Writer To Reader
August 1, 2014
Living life as Lady Georgie
Writers are always told to ‘write what you know’. I write about a young woman who is 35th in line to the throne of England in the 1930s. And I have to confess that I am neither royal, nor am I old enough to remember the time between the wars. But I have enough in common with Lady Georgie, my heroine, to know what her life was like.
She has grown up in a lonely Scottish castle with the wind whistling along the corridors. I also grew up in a big drafty house in the country (but in Kent rather than Scotland). It was spooky with creaking doors and flapping rugs. And I was a lonely child. We lived outside the village. My father ran the factory and my mother was school principal so other children viewed me with suspicion and didn’t want to get too close to me. I had too much time to myself and spent it in our acre of orchard playing games of pretend. I was a circus star swinging from the trapeze I had rigged up in the tree. But my favorite game was pretending I was Queen of Swanley. I’d go out on my bike and give the TV narration in my head as I rode. “The Queen of Swanley goes out in her coach to greet her loyal subjects.” And I’d nod and give the royal wave to anyone I passed. They must have thought I was quite batty.
When I grew up I married into an upper class family who did have cousins with funny nicknames and stately homes and I heard tales about what the butler did and family ghosts. I have friends who were presented at court and moved in fashionable circles back when there really were fashionable circles. So I’ve been able to get a good feel for what Lady Georgie’s life was like in England. But I’ve sent her abroad in a couple of books now and that has required some tough research.
For example, before I wrote Naughty in Nice I had to spend a grueling two weeks on the French Riviera. Such hardships! So many bistros to sample. Actually, joking aside, I did spend a lot of time going through old photos in the library, touring every inch of the Negresco Hotel, looking at old maps and making sure all the details were right for when my heroine came to visit.
And I did the same for my new book, Queen of Hearts. This story takes Georgie across the Atlantic to America for the first time. So I did what any good researcher should do. I crossed the Atlantic on the Queen Mary 11. This ship was built to replicate the 1930s experience. It is a liner in the traditional design, not a top heavy cruise ship. It’s sleek and gorgeous. The interiors are sumptuous and art deco is everywhere. Music is playing in every public space and tea is served with white gloves. There were monogrammed slippers at the bottom of my bed and chocolates on my pillow. It was the height of luxury and pampering for me.
And suddenly it struck me—the people who made that crossing on the original Queen Mary took this kind of service for granted. This was just their home life transferred to a ship. There was always someone to prepare their meals, turn down their beds, put out their slippers, entertain them. They probably never even thought “oh how lovely” when they were served scones and clotted cream by a gloved waiter at tea. It’s things like this that really hit home to me what life must have been like for aristocrats before WWII. How incredibly different from our own.
I can read old diaries, biographies, watch old movies, look at old photos, even interview those who still remember the Thirties (not many left any more, I’m afraid) But nothing beats reliving the experience for myself. I’m just not planning to send Georgie to Antartica!
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Queen of Hearts
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