Today I am delighted to introduce Michelle Willingham as my Word Wenches guest. Michelle is the author of seven novels and three novellas for Harlequin Mills and Boon Historicals. Her most recent release, The Accidental Countess was available in the UK this past January. Most of Michelle's books are set in Medieval Ireland and her website at www.michellewillingham.com has a wealth of fascinating historical detail. It's the sort of site where I can happily lose myself browsing the articles, links and photographs. Today Michelle is talking about a different historical period, however, and treating us to an insight into the background to her current US release, The Accidental Princess.
"I don't think I'm the only woman who has a fascination with The Titanic. Even after seeing the Leonardo DiCaprio/Kate Winslet version, I watched National Geographic specials about unearthing the secrets of The Titanic. It was fascinating to see such luxurious ship quarters with crystal chandeliers, gilded furnishings, and rooms devoted to leisure.
When I wrote my historical romance The Accidental Princess, I knew the hero and heroine would journey
on board a ship to the fictional country of Lohenberg (nestled between Germany and Denmark). I was a little wary of steam travel, having visions of tiny boats and horrendous conditions. I contacted the Mariner's Museum of Newport News, Virginia, and made an appointment to look at historical photographs of 1855 steamships. To my surprise, even back then, steamship travel could be a true luxury, particularly in transatlantic voyages.
Although my characters only traveled from England to Germany, I took the liberty of using a larger ship. I used a combination of two real-life vessels to create my own steamship. The first ship, The Great Britain , was completed in 1845. The promenade deck was sheltered by the upper deck, giving passengers a way of walking around and getting fresh air within a sheltered space. The first class state rooms had berths built into the walls, one on top of another, for passengers to sleep in. There were also furnishings bolted into the floors, such as dressers and tables.
In The Great Britain, the dining rooms could seat up to three hundred guests. The high ceilings, oil paintings, column supports, and exquisite place settings provided nothing but the best accommodations and meals for passengers. Potted plants were set upon the tables, along with crystal decanters and white tablecloths.
Another ship, The Great Eastern, was begun in 1854 and finished in 1858. Although primarily used for
transatlantic voyages, I used the interior of the Grand Saloon for another story scene. The room was 63 feet long, 47 feet wide, and 14 feet high. Mirrors disguised the funnels, and the floors were carpeted. Velvet sofas and green marble-topped tables adorned the space, and gilt chandeliers hung from the ceilings. No expense was spared.
I wanted the characters of Lady Hannah and Lieutenant Michael Thorpe to grow closer during the voyage, and since parlour games were popular among the passengers, I used a real game called Forfeit in the story. Passengers would surrender up a personal item, and whoever bid upon it could have the forfeit of their choice (singing, nonsense behavior, or something scandalous!). I'll let your imagination figure out what sort of forfeit Lady Hannah gave to the Lieutenant!
Although they aren't nearly as luxurious nowadays, I can only imagine that historical ships provided the inspiration for modern-day cruises. Have you ever been on a cruise before? Where did you go? From the comments, I'll draw one lucky winner to receive a signed copy of The Accidental Princess (available in North America now and in the UK this November).
Michelle, I love the opulent sound of the background to this book and I'm looking forward to reading Hannah and Michael's story very much! I've visited the Great Britain and it is fascinating to step into such a different world. Thank you for giving us an insight into your inspiration. There's much more information on Michelle's website and don't forget to comment for a chance to win a copy of the book!