Ten years ago while picknicking on vacation in England, author Charlotte Featherstone wrote the beginning of a hero's story. A decade in the making, the world finally gets to meet Lord Wallingford in this month's RT BOOK REVIEWS Top Pick Sinful.
Have you ever been someplace that had you mesmerized? A place with the power to draw you back time and time again, if only in your memory? A place that holds a piece of your heart still, a decade after you first saw it? I have. And that place was Stourhead Gardens, in England.
I first visited Stourhead a little over ten years ago. The stop was a whim. I enjoyed gardening, certainly, but I was more interested in touring the historic houses and castles while I was in England. Upon alighting from the tour bus, I recall being awed, not only by the house, but the view before me. I can’t describe it, other than to say that it was pure magic. I walked through the extensive gardens, strolling leisurely down the rambling paths. I stopped to take in the vista, a constantly changing palette of colors and textures, a garden that was designed to change with the sun and moon, and the seasons of the year. I strolled across the bridge that spanned the ornamental lake. I stopped on that bridge and watched as two elegant swans paddled in the water. I remember smiling to myself, feeling a sense of ease and wonder that a place could feel so magical, so very far removed from the everyday world. I truly did feel as though I had been transported to a bygone age. I spent hours walking, enjoying the feel of the sun on my face, and the breeze that blew through the leaves as I enjoyed my picnic lunch beneath a tree.
And then I came upon it. The most inspiring vista of all. The little gothic cottage nestled amongst the trees. The cottage wasn’t opened to visitors, but there was a lovely wrought iron bench to the side of it. Making use of it, I plopped my knapsnack down and pulled out my journal. I spent quite a while there that day, ruminating on the gardens, the sights and sounds, and the sheer magnificence of owning such a place. But always, my mind and my eye wandered back to that little cottage.
I imagined what it would be like to be holed up in such a place. I dreamt of sitting at a worn wooden table, writing—by hand—my book. A sweeping historical romance with a fantastic brooding hero, and a beautiful, vivacious heroine.
I knew, as I sat there, that my life would change. I wanted to write. Had always wanted to, but at the time, I had only done the most rudimentary of passages. I wasn’t a writer then, I was a wanna be author.
But after that vacation, I came home and put my fingers to the keyboard. I wrote several stories, and one terrible book that had so much head hopping I was even dizzy. But still, I would think back to Stourhead and remember how much I wanted to write. How inspired I had been.
There were many times that I was tempted to set my novels at Stourhead. But always something would persuade me not to. The hero, you see, was never the right sort. For me, the hero had to be worthy of such a magnificent setting. It was like I was hording that memory close to my chest, waiting for the perfect opportunity to use it—because I knew that I would only be able to incorporate it into a book once.
The perfect hero arrived a little over a year ago, when I was writing Matthew, Lord Wallingford, the hero of Sinful (Harlequin Spice, May 2010). Matthew has the perfect combination to make him worthy of my special setting. He’s an heir to a dukedom, and a passionate artist, but like so many artists, he has a tortured soul. On the outside he is beautiful, but on the inside he is tarnished. Tortured. I decided that the setting of a gorgeous garden complete with lake and follies would be the perfect backdrop to the darkness that seemed to be growing ever more steadily inside him. Kind of like ivy and weeds that can so easily overtake a perfectly manicured garden.
And the cottage that I feel in love with? Well, that little gothic cottage that held me entranced figures heavily in Sinful. The most important scenes, and many beautiful, intimate love scenes take place there. The cottage in Sinful is Wallingford’s studio. It is his hideaway from a world he does not want to be part of. It is in his cottage where he is a different man, where he brings the heroine Jane, and they discover each other, as well as what is inside their souls.
When I sat down that May day, vacationing in England, I had no idea that I had penned the beginnings of a novel, one featuring the hero who has, and will forever capture my heart. Over the years, I returned to my travel diary and expanded my thoughts, and slowly, the shape of a man, and his story took shape. Those diary entries became the basis of Sinful, and the visuals....they became the darkly haunted Wallingford. A man as complex as the changing flora in the garden, a man as deep and churning as the ornamental lake, and the swans....well, they figure in there, too!
I always say that a book is never written. It is rewritten and evolves until it becomes what it is meant to be. Sinful, while only taking two months to fully write, was essentially ten years in the making. I wonder how many other books were that long in the making? Or if other authors treasure an idea, or a visual and keep it until just the right hero or heroine come along?
RT Book Reviews gave Sinful a Top Pick, and I cannot help but wonder if the reviewer was as seduced by the setting as I was. I still think about that magnificent garden and its romantic follies and temples. One day I will get back there, and I will bring along my copy of Sinful and read it, imagining Jane and Wallingford strolling hand in hand over the bridge, stopping to watch the swans.
I hope this little behind the scenes peek at the creation of Sinful has whetted your appetite. As well, I hope you enjoy the picture.
Read more about Stourhead, England.
Read more about Sinful.