Today I help end the blog tour for Dear Jane by Allie Cresswell. She will be sharing about some of what she learned about Regency life in the seaside towns as she wrote The Other Miss Bates and Dear Jane which are both based on Jane Austen’s Emma.
The final installment of the Highbury trilogy, Dear Jane recounts events hinted at but never actually described in Jane Austen’s Emma; the formative childhood years of Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill, their meeting in Weymouth and the agony of their secret engagement.
Orphaned Jane seems likely to be brought up in parochial Highbury until adoption by her papa’s old friend Colonel Campbell opens to her all the excitement and opportunities of London. Frank Weston is also transplanted from Highbury, adopted as heir to the wealthy Churchills and taken to their drear and inhospitable Yorkshire estate. Readers of Emma will be familiar with the conclusion of Jane and Frank’s story, but Dear Jane pulls back the veil which Jane Austen drew over its remainder.
Jane Austen famously writes of the minutiae of life; her books often centred on a single house or area. Emma takes place exclusively in the Surrey village of Highbury and although a few characters travel outside its precincts Emma and the reader never do.
For my Highbury Trilogy, however, I had to venture further afield and my travels took me to two seaside resorts, Brighton and Weymouth. Whereas Highbury is an imaginary place, these other locations are not, and I did a good deal of research about them, particularly about what they would have been like in the timeframe of my novels. I’d like to share with you some of what I learned about Regency life in these seaside towns as I wrote The Other Miss Bates and my most recent book Dear Jane which are both based on Jane Austen’s Emma.
Seaside resorts became popular following the discovery that sea-bathing and – less convincingly – sea-drinking were beneficial for the health. People generally were more aware of their own well-being and apothecaries, physicians, doctors and charlatans all took advantage of the chance to make money by promising cures and administering treatments, many of which seem ridiculous or even barbaric today.
Brighton was a more popular resort than Weymouth, more accessible from London, and made fashionable by the Prince Regent who took a shine to the place and had an enormous residence built there. But, thankfully, that happened after the events of The Other Miss Bates were done. Weymouth was a quieter place, with only one Assembly room to Brighton’s two. In both cases I used historical reference books with maps and illustrations to discover their layouts, and to learn where genteel families would have stayed during their summer sojourn. All the streets and buildings I mention in my Highbury Trilogy are real places.
Normally, most people enjoyed society within the confines of their own homes, holding dinners, card-parties and, occasionally, balls. Naturally the participants in these entertainments were known to the hosts; the company was already ‘acquainted’ and enjoyed that degree of intercourse which familiarity brings. Not so in a seaside town. All the visitors were strangers to each other and some method of overcoming this boundary had to be devised so that orderly social interaction could take place. Newcomers to the town were required to announce their arrival in the society newssheet, printed and distributed daily. In order to attend the Assembly and the circulating library visitors had to pay a subscription which bought them access to the events which were held there. A Master of Ceremonies oversaw all entertainments, collected subscriptions and introduced people to one another. Without a proper introduction from him or a mutual acquaintance it was impossible for one person to ‘know’ another. A gentleman could not ask a lady to dance unless they had been introduced. Once that had occurred he could dance with her, request leave to call upon her and introduce her to his family and other associates.
Rather than taking place in private drawing and dining rooms, social interaction took place out of the home, at the Assembly, play, in cardrooms and in the circulating libraries, which were much more than just places to borrow books. Refreshments were served there and there were often musical recitals. People walked, on the grassy area known as the Steyne in Brighton, and along the promenade in Weymouth. They went out in their carriages, enjoying excursions to nearby beauty-spots. The idea was to be seen, to encounter others, to enjoy society in a much wider and freer way than could be managed at home. Freer indeed. Seaside resorts were an absolute hotbed for illicit romance, giving young men and women a much wider reservoir of potential suitors and many more opportunities to steal away from prying eyes. Lydia Bennet eloped from Brighton and my character, Louisa Churchill, also arranged assignations there.
The daily routine at a seaside place consisted of rising early to bathe before returning home or going to a coffee house to breakfast. Ladies might then dress and have their hair repaired before setting out for morning promenades or shopping. Gentlemen might go riding, sailing, fishing, or enjoy the sporting contests often arranged for their entertainment. In the mid to late afternoon people returned home to dress, dined, and then went out again to the Assembly or play. It was a social whirl indeed, a far cry from the sedentary lives they knew at home. How Emma Woodhouse would have enjoyed it.
About the Author:
Allie Cresswell was born in Stockport, UK and began writing fiction as soon as she could hold a pencil.
She did a BA in English Literature at Birmingham University and an MA at Queen Mary College, London.
