Mailbox Monday #152 & Some Winners

Before I get to the mailbox, I wanted to congratulate some winners.  The winner of Jane Austen Made Me Do It edited by Laurel Ann Nattress (my review) was Eva.  The winner of The September Queen by Gillian Bagwell (guest post) was Gwendolyn.  Congrats to you both.

Mailbox Mondays (click the icon to check out the new blog) has gone on tour since Marcia at A Girl and Her Books, formerly The Printed Page passed the torch. This month’s host is the Mailbox Monday tour blog.

Kristi of The Story Siren continues to sponsor her In My Mailbox meme.

Both of these memes allow bloggers to share what books they receive in the mail or through other means over the past week.

Just be warned that these posts can increase your TBR piles and wish lists.

Here’s what I received this week:

1.  Astride a Pink Horse by Robert Greer, which came unexpectedly in the mail.

2.  The Iguana Tree by Michel Stone, which also came unexpectedly in the mail, which I gave to a friend.

3.  The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett, which I picked up from the library sale and had to add to my own personal library after reading a copy from the library at Dewey’s urging.

4.  Blue Shoe by Anne Lamott, which I picked up from the library sale since I want to give her fiction a try after reading Bird by Bird.

5.  Puppy Love, a snuggle book, which I picked up at the library sale for “Wiggles.” She’ll love it because the outside of the book is fuzzy and the back has a fuzzy tail.

6.  Little Miss Giggles Has a Giggle by Roger Hargreaves, which I picked up at the library sale for “Wiggles.”

7. Natasha’s Daddy came from her visiting “auntie” who went to the library sale too.

8. Elmo’s Delicious Christmas came with the visiting “auntie” on the plane!

What did you receive?

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.

Guest Post: Author Gillian Bagwell’s Writing Space

Today, I welcome author Gillian Bagwell to the blog.  She’s the author of The Darling Strumpet: A Novel of Nell Gwynn, which came out this month from Penguin Group.

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

Gillian's Writing Corner

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!

Snug & Charlotte

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!)

Charles II Christmas Ornament

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.

Nell Gwynn Christmas Ornament

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.

About the Author:

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.