“The Darling Strumpet is a vivid and richly detailed historical novel that puts the reader smack in the tumultuous world of seventeenth century London. Based on the life of Nell Gwynn, who rose from the streets to become one of London’s most beloved actresses and the life-long mistress of the King, the book opens on May 29, 1660, when the exiled King Charles II rides into London on his thirtieth birthday to reclaim his throne after the death of Oliver Cromwell. Among the celebratory crowds is ten-year-old runaway Nell Gwynn, determined to create a better life for herself and to become someone to be reckoned with.” (From Gillian’s Website)
Without further ado, please welcome Gillian.
How Life Can Change a Writing Space
I have lived in small places for several years, so my writing spaces have been corners of rooms, with everything I need – computer, books, maps, pictures of the people and places I’m writing about, files – tucked around me, organized as best I can.
I began researching Nell Gwynn, the subject of my recently released first novel, The Darling Strumpet, many years ago, initially intending to write a one-woman show for myself about her, but it quickly became clear I couldn’t do her amazingly eventful life justice in such a limited format. I was focused on an acting career then, and eventually also began directing and producing theatre, founding the Pasadena Shakespeare Company and producing 37 shows over nine seasons. Nell got pushed to the side, but I never gave up on the idea of telling her story.
In January 2005, I learned that my mother, living alone in London, was terminally ill and went over to take care of her. As it turned out, I was in London for almost a year and a half, and for the first time in my adult life, I had no career demanding my attention and no creative focus, and desperately needed something to occupy my mind and anchor myself. So I decided that I would finally take up Nell again, and present her life in a way that would do it justice, as a novel.
I didn’t even have a desk in my flat there, just my laptop on the little dining table. I bought a couple of new biographies of Nell that had been published in the years since I had first become interested in her, a new copy of Liza Picard’s wonderful Restoration London, and a book called The Weekend Novelist that I had bought a couple of years earlier and grabbed on a quick trip home. And that was my office!
My mother died on Mother’s Day 2006 and I came home to California in June. I already had a corner of my living room set aside as my office there, with three 7-foot bookcases towering around my desk, a filing cabinet, and some file boxes. My mother’s portrait – an oil painting done by John Emmett Gerrity – hung above my desk, and underneath it was a piece of calligraphy my mother had done, which says “Io Vivo!” which means “I live!” in Italian. (My mother was half Sicilian.)
Under and around those things, I began taping up pictures of Nell Gwynn, Charles II, and other people in Nell’s life as I worked on the book. They stayed there until it was sold – along with my next book, The September Queen, which also involves Charles II, but at a much earlier age, telling the story of Jane Lane, who helped him escape after the Battle of Worcester in 1651.
Then down came the pictures of Nell, and up went pictures of Jane, a younger Charles, contemporary prints and paintings depicting their wild ride, pictures of the Royal Oak at Boscobel where Charles spent a day, photos I took of the bedroom and priest hole in the manor house at Trent where Jane and Charles hid for several days, and several images I collected in my quest to learn exactly what “riding pillion” meant, and how the saddle arrangement would have looked. (It means that the lady is riding sidesaddle behind the man, who rides astride. She sits on a pad that is attached behind the saddle, with a little shelf called a planchette to support her feet. Not very comfortable, I would think!)
Recently I’ve moved from Pasadena into a little cottage in Montrose, just a few miles up the freeway. It’s a tiny place, but I’m very happy here. It’s filled with light, and the view from my desk is of an orange tree that burst forth with a bounty of glowing fruit just as I received the first copy of The Darling Strumpet, with luscious oranges filling the foreground.
At Christmas I put up a few ornaments around the desk, including beautiful little cloth figures of Charles II and Nell Gwynn that my friend Alice in London bought at the Victoria and Albert Museum and gave me for Christmas a couple of years ago.
I’m very happy with my writing space now. I’ve got one bookcase right next to my desk, with many books I’ll need for my next project within arm’s reach, and room for some of the many more that will inevitably come. Tonight I put up a bulletin board and started tacking up pictures of the characters and events that will fill my next book. My mother’s portrait is above the sofa, facing me and just to my left, and her “Io Vivo” print is atop the windows in front of me.
I have five cats, and there’s usually at least one of them supervising my work, giving me suggestions, or at least keeping me company while I work.
I can hardly believe that I’m a published novelist, with a second book coming out in November, British editions of both books coming soon, and every indication that I will be sitting happily in my sunny corner writing for a long time to come.
Please check out more of Gillian’s writing space in this slide show:
Thanks, Gillian, for sharing your writing space with us.
Gillian Bagwell is the author of The Darling Strumpet, a novel based on the life of Nell Gwynn, who rose from the streets to become one of London’s most beloved actresses and the life-long mistress of King Charles II, which was released on January 4, 2011.
For further information about Gillian’s books, other articles, and blogs of her research adventures, please visit her Website.