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Friday, April 15, 2011

Guest Susanna Fraser: Castles, Old and New

Linda Banche here. Today I welcome fellow Regency author Susanna Fraser and her latest novel, A Marriage of Inconvenience. For all you Regency fans who like to overdose on history, enjoy Susanna's discussion about castles.

Susanna will give away an e-copy of A Marriage of Inconvenience to one lucky commenter. Leave your email address. See below for details, and check back here for the winner.

And the winner Susanna selected is minki-moira! minki-moira, please contact Susanna at to let her know which format (PDF, ePub, or Kindle) you want.

Unlike my first book, The Sergeant’s Lady, [] which is a road romance, my new release, A Marriage of Inconvenience, [] takes place almost entirely at two houses in rural Gloucestershire. I spent a lot of time inventing mansions that suited my characters and tried to make the places almost characters in themselves.

The first house, Almont Castle, belongs to a marquess of ancient lineage. He’s a minor secondary character, but the heroine is at his house as a wedding guest when she meets the hero. Lord Almont and his house represent the kind of world my heroine has grown up in as a poor relation–one of old money, old pedigrees, and old ways. So it was only natural to give him a very old house. I decided his family had been there all the way back in Norman times, and that they still live in the castle they started building in the 12th century. They have added onto it, of course, so it has most of the “modern” conveniences and furnishings someone living in 1809 would expect. But it looks ancient, it’s surrounded by a moat (now used as a pond for carp for the castle dining room), and the marquess opens the original keep, lit by torchlight, for balls.

The second house, Orchard Park, belongs to the hero, James Wright-Gordon, Viscount Selsley. James is new money. He is only the second viscount of his name, having inherited his title and his fortune from his father, a nabob who made his money in India. While some men in James’s position might feel anxious about their newly acquired status and try to act even more proper and proud than those who have had titles and fortunes for generations, that’s not my hero. It’s not that James minds being wealthy and powerful or that he acts egalitarian in a modern sense, but he sees himself as the beneficiary of a lucky accident of birth. So in his serious moods he works hard to live up to his father’s reputation and to use what he has inherited wisely and well. But in his frequent less serious moods, he is amused by the pretensions and obsessions with status of those around him. And his house reflects that.

Orchard Park is a castle, but a whimsical castle. It was never intended for defense, so it has no moat, and its windows are many and wide to take full advantage of the often-scanty English sun. Lucy, the heroine, loves it on sight–before she’s even seen the hero. For her it represents freedom, openness, and playfulness–all things she’s had very little of in her restricted life as a penniless, unwanted relation of an old, proud family. James and Lucy don’t have much in common with Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett, but like Elizabeth, Lucy can say that her love for her future husband began to grow when she first saw his beautiful grounds.

My main research source for my characters’ houses was Life in the English Country House, by Mark Girouard. I can’t recommend it highly enough to anyone writing a book set in rural England any time between 1400 and 1900, or indeed to anyone interested in architecture, interior design, or how home comforts have grown and evolved over the centuries. I didn’t use a specific castle as the model for Almont Castle, instead taking the descriptions of medieval castles and imagining how a family still living in such a place 400 years later might have used and updated their space. (Though something like a non-ruined version of Beverston Castle would do nicely, if you’re looking for a mental image as you read my book.)

Orchard Park, however, is based on Luscombe Castle in Devon, which was designed by architect John Nash in association with landscape designer Humphry Repton. At the time it was built in 1800, it was the height of fashion--asymmetrical, playfully Gothic, and at home in a natural, irregular landscape. My Orchard Park looks almost exactly like Luscombe--in fact, I assume the first Viscount Selsley would’ve hired Nash and Repton himself--except that it’s larger and built of the lovely golden limestone you often see in southwest England (think Bath).

Your turn! Readers, what houses stand out in your mind from books you’ve read? Mr. Rochester’s Thornfield Hall in Jane Eyre? (Now there’s a symbolic name if ever I saw one!) Laura Ingalls Wilder’s succession of little houses? Green Gables? Writers, what role do characters’ houses play in your books? One commenter wins a copy of A Marriage of Inconvenience in their choice of PDF, ePub, or Kindle format.

