Guest Post with Luisa A. Jones
This week, I'm very pleased to welcome the talented author, Luisa A. Jones, to the blog for the first time. Her first historical novel, The Gilded Cage, will be published by Storm Publishing on Thursday 22nd June.
Welcome, Luisa. I'm always fascinated by the research an author does when writing historical fiction so I can't wait to find out about some of the research you undertook for your new novel. It's over to you!
Thank you, Jan, for inviting me to share some insights into how I researched my historical fiction for The Gilded Cage. I’ve read and loved all your books, so I feel honoured to be asked to contribute to your blog.Central to my protagonist’s story in The Gilded Cage was her decision to learn to drive, and the confidence she gained from attaining this skill. I set the story just before the First World War, not only because I find it a fascinating era with its rapid technological and social changes, but also because it was a time when it was still fairly unusual for a woman to become a motorist.
My research revealed that, from the earliest days of motoring, there were female drivers who were just as excited as men by the speed and independence afforded by motor cars. The Ladies’ Automobile Club was founded as far back as 1903. As motoring was so expensive, it was an option only open to a privileged few, so around half of the Club’s founding members were titled ladies. The annual subscription fee of two guineas provided technical advice and information, driving instruction for ladies and their servants, organised motoring tours, competitions, garaging to rent, and a social space to meet at the luxurious Claridge’s hotel in Mayfair. Lectures were held on topics such as “Motors and Morals”. As time went by, the club expanded into charitable work, providing funds for a hospital bed for those injured in road traffic accidents, and setting up a motorised field kitchen during the First World War.
I loved learning about some of the famous women drivers of the day. These included Dorothy Levitt, whose snappily titled book The Woman and the Car: A Chatty Little Handbook for Women Who Want to Motor provided me with much inspiration (and a fair bit of incidental detail) for Rosamund’s experience of driving and car maintenance. Levitt was a Jewish Londoner whose talent for motoring and boating led her to set land and water speed records for women and made her a well-known celebrity. She took part in (and often won) many speed trials, and loved to drive with her Pomeranian dog, Dodo, on her lap. She was something of an innovator: it was Levitt whose suggestion of carrying a hand mirror to see the road behind led to the development of the rear-view mirror.
Please click on the link for a photograph of Dorothy behind the wheel -https://www.flickr.com/photos/carlylehold/48025764841/in/
Other notable female motorists included Aileen Preston, who had a motoring school in London and called herself “the first woman to take up motoring as a career”; and Muriel Thompson, a talented racing driver who won the first Ladies’ race at Brooklands in 1908 and went on to become a volunteer ambulance driver in the First World War, winning the Military Medal and the Croix de Guerre for her brave service. The lesbian actress Vera “Jack” Holme was noted as Britain’s first female chauffeur in 1911: a committed suffragette, she was Mrs Pankhurst’s chauffeuse-cum-getaway driver. It struck me as I was writing that such role models could be an inspiration to my protagonist.
Please click on the link for a wonderful photograph of 'Jack' in her role as chauffeuse to Mrs Pankhurst - https://www.flickr.com/photos/lselibrary/22143984233/
In the Edwardian period there were several British manufacturers of motor cars: the most famous of them, Rolls Royce, is of course still in existence, although it is now owned by the German company BMW. I decided to celebrate one of the less well-known marques, and settled on a Wolseley limousine-landaulette as a suitably luxurious and powerful model to be owned by a wealthy industrialist at that time. Only twelve of these are known to still exist today, dispersed around the world. According to the 1913 Wolseley catalogue the specific model I wrote about cost £800; optional extras such as a spare wheel, silk blinds, leather upholstery and a number plate would have increased the cost. For comparison, a lady’s maid at that time might expect to earn around £32 per year.Please click on the link to see a photograph of the Wolseley 24/30 Limousine-Landaulette -
I was very fortunate in being able to confirm some specific details with a member of the Wolseley Register veteran car club, having found the group on the internet and contacted them via email. He kindly sent me videos, articles and photographs as well as taking the time to answer my questions about such topics as the top speed of a Wolseley 24/30 Limousine-Landaulette and whether the driver’s side front door actually opened (it didn’t, which led to quite a few edits!).
For so many of us even today, whatever our gender, the skill of driving opens up a world of independence that can be truly life changing. While many women drive and own cars nowadays, I can’t help thinking it’s a shame that so few are well-known in the fields of motoring journalism or motor sport. All the more reason, perhaps, to celebrate the achievements of those bold “motoristes” of yesteryear.
Thank you, Luisa. That's so interesting. Women living at the time in which you've set your novel had such a different life to one they would have had today. The motor-car and being able to drive is something we all take for granted.
The Gilded Cage https://geni.us/98-Storm
About the book:
1897. Rosamund bows her head and steps slowly down the aisle. The satin of her gown whispers against the stone floor and a single tear falls into the bunch of yellow roses twisted in her trembling hands. Despite rumours of his cruelty, Rosamund has no choice but to become this man's second wife.
After her wedding, Rosamund finds herself trapped in Sir Lucien'Fitznorton's lonely country estate. As she wanders the chilly halls, made shadowy by drapes of heavy velvet, she longs for the lost comforts of her childhood home, where she was the beloved only daughter to a doting father, now buried miles away. As a young woman with no fortune of her own, only death can release her from this misery.
Until she meets Joseph, her husband's gruffly handsome new chauffeur. With his mop of salt-and-pepper hair and lilting accent, Joseph is from another world. One of clambering children and tea at scrubbed kitchen tables, the hollow scratch of hunger and long hours of hard work. Despite their differences, they find themselves increasingly drawn to one another.
But Sir Lucien is not only cruel, he's devious too, and soon Rosamund finds herself caught in a dangerous web of secrets and lies. Is Rosamund's fragile marriage nothing but a golden cage, trapping her between two men who desire her... and to what end?
One holds her captive and the other offers her a hope of escape... but who really holds the key to Rosamund's gilded prison?
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Thank you for reading. I'm sure you found Luisa's post as interesting as I did. If you write historical fiction, what have you researched that is commonplace nowadays? I'd love it if you left a comment. Thank you.
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