Inspired by the Past

I’m very excited to pass on today’s posting to Clare Langley-Hawthorne. She is the author of the Ursula Marlow mystery series featuring an outspoken and intelligent young woman during the Edwardian era. I greatly enjoyed Consequences of Sin and The Serpent and the Scorpion (click on titles for my reviews). What sets apart these mysteries for me is that not only am I reading them for the whodunit but I want to immerse myself in another time period.

So before I gush any more let me turn this over to Clare:

Inspired by the Past
By Clare Langley-Hawthorne
me-small.jpgI’m often asked whether my character Ursula Marlow is based on a real Edwardian woman. I have to confess that Ursula walked into my head as a fully formed character with opinions and personality all her own – so I didn’t have to look for any inspiration on that account. She was also dressed in the white, green and purple outfit of a militant suffragette (a follower of the Women’s Social and Political Union) so there was no mistaking her politics either!

In creating Ursula Marlow I did draw upon my family’s experiences though – at least in terms of my mother’s Lancashire roots. My grandparents worked in the cotton mills of Rishton but, unlike Ursula’s father, they never escaped the poverty of their circumstances. They lived in a two-up two-down house all their lives and my mother’s stories of growing up in the 1950’s suggested little had changed in many ways from Edwardian times. They had no indoor bathroom (the toilet was in a shed at the back of the garden) and my mother bathed out of the kitchen sink (but only after the hot water had been turned on as it was too expensive to keep on all the time). My mother had only two outfits to wear – her school uniform and her Sunday clothes. She grew up with children who had no shoes only clogs, who subsisted on little more than bread and potatoes and whose parents (like their parents before them) worked in the mills, factories or coal mines nearby. My mother, having married a man from the South of England who was middle class, continued to face his family’s disdain for her background and I wanted Ursula to face similar prejudice – she can never escape her background nor will she ever be truly accepted as part of the aristocracy even if she marries Lord Wrotham. Unfortunately most of my mother’s family died at a relatively young age (hardly surprising given their circumstances) so I had little in terms of actual people to base my characters.

women-at-rail.jpgWhile undertaking research for both Consequences of Sin and The Serpent and The Scorpion it soon became apparent that Ursula, though forward thinking for her time, was not extraordinary by any means. In fact she epitomizes much of what I love about the early feminists of this period – not only was she well educated and determined to incite social change, she was also compassionate and idealistic. Of course, given that she was flying in the face of what her father and society demanded of her, she also needed a thick skin and a stubborn streak – otherwise she, like many other women of that period, would never have been able to endure the ridicule and stigma that accompanied those who challenged conventions of that time.

Gertrude-Bell.jpgI was inspired by a range of real life heroines of the Victorian and Edwardian period. Explorers like Mary Kingsley and Gertrude Bell; intellectuals and bohemians like Lady Diana Manners and Virginia Woolf; and radical political women like Olive Schreiner, Annie Kenney, Lady Constance Lytton and the Pankhurst family. The Pankhursts themselves are a great source of insight into suffragettes of the period – from the charismatic co-leaders of the WSPU Christabel and her mother Emmeline to Sylvia Pankhurst, the idealistic social reformer of London’s East End, and Adela, who emigrated to Australia after becoming estranged from her family. In the 1910’s there were so many accomplished and influential women, it was never hard to find inspiration!Lady-Diana-Manners.jpg

By the second book in Ursula Marlow series, The Serpent and The Scorpion, I wanted to see Ursula really come into her own as a woman but still face the conflict of balancing her own independence with the possibility of marriage. I think many of the issues Ursula faces in the books resonate as much today as they did in Edwardian England (we just don’t have to wear corsets or be chaperoned!).

These are just some of my ‘inspirations’ for my books. I hope you’ll stop by, comment or ask a question. I am passionate about the Edwardian period and love talking about my research as well as my characters.
Thanks again to Iliana for having me at Bookgirl!

To find out more about Clare’s books, you can visit her at


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