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Guest Post: The Next Best Thing to Being There by Gillian Bagwell

Gillian Bagwell‘s The September Queen was released on Nov. 1, and I was thrilled to host her again.  Today, she’s going to share with us her journey and give us a sneak peek into her opportunity to write the first fictional account of Jane Lane, an ordinary Staffordshire girl who risked her life to help the young Charles escape after the Battle of Worcester on September 3, 1651.

Jane Lane was a heroic figure, and I just adore historical fiction with such high drama.  Besides, isn’t the cover of this novel just gorgeous?

Please give Gillian a warm welcome.

I was thrilled that when my agent sold my first novel, The Darling Strumpet, she also sold my second book, as yet unwritten, and was very excited to have the opportunity to write the first fictional account of Jane Lane, an ordinary Staffordshire girl who risked her life to help the young Charles escape after the Battle of Worcester on September 3, 1651.

I wanted to retrace the path Jane had taken in her travels with Charles II, and as some of the places associated with my story would be shortly closing for the winter, and traveling around England wouldn’t get any easier as it got colder, wetter, and darker, I immediately planned a research trip. My friend Alice Northgreaves and I set out from London on October 26, 2009, making our way to Worcester, the site of the battle, from which Charles had fled to Staffordshire, where Jane became involved in his desperate flight.

Charles’s six-week odyssey covered more than 600 miles before he was finally able to sail from Shoreham near Brighton on October 15. After he was restored to the throne in 1660, the story of his escape became known as the Royal Miracle, because of the numerous times he narrowly eluded capture. He told the story to Samuel Pepys, and others also recorded their parts in it, so that the route of his travels is well known. The Monarch’s Way footpath can still be followed.

Some of the sites associated with Charles’s adventures are well preserved. It was thrilling to visit Boscobel House and Moseley Hall and to see the actual priest holes into which the fugitive king curled his six-foot-two-inch frame when hiding from Cromwell’s cavalry patrols. These lovely houses are beautifully maintained by English Heritage and the National Trust respectively, and we enjoyed very informative tours. Whiteladies, where Charles arrived and was hidden at about three a.m. on the morning after the battle, is now a ruin, but is only a short walk from Boscobel, and easily found. Jane’s home, Bentley Hall, is unfortunately no longer standing, but thanks to directions from the staff at Moseley, we were able to get pretty close to the site.

Following the path of Charles’s travels with Jane Lane, and in particular finding the sites of the some of the places where events on the journey had taken place – the inn and the smithy where Charles had to have a horse re-shod, for instance – was a little more complicated. Contemporary accounts provided their general route, through Bromsgrove, where Charles’s horse threw a shoe; to Stratford-Upon-Avon, where they had to ride among enemy soldiers crowding the street; and down to Long Marston, where they stayed at the home of Jane’s cousins John and Amy Tomes. They spent the next night in Cirencester, and reached Abbots Leigh near Bristol the following evening.

Finding that no ship would leave Bristol for France or Spain in less than a month, Charles and Jane then made their way southward to Castle Cary and then to Trent, in Dorset, where they stayed at the home of the Royalist Wyndham family.

When Alice and I weren’t sure about the location of some of we had very good success by popping into a pub to ask the locals, and in this way we were helped by the staff and patrons of the Red Lion in Bromsgrove, the Crown in Cirencester, and the George in Castle Cary.

Jane left Charles at Trent and returned home when it appeared that he would shortly be able to find passage on a boat from the southern coast of England. As it turned out, Charles spent another month in England before he was able to make his way to France, traveling to Charmouth, back to Trent in Dorset, then spending several days near Salisbury before sailing from Shoreham. But that part of his ordeal takes place offstage in The September Queen, which tells Jane’s story. Very little is known about what happened to her after she parted from Charles.

From the preliminary research I had done before embarking on my trip to England, I learned that when Jane’s part in helping Charles escape was discovered, she had fled with her brother and walked to Yarmouth, hoping to reunite with Charles in France. As one book identified Yarmouth as a small town on the south coast near the Isle of Wight, I believed that her travels took her through much the same country through which she had journeyed with Charles.

