Saturday, September 28, 2013

Would You Want to Live Here?

Erddig Hall, Wrexham Wales

Seems like an easy answer, but (for my purposes today) it's a trick question.  The lawyer in me (and your inner lawyer) would want to know, in what capacity? and in what time period?

In Up, Back, and Away, I really wanted to explore the response that a young, privileged, contemporary American kid would have to English class structure in the early part of the 20th century, just when the Bolsheviks and trade unionists were giving it what-for, but while it was still firmly in place.

Coachman's livery in a closet in the Butler's Pantry

When I was researching the English social history of the early 20th century, I learned that Erddig Hall was a particularly rich repository of information about below-stairs life.  The letters and poems and other bits of history preserved here were helpful in getting some insight on the reality of big-house life.
The laundry at Erddig

There were only a handful of owners down the years.  They were wealthy, for most of the time at least - things got bad at the end - but none of them were real grand aristocrats.  Maybe that's why they all demonstrated an interest in the lives of the people who worked on the estate.  My "Lady Fisher" shares some of that democratic impulse, as a wealthy woman only two generations removed from the advent of family wealth through her pottery manufacturing grandfather.

The Quarter Sessions that I imagined after studying Erddig was somewhat different from the real thing, as I know now, having visited the place last week.  The main house at (the fictional) Quarter Sessions is grander and more vast than the one at Erddig - closer to Blenheim Palace, for instance, but the spirit was Erddig.  The gardens and parkland at Erddig, were, however, every bit as beautiful as I had imagined

View over park from west front of the house

And it was an absolutely great place to see the Upstairs/Downstairs worlds in real life that we have all seen on TV for such a long time now and to see in person the places I had imagined.  I only wish I'd had more time to wander around the park and soak it all in.  I guess I'll have to go back.

Housekeeper's Office - Where "Mrs. Grimwald" would've conducted business

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Back From Blighty

It has been a wild two weeks, featuring a back-and-forth across the Atlantic for yours truly.  I went to England and Wales to see friends and to see some of the places that inspired the book.  When I catch my breath, I'll say a little about it all here.  Many a magic moment.

In the interim just stopping in to say Cheers! or Hidey-ho! or whatever (this was a neighbor's greeting to me yesterday as we were picking up the kids from school - she was searching for "Cheerio").

Also a word to the winners of the Bookreads Giveaway that ended on September 15.  The books are now in the mail - one to Illinois, one to Oklahoma, and one to way down under in South Australia.  Sorry for the delay but I was just starting my trip the day the Giveaway ended and it has been madness around here in the few days since my return.  They are in the hands of the Postal Services now, though, so I hope you'll have your copies soon and that you'll enjoy them.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Strange, Fun Fragment of a Lost World

I know eight minutes is a lot of time to commit to anything from the Internet, but for those who like an odd little window on the past, I've got one for you that I especially enjoyed.

A couple of things that jumped out at me from this old movie short.  In addition to my affection for the look of the animated scenes of the brothel-cum-nightclub featured here, where sinful elephants, bears, and cows sway in time to the music with their rubbery limbs,  I was taken with how they cleared the dance floor so Betty Boop could present the evening's entertainment. (I have a similar scene in the book  set in the fictional London nightclub, The Ginger Jar- dancing ends, floor show starts, there's sin at the back of the house).  I liked the odd little confirmation of my research.  So hard to imagine the young people of today in tuxes and gowns out for a debauch...

Also of particular interest to me is the way this urged the audience to sing along to "Just a Gigolo."  This sing-along business has a long history (which I also mined for the book) and is not altogether dead.  Adele's concerts feature them, which is one reason I  view her, in part as a modern day iteration of the grand girl singer of the music hall.  The DNA, at least, is there...

So, for your viewing pleasure: