Writers are often asked where their inspiration comes from so I thought I would try to show you what has inspired some of my own ideas. I live in a very beautiful part of England on the edge of the Pennines surrounded by wild, desolate landscapes. When I went out for a walk over the Christmas period I took my camera with me. Unfortunately it was a grey, wet day, so no dazzling winter snowscapes, just miles of open space.
The scenery here inspired me to write The Highclough Lady, the story of Verity Shore who inherits a house in just such an area. Even today it can seem bleak and harsh, and poor Verity is in danger from more than just nature. The picture on the left shows a typical steep-sided clough (pronounced “cluff”): you may just be able to make out the path, a straight line sloping down through the trees on the far side of the clough, separating the grazing land from the rock face. This is where I imagined Verity’s horse bolting, carrying her down the path with the sheer drop on one side: very exciting!
When I am following the bridleways and footpaths around here I think of how bad the roads must have been in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. The main coaching roads were in the best condition but even then it depended upon how well the local parish maintained them. There may have been cobbled streets through the towns but I
think long stretches would have been like the picture on the right, closely packed stone and mud. Imagine travelling in a coach over such a surface – no rubber tyres to cushion the ride! I have also included (below) a picture of a local crossroads, used now only by horses and the occasional small tractor. Many roads would have been like this, and the ravages of ice and rain would soon have torn apart the surface, making it almost impassable.
In A Rational Romance, my hero and heroine drive from London to Dover, then on to Paris: these days we think nothing of such a journey, but I am impressed when I consider how our ancestors travelled – the journey must have been quite gruelling. I admire their stamina.
I hope these pictures will give you some idea of how the countryside may have looked two hundred years ago: even Jane Austen’s Hampshire was not always the picture-postcard place we see when we visit today: I can just imagine Lizzie Bennett walking along lanes such as those above when she made her way to Netherfield to visit Jane: no wonder her petticoats were muddy!