It was only when I got home to California that I learned to my dismay that there was another Yarmouth – on the east coast of England, and so in a completely different direction and through vastly different country than where I thought she had walked. This part of her story was very important, and I needed to know what she had experienced. But it just wasn’t possible for me to go back to England for a second trip.

I would have to reconstruct Jane’s journey some other way. From a book on historical maps, I learned that in 1686 John Ogilby had published a book of road maps of England – 35 years past Jane’s date, but close enough that not much would have changed. I was overjoyed to find online and be able to buy a 1939 facsimile of the book, which shows the routes between major cities, laid out on parallel strips across the page. It’s a little hard to get used to looking at a map like that, but it gave me an idea of much of the route that Jane would likely have traveled to get from Staffordshire to Yarmouth, and just as wonderfully, depicted the roads and the country surrounding them in great detail, showing the kind of terrain, and features such as villages, bridges, and even large houses and windmills.

But the book didn’t provide guidance for some of the way that Jane must have walked. Another difficulty to surmount. Fortunately, a writer today is blessed with the vast resources of the internet, and I was able to accomplish forensic travel research in a way that wouldn’t have been possible even a few years ago. Google Maps and Google Earth to the rescue! I used Google Maps to ask for directions from one major town on Jane’s route to the next, and then zoomed in close enough to discover the names of the roads, which provided major clues. Unlike many roads in the U.S., which are named somewhat haphazardly or fancifully, old roads in England are frequently still called simply by where they led. So, for instance, finding a road labeled Norwich Road let me know that it was likely that was the path Jane would have followed to reach Norwich. Then I could soar along above the road to see what the landscape was like – and again fortunately for me, even now much of England is rural, and the countryside hasn’t changed substantially from what it had been like in 1651.

So miraculously, I was able to write the long sequence in which Jane and her brother walk from Bentley to Yarmouth accurately describing what they would have seen.

I was able to use up-to-the-minute technology to help me with this very old story in another way, too. When Alice and I were where we thought should be the site of Jane’s home Bentley Hall, just off the Wolverhampton Road near Walsall, we weren’t sure we had found it. There was a muddy building site that we thought might be where the house had stood, but the area is sadly very run down and not at all like what it would have been in Jane’s time. We asked in a shop if anyone knew about Bentley Hall, and were directed to the home of a local lady, Pauline Gibson, who we were told knew a lot about the area’s history. But she wasn’t home, and the neighbor with whom we left a note didn’t know when she’d be back.

We had to press on in order to get to our appointment to tour Packington, where Jane lived in later life. But having come so close, I was reluctant to leave without knowing we were in the right place. On an inspiration, I pulled out my iPhone and Googled “Bentley Hall Staffordshire.” Bingo! Up popped Michael Shaw and Danny McAree’s article “The Rediscovery of Bentley Hall, Walsall,” originally published in West Midlands Archaeology Vol. 50 (2007), pages 2-5. It told me that we were very near the site of Jane’s home. We still couldn’t find the cairn that was supposed to mark its location, and it wasn’t until I spoke by phone with Pauline Gibson later that I learned we should have continued another hundred yards or so south, but still, I had been able to find the place that Jane had lived, to see the horizon at which she would have gazed, and to feel the cool October breeze she would have known in that spot.

Still other parts of Jane’s story took place in Paris and The Hague, and to a lesser extent in Breda, Spa, Aix-la-Chapelle, Dusseldorf, and Cologne. It was just as impossible for me to visit those place in person as it had been for me to return to England. But once more I was fortunate in being able to find online old images and descriptions of these places, which, with modern images and descriptions, and help from my friend Kirsten Shepard, who was fortuitously in Paris at the time, I could conjure the backdrops for scenes from my book without ever leaving home.

Not as much fun as traveling for research, but as Jane might have said, “Needs must when the devil drives!”

Thanks, Gillian! Sounds like you really enjoyed your research, and we look forward to more novels.  Please check out the slide show below:

Gillian Bagwell Copyright Brendan Elms

About the Author:

Gillian Bagwell grew up in Berkeley, California, and began her professional life as an actress, studying at the University of California Berkeley and the Drama Studio London at Berkeley before relocating to Los Angeles to pursue a career in film and television. She moved into directing and producing theatre, founding The Pasadena Shakespeare Company, where she served as artistic director for nine years, producing thirty-seven critically acclaimed productions.

