I always enjoy learning the history of places I visit, and while living on the beautiful mid-north coast of New South Wales, I researched the past of Bulahdelah, a picturesque village about 200kms north of Sydney on the Myall River.
In the early days of colonisation Bulahdelah was well-known as a timber-cutting area, home to magnificent cedar trees. The local Historical Society is active, and they made their information freely available to me, and I searched records and pored over photos. Then an artist friend loaned me a book of ‘Rachel Henning’s Letters’- letters that had been written by the English wife of a Bulahdelah timber-mill manager in the mid-nineteenth century to her various family members. In them she described her daily life, which she found very agreeable.
This made me curious about the lifestyle and conditions for all women in the nineteenth century
What my research found was that women then had few rights and were dominated by the men of the time, and not all women led the pleasant life enjoyed by Rachel Henning.
The law in that era stated that when a woman married, all her assets became her husband’s property, and the law gave him the right to force her to obey him in every area of her life. This meant she was totally dependent on him for everything, both financially and emotionally. If he turned out to be heartless, violent or miserly, she had little or no recourse.
So, under the laws of the day a woman had few rights; prior to her marriage, she must obey her father, and when she married all her property became her husband’s on the day of their marriage. She became virtually his chattel, to treat as he wished. No matter how badly he chose to treat her, she had to bear it.
Women were considered to be physically, emotionally and intellectually inferior to men, and the entrenched and patronising attitudes of the time meant that the judiciary, all male, took the view that whatever the man did was right and a woman was meant to be an obedient homemaker and bedwarmer for her husband, while not expecting sexual pleasure herself!
Throughout history there have been many influential women
But on investigation it becomes obvious that they were either rulers, like Elizabeth 1, in England, or Catherine of Russia, or else they were wives, mistresses or concubines of influential men. Many of them had great power.
But what of the ordinary, everyday women…
Women who had the spirit to rebel against this injustice – women who refused to be browbeaten by the men? And if they defied custom – could they face the results of going against the conventions of the day?
Happiness – and love – could not have been easy!
It was these findings that incensed me and provoked me into writing the Redwoods series.
AN INDEPENDENT WOMAN is the first novel in the series. This book focuses on life in Australia in the latter part of the nineteenth century, and to make the story authentic meant researching many details in Sydney in that era. Which hotels, pubs, churches etc had been built by then? Where would Kitty and her mother have shopped? How far had the suburbs spread by then? What transport was available? It also looks at the attitudes that caused Kitty much unhappiness in her marriage.
After I finished ‘An Independent Woman’ I started to think seriously of my next book ,which continues Kitty’s story and begin that of her young daughter Joy. However, I found that writing in a series throws up a whole new set of problems for an author. I have covered this topic in my blog on writing a series (Sept 7)
By the time I came to write ‘A LIBERATED WOMAN’ I had already done a lot of research into Sydney in the late 1800’s for ‘An Independent Woman’. However by 1893, the starting date of this book, the political climate had changed. There was hot debate over the looming prospect of Federation. Some colonies were for Federation, some against, and I needed to research the political figures of the day and their opinions. Also, Australia was in the grip of an economic depression – did this affect my characters?
Then there was a whole new world to portray when Joy went to England, to meet her English family, to be presented to Queen Victoria, and to have a London Season. The relatively free and easy lifestyle of Australia gave way to the strict social codes of Victorian England, where life was highly regulated.
My research for this included learning the protocol of presentation at Court, and what activities happened where and when during the Season – from garden parties and coming-out balls…
to a week at Royal Ascot for the thoroughbred racing….
‘AN AMBITIOUS WOMAN’, the last book in the trilogy, begins with the commencement of the new century, a time of hope and new beginnings, and focuses on Joy’s life now she has becomes a woman – on her relationships, and on her burning ambition to make Redwoods into a successful thoroughbred horse stud, an ambition that was born back in England when she visited Royal Ascot with her grandfather.
As I had already done a great deal of research into women’s roles in those early years for the previous two books I had no need to delve further there, but I knew little of horse breeding. So my research focused on that. I investigated some of the ailments that can afflict horses, watched the birth of a foal on ‘You Tube’ video and ‘picked the brains’ of a horse breeder. All very interesting.
For the racetrack scenes I drew on my own experiences, having been a lover of thoroughbred racing and a frequent visitor to the races for many years. I have always loved the thrill of watching those magnificent animals stretching towards the winning post, every fibre in their bodies striving to win, and then to see how they relish the cheers of the crowd when they beat the rest of the field!
Having once been the part-owner of a racehorse I understand the nervous excitement Joy felt before and during each race, and the euphoria when her horse came first past the post – a feeling that’s hard to beat! And I understand too the affection and attachment you feel for your horse, win or lose!
As for the relationships and emotions of the characters, in all the books– well, allowing for the difference in the conventions of the time they’re not all that different from those of people today. Times change, but people don’t.
Over the centuries we have all had similar needs and desires – for a good life, security, a loving partner. A wish for romance is strong in many of us. And we all experience similar emotions at times. Love, hate, fear, anger, frustration. We all have different ways of dealing with them, and so it is for the people of Redwoods.
I had a lot fun doing this research, and putting the characters into the situations in these books. I hope you will enjoy reading about them as much as I have enjoyed telling their stories.
‘AN AMBITIOUS WOMAN’ is now available on Amazon and on Smashwords, Apple iBooks, Barnes &Noble , and Kobo