Research trips make for wonderfully romantic honeymoons. No really, they do. At least, that’s what I told my husband when I suggested spending two weeks in the UK poking around ruined castles and old estates. Being the wonderful servant-hearted man he is, he dove right into the research for books he’d never read if his wife’s name wasn’t on the cover.
My imagination sparked to life and nearly burst with creativity as we trailed through abandoned estates and crumbling buildings that nearly vibrated with backstory. There’s something undeniably compelling about such places, and I began to see story ideas come to life within the decrepit old buildings. We wrote down absolutely everything, even if it seemed ridiculous—the way the dirt smelled, the exact color of the stones in a cathedral, the view from an eroded tower window—so I could accurately portray it in my books. Then we made up wild stories for all the people who lived in these places and gave them fun histories, passing back and forth story snippets as we toured.
Then came a new aspect of our trip. Research had always been about accuracy, details, and scene painting, but in an estate’s vast gardens, we discovered a heavily whiskered old man wandering about with a camera and tripod, snapping pictures of the beautiful landscaping who provided something more.
I sat down and started talking to him, drawn to his jolly little face and elfish ears that stuck out from under a plaid cap. He was a local man who loved the estate and he’d made it his first subject when he took up photography. In his delightful Scottish accent, he began to tell me about all the families who’d lived in that estate over time, dating back to his boyhood and even his father’s recollections. He’d lived just beyond the estate grounds all his life, and several generations of his family before him. He told me lively little tales of daily life and family secrets, infusing them with the enthusiasm and strong voice of a delightful storyteller.
I remembered then what first drew me to this writing business—stories. Especially when told with the authentic words of one who experienced them. Nothing thrills me more. I soaked up everything this man had to tell me, which made him eager to share more. His tales enchanted me and they validated something in the teller, giving worth to his daily mundane experiences. His chin lifted and his eyes lit as he opened up his life for me in a series of memories and impressions, giving his personal opinion and inside information on the debated secrets of the estate’s families. It’s amazing what people will tell you if you only let them.
It struck me then how terrible and fabulous it would be for this man to have broadcasted or even published these insider observations of the noble families—in secret, of course. Would they recognize themselves? What sort of delightful chaos might it create to have their secrets revealed? It was an irresistible idea that wouldn’t let go of my imagination until I wrote it down a few years later in a Victorian setting, with an anonymous serial novelist for a heroine, and set it in one of the old abandoned estates. Suddenly all the aspects of research—experiencing the setting, noticing details, and personal stories—had come together into what would become my debut novel.
We sat in the airport for our return flight, weaving together all the research we’d collected to create a whole series of possible novels. Interesting faith implications arose from the character struggles and story elements. We discussed it all, and the newlyweds dove into a deeper understanding of one another through this exploration of faith—all because of stories and the sparks they ignite in our hearts and minds. Then, after two solid weeks of touring and experiencing the sights, we flew home to write out all the stories we’d created. Let me tell you, it was a wonderful start to our own story.
More about Lady Janye Disappears:
When Aurelie Harcourt’s father dies in debtor’s prison, he leaves her just two things: his wealthy family, whom she has never met, and his famous pen name, Nathaniel Droll. Her new family greets her with apathy and even resentment. Only the quiet houseguest, Silas Rotherham, welcomes her company.
When Aurelie decides to complete her father’s unfinished serial novel, writing the family into the story as unflattering characters, she must keep her identity as Nathaniel Droll hidden while searching for the truth about her mother’s disappearance—and perhaps even her father’s death.
Author Joanna Davidson Politano’s stunning debut set in Victorian England will delight readers with its highly original plot, lush setting, vibrant characters, and reluctant romance.
Joanna Davidson Politano is a freelance writer and debut novelist who spends as much time as possible spinning tales that capture the exquisite details of ordinary lives. She lives with her husband and their two babies in a house in the woods near Lake Michigan. Learn more at www.jdpstories.com.