The Regency Era in Cornwall

To celebrate the launch of The Forgotten Maid, my first dual timeline, I’m inviting some lovely Regency authors to write about the era and tell you about their books so I thought I had better contribute something of my own.

So why did I chose to write in the Regency era in the first place? What drew me to it? A love of Jane Austen, of Georgette Heyer. No, neither of those. A love of Cornwall.

Of course in Cornish literature the Regency (and the years preceding it) have another tag – a far better known one, most recently popularised by Aidan Turner – and that is Poldark. And yes, the images of him emerging from the sea without a shirt do have distinct parallels to Colin Firth’s Mr Darcy emerging from a lake with one. I rest my case.

But I am not being entirely facetious. Jane Austen’s Regency was a place of manners and decorum, and although the same social mores would have prevailed in Truro in the early nineteenth century, there was a far wilder side to Cornwall too, which Winston Graham’s novels capture perfectly.

The contrast – and its potential for narrative tension – fascinated me. The Truro ton or the smuggler? The mine owner or the maid? And in the 2015 story that weaves in and out of the Regency tale they have their modern equivalents… although perhaps not literally.

There is a special joy writing in times and places readers will recognise and relate to as well. But also great peril. Regency era readers tend to be very knowledgeable and I started off with very little. I thought I had done all my research before I started writing; books on Waterloo, on Cornish mining history, everything I could get my hands on about the Daniell family and their home at Trelissick. But it was only when I put pen to paper I discovered how little I actually knew.

It was the first time I had written in another time period and it was really hard. Would the artist in the opening scenes have used a pencil? How long did it take to cross Cornwall by carriage? What sort of glasses would have been used at an inn? How did the postal service work? The list seemed endless and my respect for historical novelists increased by the day.

Which is another reason I am delighted to be staying with Regency for my next book with Sapere. None of that learning will go to waste. And apart from anything else, the Cornwall of the Poldark era has so many stories to tell.