She has been a print-buyer, a pub landlady, a book-keeper, run a B & B and a group of boutique holiday cottages. Nowadays Allie writes full time having retired from teaching literature to lifelong learners.
She has two grown-up children, two granddaughters, two grandsons and two cockapoos but just one husband – Tim. They live in Cumbria, NW England.
Dear Jane is her ninth novel.
Today I am one of the stops on the blog tour for Game Show by Allie Cresswell. I will be interviewing her!
It is 1992, and in a Bosnian town a small family cowers in their basement. The Serbian militia is coming – an assorted rabble of malcontents given authority by a uniform and inflamed by the idea that they’re owed something, big-time, and the Bosnians are going to pay. When they get to the town they will ransack the houses, round up the men and rape the women. Who’s to stop them? Who’s to accuse them? Who will be left, to tell the tale?
Meanwhile, in a nondescript northern UK town a group of contestants make their way to the TV studios to take part in a radical new Game Show. There’s money to be won, and fun to be had. They’ll be able to throw off their inhibitions and do what they want because they’ll all be in disguise and no-one will ever know.
In a disturbing denouement, war and game meld into each other as action and consequence are divided, the words ‘blame’ and ‘fault’ have no meaning and impunity reigns .
Game Show asks whether the situation which fostered the Bosnian war, the genocide in Rwanda, the rise of so-called Islamic State in Syria and the ethnic cleansing in Myanmar could ever happen in the West. The answer will shock you.
JRR (Jessica’s Reading Room) Tell us a little about yourself.
I am a mum and a granny, with two grown up children, two granddaughters, two grandsons, two cockapoos but just one husband, Tim. We live in beautiful Cumbria. Apart from writing and reading I enjoy cooking and gardening. I also knit and crochet.
JRR: You have a big family! Did you always want to become an author?
Yes, I think so. When I was about eight I asked for a stack of writing paper for Christmas so that I could write stories down. Later I appropriated my mum’s Remmington typewriter and taught myself to use it so that people could actually read what I had written although this backfired on me. The first story I shared was met with gales of laughter from my family – it wasn’t meant to be funny. After that I went underground with my writing and was reluctant to share anything.
I deviated slightly in my later teens, thinking I would like to be an actor – which is really the same thing – just bringing stories to life in a different way. I went to Birmingham University to study English and Drama but soon found the acting part of the course too intimidating and the ‘lovies’ likewise. I stuck it out, doing lots of behind the scenes jobs. But the English element of the course really inspired me. I read lots. I began to understand the way story, character, language and theme work together. After Birmingham I went to Queen Mary College to do an MA, specialising in the novel as form, and studying Henry James who, to me, is the master of novel writing.
JRR: Who was the most influential author you read when you were growing up? Did his/her writings influence you to want to become an author?
As a child I read voraciously, encouraged by my lovely mum. I loved Noel Streatfield, Malcolm Savile, LM Montgomery and Francis Hodgson Burnet. I still have their dog-eared paperbacks on my shelves today. If I had to pick one it would be Noel Streatfield. Her books swept me away; I loved her strong, determined heroines who followed their dreams. For a quiet, unremarkable little girl like me they were such an inspiration. I had dreams and ambitions too. Maybe, just maybe I could achieve mine.
JRR: Who is your favorite author as an adult? Who inspires you?
That is a really tricky question. I couldn’t possibly pick just one! I adore all the nineteenth century greats – Dickens, Trollope, the Brontes, Wharton – as well as Jane Austen. But these days I have discovered some other fantastic writers who tell compelling stories and use great language – this, to me, is the hallmark of good writing. Recently I discovered an American writer called Laurel Savile – her writing is sublime. Elizabeth Strout has an ability to describe atmosphere, intonation and sub-text which is almost extra-sensory. Patrick Gale tells such poignant stories, and he tells them so well. All these writers inspire me.
JRR: I know, you can’t just pick one! 😉 What inspires you to write? What inspires you to write the books that you do write?
I am an inveterate nosey parker and listener-in to other people’s business. I pick up bits of conversations in shops and cafes, I see things – an incident in the street, say – and wonder, ‘What’s happening there? What caused it? What will happen next?’ Before I know it I am creating character and inventing dialogue – and a story is born.
There have been aspects of my own life which have inspired some of my books. I worked through a lot of personal issues in the Lost Boys quartet, for example.
I don’t write genre. Each of my books is different. They were all inspired by a certain individual situation or idea and I wrote them to explore the causalities, the sub-text and the psychology. I wrote them to provide outcomes which I could never know in real life. That’s the problem with people-watching, they leave the café and you never do know how things turn out for them. But, when I write, I can provide an ending, which is always satisfying.
JRR: What does your writing process consist of? ( Do you research, do you hand write or type, do you listen to music or need silence?)
