Historical Perspectives: You Can’t Write Historical Fiction Without Them

My new novel To A Strange Somewhere Fled includes, at its end, a look at its historical aspects. Here is an excerpt:

“(The) history of private men’s lives (is) more profitable than state history.”

~ Roger North, from his General Preface & Life of Dr. John North

 Roger North (Sept. 3, 1651 – March 1, 1734) and Francis North (October 22, 1637 – September 5, 1685):

I didn’t have to imagine a male protagonist for the sequel to A House Near Luccoli to contrast the temperament and lifestyle of the charismatic and roguish composer Alessandro Stradella. English biographer and lawyer Roger North well-suited that role, especially as Donatella landed on his doorstep.

Portrait of Roger North by Peter Lely

Roger North by Peter Lely

Rather timid, even unsociable, Honorable was Roger’s title and the core of his character. He lived slowly, carefully, with a firm sense of belonging to his family, country, and the reaches of his intellect and interests—“practical diversions” that included writing, philosophy, architecture, mathematics, horticulture, sailing, and music.

Roger was born at Tostock, Suffock, the sixth son of the 4th Baron Dudley North and Anne Montagu. Despite a fifteen year age difference he was very attached to his eldest brother, Francis (great-grandfather to Lord North, Prime Minister of Great Britain during most of the American Revolution), and benefited from Francis’ professional and personal connections that took them both to the heights of Charles II’s court. In 1682 Sir Francis was appointed Lord Keeper of the Great Seal and Roger began his service as King’s Counsel. Although staunch royalists, neither was comfortable with the cutthroat political environment of Restoration England.

Thanks to Sir Francis’ marriage to Frances Pope who died in 1678, Wroxton Abbey became his and Roger’s retreat from London. The Popes had been leaseholders of the Abbey since the middle of the 16th century, transforming it into the Jacobean manor house still evident in its present structure. Sir Francis bought out his sister-in-laws’ inheritance and his descendants continued their tenancy of the Abbey well into the twentieth century.

Wroxton Abbey - late 17th century by DM Denton

Wroxton Abbey – late 17th century by DM Denton

 

Portrait of Sir Francis North by Peter Lely

Sir Francis North by Peter Lely

“As to musick”, Roger and Francis carried on the North tradition of pursuing its appreciation, study and performance for familial and social pleasure, and solitary distraction. Their grandfather had traveled in Italy and took a great liking to the music he found there. Roger received instruction from the English composer John Jenkins, and possibly other masters including the spirited Italian violinist Nicola Matteis. It is likely that Roger played the viol, theorbo, harpsichord, organ, and even the violin. He observed and participated in the musical scene of London, his thoughts on theory and performance leading him to eventually publish The Musicall Grammarian (1728). The Seventeenth Century volume of Blackwell’s History of Music in Britain references Roger at least twenty-eight times.

Roger penned biographies of his brothers, a wandering autobiography titled Notes of Me, and even a Discourse on Fish and Fish Ponds, continually and painstakingly recording his reflections and findings on countless subjects. He was one of the executors of the estate of the famous portraitist Peter Lely, and guardian to the painter’s son, John, and daughter, Anne. His architectural talents came into play with improvements made to the north wing of the Abbey and the addition of a coach house and stabling, and he also managed extensive tree planting on the estate.

Notes of Me Book Cover Beyond the scope of To A Strange Somewhere Fled, the untimely passing of Sir Francis in 1685 was an oppressive blow to Roger personally, but also professionally for he had lost a true companion and ally at Court. After Sir Francis’ death he spent a little more time at Wroxton Abbey with his brother Dudley and, while winding up their brother’s affairs, they found some distraction in setting up a laboratory and forge there. Charles II died the same year as Sir Francis, and the next Roger was appointed Attorney-General to Queen Mary of Modena, but by 1687 he had turned his back on Royal and Parliamentary conflicts and uncertainties and devoted himself to writing and the improvement and self-sufficiency of the estate he had purchased at Rougham in Norfolk.

Roger was a quieter, plainer, more cautious, modest and moralistic figure than Alessandro Stradella, but no less singular, creative or complex, which made him as interesting to write about. He exhibited a similar if less reckless compulsion to engage himself in the possibilities of the gifts he had been given and to scoff – less openly and, as it turned out, less perilously than Stradella – at a society that expected him to behave as if he was compliant with it.

