A writer’s mood board

Many of the authors I know, in their story development stage, gather together ideas in the way lots of creative professionals do, by building them into a mood board. It helps to form those early inspirations into a context that creates a good story. A story – in romance that has a strong beginning middle and end, and in thrillers has a strong beginnnig, fifteen suprise deviations and a shocking end ;D .

I’ve often talked about inspirations for the settings of scenes, and the plotlines in my books but there are also inspirations for the appearance of characters. Authors cut out pictures from magazines, of the public, actors and models they identify with and pin them onto cork boards along with pictures of places and sometimes maps of fictional villages and towns. My historical story boards are in my mind, on my laptop and despersed through books. There are hunderds of photos in folders, that I’ve taken on visits to places that have inspired me, and piles of books around the house with coloured bookmarkers or peices of paper poking out of the important pages. As my fans will know, for most books I also capture some of the things I’ve used as inspirtion in accompanying Pinterest Boards. So readers can see the places, items, properties and people that inspired elements of the stories.

These images include the rooms which inspired Clio’s home and lifestyle in Hartlepool, in Entangled. Then the follies at Stourhead and Newstead Abbey, Lord Byron’s property, which were inspirations for George’s home.

But I discovered a new inspiration for characters last year that I haven’t shared here before. My husband and I live in an old cottage and after we’d built an extension decided to change the furniture in the old half of the house too. So, we started hunting for antiques. But while I was searching for antique furniture I found myself being distracted by minatures in the antiques shops. I spent ages looking into the eyes and faces of people in their small portraits. As I said last week, it’s absorbing wondering who they were and how they lived, and then they became the characters. So, I started gathering some of these images. It’s no different from choosing a face in a magazine today, really.

I bought a few minatures. But then I began just saving pictures of them, because I can’t buy them all. I have about a hundred pictures.

What I particularly love is the minatures that look like mistresses. I imagine the small paintings secreted in a gentleman’s chest pocket near to his heart :’D . He’d take it out and look at it, and show his friends to brag about his prize. You can usually spot a mistress in a portrait, even among the portraits on the walls in the large stately homes. They are painted with a coquettish air and usually exposing a large part, if not all, of one breast. I’ve said it often – the Georgian’s kept their mistresses unspoken of in polite society but in plain sight. While the Victorians pretended to be pious and hid their mistresses behind closed doors. Below is the sort of image that makes me imagine this young woman was someone’s mistresss. It’s bejewelled so I think he was very proud of winning her attention, if not her affection. And she probably came at a high price. It’s the sort of portrait that would inspire a story let alone a character. I imagine her to be a woman like Harriette Wilson – and there’s a tale of a mistress that followers of this blog know very well.

The true story of a 19th Century Courtesan ~ Harriette Wilson

The true stories, Harriette Wilson, the 19th Century Courtesan, didn’t tell in her memoirs

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 Brontë 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 Brontë setting.

I’m one of those people who always finds those classic, harsh, Brontë, 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 Brontë 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 Brontë. 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