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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

When I first started working on the idea for what would become The Ransome Trilogy, I had basically two choices I could choose for my main setting in England: Portsmouth or Plymouth. Since I knew that William’s ship, Alexandra, would be going into dry-dock for an overhaul before he weighed anchor on his new assignment, I chose Portsmouth, because that’s the place ships went for that kind of work. Once I started researching Portsmouth, I learned something that at once gave me both a distinct advantage and a distinct disadvantage. You see, most of Old Portsmouth (what would have been around in 1814) was destroyed by the German Luftwaffe in World War II. So most of the historical sites that remain are few and far between, and the area is vastly different than it would have been if the original city still existed. So I had the freedom to make stuff up when it came to the setting—but I really couldn’t find much reference images or information about where things would have been located. So I ended up being vague whenever possible.

Portsmouth is an island city, the only one in England, located on Portsea Island in Hampshire County (Hants). Because of its natural deep port, it was a logical location to become the hub of the Royal Navy, and thus one of the most heavily fortified in the country. The dockyard was the center of life for historical Portsmouth, being its primary industry. Just about everything revolved around the Royal Navy.

But you didn’t come for a history lesson. You came to see the places mentioned in Ransome’s Honor.

HMS Alexandra, 74-gun (3rd Rate) ship of the line. William has captained Alexandra for three years. It is really hard to find images online of a 74-gun ship of the line, and my scanner doesn’t work with my new Vista computer, so I can’t share with you the images from the several research books I have. I can, however, direct you to Dorin Stanciu’s photos of HMS Victory, Admiral Lord Nelson’s flagship, which is permanently installed in dry-dock in Portsmouth. Victory was a much larger ship, as it was an admiral’s; however, you can still get a good feel for what it might have looked like in Dorin’s photos. And here’s a very large photo of a model of a French 74-gun ship so you can see more details of how it’s laid out.

When we first meet William, he’s knocking on the front door of the home of Captain Collin Yates, his best friend. Collin and Susan Yates live in a First-Rate Georgian rowhouse in Portsmouth. I wish I could show you pictures of the interiors and furnishings of most of the homes I’ve described in the book, but, alas, most of them exist only in my imagination. But I can at least show you William’s room in the Yateses’ home, which is quite a contrast to his quarters aboard Alexandra.

In Julia’s first scene (not counting the prologue), she is in her bedroom in the house her father purchased for her mother when he struck his colors, planning to bring Lady Witherington back from Jamaica for good. After sitting for a little while with her father in his study, she joins her aunt in the formal sitting room, where she meets her cousin, Sir Drake.

Sir Drake is staying at Pembroke House, his family’s house in “town” (but, alas, not the right Town, a.k.a., London), which is pretty much falling down around his ears.

Though I don’t want to give anything about the story away, some other locations of interest are Lady Dalrymple’s home, Marchwood (the Pembroke ancestral estate), Portsmouth’s High Street, the dockyard quays, the concert hall, and the Cathedral Church of St Thomas (à Becket) of Canterbury.

I’ve uploaded these and many more setting photos to the Ransome Set on Flickr (since last time I posted the link).

  1. Tuesday, June 16, 2009 10:43 am

    I love the collection of images you’ve accumulated for the different settings in your books – it’s great to read the name of a place, and then be able to see a pic to give you an idea of what it looks like – especially for the historicals!!


    • Tuesday, June 16, 2009 11:28 am

      I have to admit, I did a lot of searching for some fill-in images last night (like for Lady Dalrymple’s “house” and ship images) and started freaking myself out and wondering if everything in the first book is historically accurate—especially about Royal Navy stuff. But I had to remind myself that I did tons of research when I was writing that book, and made it as accurate as I could. I guess I’m already anticipating the harsh critiques I know I’m going to get from people who consider themselves “experts” in the era, so I’m starting it myself.


  2. Renee permalink
    Tuesday, June 16, 2009 11:04 am

    I LOVE the pictures you posted on flikr, especially the houses, I can just imagine sitting in that lovely apricot sitting room or reading in the study *sigh* My dream home would have rooms exactly like that…it would also have to include Mr. Darcy 😉 Hahaha, guess that’s why it’s my “dream” house!


    • Tuesday, June 16, 2009 11:31 am

      That’s one of the reasons it was so hard for me to find images (aside from the fact that trying to find anything online that’s historically accurate for that time period in England is difficult)—because so much of what I wrote came straight out of my imagination with no help from pictures. The main exception is the ship. The houses and other places, I could extrapolate from what I’ve seen in all the period movies. But for the ship, I didn’t even want to start until I’d seen lots and lots of pictures and diagrams and knew what things were called. And I ache to go to Portsmouth and visit HMS Victory, to see what it feels like to be on a ship of that era, to get a better feel for the scale of a ship that held (in Victory’s case) more than a thousand crew.


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