Unicorn

Mélanie and I spent a stormy afternoon yesterday at the Palace of the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco. The building itself is a treat, a replica the Palais de la Legion d’Honneur in Paris, surrounded by a rolling golf course, overlooking the city on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other. Mélanie calls it a “castle.” We saw Raphael’s “Portrait of a Lady with a Unicorn” (and left with two stuffed unicorns from the gift shop) and a Pierre Bonnard exhibit, visited the 18th century Salon Doré that I love and the teacup display Mel loves, and listens to a wonderful organ concert.

garden

The late 18th and early 19th century artworks and furniture and other household items feel like old friends and have inspired scenes and characters in my books. It’s fun now to tell Mélanie “that fireplace could be in on of Mummy’s books” or “doesn’t that lady look as though she could be on one of my book covers?” And just being in the museum – the soaring ceilings, the marble floors, the beautiful artwork and beautiful views is at once inspiring and relaxing – like stepping into another world. As we took a break in the café (Mel enjoying strawberry shortcake, me sipping a glass of brut rosé) I looked through the glass doors that run along one side of the room at the rain-splashed garden outside. Gray sky, a tracery of trees branches whipped by the wind, statues, a thick ivy hedge. Suddenly, a scene for the next Malcolm & Suzanne story (a novella following London Gambit) sprang to my mind. I’ve busy with research and plot logistics and felt a long way from writing, but this scene sprang vividly to mind, though I’m still not sure quite how it fill into the story. I left feeling refreshed and inspired to write and had a bonding afternoon with my daughter that exposed her to new things. Thank you, Legion of Honor!

Legion

Are there particular locations that you evoke scenes in books for you, as a writer or a reader?

Mélanie seeing me off to the Merola Grand Finale last weekend. A fabulous end to a great summer program!

Mélanie seeing me off to the Merola Grand Finale last weekend. A fabulous end to a great summer program!

Last week’s survey post yielded some fascinating discussion on the series and characters. One point that particularly intrigue me was the idea of how the various characters might be happy and if it’s even desirable for every major character in the series to have a “happy and settled life.” Of course, in a series, as in real life, there’s no such thing as a “happy ending.” As Cordelia says “there’s always an after.” Even characters with the most seemingly settled lives could find their lives upended, which I think is part of what makes a series interesting, both to read and to write. That, and the fact that characters can arrive at happy lives and loves (at least “happily for now”) over multiple books.

But posters also raised the question of if we even want every character in a series to have a happy and settled life. Is that too easy? Should it be more like real life, with some characters remaining alone, some relationships falling apart, some perhaps proving less ideal than they seemed at the start? How do you feel about this, both in this series and in other series you read?

And even if one ultimately wants the major characters to arrive at a happy and settled life, what does that look like? Right now in the series, Rupert and Bertrand are happier and have a more settled life than they ever expected. They’re together, they’ve worked out an amicable relationship with Rupert’s wife Gabrielle (who has her own lover) and sharing the care of Rupert and Gabrielle’s son. Rupert’s father is essentially out of the picture. But their relationship still has to remain secret from all but their closest friends. It’s still, in fact, a hanging offense. Rupert isn’t on speaking terms with his father. We haven’t really dealt with Bertrand’s parents, but they probably at best only acknowledge the relationship by deliberately turning a blind eye to it. Are Rupert and Bertrand settled and happy?

What about Simon and David? Their relationship in some ways is more stable than that that of most of the married couples in the series. They’ve been together for a decade. But David is under increasing pressure to marry and produce an heir, from his family and from his own sense of responsibility. And there are ongoing political tensions between David, the liberal Whig who is still an aristocrat, and Simon, the Radical reformer.

Laura and Raoul seemed to be tentatively beginning a relationship of sorts at the end of Mayfair Affair. But Raoul was leaving for Spain, where rebellion against the restored monarchy is brewing, and warned Laura that he couldn’t promise he’d survive. He also pointed out that he had very little to offer her, including marriage. He has an estranged wife in Ireland. If Laura and Raoul’s emotional bonds grow but he’s away much of the time and their love affair has to remain more or less secret (like Rupert and Bertrand and Simon and David in a sense) are they settled and happy? If they were somehow able to marry but Raoul still disappeared for long stretches of time running crazy risks would that be settled and happy?

Though it hasn’t been discussed in the Rannoch universe, Bow Street Runner Jeremy Roth also has an estranged wife, who ran off years ago leaving him and their two sons, whom his sister is helping him raise. A number of readers have mentioned they’d like Roth to fall in love, but at present he’s in no position to marry. He too could have a secret relationship. Or, not being part of society, he might more easily be able to live with a lover without being married to her. Would that be settled and happy?

Of course even the couples who are married and more or less settled have tensions. Harry, I think, still wonders about Cordelia’s past, and Harry’s own past in the time they were apart may become an issue in the next book. Malcolm and Suzanne live with the threat of her past being exposed. Not to mention that they are still adjusting to the impact of Malcolm learning about her past (Suzanne says in Mayfair that she has more than she ever thought to have but it will never be the same), and their loyalties are almost bound to conflict at some point.

What do you think? Do you ultimately want settled and happy lives for the major characters? Do you at least want to feel they are moving towards them? Or do you prefer real world messiness? And if the former, how do you define settled and happy?

Have a great weekend!

Tracy

walk3Lately, I’ve been struck by the way smells and sights and sounds bring feelings from the past welling to the surface, even before my mind consciously frames the memory. The whiff of jet fuel as Mélanie and I walked to the gate on our recent trip to New York brought the anticipation of childhood travel. The sight of autumn leaves clustering on trees and lying in drifts on the ground while bare branches make a tracery against the rose gold sky (in Ashland, in New York, at home) evokes thoughts of pumpkin lattes, crisp days at football games, evenings by the fire, and a whiff of anticipation of the holidays, along with the more grown up reminder that there’s a lot to get done before the end of December. Lately, whenever I walked downstairs in the morning, the cool air combined with the heat rising from the ground floor instantly conjures up the wonder of Christmas morning.

I try to weave in all of the five senses when I write. Sometimes I even make lists of what sights, sounds, tastes, touches, and smells I can use in a particular scene (I did this a lot years ago when I was consciously making an effort to do more with the five senses to evoke my settings). But I don’t know that I think enough about how the five senses can evoke memories from my characters’ pasts. Without consciously trying to, I did use a scene in the theatre in my forthcoming The Berkeley Square Affair to bring up Suzanne’s childhood memories:

Even an almost empty theatre had its own smell. Sawdust, the oil of rehearsal lamps, drying paint, the sweat of active bodies that could never quite be banished. After all these years, it still sent an indefinable thrill of magic through Suzanne. Jessica seemed to sense it from her mother, for she gave a crow of delight in Suzanne’s arms and waved her hands.

I’m going to try to do more of this, evoking memories specific to different characters’ pasts. The autumn leaf image could translate to many historical settings. So could the cold air and warmth of a banked fire. What would evoke the excitement of travel? The jangle of bridles? The smell of carriage leather or horses? The thud of portmanteaux being loaded?

What specific sense memories evoke the past for you? What conjures up thoughts of autumn and the holidays? Writers, do you try to use the five sense to evoke your character’s pasts?