Hello. This is my first blog attempted all on my own, so I hope it works!
As I sit tapping away at the keyboard turning out more chapters of ‘Easter At Netherfield’, my next Pride & Prejudice sequel, I am conscious of the disorganised, unplanned way in which I write. Of course I know generally what’s going to happen, but exactly how it gets there is another matter and luck plays a large part. I like things to develop naturally, organically, rather as life does.
And it’s quite amazing what, by huge fortune, turns up to fill in gaps in the story.
Hence, in ‘Intrigue At Longbourn’, I wanted to send a boy with a gift for mathematics who was also interested in science to a suitable school. As all P&P fans will know, the novel is set in Hertfordshire and, lo and behold, I found that St Albans School in Hertfordshire ‘has a long scientific tradition, stretching back to the Norman era…’ and ‘has produced many famous scientists and mathematicians…’ according to the Wikipedia entry about the school.
What I couldn’t find out, which would have helped the story, was whether it was a boarding school in 1797. Probably it was but I don’t like making assumption. Of course it only admitted boys at that time.
Another fantastic find when writing ‘Menace At Pemberley’ concerned the custom of ‘first footing’ which I came across when Googling for information about lead mines in Derbyshire. We visited an old lead mine in the Peak District and a grim place it would have been in which to work. I found an article by Richard Bradley entitled ‘The history of the mining industry in Derbyshire’ saying that ‘one tradition has outlasted the industry itself – the act of First Footing, or Letting The New Year In, where a piece of coal is ritually placed in the hearth to ensure luck for the forthcoming year.’ So I thought I’d investigate it further.
Wikipedia says that: ‘In Scottish, Northern English, and Manx folklore, the first-foot…is the first person to enter the home of a household on New Year’s Day and is seen as a bringer of good fortune for the coming year.’
Wikipedia further goes on to say: ‘The origins of first-footing is uncertain, although there may be a connection to the Viking Invasion of the British Isles…This may go back to the time of Vikings when the arrival of a blond stranger at your door would be the cause of fear and alarm.’
As everyone knows, Pemberley is in Derbyshire and Wikipedia conveniently says of the North of England that: ‘Generally, a tall, dark-haired male is preferred over a man with light hair…’ It is said that ‘any first-footers who do arrive empty-handed will bring bad luck with them. Instead, the first-foot should bring a selection of gifts for the household, which can include; a silver coin; shortbread or a black bun; salt; coal; and a drink, usually whisky.’
Unfortunately, this led to some research suggesting that silver coins were not in common circulation at the time, but, hey-ho, I’m sure there must have been a few about.
I can’t tell you how incredibly well this chance find worked with the story, although my husband, who comes from Northumberland, tells me that he had mentioned to me the custom of first footing years ago. Honestly, I don’t remember that at all!