Firstly, the idea. It must excite me. I will find myself thinking about it while I’m hoovering or walking the dogs. Then, the most difficult thing of all. Beginning. Opening a new document and getting the first few paragraphs down. Then, seeing my way. I never know the end from the beginning. It unfurls before me. Sometimes it unfurls wrong, and I have to retrace. I research as I go: did people have mobile ‘phones in 1992? What was women’s underwear like in 1945? How long would it take to drive from Middlesborough to Manchester?
My writing day starts at about ten. I have a room which is set aside for writing where I can be quiet and relatively undisturbed. I can’t stand any kind of background noise at all, so no music. Usually I re-read whatever I wrote the day before, tweaking and amending, adding, subtracting.
Then I write until about 3.30 or 4. I stop, read over, save and walk away.
JRR: Where did the idea for Game Show come from? What made you decide to include reality television with 1992 and the Bosnian/Serbian war?
Game Show developed following an experience as a member of a real TV game show audience. It was in 1992. News about the Bosnian War was just filtering through to us. I had two small children at the time. It was so harrowing, watching the news, seeing families trudging across the countryside or those poor boys and men starving and abused and traumatised in the concentration camps. Nowadays, unfortunately it is all too common – Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Myanmar. But then, it was new and shocking. As I sat in the audience and watched people cheat and lie and pretend – all for the sake of what wasn’t, even in those days, a really amazing prize – the stark contrast between the two situations really hit me. The one so tragic and desperate, the other so superficial and phoney.
The similarities of the two didn’t hit me until I was well in to writing the book and I got to understand the situation in Bosnia better. It took me ten years to write Game Show partly because the history of the war didn’t really emerge until then. Also, I came across Dr. Philip Zimbardo’s book The Lucifer Effect which really explained situational psychology to me. I had been groping towards an understanding of it feeling that my original premise – that people are fundamentally evil – wasn’t right, but not knowing what was. Situational psychology explains both the psychology of the Bosnian War (and of many other conflicts, political scandals and celebrity outrages since) as well as the way ‘reality’ TV can provoke people into acting out of character.
JRR: Wow! Thank you for that insight, that makes you think. Now are you a reality tv fan? How ‘real’ can reality tv be?
No. I find it specious and embarrassing now that I understand what’s going on. I think of the participants as victims. Of course, as in Game Show, it is possible for people to reject the total situation which is trying to herd them into mob mentality, and become heroes, like Barry in Game Show. But, sadly, these incidences are rare.
JRR: If you could have dinner with three people (living or dead) who would they be and why?
Perhaps this is too personal but I would give my right arm and my left one too to spend an evening with my mum and dad – to tell them all the things I never got round to saying and to show them their great grandchildren. They would be so proud.
I would love to meet my step-daughter, who doesn’t speak to us, to understand her feelings and to get to know her a little.
If you feel that it isn’t appropriate to mention these things, I would choose Stephen Fry, who would be an interesting and amusing dinner date, Henry James, who would give me some tips on novel writing, and Stephen Spielberg, who might agree to make Game Show into a film.
JRR: Your answers are not too personal at all! That’s why I like to ask that question! I like to get to know authors personally. Which book have you always meant to get around to reading, but still not read?
I have read almost all of Dickens but I have never read The Pickwick Papers. I have tried numerous times, but just not been able to get in to it.
JRR: What’s the best advice you have ever received?
Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.
JRR: Is there anything else you would like to share?
Game Show is set in 1992 – 26 years ago. But what is so interesting about its premise is that it explains so much that is happening today. The Harvey Weinstein affair, the Oxfam Haiti prostitute scandal, the organised grooming of children for sexual exploitation, even the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal and his daughter – all these occur when people feel they are given permission to act as they wouldn’t ordinarily do, told that there will be no consequences or feel that it’s OK, because everyone else is doing it.
JRR: Thank you so much for your time with this interview Allie!
About the Author:
I have been writing stories since I could hold a pencil and by the time I was in Junior School I was writing copiously and sometimes almost legibly.
I did, however, manage a BA in English and Drama from Birmingham University and an MA in English from Queen Mary College, London. Marriage and motherhood put my writing career on hold for some years until 1992 when I began work on Game Show.
In the meantime I worked as a production manager for an educational publishing company, an educational resources copywriter, a bookkeeper for a small printing firm, and was the landlady of a country pub in Yorkshire, a small guest house in Cheshire and the proprietor of a group of boutique holiday cottages in Cumbria. Most recently I taught English Literature to Lifelong learners.
Nowadays I write as full time as three grandchildren, a husband, two Cockapoos and a large garden will permit.
Look out for the rest of the blog tour!