Happy Thursday, RG2E Peeps!
Please help me Welcome Back to The RG2E, Featured Author Anne R. Allen, who’s about to take us on a fantabulous Robin Hood Country adventure! Take it away, Anne…
My mystery novel SHERWOOD LTD, is something of a love-letter to England’s East Midlands and the county of Lincolnshire—one of the least touristy spots in the British Isles, but one rich in history and folklore.
It’s a place I discovered by happy accident several years ago, when my novel FOOD OF LOVE was accepted by a UK publishing company that had recently moved from the bustling industrial city of Leeds to the little market town of Gainsborough, on the banks of the river Trent, which marks the border between Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire.
My new publishers turned out to be an eccentric band of publishing outlaws who published mostly hard-core erotica—pretty much the antithesis the of my comic mysteries about Camilla Randall, the Manners Doctor. But the company was eager to branch into mainstream fiction and the managing partners invited me to fly over to promote my book and share free digs in a vast 19th century factory complex they’d just bought. Fittingly, the factory had last been used as a ladies underwear factory and was called “The Shadowline Building.” (I call it “The Maidenette Building” in my novel.)
Most of my friends thought I was deeply bonkers, but I’ve never turned down a chance to travel, so I found a tenant for my little California beach house, bought a plane ticket for England and jumped into the adventure.
I’d lived in England many years ago—working in London for eight months after college—but Lincolnshire is the opposite of the big, modern, multi-ethnic capital to the South. It’s the “green and pleasant land” of the storybooks I read in my childhood—like “the Shire” of Middle Earth. I immediately fell in love with the lush, pastoral landscape, the friendly people, and the history-steeped, time-travel atmosphere. There I was, in the land of Robin Hood—the home of “Lincoln Green.”
I even loved the food. Make all the jokes you want about English cuisine, but they make some of the best cheeses in the world, and in a town full of old-fashioned bakeries, small artisanal butcher shops and a twice-weekly farmer’s market, I ate very, very well. (Probably too well. Lincolnshire is not the best spot to be watching your weight.)
Gainsborough itself has a long and romantic history. It’s the town George Eliot called “St Oggs” when she wrote The Mill on the Floss—and the river that flowed by my window was “the Floss” of her iconic novel.
Gainsborough was already ancient by the time George Eliot/Mary Ann Evans sought refuge there. In fact, it was well established by the time a Viking King named Sweyn Forkbeard, having defeated the Saxon king Ethelred the Unready, made it the capital of England in the ninth century.
That lasted about five weeks until he had a fatal fall from his horse and was succeeded by his son King Canute, of stopping-the-tide fame. (Which he also did in Gainsborough, pretending to stop the Trent’s great tidal bore, the Aegir.)
In my novel, I call the town Swynsby-on-Trent, in honor of Mr. Forkbeard (literally “Sweyn’s home, since “by” was a Viking place-name suffix meaning “home.”)
I ended up living in Gainsborough on and off from 2002-2005. Unfortunately the publishing company went under rather tragically, with the mysterious disappearance of one of the owners (He disappeared from his boat, but his body was never found.) But it was a fine adventure while it lasted, and I’ll always cherish the friendships I made there.
I was dying to set a novel in Gainsborough, but in order not to hurt any feelings (or incur any lawsuits) I decided to fictionalize the town and set an entirely made-up mystery there, featuring my always-polite amateur sleuth, Camilla as a kind of modern-day Maid Marian.
I wasn’t able to incorporate all my favorite Lincolnshire haunts, however, or the story would have turned into a travelogue. (In fact, my editor made me eliminate my more tour-guidish digressions.)
I did include a glimpse of the open market in the central square, where traveling peddlers still display everything from fresh produce to meat pies and ribbons and pots and pans, just as they did in Robin Hood’s day—only a few blocks from the very modern Tesco supermarket. I also have several scenes set in one of Gainsborough’s picturesque pubs, many of which began as coaching inns in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Unfortunately, I had to eliminate a scene set in Gainsborough’s greatest landmark—the “Old Hall”—one of England’s best-preserved medieval manor houses. The beautiful building, built on the ruins of Sweyn Forkbeard’s castle, was a place visited by the likes of Richard III and Henry VIII. It also sheltered the Separatist “Pilgrim Fathers” as they made their escape to the Netherlands and then to the New World on the Mayflower.
I also have Camilla visit the historic city of Lincoln—only fifteen miles from Gainsborough—which houses one of Europe’s greatest Gothic cathedrals, as well as an 11th century castle that is the home of one of the original copies of the Magna Carta.
Lincoln Cathedral, built in 1072, rivals Chartres in its soaring Gothic magnificence. It is actually taller than Chartres, and was the tallest building in the world for 249 years (1300–1549.) The cathedral was used as a stand-in for Westminster Abbey in the 2005 film of The DaVinci Code.
Across the square from the cathedral is Lincoln Castle, built by William the Conqueror in 1068, and one of the country’s best-preserved castles. William built his castle on the ruins of the fortress originally built by the Roman armies who occupied Britain from 43AD through the fourth century.
Many houses in the old part of Lincoln are built on top of the old Roman forum. I was lucky enough to be invited to visit a woman whose townhouse had the base of a huge marble column in the basement. Walking up the stairs was like walking through time, from the ancient forum to the medieval kitchen, to an 18th century dining room to a Victorian parlor and up to a modern couple of bedrooms that looked out on the whole city.
I’m dying to use that in a story sometime. So I just may have send Camilla off to Lincolnshire again. It would make a great excuse to go for a return visit.
SHERWOOD, LTD. (Romantic comedy/mystery) Suddenly-homeless American manners expert Camilla Randall becomes a 21st century Maid Marian—living rough near the real Sherwood Forest with a band of outlaw English erotica publishers—led by a charming, self-styled Robin Hood who unfortunately may intend to kill her. When Camilla is invited to publish a book of her columns with UK publisher Peter Sherwood, she lands in a gritty criminal world—far from the Merrie Olde England she envisions. The staff are ex-cons and the erotica is kinky. Hungry and penniless, she camps in a Wendy House built from pallets of porn while battling an epic flood, a mendacious American Renfaire wench, and the mysterious killer who may be Peter himself.
She’s also the co-author of the writer’s guide How to be a Writer in the E-Age…And Keep Your E-Sanity (MWiDP June 2012), written with Pay it Forward author Catherine Ryan Hyde.
She lives on the Central Coast of California near San Luis Obispo, which Oprah named “the happiest town in the US.” Anne teaches blogging and social media at the Central Coast Writers Conference. Her blog, “Anne R. Allen’s Blog…with Ruth Harris: Writing about Writing. Mostly” was a finalist in the American Publishers Association/Goodreads IBB Awards for Best Publishing Industry Blog. NYT Bestseller and former Big Six editor Ruth Harris joined the blog in 2011.
What a fascinating Travelogue, Anne! And what fun to see how all of this became part of your book! Thanks sooo much for sharing and for the FREE Ebook Gift Copies of SHERWOOD, LTD.! U rock!!!
The Best of RG2E Ereading Wishes — D. D. Scott, RG2E Founder