I guest blogged last Thurdsay on History Hoydens about “The Dark Side of the Regency” (if you haven’t read the post, be sure to check it out and the accompanying discussion in which a number of commentators make some very interesting points). I used some research photos from the Gallery on my own site to illustrate the blog, which made me realize that though I’ve mentioned the Gallery, I’ve never really talked about the photos.
There are two sections of the Gallery that relate to “Secrets of a Lady” (the third section, Tracy’s World, is pictures from book signings and other book-related events). The first section in the Gallery, Mélanie and Charles’s World, is general settings from Mélanie and Charles’s life in London. I was able to go to London while I was working on “Secrets of a Lady” and “location scout” with my good friend and fellow writer Penny Williamson. I had originally planned for Charles and Mélanie to live in South Audley Street, but when I saw the lovely expanse of Berkeley Square with its beautiful, gnarled plane trees, I decided that that was where my characters should make their home. One side of Berkeley Square still looks very Georgian. Penny and I picked one of the houses to be the model for Mélanie and Charles’s house. The first three pictures in Mélanie and Charles’s World show Berkeley Square (where “Secrets of a Lady” begins)–me standing by the square gate (with the latte I’d been sipping on our early-morning walk across London), the house that is the model for Mélanie and Charles’s house, and the view across the square (taken at twilight on a later trip, Mélanie and Charles’s house is the third from the left).
The next picture shows me standing in the Burlington Arcade, a shopping arcade that opened in 1819, shortly before “Secrets of a Lady” begins. Mélane would undoubtedly shop in the arcade, perhaps with her friend Lady Isobel Lydgate (the author of this week’s addition to the Fraser Correspondence). I’d love to set a chase scene in the arcade at some point… Next is Brooks’s, Charles’s club in St. James’s Street, bastion of the Whigs as opposed to the Tory White’s. I’d love to have a scene were Mélanie has to get into Brooks’s (which course only permitted gentlemen at this time) to find Charles–perhaps disguised as an errand boy? or a young sprig of the ton?
The next picture shows Truefitt & Hill in St. James’s (not far from Duke’s Hotel, where we stayed), where Charles would buy shaving soap and other toiletries. And then there’s a picture of Penny and me having tea at Fortnum & Mason’s. Fortnum’s dates to 1707. In “Secrets of a Lady”, Mélanie thinks about driving to “a breakfast or a fête champêtre with a basket from Fortnum & Mason tucked under the seat”. Next is Hatchards, where Charles and Mélanie buy books. Jack Evans pretends to be a delivery man from Hatchards to get information about the Fraser household from Polly, and in the epilogue Charles tells Mélanie he has stopped by Hatchards and found a book of Robin Hood stories for Colin. I had the fun of going into Hatchards and signing copies of the British edition of “Beneath a Silent Moon” on a trip to London–it was a total thrill to see my book on their shelves!
The final picture in “Mélanie and Charles’s World” shows me in the dining room of Rules Restaurant in Covent Garden. Established by Thomas Rule in 1798, it is the oldest restaurant in London. Mélanie and Charles would dine in a private room here, perhaps with friends such as Simon Tanner and David Mallinson and Isobel and Oliver Lydgate, after an evening at the theatre (I haven’t set a scene at Rules yet, but I defintiely plan to do so). I had a delicious dinner at Rules after seeing a marvelous performance of “La Cenerentola” at Covent Garden. When I asked the waiter if he could take a picture of me in the restaurant and explained I wrote books set in the days when the restaurant was founded, he very nicely made sure we took the picture in the oldest part of the restaurant.
The next section of the Gallery, Secrets of a Lady: the Search for Colin, begins with the wonderful 18th-century Kings Arms in the charming Georgian neighborhood of Shepherd Market. Sergeant Baxter’s Covent Garden tavern, the Thistle, would have a similar look. I sat upstairs by one of the thick, leaded-glass windows taking notes and sipping a very good glass of Bordeaux (French wine in honor of Mélanie :-). When I asked if I could take a picture of the 18th-century interior of the King’s Arms, the waitress very kindly offered to take a picture of me behind the bar (the second picture).
The next picture shows The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, where Mélanie and Charles go in search of Helen Trevennen and interview actress Violet Goddard in the midst of a “Romeo and Juliet” rehearsal. Designed by Benjamin Dean Wyatt, it opened in October, 1812 (three earlier theatres on the site had been desrtoyed by fire). The portico was added in 1820, after “Secrets of a Lady” takes place. At the time we visited, the musical version of “The Witches of Eastwick” was playing. Next is me standing in front of the present day Bow Street Police Magistrates’ Court, near the site of the Bow Street Public Office where Jeremy Roth works. Mélanie and Charles pay several visits to Bow Street in the course of the book (though they find Roth next door in the Brown Bear tavern where Bow Street Runners often conducted business).
The second row of pictures begins with a Georgian street in Shepherd Market, which struck me as similar to the streets that Charles and Mélanie scour in their search for Colin (narrow, winding, overhung with tall smoke-stained buildings). The next picture shows the forecourt of the Albany, where Charles, Mélanie, and Edgar seek out Victor Velasquez. Charles had rooms here himself in the interval between Oxford and his posting to the Peninsula, and David Mallinson and Simon Tanner lodge here. The following picture shows me in front of the Grove Tavern in Knightsbridge. The Rose & Crown, where Mélanie and Charles find Victor Velasquez toward the end of “Secrets of a Lady”, would have a similar look. And the final picture in the section shows Covent Garden Market, where Mélanie, Charles, and Roth lay a trap for Meg and Jack in the final chapters of the book. Penny and I, I confess, got completely lost in the winding streets round Covent Garden. If Charles and Mélanie’s search had resembled ours, “Secrets of a Lady” would have been a more a farce than a novel of suspense :-).
Continuing the theme of research, starting tomorrow I’ll be guest blogging all week (September 4-7) on Romantic Inks about research and world building. Do stop by and join in the discussion. And be sure to check out Isobel Lydgate’s letter to Mélanie in the Fraser Correspondence.
Happy Labor Day,