Sunday, January 31, 2010
Interview with Patricia Wynn
It takes place in the early years of George I’s reign, beginning in 1715, the year of a major Jacobite rebellion in Great Britain. (The Jacobites were followers of James Stuart and attempted several times to restore the Stuarts to the throne.) There’s a lot of political intrigue and espionage along with swashbuckling action.
You travel to England for research. Can you tell us about your methods once you get to that country? Are you digging through archives? Visiting sites that were around in the 18th century?
I’ve had different goals on different trips, but I’m on the go from the moment I land to the second I leave. The first time I went for research on this particular series, I tried to see every building in London and Westminster that was built before 1715 to get a sense of what the city would have looked like, and artifacts from the Stuart period to see what was in use. The Museum of London and the Geoffrey show furniture and objects by era. Some of the great houses, like Leeds Castle and Penshurst, have smaller museums with collections like dog collars and weapons, and older pieces of furniture, so I can see how houses were furnished, what the upholstery was like, quaint objects, etc.
On that first trip I also explored Kent, the setting for some of the first two books, in particular the villages I planned to use, like Hawkhurst , and the Weald, which was once an immense forest. I visited smugglers’ villages, like Rye in Sussex. At all these places, I bought books of local history with pictures of ancient houses to help me since my visual memory is so bad. I took notes on plants and birds, every detail I could find to give my writing authenticity.
On my most recent trip, which was in January, I particularly wanted to see what the dawn was like that time of year for the opening scene in my next book, A Killing Frost. Then, I spent every day in a library or museum libraries, looking at books and maps from the period, searching for possible cover art (I find the pictures that are used for my covers), and visiting some of the museums I’ve missed, like the Museum of Garden History at Lambeth.
Next trip will have to be after March when the National Trust properties are opened to the public. I want to visit Ham House, which is supposed to be the best preserved and most complete collection of 17th century fashion and power. I’ll visit as many houses as I can, and will hope by that time that the new Galleries of Modern London at the Museum of London will be open, which will cover London from 1666 on. It can be very frustrating to discover that what you’ve gone to see is closed for renovation or, as on my last trip, for the only week of the year that the British Museum Library was closed.
What happens if you can’t find the information you’re looking for? Do you leave the subject out? Or make an educated guess?
I really hate to guess, because that’s when I make mistakes, but sometimes I have to. For instance, there are no records of the interiors of most of the houses I might like to use to set a scene. I can’t even discover the exact layout of St. James’s Palace in 1716, for instance. So I use what has been published and have to be vague about the rest. Many of the churches were torn down and rebuilt, or destroyed in the Second World War, and of course, they go through transformations over 300 years. It may take me three hours to find a detail of an old church I can use, which will only result in three sentences. By and large, I do research and try to weave my story around what is known, but if I need to put a scene in one of the royal palaces, then I do my best to find out what it really was like. So many of the personal accounts for the years 1715-16 were destroyed because people were afraid of being arrested for treason and they burned their letters and journals.