Inspirations: From J. R. R. Tolkien, Jane Austen, Arthur Ransome, Beatrix Potter, John Fowles to The Brontë sisters and me

I never cease to be fascinated by the inspirations that send authors and artists imaginations spinning.

My own mind constantly absorbs information and I seek out opportunities for cropped-10562997_888718807805375_8533099977768604640_n.jpg inspiration and often write scenes that are set in real places. So, when I do things like standing on the harbour in Lyme Regis, I cannot help but image the moment when John Fowles watched the woman looking out to sea and the story of The French Lieutenant’s Woman began unravelling in his mind.

I particularly loved, discovering the inspirations behind Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, though. I didn’t know his inspirations at all until we visited The Vyne in Hampshire.

70192667528+RESIZED_thumb_460x00There, we discovered the gold ring with the Roman inscription, that had been found locally and shown to J. R. R. Tolkien. I could imagine him holding it and it did have a sense of glowing, with the mystery letters inscribed in the gold a bold statement. The 4th Century ring turned up in a ploughed field locally. It was not found as part of a planned excavation, it was just found, as though it wanted to be found. I wonder if you could see Tolkien’s mind spinning in the way he looked at it when he held it?

But it was not just the ring that he knew about and saw. Something else is held at The Vyne. A distance from where the ring was found, a Roman temple was excavated. The temple was built over a spring, so the spring itself was excavated. As part of their devotions, Romans would write down their prayers on small pieces of lead, mostly asking the god to do things. Then they would roll the soft lead up into a tiny scroll, so their words remained private, and throw their scroll into the holy spring. with an offering. One of these tiny lead rolls revealed a request to find a lost ring, and a curse on anyone who had stolen it. Sound familiar at all…

I love these little facts. There is no way anyone can prove that the ring and the scroll have any connection, but both ended up at The Vyne Tudor Mansion and because they were there they created such a fabulous idea for a series of books.

cropped-horse-from-bridge.jpgLike me, Tolkien was also inspired by places. The Wiltshire Downs with their undulating bare hills and the White Horse, that I grew up in the shadow of, sitting on my bedroom windowsill and staring at, appear to have formed the setting of many scenes in J. R. R. Tolkien’s books.

cropped-img_3802.jpgI won’t say anything about Jane Austen’s inspirations, because, as you know, I was so fascinated by that discovery that it became the inspiration of a whole book for me, in Jane the Authoress. But as much as she was inspired by some of the history of her wealthier relations, the Brontë sisters were inspired by the dark and brooding moor on their doorstep and by the wicked and sad life of their brother.

In the Lake District recently, when we went out for a boat trip on Coniston Water, as we cruised around the lake the guide pointed out sites that were the settings for the adventures of The Swallows and Amazons. I could clearly see that John Fowles was painting a picture in his books of a life he knew very well.

Beatrix Potter, though, is my favourite for inspirations in the Lake District. Her inspirations are easily relatable because she not only wrote them, but painted them. The paintings in her books, beyond the characters, replicate the places around where she lived. What is even more fascinating about her inspirations is that this year, I discovered that Beatrix did not live in the house where she depicted her characters in her books.

Hill Top Cottage in Sawrey Village, in the Lake District, was initially Beatrix’s holiday home. She spent a couple of weeks there at a time, but she couldn’t live there because it was not appropriate for a woman to live alone. Then she married and moved to live somewhere else in Sawrey with her husband and kept Hill Tip Cottage as place where she wrote. It makes it far more fascinating when you walk around the cottage just as she established it, with the understanding that it was created to be an inspiration for her books. What a wonderful novelty. It is also extremely brilliant that in her will she left the property and all its contents to charity with the stipulation that it must remain exactly as it was.

When we were walking around the house, because we have recently bought a IMG_4792grandfather clock, my husband now looks at them wherever he goes, and he said, ‘Has that clock always been on the stairs? I’ve never noticed it before.’

The answer is obviously yes…

I wonder if David Williams is doing that with his house for the characters for his children’s books? 😉 If not, he’s not as dedicated. Tee Hee.

The advantage, though, for todays authors, is that we have the internet. If we cannot go somewhere, we can find pictures and descriptions online. But perhaps if we do that, we miss out and our readers lose something.

My preference is still to use experiences, and I venture out to find experiences that spur my imagination. I explore what if feels like and sounds like to be there doing that. Physically being somewhere does help to get the words and images flowing. Although you know from this blog I read a lot of other peoples descriptions of life too. But, I also often share my inspirations in images on Pinterest and Instagram  if you want to take a look at the places and things that inspire me.

I will only mention one of my own inspirations in this post. A particularly special inspiration. Pepper, our Patterdale Terrier, has been an inspiration for every dog that I have written into my books. But Pippin who is in Treacle Moon that is released in June is the most Pepper like dog that I have written. Sadly we lost Pepper last month, so it seems fitting to mention him here.

Thank you for all your inspirations, Pepper.

2007 -2019



Harriette’s country retreat – including a trip to Regency Lyme Regis

Harriette_Wilson00I left you last week with Harriette scuttling off to a country retreat to avoid the temptation of town, and prove her constancy to poor young Lord Worcester, who was off to fight in the Peninsular war.

So let me begin this week’s post in Harriette’s words ‘In about two weeks after my arrival in this village, my reader may imagine me sitting at a little rural thatched window, in that beautiful country, addressing the following long letter to my sister Fanny.

