How I blend real historical events in my books…

Using real historical events in my fiction has become my focus more than ever since I started writing the Pennington’s Department Store series. Before this series, I concentrated more on the romance than actual events, but these days I want to write books with a stronger saga feel.
Emotions are felt the same today as they would have been in the any given time period. We are humans, after all. Sadness, joy, love, hate, disappointment…people feel these things in the same way, whether it’s 1710, 1910 or 2010.

Writing emotion and romantic relationships are what I love first and foremost but, with the Pennington’s series, I wanted to explore women’s societal and political, too. In order to do that, I decided to focus on a particular issue for each book.

For the first book, The Mistress of Pennington’s, I chose the issue of women trying to succeed in business. The natural place for this desire, at least for me, was the department stores of the 1800s. A place that was fostering a stronger and stronger female presence as women came out of service and turned to shop work. I researched how they were founded, who worked there, the position of female workers, the unusual positions of women in the workplace and, most of all, the roles of shop girls and their opportunities.

For book 2, A Rebel At Pennington’s, I wanted to focus on women’s suffrage – I cannot stress enough how much I enjoyed delving deeper into a subject that has fascinated and inspired me since I was a teenager. Most of us have heard of the famous names in the fight for the vote. Names like Emmeline Pankhurst, Emily Wilding Davison and Millicent Fawcett, but it wasn’t these women that inspired my heroine, Esther Stanbury.

It was lesser known suffragists (peaceful) rather than suffragettes (militant) and their contributions to the Cause that ensure Esther’s character was as authentic and relatable as possible. Women like Catherine Marshall who led peaceful campaigning by submitting articles to the press, setting up stalls and handing out awareness literature. Women like Nina Boyle who was one of the pioneers in the women’s police service. These women were phenomenal in their achievements, yet completely unknown to me.

So how many more women played an integral part in a fight that lasted decades?

I was honoured to research and learn about their struggles. In the book, Esther is torn between remaining a suffragist or joining the suffragettes, a dilemma I’m sure a lot of women faced. There were, most certainly, women who ‘jumped sides’, whether due to frustration and resorting to militancy, or women who came to abhor the violence and turned to peaceful campaigning.

The other big event I used as a backdrop in A Rebel At Pennington’s is the coronation of King-Emperor George V. This iconic event meant I could bring some real British pomp and ceremony to the book and add a splash of colour to a story that covers a tough issue…not to mention the struggle to find everlasting love!

History is all around us and it’s something that we should all take time and pleasure in learning. I can’t see that I will give up writing historical fiction any time soon and look forward to discovering more about the amazing women who went before us…

Happy Reading,

Rachel x

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