Harlequin Historicals favourite Louise Allen chats to Cataromance about the inspiration behind her latest novel, Rumors: Scandal Comes to Wimpole Hall!
“Would you like to set a novel in a real National Trust house?’ my editor asked.
“Yes!” I said, just managing not to bite her hand off. ‘”Which one?”
“Anyone you like,” she said, to my great delight.
The National Trust, for anyone who is reading this from outside the UK, is a charity which, in its own words, protects “historic houses, gardens, mills, coastline, forests, woods, fens, beaches, farmland, moorland, islands, archaeological remains, nature reserves, villages and pubs. Then we open them up for ever, for everyone.” Founded over a hundred years ago it is perhaps most famous for the wonderful historic houses in its care – and I could choose whichever I wanted to set an historical romance in!
In fact the choice was easy – Wimpole Hall, the greatest house in the county of Cambridgeshire, was just up the road from where I was living at the time and I knew the house and its wonderfully romantic parkland very well indeed.
Both my editor and the National Trust were happy – all I had to do was to find my fictional characters, discover what their story was and weave that into an accurate representation of the house that was true to the real-life people inhabiting the house at that time.
Eventually I settled on 1800, just before Wimpole’s owner, Philip Yorke, 3rd Earl of Hardwicke, left to take up his appointment as the first Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. This gave me not only a delightful couple to work with – Philip and his countess were intelligent, kind and slightly eccentric – but also allowed me to introduce John Soane, later Sir John, the architect whose home, now the John Soane Museum, is one of my favourite places in London.
The reputation of the Yorkes for kindness allowed me to create a scandal-struck heroine – Isobel – who needed to take refuge with them, and John Soane’s role in substantially remodelling Wimpole Hall gave me the excuse to create a fellow architect to assist him – the gorgeous but ineligible Giles.
The whole of the park is open to visitors and I walked all over it, even using Google Earth to pinpoint the location of the long-demolished Prospect House that is key to the plot. The Wimpole Hall itself is open, but only the major rooms on the ground floor, some of the basement and a small part of the bedroom floor can be seen.
I needed more and was thrilled when the House Manager offered me a cellars to roof, behind the scenes tour. That meant I could place all the rooms accurately, from the nurseries in the attic to the countess’s semi-circular sitting room.
But my favourite room remained the Bath House, a small indoor heated swimming pool that Soane designed. I made sure it played a key part in the plot!
The book is out in the UK, with added material, as Regency Rumours: Scandal Comes to Wimpole Hall and in the USA as Rumors: Scandal Comes to Wimpole Hall, available from Amazon and the Harlequin website.
Thank you so much for chatting to us, Louise. If you want to find out more about Louise and her books, visit her website at www.louiseallenregency.com. Her latest novel, published as Regency Rumours in the UK and Rumors: Scandal Comes to Wimpole Hall in the US is out now.