She united her life-long love of books, British history, and theatre in writing her first novel, The Darling Strumpet, based on the life of Nell Gwynn. Her second novel, The September Queen, is the first fictional account of the perilous and romantic odyssey of Jane Lane, an ordinary English girl who risked her life to help the young Charles II escape after the disastrous Battle of Worcester in 1651 by disguising him as her servant. Gillian recently returned to Berkeley and is at work on her third novel, about the formidable four-times widowed Tudor dynast Bess of Hardwick.

Please visit her Website, her blog, on Twitter, and on Facebook.

To enter to win 1 copy of The September Queen by Gillian Bagwell (US only):

1.  Leave a comment about why you’d like to read the novel.

2.  Follow Gillian on Twitter and Facebook for 2 more entries, leave your Twitter/Facebook names.

3.  Blog, Tweet, or Facebook the giveaway for up to 3 more entries and leave a link to the posts.

Deadline is Nov. 9, 2011, at 11:59PM EST.

  • +1 I follow Gillian Bagwell on Twitter as ASeaOfBooks

    geebee.reads AT gmail DOT com

  • +1 posted on my sidebar at http://aseaofbooks.blogspot.com/

    geebee.reads AT gmail DOT com

  • +1 Tweet: http://twitter.com/#!/ASeaOfBooks/status/133247742603571200

    geebee.reads AT gmail DOT com

  • I haven’t read very much about this period of British history, but I’m really enjoying learning through this blog tour and guest posts. I’d love to read Ms. Bagwell’s book because it sounds like such an entertaining adventure – I’d love to know more. Thanks for the guest post and for the chance to win a copy of this book!

  • I love historical fiction. LOVE.

    Twitter @kescah
    Facebook Debbie Brown

  • Sophia Rose

    I follow Gillian’s FB page and shared this posting on FB as Sally Michele Shaw.

  • Sophia Rose

    I have read a few books on Charles II including Georgette Heyer’s ‘The Royal Escape’ in which Jane played a large supporting role to Charles’ escape. I thought that her part was quite romantic in its way.
    I would enjoy reading with her in the lead role and learning what it was like for her in exile in Europe.

    I enjoyed learning how you did the research on the setting. Thanks for posting and for the giveaway opportunity.

  • I love reading about how authors research their material. I think historical fiction would be one of the most interesting to research. So many new things to learn. I’ll have to come back for the slide show. I’m on my iPad and it doesn’t let you see it. Great post!

  • karenk

    i enjoy historical fiction…thanks for the chance to read this wonderful novel 🙂

  • Carol Wong

    I also shared this giveaway on Facebook:

    http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1802916392

    CarolNWong(at)aol(dot)com

  • Carol Wong

    I shared this giveaway on Twitter:

    http://t.co/P2w2mmgB

    CarolNWong(at)aol(dot)com

  • Carol Wong

    I follow Gillian Bagwell on Facebook as Carol Naomi Wong.

    CarolNWong(at)aol(dot)com

  • Carol Wong

    I follow Gillian Bagwell on Twitter as Carolee888.

    CarolNWong(at)aol(dot)com

  • Carol Wong

    I love to read historical fiction and this is a particurly exciting part about true love and rescue! Please I know that Gillian Bagwell is a wonderful author and writes well researched book.s

    Please enter me for this giveaway.

    CarolNWong(at)aol(dot)com

  • Rachel W.

    I’ve had this on my TBR list for a while- thanks for the giveaway!

    [email protected]

  • I love hearing how authors create historical fiction! I’ve never read about Jane Lane, but she sounds like a fascinating historical figure. I’ve added the giveaway to my sidebar.

  • Linda B

    Some time ago I read a novel set in this era of the English Civil War, and Jane was briefly mentioned. I thought at the time that she was an interesting character. I’d love to read a novel about her. Thanks for the giveaway.

  • No need to enter me as I already have a copy of Gillian’s lovely novel.

    Thank you for sharing your research with us! It is too bad you were unable to travel to these places, but it sounds like you had quite the experience anyway. I hope the research for your third novel proves to be full of amazing finds and new experiences.