The Road to Redway (Pt.2)
I’m going to jump forward to Thanksgiving 2015 when my full book titled Mrs. Helena Andrews was ready. I realised it would be too complicated to continue talking about my story as a Pride & Prejudice variation, as we continued down this road.
Enter Dorothy—an octogenarian, and the mother of my dear friend Barbara. Each week, I would bend Barb’s ear about my book’s latest instalment, and she agreed to read it. Barb is a busy woman, and despite her heartfelt promises, she did not manage it. So when her mom, a voracious reader, visited for Thanksgiving, she gave it to her.
Within a week of that, I headed for Barb’s house to meet with my first beta reader so she could give me some feedback. Dorothy is amazing, kind and funny. We had a lot to talk about, and not just my book given Dorothy’s interesting life story. The most crucial thing Dorothy said was—
“Why have you based this on Jane Austen’s characters? Why not write this book as your own story? I found I preferred your characters to those you borrowed.”
I’m under no illusions that my characters are better than Jane Austen’s, but I believe I did not do much with hers apart from having them around. After all, who wants to mess with Mr Darcy?
Dorothy’s words were profound and, in truth, scary.
Could my characters standalone? Where would I set the action if not around Pemberley? Was I kidding myself that I could write a story anyone wanted to read?
Though hard for me to believe now, it took a week to decide that I could, and should, go it alone. Redway Acres, Mrs. Helena Andrews rather than Mrs. Helena Andrews, A Pride and Prejudice variation was born. Thanks, Dorothy!
The first thing I had to do was relocate the action and where better than to the East of England where I am from? I looked up historical houses to base my location upon. After all, Pemberley is based upon the real Chatsworth House. My favourite was just outside of Grantham in south Lincolnshire, but more on places another time.
As I already named Redway Acres, what should I name my own Pemberley? It had to be something significant, a name that would last through the ages. I tried various naming websites jotting down some combinations, but nothing inspired me. Then an idea struck.
When my mum bought a seaside retirement home in Norfolk, England, she named her bungalow Eastease. East for the two roads where she lived while raising her children, and ease for retirement.
After five years of now referring to Eastease as the grand estate next to Redway Acres, it seems odd to think of its humble beginnings as a seaside bungalow.
The Darcys became the Harkers, Genevieve (aka Gennie) and Alexander (Harker). Instead of being guardian to his sister, Alexander became an only child and guardian to his friend’s twin stepdaughters Harriet and Maria (ma-RYE-ah) Wyndham. As Harriet took on the Georgiana role in my book, I decided that Maria had already married. At this point, a germ of an idea took hold for a possible book two.
The Bennets became the Hopwoods. Gennie having only two sisters, Martha and Amelia/Milly. Their aunt and uncle (the Gardiners) became Mr. and Mrs. Ridgefield. The Hopwoods lived in Cambridgeshire, south of Lincolnshire and Helena’s parents in West Norfolk, close to Lady Grace’s home Bainbridge Hall. Lady Grace taking the role of Lady Catherine, despite being of a younger generation.
The locations soon became so familiar to me that at one point, as I looked up the distance between Eastease and Bainbridge on Google Maps intending to use the real locations I’d assigned for them, I typed in Bainbridge and for a few moments wondered why it wasn’t showing up!
The only person left to decide upon was Colonel Fitzwilliam. Being a minor character in Pride & Prejudice, he was probably the one I took the most liberties with when developing my colonel. For his name, I went with Nathaniel Ackley (Ackers to his friends).
Colonel Ackley was almost as tall and lean as Mr. Harker. In the same way that Helena judged the muscles of a horse beneath its coat, she took stock of the man’s build. He appeared stronger than his friend, both in his arms and across his chest. As she looked up from his body, she found his gaze upon her. None of the general, conversational and witty things she had learned beforehand came to mind under the stare of those blue eyes.
Nathaniel Ackley had to be a second son, no inheritance for him being part of my story. Unlike Colonel Fitzwilliam and Darcy, there is no relationship between Nathaniel and Harker, although he thinks of Harker as a brother. They share guardianship of the Wyndham twins. Though most of the day-to-day responsibility and expense falls to Harker, Nathaniel is the twins’ relation – twice over in fact, but let’s talk about cousins in another blogpost.
I made Nathaniel’s father the Earl of Aysthill, whose principal residence in Lincolnshire is called Aysthill House. Nathaniel’s relationship with his father is very strained—we learn that in the first book, the night of the dinner party where he first meets Helena.
The powerful personage of the Earl of Aysthill returned, bolstering his demeanour as his body seemed to overcome its intoxication. Nathaniel made a conscious effort not to step back, subduing a childhood instinct born of the many beatings he had received at this man’s hand.
Now I was ready to go forward with Redway Acres on my terms. All thanks to Dorothy!