Friday, February 02, 2007

Where do we get our ideas from?

To be serious for a moment, March this year sees the 200th anniversary of an important landmark in British history: Abolition of the Slave Trade. As a writer of romantic historical fiction, the horrors of the past never predominate my books, but neither can they been forgotten. The late eighteenth century was an exciting time. Britain had just lost America, France was about to erupt into bloody revolution and the press indulged in a freedom of speech that would horrify most of us today.

Researching the past throws up many ideas and opportunities for writers – even writers of "entertainment" rather than heavy political works.
I wove the story of Dance for a Diamond around the new dance craze, the waltz, that was sweeping Europe in 1815, but it's main character, Antonia, comes perilously close to ruin when she is alone and defenceless in London. Gentlemen in Question is set at the time of the French Revolution, when England was gripped by spy mania, a premise that led me to weave a tale around Maddie's fears and suspicions about her cousin and Beau Hauxwell. The presence of a dangerous villain in the story allowed me to take Madeleine on a mad dash across the English countryside in an exciting adventure. My latest novel, The Belles Dames Club, is set in England in 1786, when Britain was beginning to feel uneasy about its lucrative slave trade. . There was a growing awareness in the country that something had to be done. Universities were debating the matter, anti-slavery poems were read in fashionable salons and there was a boycott of sugar, which actually reduced sales by one third. Britain was developing a conscience. However, slavery was big business, most of the oldest families achieved at least part of their wealth from slavery.

The Belles Dames Club is in essence a light-hearted adventure-romance, but it is set against a realistic back-drop, which adds contrast and colour to any historical novel. . The ladies of the club attend a meeting where they hear one of the leading campaigners, Granville Sharp, describe the plight of the slaves, and they see some of the implements used to subdue the slaves during their long voyage across the Atlantic, such as shackles and thumbscrews. Their growing frustration at the horrors of the trade make the ladies ready to take drastic action, and sets the scene for some lively adventure.

And just to finish off…..on 25th March 1807, the Abolition of the Slave Trade bill became law. This did not stop the British slave trade, and it could be argued that for some time the plight of the slaves became even worse, but eventually, in 1833, the British Parliament passed the Slavery Abolition Act.

We are all aware that the past (and present) can be uncomfortable, but that does not mean we should not allow ourselves a little escapism. Enjoy your reading!

Melinda Hammond

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