Anne here, and no, I’m not looking for a new house for myself. I’m searching for one for my characters. I do it with every book, and because I live so far from the UK I can’t afford to fly to the UK to research every location. And the part of Australia I live in (Victoria) was colonized in the 1830’s which is too late for any buildings to be useful for for my period (Regency, 1811-20) So my location scouting is mostly done on line, with maps, and with books. And sometimes with a photo taken by a friend in the UK (Thank you CC Coburn). This one I used for the colors in the sky at a particular time of year, not the location.
For my just-finished novel, Marry in Secret, I needed two houses, one a small London house, and the other the country seat of an Earl.
The first one was relatively easy — I really only had to choose the street, because I didn’t want one of the big ultra-expensive fashionable houses, but a smallish house in a smallish street on the edge of Mayfair.
For London streets I usually use the Richard Horwood map of London or else this one, William Faden’s update of the Horwood plan, because it’s only one year after the date in which this book is set. Both plans have wonderful detail showing the houses, the back yards, the gardens and all kinds of lovely detail.
For the country seat of the earl, I wanted somewhere in Gloucestershire, so I started my search with the region and did an image search for "stately homes" or "historic houses” and Gloucestershire. After that, it’s simply a matter of browsing through lots of lovely pictures and following my instincts; finding images that spark an idea for a scene or simply feel right.
There are restrictions, of course, nothing Victorian or later, for instance. And I look for useable features, rather than an entire suitable house, because generally an old house will have additions and alterations made in different periods, which I love.
I rarely choose just one house. Because my books are fiction, I’m happy to take a feature from this house, an archway from that, the main hall of another and a maze from somewhere else — combining exteriors and interiors and creating my own unique location.
For instance I loved this very unusual double gatehouse, an archway with a house on either side, and readers will spot a version of it when they read the book. I mostly don’t need completely accurate details — it's more a matter of the atmosphere I’m trying to create.
Some years ago, when I was writing The Perfect Kiss, which has a slight touch of the gothic about it, I saw the photo of this stone staircase with the shallow indentations made by generations of feet and I knew I had to include it. One of the primary schools I attended as a child had very similarly worn stone steps, and I loved putting my feet into the dips made by generations of children before me. The worn stone steps in the story gave my heroine the same kind of frisson.
And when I spotted a photo of a wooden gargoyle, I knew I had to include that, too. If you’re interested in seeing some of the visual inspirations for that story, click here.
I used to print off some of these photos for my story collages, but I haven’t been doing those lately. Sometimes I also need to research things like the flowers and fruits that might be out at the time of my story. I got into trouble once by having lemons growing in Shropshire and was told by a reader that they’d only grow in a greenhouse. It’s always the things I assume I know (and therefore don’t look up) that I make mistakes with.
I did say there was nothing here in Melbourne that was suitable for Regency-era research, but that’s not quite true. Some enterprising chap, many years ago, heard that Captain Cook’s parents’ cottage was for sale. He bought it, had it dismantled, popped on a ship, and re-erected in the Fitzroy Gardens in Melbourne
I used it for one of my books, particularly because I had a recently impoverished heroine living in a small country cottage — so the size and style were perfect. I needed to know how my heroine would be able to get a semi-conscious wounded hero up the stairs and into a bed. So I jumped into the car and whizzed down to Cook’s Cottage. And was amazed at the low ceilings and the tiny, narrow beds and sleeping alcoves of the time. You can see them if you click on the link above. If you’ve read that story, (The Virtuous Widow — it's a Christmas story) the layout of my heroine’s cottage is identical to that of Cook’s Cottage.
When I was searching on line for places in Gloucestershire a rhyme from my childhood kept going round and round in my brain. I wonder, do you know it?
Dr Foster went to Gloucester in a shower of rain
He stepped in a puddle right up to his middle
And . . . . (finish the rhyme ~ hint, it ends with a rhyme for rain)
Do you do any cyber-travelling — just browsing the web for lovely places? If time and cost and difficulty of of travel weren't an issue, where would you travel to?