Over on the Harlequin Community blog at the moment, there’s an excerpt posted from the November 1816 edition of
Mercury. Admittedly it’s not a genuine
excerpt (it was in fact written by me!), but it contains a fascinating account
of the visit of a Mr Virgil Jackson to Castonbury village school. A visit which
features in my story in the Castonbury
Park series called The Lady Who Broke
the Rules. Derby
Lady Katherine Montague, scarred by her failed betrothal, shunned by society as a result, decides to pour all her energy into philanthropic causes – such as the establishment of a village school. Virgil Jackson, my freed-slave hero, is determined to use his hard-earned wealth to provide the opportunities for other slaves which he struggled so hard to earn. So naturally he’s interested in Kate’s school. His interest in Kate herself, however, is something he’s less keen to admit to.
Kate’s village school takes its inspiration from Robert Owen’s model village in New Lanark, not too far from
Glasgow where I went to university and made
my home for several years. Finding my day job at the time pretty unexciting, I
started studying history with the Open University, and it was one of my tutors
here who first introduced me to New Lanark. I was, from the start, fascinated
by it’s creator’s vision.
If you ever get the chance, the village and the beautiful Falls of the
Clyde, which were the powerhouse driving
the mills, are well worth a visit. It was established by David Dale in 1786 to
provide homes for his cotton mill workers, but it was Dale’s son-in-law, a
Welsh philanthropist called Robert Owen, intent on testing out his ideas for
social reform, who was the real trail-blazer.
I’ve learned enough about Owen to suspect that he would be quite a difficult man to like, but then social reformers need to be strong-willed and single-minded, don’t they? Owen possessed such a singular vision as to make anyone else’s views on any matter – well, irrelevant. He was very religious and very moral, with an incredibly strong work ethic – so woe betide any slackers or back-sliders in his work force. Basically, I think it would have been his way (which became known as utopian socialism) or the highway – but what a revolutionary way it was.
|New Lanark.Photo Credit Stara Blazkova via Wikipedia|
Most of the mill workers came from the poorhouses of Glasgow, some from the slums of the city’s east end, with a good dash of Highlanders on the run from the dying embers of the Clearances. In New Lanark, they lived in tenements, many with just one room per family, but even this was a vast improvement on what they’d left behind. The actual working conditions at the mills were good in comparison to other such places, with less injuries and fatalities, good ventilation and so better general health. And Owen’s workers didn’t just get on-site accommodation – provided they toed the company line which insisted on regular attendance at church – there were a host of other benefits. Their children were educated at a school which was not only heated, but at which learning was intended to be fun. Then there was the Institute for the Formation of Character, through which Owen hoped to demonstrate in practice his theory of practical determinism – basically, that character can be formed and is not innate. The institute opened in 1816 and became the focus for education in the village – for all ages, with classes of all types including drill, dancing and instructional lectures.
Robert Owen left New Lanark for the new world in 1824, where he established the Community of Equality of New Harmony in
Indiana. In my story, Kate is inspired by Owen’s
book, New View of Society, and
Virgil, who visits Owen, although he has some reservations, is also inspired
enough by the underlying philosophy to
spend some of his own wealth on establishing another such community.
It astonishes me sometimes how people I’ve admired, characters I’ve read about and places I’ve visited in my own past find a place, almost by osmosis, in my stories. I do wonder though, what on earth my austere Open University professor would make of finding his beloved New Lanark featuring in a Harlequin romance. Do you have a favourite person or place from your past you’d love to see feature in a romance?
The Lady Who Broke the Rules is out now, print and digital in the
UK, digital only in US
though it will be released in print as a duo in December.
'Your rebellion has not gone unnoticed...' Anticipating her wedding vows and then breaking off the engagement has left Kate Montague's social status in tatters. She hides her hurt at her family's disapproval behind a resolutely optimistic facade, but one thing really grates...For a fallen woman, she knows shockingly little about passion! Could Virgil Jackson be the man to teach her? A freed slave turned successful businessman, his striking good looks and lethally restrained power throw normally composed Kate into a tailspin! She's already scandalised society, but succumbing to her craving for Virgil would be the most outrageous thing Kate's done by far...
Flirting with Ruin (Undone! Prequel) - Marguerite Kaye, June 2012
The Wicked Lord Montague - Carole Mortimer, August 2012
The Housemaid’s Scandalous Secret - Helen Dickson, September 2012
Lady of Shame - Ann Lethbridge, November 2012
The Illegitimate Montague - Sarah Mallory, December 2012
Unbefitting a Lady - Bronwyn Scott, January 2013
Redemption of a Fallen Woman - Joanna Fulford, February 2013
A Stranger at Castonbury - Amanda McCabe, March 2013