My Novel on the Extraordinary Life of Lady Hester Stanhope

Tomorrow, The Diamond of London, my first foray into historical fiction, will release. And while creating a book is always a journey, this endeavor was particularly interesting one.

When my editor and I first began discussing the idea of a fictional biography on Lady Hester Stanhope, I had some reservations. A fictional biography? That seemed like such an oxymoron, and coming from the world of fiction, where I could happily scribble away, making things up as I went along, the thought of trying to piece together Truth and Imagination in one story seemed a little daunting . . .

Lady Hester Stanhope

And then there was Lady Hester Stanhope herself. I’ve written a number of books set in Regency England, so I’m fairly knowledgeable about the history and notable people of the era. Her name was familiar to me, but only for the later part of her life, when she was the most famous—and eccentric—adventurer of the early nineteenth century. From what little I had read, Lady Hester was considered opinionated, abrasive, headstrong, and emotionally unstable. That certainly gave me pause for thought. To write a book about her meant that the two of us would be spending a lot of time together. What if we didn’t get along?

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Hidden in History . . .

ImageAndrea/Cara here: As someone writes both historical mysteries and historical romance, I think a lot about women and their place in history. In creating a heroine, it can sometimes be a delicate balance. On one hand I believe human nature hasn’t changes all that much over the centuries, and so every era had its fair share of brilliant, talented, curious women who pursued their passions despite whatever strictures existed in the society of their times.

\ Mary_Wollstonecraft_by_John_Opie_(c._1797)And then, of course, on the other hand are readers who will wave the rule book and argue that—for example—a Regency lady would never explore the Middle East, write feminist manifestos or become one of the top astronomers in the world. (As you guessed, there are real life examples who have done just that.)

Ackermann's fashion 1The trouble is, there are precious few role models for inspiration when we look to craft a female character. We authors just don’t have the same depth and texture to choose from as we do with men. There are, of course, many reasons for this, the most basic being that under very recently it was men who wrote history. And sadly—as this current climate has highlighted—all too often women are only written into history because of their sexuality rather than their achievements.

Another reason—a more positive one—I’ve been thinking of the topic is because I was talking about it at lunch the other day with a wonderful non-fiction writer whose WIP is about a turn-of-the-century woman who is amazingly accomplished but unknown to most. (Sorry, I can’t say more as I am sworn to secrecy, but it’s going to be a fabulous book!) And so we started chatting about all the unsung heroines in history and all the astounding stories that are out there, just waiting to be discovered and told . . .

There must have been some karmic buzz in the cosmos, for the very next day I stumbled upon a fascinating article on Aaron Burr’s daughter—a real life story that, while little known, has inspired novels and poetry and countless legends. So let’s take a quick look at one of those interesting women hidden in history.

It all starts with a painting . . .

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