 

Roger North_pe_pe

From Wainwright Engraving of Roger North with a page from Notes of Me

 

 

donatellasmallest©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back tobardessdmdenton. Thank you.

Unveiling …

… the cover artwork for the upcoming,

To A Strange Somewhere Fled

(sequel to A House Near Luccoli).

Cover Artwork To A Strange Somewhere Fled smaller for blog post

Copyright 2014 by DM Denton

 

     She had just begun to feel relaxed at the big house, not as if she belonged there but a little less intrusive each time she walked up its long crunching drive in sun and shade until the oaks had greened and dropped their catkins and the horse chestnuts lifted into candle flowers. It was odd but quite helpful that it never rained on those days. If her mother wasn’t with her and the Captain hurried ahead in hopes of meeting Roger, Donatella would take little detours that didn’t change her destination, although there was a sense of getting lost in the grazing sheep and naturalness around her. She felt her legs tighten up the banks for she had walked so little in her life and run even less. Looping her sagging satchel of books and papers around her, she took off like a kitten moving faster than it knew how to. It felt good to leave the ground and swing her arms, to trip and even slide as she thought no one saw. ~ From To A Strange Somewhere Fled

 

In the excerpt above, ‘she’ is Donatella, the female protagonist of A House Near Luccoli, the ‘big house’ is Wroxton Abbey and ‘Roger” is the Honorable Roger North. The setting of the novel is late Restoration England (1682-1683).

Have a way to go to transform the image into an actual book cover, but hope you enjoyed this preview!

 

donatellasmallest©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.

 

Meet My Main Character: Donatella: Beyond A House Near Luccoli

I was kindly tagged by the fine historical fiction author, Kim Rendfeld, to participate in the ‘Meet My Main Character (of a work in progress or soon to be published novel)’ blog tour. I highly recommend Kim’s published novel, The Cross and the Dragon (my review), and encourage you to read about her soon-to-be-released second novel, The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar.

Great Hall Wroxton Abbey

Great Hall Wroxton Abbey

I can report that the sequel to my literary historical fiction, A House Near Luccoli, is nearly finished. The story continues for its fictional protagonist with her arrival in England. Before long, she encounters the residents of Wroxton Abbey, both active in the Court of Charles II: Lord Francis North, Keeper of the Great Seal, and his younger brother, Roger, who is a member of the King’s Council. Roger North is a major player in the novel, a fascinating young man who left a wealth of written material on a wide range of subjects and offered great insight into the intellectual, cultural and political changes taking place in the England of his time. Donatella finds a quiet but not uneventful life in the pastoral setting of Wroxton.  Of course, she is haunted by past possibilities (and impossibilities), the lure of music and its masters not done with her yet. The divine Henry Purcell and a few other composers and musicians of the time make appearances, including one (or two) Donatella first encountered in the house near Luccoli.

 

Duck Pond & Cottage, Wroxton, England

Duck Pond & Cottage, Wroxton, England

 

Here are my answers to the questions that are a part of this blog tour: 

1)      What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or a historic person?

The central character of the novel I’m currently working on is the fictional Donatella, who first appeared in A House Near Luccoli, published by All Things That Matter Press, which imagined her friendship and collaboration with the brilliant but ill-fated 17th century Italian composer, Alessandro Stradella.

 

2)      When and where is the story set?

The timing of the novel is late Restoration England, May 1682 – June 1683. It’s predominantly set in Wroxton, a small village in Oxfordshire near Banbury (of “Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross …” nursery rhyme fame) that is rich in history:

From wroxton.org.uk:

Mentioned in the Domesday Book, the village probably takes its name from “Wroces Stan” meaning buzzards’ stone.  In ancient times the village was crossed by various trackways, including the Saltway, the route from the Worcester salt works to London.

It was in the Middle Ages and the establishment of Wroxton Abbey, however, that the village began to flourish.  

