RHYS BOWEN: I'm so thilled to have Deanna Raybourn as my
guest today. First she's a really nice and fun person, great to hang
out with, and second we both share an interest in spunky lady
explorers: those Victorian ladies who crossed deserts and fought
tribesmen while wearing corsets! ( And she looks like a young Joan
Collins, doesn't she?) So welcome, Deanna.
DEANNA RAYBOURN: Heaps of thanks to the Reds for inviting me to come and hang out and chat about Veronica!
One of the questions all writers dread is, “Where did you get your ideas?” The answer for me is usually some strange alchemical reaction of research, imagination, and serendipity that I can’t quite define. But not with Veronica Speedwell! The inspiration for her character is one very intrepid, very memorable Victorian explorer by the name of Margaret Fountaine. I have been studying the Victorian female explorers ever since I graduated from college. When I’m between projects and can give myself up to reading for pure pleasure, I often reach for the collected anthologies of travelers—in particular the indefatigable 19th-century women who packed up their corsets and crinolines and set out to see the world. My bookshelves are stuffed with their exploits, my favorite accounts being journals written by the women themselves on their expeditions. With great affection and tongue firmly in cheek, I call them the parasol and petticoat brigade, but they were so much more! Most of their formative years were spent in stereotypical 19th-century households with tatting and tea-pouring their most demanding activities. But for each woman there came a tipping point, a crossroads at which the traveler realized she wanted much more than her narrow existence could offer.
That’s when she packed her hopes into her carpetbag and set off to see the world. I find their courage both extraordinary and incredibly inspiring; they faced obstacles and setbacks with astonishing equanimity, pushing forward across the next frontier, past the next horizon. They blazed new trails, sometimes forcing a path through lands their male counterparts dared not attempt. Luckily for me, many of them wrote about their experiences and those journals and letters make for fascinating reading.
Many years ago--so long I don’t even remember how or where I encountered it, I was lucky enough to come across Margaret Fountaine’s first journal, a nondescript, twee-looking volume entitled Love Among the Butterflies. (The second book has an even more sentimental title--Butterflies and Late Loves.) A lepidopterist who hunted butterflies on six continents, Fountaine enjoyed a career that spanned more than five decades, giving her a measure of independence and even a certain acclaim amongst butterfly-hunters. (There is a plaque marking the spot where she died on the island of Santo Domingo at the age of seventy, butterfly-net clutched in her hand.) I settled in to read her journal, expecting a serious journal about lepidoptery with some pithy observations about foreign travel. Imagine my surprise when it took a delightfully salacious turn as Fountaine described not only her butterfly hunts, but her numerous flirtations! It was utterly enthralling to read about her affairs, and the more I read, the more I knew I would someday create a character with the same indefatigable energy, the same zest for life and adventure. Veronica is influenced by all of these unforgettable Victorian explorers, but her career as a lepidopterist is a special homage to Margaret. Like her inspiration, Veronica is forthright, dynamic, and uncowed by danger—in fact, she seeks it out and comes alive because of it.
RHYS: Okay, I'm hooked instantly by the thought of royal secrets.
And Deanna will give away a signed copy to one of today's commenters.