He ended his life tortured by addiction as a result.

So the Wickedly Romatic Poets inspirations began by putting together those two things – Hartlepool beach and the tragic life of Branwell BrontĂ«. I then went off, and as you know from all my previous inspiration blogs about the series, read diaries, letters and biographies, visited the homes of the romatic poets (and other period properties), and added lots of realistic details and settings into the lives of my poets. But I thought today I would share where it all began and why.

My Nanna and Grandad. Edith Smith nee Copeman and John Smith.

This picture was taken on Scarborough beach. They used to travel to Scarborough when they were courting even though there were beaches just up the road. It’s no wonder I didn’t realise there was a beach in Hartlepool. They probably travelled there because Scarborough was a place with lots of entertainments, like Brighton. 

Here’s the links to the other blogs on the inspirations behind this series:

Inspirations for the Wickedly Romantic Poets Series