About the Author
Susanna Fraser wrote her first novel in fourth grade. It starred a family of talking horses who ruled a magical land. In high school she started, but never finished, a succession of tales of girls who were just like her, only with long, naturally curly and often unusually colored hair, who, perhaps because of the hair, had much greater success with boys than she ever did.

Along the way she read her hometown library's entire collection of Regency romance, fell in love with the works of Jane Austen and discovered in Patrick O'Brian's and Bernard Cornwell's novels another side of the opening decades of the nineteenth century. When she started to write again as an adult, she knew exactly where she wanted to set her books. Her writing has come a long way from her youthful efforts, but she still gives her heroines great hair.

Susanna grew up in rural Alabama. After high school she left home for the University of Pennsylvania and has been a city girl ever since. She worked in England for a year after college, using her days off to explore history, from ancient stone circles to Jane Austen's Bath.
Susanna lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and daughter. When not writing or reading, she goes to baseball games, sings alto in a local choir and watches cooking competition shows. Please stop by and visit her at, get to know her on Facebook at and follow her on Twitter at @susannafraser.

A Marriage of Inconvenience by Susanna Fraser
Lucy Jones is a nobody. As an orphan she was reluctantly taken in by her wealthy relatives, the Arringtons, on the condition that she be silent and obedient, always. When her lifelong infatuation with her cousin Sebastian is rewarded by a proposal of marriage, she's happy and grateful, even though the family finds excuses to keep the engagement a secret.

James Wright-Gordon has always had the benefits of money and a high station in society, but he is no snob. He's very close to his sister, Anna, who quickly falls for the dashing Sebastian when the families are brought together at a wedding party. Meanwhile, James is struck by Lucy's quiet intelligence, and drawn to her despite their different circumstances in life.

Lucy suspects that Sebastian has fallen for Anna, but before she can set him free, a terrible secret is revealed that shakes both families. Will James come to her rescue—or abandon her to poverty?


Lindsay Townsend said...

Fascinating stuff, Susanna! Thanks so much for sharing.
Thanks, Linda, too!

Jennifer Ann Coffeen said...

I love the idea of telling the character's emotions and personalities through their homes. Daphne du Maurier's "Rebecca" comes to mind and her amazing creation of Manderley.

Charlotte McClain said...

I find that houses can often tell a lot about a character so I like to use them to their fullest whenever possible. In the Rock Star's Retreat, Cassandra's cabin where they spend most of the book is very comfortable like her and when Jason returns to his own home he realizes how uncomfortable it is. In Three Alarm Tenant, Katherine has to divide her house in half to rent the first floor so she can make ends meet and ends up meeting Jack. The house divided, and the fact that she was living on the second floor away from the kitchen that she'd always considered the heart of the home, was very important.

I love the way you've used your houses to reflect your characters. It gives the reader that much more to work with in building a mental image and our homes do reflect our personalities.

Susanna Fraser said...

Thanks for having me here today!

I don't always get to use houses to make a statement about my characters, because I so often write what amount to "road romances" with my characters following the drum, so I enjoyed being able to make deeper use of place in A Marriage of Inconvenience.

Daphne said...

I was going to say Manderley, too!

But, I would hate to think about what my house would say about me! (As I sit here avoiding chores!)

Anyway, this looks like a fun read and I will be keeping this in mind.

Linda Banche said...

You're welcome, Susanna and Lindsay.

I don't know why I always pictured castles as old and moldering. Enough people, like your hero, built new, modern versions!

Anonymous said...

Very interesting, loved it.

What houses stand out for me? Well yes, I would have to say Mr Rochester's from Jane Eyre, and also the Monestary from the Cadfael series by Ellis Peters.

Cozy in Texas said...

What a great post. I have the book Life in English Country Houses and had forgotten I had it. I admire authors who do so much research for their books. As a reader, I appreciate it.

Dtchycat said...

This book is on my TBR list, it looks like a great read and I just love the cover.