A late-evening Sunday Sojourn this week, and we’re visiting a place I’ve grown to love over recent years – London. And our guide this week is historical romance writer Christina Alexandra. Over to you!
Thanks for having me! I chose London for the place because it acts as the setting for my writing, a place that means a great deal to me, and to my characters.
I write historical romance set in Georgian and Regency England (the late 1700s and early 1800s). Most of these stories take place in London, but not as London as we know it today. Today’s London is a vibrant, active city with both underground and above ground trains, numerous well known landmarks, streets, buildings and parks.
London in the Georgian and Regency periods was very different. Many of the well known landmarks such as the Palace of Westminster and the Elizabeth Tower (home of Big Ben) hadn’t been built yet. In fact Westminster wouldn’t be built until more than forty years after my story takes place!
Westminster Palace & the Elizabeth Tower.
Oddly enough, what are now public access parks used to be green spaces used for agricultural purposes.
In one scene I have my Hero, Graeme, walking through London and as he leaves his club, he walks down Birdcage Walk, through the gate and across St. James Park. Today, St. James park is a public park with gravel paths, a lake with pelicans, and flower beds.
St. James Park today.
In 1811 when my story takes place, it was full of dairy cows and the famous Birdcage Walk was a private road only used by royalty. Needless to say I had to change my scene otherwise Graeme would have been dodging cows and their…remains.
I believe hands-on research is the best thing for authenticity, but it’s difficult to get a sense of what life was like over 200 years ago. I can research online and read books, first hand accounts and look at engravings and paintings from back then. But in order to get a feel for the London of the early 19th century, in order to pick up on the nuances and experience all five sense, I had to make the trip out there.
So I did.
I spent a wonderful ten days in London and Bath last spring. I made sure to see some of the historical homes that would give me a sense of what it would be like to live in a London townhouse of the 19th century. To see the walls covered in patterned silk instead of wallpaper, tables decorated with sugar sculptures and candied fruits.
The sitting room at no. 1 Royal Crescent with its silk panelled walls.
The acrid smell of a coal burning fireplace–an odor so unique that you’d know it by the way it burns the back of your throat and makes your eyes sting. To see the paintings and portraits hanging in homes that acted as an artist’s resume when art galleries didn’t. The damp chill in the air of London in early March, the sound of the gulls and the slap of the water on the Thames.
To walk the streets of both cities, knowing I tread the same paths as Jane Austen, Samuel Pepys, and the Duke of Wellington.
I went looking for information to make my story complete; to get an accurate picture of what my characters’ homes could have looked like. To make them real and three dimensional and believable to my readers. I ended up losing my heart to a city. Knowing that I can visit as often as I can, I could live there for years and still discover it’s secrets and history.
That is a priceless experience and I can’t wait to return.
Christina Alexandra writes historical romance set in Georgian and Regency England. She crafts true-to-life characters and emotional stories with a unique twist on modern issues. When not researching, writing or working, Christina spends her spare time travelling, cooking – oftentimes with a historical flare – and staying active on social media.
Her debut series, The Reluctant Lords, is currently in submission awaiting news from agents and editors.