by Christine Wells
Recently, I had the rather surreal experience of looking for a house to live in while also searching for a location in which to set my next historical romance. You will understand that I felt rather embittered by the contrast between the mansions my fictitious heroines get to swan around in and the type of house to which my budget stretches.
One might call it "Palace Envy".*G*
Where I live, many houses are made of wood in the traditional style we call the Queenslander. These houses were built with a view to minimizing the subtropical heat. They're set up on stilts so that air can flow through in a kind of natural cooling system. Quite different from English houses that are designed to hold the heat in, as well as accommodate a large number of people, including servants.
However, despite the obvious differences, the process of finding a house for me and for my heroine is quite similar. While looking for abodes for my family to abide in while our house is renovated, I had a list of criteria to shop for:
Location (not built on a train line or next to an electricity substation, close to my son's school, etc)
Number of bedrooms (extra points if room for a study for yours truly)
Decent bathrooms and kitchen, room for children and Monty the dog to play (fenced, of course).
Likewise, when searching for a suitably palatial setting for my books, I have loose criteria such as period, place, surroundings, layout, where on the scale of grandeur this house has to fit given the status and wealth of its occupants, and how it might accommodate scenes that are already dancing through my head or inspire new ones.
Now, a fictional place doesn't have to be based on a real one, of course and if I can't find a suitable house, I make it up. I also modify the interior layout but I do like to start with what is typical in that type of house.
In the eras from which my Regency houses date, they tended to use local materials--local stone, such as the gorgeous honey coloured Ham Hill stone they used to build Montacute House in Somerset (top, left).
I set SWEETEST LITTLE SIN partly at the villain's estate and I had great fun researching that one. I wanted Radleigh to be a parvenu, a social climber who had appeared in London after supposedly making his fortune abroad.
I found an excellent house in Sezincote, an Indian phantasmagoria that inspired the Brighton Pavillion. It boasts a wonderful copper minaret and spear-like poles that give the illusion of an exotic tent. The drive is guarded by bronze elephants and there are all kinds of interesting grottos and gardens dotted around the estate that continue the Indian theme, a mixture of Hindu and Islamic motifs that echo the attempt of Mogul ruler Akbar to integrate the two cultures.
I think it's rather gorgeous, but of course the nobility at the time would have turned up their noses, just as they did when Prinny built his summer palace at the seaside. To quote one wit in SWEETEST LITTLE SIN, "It was as if an Indian palace had mated with an English manor and spawned a particularly hideous child."
Was that unfair? I'll leave it for you to judge.
Just a note--the Hindu pavillion with all the erotic carvings came from my other research and my imagination--not from Sezincote. But perhaps you'll have fun spotting the settings that do.
So here's my question to you, gentle readers! What house or setting from a romance novel would you love to have for your own and why? One reader will win a signed copy of SWEETEST LITTLE SIN when it comes out in May.