For twenty years, I’ve been writing stories set in Regency-era England. My first introduction to genre romance novels were the Regencies of Georgette Heyer, and I was immediately hooked. I suspect that was because, of all the “literary” novels I read in college or graduate school, I most enjoyed the books of Jane Austen.
I lack the statistics, but I’d bet more historical romance stories are set in early 19th-Century England than any other place or era. Napoleon Bonaparte, out to conquer the known world and then some, gave birth to many fictional Regencies about spies and battles and the real danger that he’d claim England as well. Men had a chance to prove their manliness in these stories. It was also an era of attractive fashion for ladies and gentlemen alike. That’s amazingly important in romance fiction. For many twenty-first-century gals, a guy wearing Renaissance-era “pumpkin” pants or a powdered wig doesn’t hold much appeal.
So I settled into the Regency and bought probably 80 research books about the era, from history and biographies to locations to, well, everything I could find. And, often in company with friend and sometimes co-author Alicia Rasley, I explored what she described as “what remains of the Regency in England.” We wandered the parts of London that haven’t changed overmuch, especially Mayfair and St. James Street, and ventured down to Brighton, where the Prince Regent built an ornate, silly house. Cheltenham. The Cotswolds. Bath (of course), Tunbridge Wells, Oxford, York, Cornwall, the Lake District, Gretna Green in Scotland.
In my experience—and I have traveled through probably 30 or 40 countries—having a purpose or something special to look for makes a real difference. I’m already compiling a list for my March trip to Italy, imagining what kind of story I will write and what sort of hero and heroine will find themselves there in the early 1800’s. Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley and other literary figures spent the later years of their short lives in Italy, and I suspect they will make cameo appearances, or perhaps play an important part.
Alicia, also a student and teacher of literature, pretty much chooses England for her trips, while I sometimes wander farther afield. But I must say that for me, the most fun times were when we went exploring together, talking about our stories, and immersing ourselves in an era that speaks to our hearts and inspires most of our books.