As an author one of the questions regularly asked of me is, “Where do your ideas come from?”
Well, for me, each story is a journey. A long, arduous, but enjoyable, journey from that first glimmer of an idea, to the finished product. Each journey requires a lot of research, whether it is a time-travel I’m writing or a historical romance. Even my modern romances take research, as you still need to know the area you are setting your story in, a few facts about the profession you have decided to place your characters in, and an insight into your character.
I thought I would try to go through some of my books with you to map out where they began their journey to publication. Why not start at the beginning. Blue Haze was my first published book way back in 2000. This book has since been re-released at Calderwood Books due to the closure of the original publisher.
Blue Haze, as most of my books, began with one scene. That scene was on the wharf at Sydney Cove when boatloads of convicts were unloaded after being ferried from the sailing vessel that had brought them from England in the early 1800s. All my books are character driven as I nearly always have their names settled long before much else is thought of. So, Bella and the other females who arrived with her had been transported for various crimes, most piffling; such as thieving to feed themselves or their family. Oh, and here I should mention that Bella was assigned to what she thought was a member of the aristocracy. Oh and how she hated them, for the reason she’d been sent to the budding settlement of Sydney was because she’d brought a knife to one such gentleman for trying to rape her.
I had the basis for my story, and that’s where the real work begins. So many questions needed answers before I could begin to enlarge on my story.
1: What was The settlement of Sydney like in the early 1800s? Did they have a hospital, a bank, or even solid homes?
2: Who controlled the settlement? Who was Governor?
3: What clothing would the gentry and convicts be wearing?
4: What was the average sentence for a transported person in the 1800s?
5: Where would most convicts have ended up and how far afield were some of them sent after disembarking?
Just a few of the questions to start with that needed answers before I could flesh out the story. I was fortunate that about that time my husband and I were travelling and when we reached Sydney went to the NSW State Library where I gained copies of maps etc. circa 1800. Then we travelled across to Bathurst for an insightful visit to the museum for more maps of the area and invaluable information.
Because I wanted my historical to stand out from others that had gone before I searched my brain to come up with a different angle. I decided to send my characters on what was an epic journey in those days—they would travel across the Blue Mountains west of Sydney in search of greener pastures. This idea brought forth a new set of questions:
1: Just when was the west opened up? When did the first explorers venture that far from the new settlement of Sydney? How long would the journey west have taken them and what form of transport would they use?
2: What would the pioneers do when they got there? Would they be allocated land or would they need to buy it?
3: Would convicts be allowed to travel there or was it just free settlers?
4: How would they build their homes and what materials would be available to them?
5: What did they take with them? Plants? Furniture? Utensils? Stock? Clothing?
The list of research questions needing answers is endless. When I was writing Blue Haze the internet was a relatively new thing and so most of my research was carried out through my local library. Book after book was brought home and studied. Page after page of notes were made. One of the books I brought home was a rare find and unfortunately, because some of my notes were lost in a computer changeover, I have no record of the exact name. However, it chronicled the letters sent home to Britain by British women who had accompanied their husbands to this land. It told of the hardships they endured and the journeys they went on with their husbands in search of new territory or to settle on farms, and various other things. Most of these women were so homesick that their stories were heart wrenching. One of them was Elizabeth Hawkins. Her husband, Thomas, had fought in the Napoleonic Wars. They had journeyed from England with Elizabeth’s elderly mother and eight children aged from one to twelve years. Elizabeth was 39 when the family set out across the Blue Mountains as the first family of free settlers to cross this formidable barrier. Thomas was appointed Commissariat storekeeper at Bathurst. They set out with their family possessions in a wagon, three ox-drawn drays and a tilted cart. It took them 18 days to complete the 220 kilometre journey. Along with them went one female convict and eight male convicts.
Because of this woman’s detailed letters home I was able to map out my travellers' hazardous journey following in their footsteps; the trials and tribulations they faced along the way.
Imagine crossing the mountains along a barely defined track, not knowing what awaited you beyond the next hill or around the next bend. This woman’s story was my inspiration for Blue Haze, my tribute to all pioneer women, no matter which country they opened up and helped establish.
Thomas and Elizabeth built a fine brick house, cleared and fenced the land, planted crops and formed a garden. 1n 1831 they sent wine made from their grapes to Sydney—the first wine made west of the Blue Mountains.
A lot of the research for Blue Haze came in handy for REMY, my August release at MuseItUp Publishing, but a lot more was needed as different settings were used. I’ll tell you about that next time.