In 1537 the lease was obtained by Sir Thomas Pope who held various positions at the court of Henry VIII including that of Guardian to the Princess Elizabeth.  Sir Thomas, who founded Trinity College Oxford, bestowed the estates to Trinity, although he reserved the rights for the Pope family and their descendants to remain tenants of the estate.  During the reign of James I the original Priory was razed by fire.  In 1618 Sir William Pope, Earl of Downe, built the main part of the present “Abbey”.  In 1668 upon the death of the Fourth Earl the estate was inherited by his sister, Lady Frances, who married Sir Francis North (later Lord Keeper of the Great Seal).  Sir Francis purchased the outstanding shares of the leases and was subsequently created the 1st Baron Guilford in 1683.  The Abbey remained the residence of the Norths for the next 270 years.  Perhaps the most famous Lord North was the 2nd Earl of Guilford who was Prime Minister during the loss of the American Colonies.

The novel also ‘visits’ a few other locations, including nearby Broughton Castle, a medieval manor house that was and still is home to the Fiennes family (yes—actors Ralph and Joseph Fiennes are part of that clan) and Oxford, which is about 30 miles south of Wroxton. I might add that I lived in Wroxton from 1974 until 1990, including in the Abbey itself.

 

3)      What should we know about Donatella?

donatellawquillunshadedShe’s a reserved spinster but at the same time imaginative and curious: a quiet rebel with covert passions and artistic sensibilities, all of which stir her to write and paint. She was born and bred in Genoa where she lived with her maternal and musical side of the family until her mid-thirties. Part of the back story to A House Near Luccoli is that Donatella’s mother had left Genoa with her father when he returned to his native England after retiring as a merchant seaman. Donatella decided to stay behind to care for her beloved grandmother who was once a fairly successful singer and, even while slowly dying, expressed her unconventionality and love of life’s intrigues and intimacies. Donatella is much more controlled and cautious than her nonna,  but, through one novel and then the next, her story is shaped by similar longings and motivations.

In reviews of A House Near Luccoli, others have described Donatella as: “restless”; “a nerdy cat lady”; “a sweet woman with the soul of an artist”; a lovely, loving woman”; “her longings war with her own simple reality”; “a timid woman with an artist’s fiery spirit inside, who has somehow managed to lose her life to her own daydreams.”

 

4)      What is Donatella’s main conflict?

It would seem her main struggle is with the 17th century constraints on a woman pursuing intellectual and creative interests, and the stigma of one who has never married. My sense in developing her character and storyline was that such external societal limitations and judgments only accentuated the internal struggles she would have had in any period of history, even present times; caught, as she was, between the practical and artistic, compliant and willful, reclusive and receptive, fearful and intrepid sides of herself.

 

5)      What is Donatella’s personal goal?

Initially, she feels that she wants to disappear again, not so much to heal from grief but to be companioned by it, not to regret the past but be defined by it. Eventually, she discovers that her passions have not died with what encouraged and excited them; and that she isn’t haunted by what might have been because she should discard her hopes for the future, but to reinvent them.

 

6)      Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?

The title of the novel is To A Strange Somewhere Fled, taken from the poem/song, The Despair, by Abraham Cowley, first published in 1683:

No comfort to my wounded sight,
In the Suns busie and imperti’nent light,
Then down I lay my head;
Down on cold earth; and for a while was dead,
And my freed soul to a strange somewhere fled.

 

You can read more about To A Strange Somewhere Fled and keep updated on its progress towards publication on my blog, bardessdmdenton, website, dmdenton-author-artist.com and, also, on my Facebook pages, DM Denton and A House Near Luccoli.

 

7)      When can we expect the book to be published?

My hope is for it to be published later in the year or by early 2015.

So, if you haven’t yet read Donatella’s adventures with the inimitable Alessandro Stradella in A House Near Luccoli, there’s plenty of time to do so before the follow-up tale of how she moves on is available.

I’ve tagged five other wonderful authors. In breaking a little with the rules of this particular blog tour, they come from a variety of genres and one will be posting about their very recently released novel. They will be making their main character posts in about a week.

*Marina Julia-Neary: author of the recently released Never Be at Peace 

Marie Laval: author of The Lion’s Embrace

Maggie Tideswell: author of Dark Moon

Ina Schroder-Zeeders: author of poetry anthologies (Veritas and Amore), and many novels in Dutch. She is currently writing her first one in English.

Mary Clark: author of Tally: An Intuitive Life

*Marina Julia-Neary’s post will appear in about a week right here on my blog.

 

Thank you so much for visiting!

 

donatellasmallest©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.