Lynne Francis has dropped by today to tell us about the inspiration for her newest novel, A Maid’s Ruin and her favourite writing place
Welcome Lynne. First of all, tell us about your setting and why you chose it?
The setting for A Maid’s Ruin, the first book in my second saga series, was the result of a family history discovery. I’d been living in east Kent for a year or so when I realised, quite by chance, that ancestors on my father’s side had lived in Margate in the early 1800s. One of them was listed on the census as owning a cow barn and the other was involved with farming. Intrigued, I went to visit the area armed with their addresses, expecting to find the streets much changed. The cow barn had long gone, but even though the town was a great deal bigger than it had been in the Georgian era, it wasn’t hard to find traces of the past.
Where do your ideas come from?
A trip to the Turner Contemporary gallery in Margate around the same time led me to a painting of cows by the artist William Mallord Turner, and further research online showed me work he had done close to my ancestor’s homes when he was studying in the town as a boy.
(You can find out more about how Turner’s paintings of the town inspired my story in this short film I made for Kent libraries, for Libraries Week here. )
My main character, Molly, took shape in my head as a dairymaid who comes across the young Turner, sketching, on the way back from milking her uncle’s cows. I wrote the first few pages and the rest followed on from there – my characters inhabiting the world where my relatives had lived and walking the same streets as them. A chance visit to The Foundling Museum in London gave me an idea for another strand of the story, and so Molly’s destiny was mapped out.
Speaking of maps, I find historic ones a real source of inspiration – the one of London at that time, for example, shows Chelsea as a village, separated by fields from the city, while Bermondsey was also right on the edge of town. Both these places have a role to play in the book, as does the Physic Garden, which I visited many years ago, and the Shell Grotto in Margate, visited more recently but long before I had any thoughts of writing about it. It feels like serendipity when all these disparate ideas and memories come together to form a complete story.
How do you select the names for your characters?
The name Molly just popped into my head, as did Charlie, another main character. Nicholas was a link to the ancestors who had inspired the setting, but other names and surnames were researched using directories of the era. These are such a useful source of information – they list all the local businesses and residents at the time, along with details such as the departure points for the mail and stage coaches. I also made a lot of use of an internet list of baby names popular in the Georgian era. We have a much wider variety of first names to choose from today but back then, they truly were Christian names, drawn from the Bible.
Do you have a favourite writing place?
I write by hand first, then type up either the next day or in a batch at the end of a week, so in theory I can write anywhere. I need quiet, though, so I tend to write either at my desk in the spare bedroom, or in the garden in summer. I used to live quite close to Goodnestone House, which Jane Austen visited as a child, and it has beautiful gardens. I always thought I would go there to sit and write but I never did. Maybe this coming year I will be more adventurous – I now live just one road back from the sea so perhaps I will take up writing on the beach.
Thank you for dropping by Lynne, and good luck A Maid’s Ruin and the whole series.
A Maid’s Ruin
A saga of love and betrayal in late 18th century Kent and London
Margate, 1786. Dairymaid Molly Goodchild dreams of a better life. Up at the crack of dawn to milk her uncle’s cows, the one comfort of her day is her friendship with apprentice gardener, Charlie.
When dashing naval officer, Nicholas, arrives in town, Molly’s head is turned by his flattering attentions and she casually spurns Charlie – believing this is her chance to escape a life of drudgery. Yet when Molly needs Nicholas most, he lets her down.
With her hopes in tatters, Molly is forced to flee Margate for London, where she finds herself struggling to survive. What will she risk in her search for a better life? And will she ever find the love she deserves?
Published by Piatkus in hardback, ebook and audiobook, with the paperback published on 21st January 2021
Available on Amazon
About Lynne Francis
Lynne Francis grew up in Yorkshire but studied, lived and worked in London for many years. She draws inspiration for her novels from a fascination with family history, landscapes and the countryside.
Her first saga series was set in west Yorkshire but a move to east Kent, and the discovery of previously unknown family links to the area, gave her the idea for a Georgian-era trilogy. Lynne’s exploration of her new surroundings provided the historical background for the novels, as well as allowing her to indulge another key interest: checking out the local teashops and judging the cake.
When she’s not at her desk, writing, Lynne can be found in the garden, walking through the countryside or beside the sea.