But before I share with you what she wrote to her sister, here’s the usual recap of the background to this series of posts for anyone joining today, as usual if you have read it before skip to the end of the italics.

In 1825 Harriette Wilson, a courtesan, published a series of stories as her memoirs in a British broad sheet paper. The Regency gentleman’s clubs were a buzz, waiting to see the next names mentioned each week. While barriers had to be set up outside the shop of her publisher, Stockdale, to hold back the disapproving mob.

Harriette was born Harriette Debochet, she chose the name Harriette Wilson as her professional name, in the same way Emma Hart, who I’ve blogged about previously, had changed her name. Unlike Emma, it isn’t known why or when Harriette changed her name.

She was one of nine surviving children. Her father was a watchmaker and her mother a stocking repairer, and both were believed to be from illegitimate origin.

Three of Harriette’s sisters also became courtesans. Amy, Fanny and Sophia (who I have written about before). So the tales I am about to begin in my blogs will include some elements from their lives too.

For a start you’ll need to understand the world of the 19th Century Courtesan. It was all about show and not just about sex. The idle rich of the upper class aspired to spending time in the company of courtesans, it was fashionable, the thing to do.

You were envied if you were linked to one of the most popular courtesans or you discovered a new unknown beauty to be admired by others.

Courtesans were also part of the competitive nature of the regency period too, gambling was a large element of the life of the idle rich and courtesans were won and lost and bartered and fought for.

So courtesans obviously aspired to be one of the most popular, and to achieve it they learnt how to play music, read widely, so they could debate, and tried to shine in personality too. They wanted to be a favoured ’original’.

The eccentric and outspoken was admired by gentlemen who liked to consort with boxers and jockeys, and coachmen, so courtesans did not aim for placid but were quite happy to insult and mock men who courted them, and demand money for any small favour.

Harriette tells Fanny, in her letter, that she’s only just recovered from two full nights passed in a mail-coach, and that she wishes something romantic had occurred on route, they (she and her maid) ‘were neither ravished, upset, or thrown into a pond just as a lovely youth happened to be passing by.’ To save them, dashing young hero style – I presume 😉

Then she tells Fanny her first night was spent at the pot-house (inn) in the village, where she was offered the only room left, ‘containing two small, neat, white beds… The staircase was a ladder, or rather a ladder was the staircase. We will not be particular.’

Harriette was woken at daybreak by sunlight because there were no curtains covering the window, and in answer to her endurance she says, ‘I am sorry, really, for the most noble Marquis of Worcester! But the fact is, my very first thoughts on awakening, and my most sincere regrets, were for the miles which now separated me from poor little beautiful Meyler. In short having done everything right towards Worcester, I loved him much less for that very reason.’

Harriette then goes on in her letter to describe a fascinating trip to Lyme Regis, giving us another great insight into real Regency life.

Lyme Regis is a sort of Brighton in miniature, all bustle and confusion, assembly-rooms, donkey-riding, raffling, etc. etc. It was a sixpence per night to attend the assemblies, and much cheaper if paid by the season. We went to a little inn and dined. From the window, I was much amused to see the number of smart old maids that were tripping down the streets, in turbans or artificial flowers twinned about their wigs, on the light fantastic toe, to the six-penny assembly rooms, at five in the evening! They were pleasantly situated near the sea, and as we walked past their windows, we saw them all drinking tea and playing cards.’ – I will admit in a little aside – when I read Harriette’s memoirs I am frequently surprised by words she uses that I wouldn’t have expected to see in the 1800s, the light fantastic toe – tripping the light fantastic? Ooo, who would have thought?

Having visited Lyme Regis though and saying ‘I hate, and always did hate, anything like London in miniature!’ Harriette set out to find somewhere to stay in the little village of Charmouth.  ‘Next morning at a little after seven the gay and fashionable Harriette Wilson was to be seen strolling about the little village of Charmouth, as though it had been her native place, and she had never heard tell of the pomps and vanities of this very wicked world, or the sinful lusts of the flesh, etc.’

Well you can imagine in a small village full of working people there were no properties or even rooms to let, but Harriette tells her sister Fanny, that while walking about the village she caught the eye of a young woman through a window and decided to go and ask if she knew of anywhere to rent. But when she spoke to the young woman, they instantly liked one another, and then the young woman went to speak to her widowed mother to ask if Harriette and her maid might stay with them. Harriette grasped at the chance for a quiet residence, ‘as I, determined to act with the strictest propriety, and conform to the established rules of the family, to be regular at church, too, for the sake of example, I conceived that it was certainly not incumbent on me to turn king’s evidence against myself, as to my former irregularities, or, as my friend Miss Higgins would say, little peccadilloes.’

But I will leave you now, as Harriette closes her letter to Fanny, wondering as I am sure Fanny did, whether or not Harriette would succeed in her commitment to strictest propriety and resist any urge to seek more entertaining pursuits than strolling about the village or sitting at a window writing letters….

Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional Historical and New Adult Romance stories.

See the side bar for details of Jane’s books, and Jane’s website to learn more about Jane. Or click  ‘like’ on Jane’s Facebook  page to see photo’s and learn historical facts from the Georgian, Regency and Victorian eras, which Jane publishes there. You can also follow Jane on twitter at @janelark