by Anna Campbell
As most of you know (because so many of you very generously popped over to support me on my blog tour and various other promo efforts - thank you!), I've recently had a book out. MIDNIGHT'S WILD PASSION hit the stands on 26th April and I've been talking to readers all over via interviews, blogs and in person.
One question that often comes up is where do I get my ideas. And I always answer (because it's true) that I get ideas everywhere.
To give you an example, a couple of days ago I was reading the English National Trust magazine - I have a friend who very kindly sends them to me and they're a goldmine of quirky social history - and I came across the sort of thing that might well spark a story idea.
The National Trust has recently bought a wonderful early 18th century (well, I say wonderful but it sounds a bit creepy, frankly!) house in Northumberland in the north of England called Seaton Delaval Hall. It was designed by Sir John Vanbrugh who designed the cold but very impressive Blenheim Palace which formed the inspiration for much of Cranston Abbey in MY RECKLESS SURRENDER. By the way, Vanbrugh combined successful careers as architect and playwright - not a double that immediately comes to mind! He was also a spy and spent time in the Bastille.
Hmm, I can see a blog coming up on him too! See what I mean about ideas being everywhere? Anyway, back to my piece on Seaton Delaval Hall!
When I read about it, Seaton Delaval Hall struck me as an unlucky house. They had a huge fire in 1822 because jackdaws nested in the chimney shafts (bit more dramatic than "I went to bed with the bar heater on," huh?). The family line died out as a series of heirs fell off the perch (for example, the original builder, Admiral Delaval had no living son and his nephew inherited) much like jackdaws in a lit chimney. After the fire, the house wasn't inhabited until the 1980s. There's even a ghost - a white lady who apparently pines for a Delaval heir who couldn't marry her.
Here's a link to the National Trust site for the house: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-seaton-delaval-hall
When I was reading this NT magazine, I came across a fascinating bit of history that really set my synapses firing. In the grounds there's an impressive mausoleum (pictured below) containing the remains of John Seaton who died at the age of twenty. Here's the quote:
"John, the heir of the Seatons, perished in 1775, having been kicked in a vital organ by a laundry maid to whom he was paying addresses. Thus died the last of the Delavals by the foot of a buxom slut. Over the broken remains of so much hope...his father raised a temple."
Oh, dear! Ouch!
Not the way you want your aristocratic line to come to an end (I'd say 'sticky end' but that might be gilding the lily!).
Now these few lines are interesting for a whole stack of reasons.
Did she kick him where we think she did? I suspect she might have!
What happened to the maid? I haven't been able to find out - I hope she wasn't charged although given the power structure of 18th century England, she probably was.
Then there's the very revealing language. Surely calling a lower-class girl defending herself against a predatory sprig of the aristocracy a 'slut' is a bit of a misnomer! Again, a sad indication of the position of women although I love the descriptive detail of 'buxom' - it gives you a vivid picture of her! More power to her left foot!
Was this action the tragic end of a long and loving relationship? Cue chance to put in a very nice picture of Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees in the POLDARK series.
Or was our heroic laundry maid like Verity/Soraya in CLAIMING THE COURTESAN before the start of her career as a courtesan? Preyed upon rather than preying upon?
More importantly, could our feisty washerwoman be the heroine of a romance novel?
You know, I think she's got potential!
Or could our wincing would-be rake be the hero? He'd need to be a bit more robust but I could definitely imagine a bit of sparky dialogue over the washing line if we wrote him as a sexy beast.
Could our laundry maid be a runaway aristocrat? Charis without having enlisted Gideon's help? Grace trying to make a living after they repossessed the farm? The laundry maid isn't that far away from previous heroines I've written and she shares the strength of character which I like to give my girls.
At this stage, I have no intention of writing MY RECKLESS WASHING MACHINE or CLAIMING THE CLOTHES PEGS but you can see how a quirky incident like this sparks ideas that go on to spark other ideas and so on until you've got the basis for a book.
So while I'm digging around looking for inspiration, I'm turning to you! Do you have any quirky bits of family history - hopefully not a randy great-uncle who was done in by one of his squeezes! - that strike you as funny or strange or romantic or scandalous? Any ghosts in the family? Any skeletons? Any feisty laundry maids? Come clean, as they say in the best laundry romances!