We are so excited to have Rachel Hartman
, author of the recently-released fantasy novel, Seraphina
, here at The Readventurer today. Last month, she went on a family vacation to England and rediscovered how wonderfully scenic the countryside is. She's here today to discuss how the years she spent living in England and the scenery of that area affected her world-building in Seraphina
. If you've already read Seraphina
, we know you'll have fun seeing if Rachel's photographs align with your imaginings of the setting. If you haven't read it yet, what are you waiting for? You should pick up a copy soon...or if you're in the US, you should enter our giveaway to win it! Don't forget that there is a short prequel, Audition
, available to read online here
. (PDF alert)
The English Goredd
When I was sixteen, I spent a year in England. My father took a sabbatical in Kent, and we lived in the hamlet of Godmersham, a tiny place, without a post office or a single shop. Our house had once been the coach house of a larger estate. It was surrounded on three sides by sheep pasture; across the lane were fields of blue-flowered flax and yellow rapeseed.
It was an easy walk to the Stour River, over the little bridge to Godmersham Park, where one of Jane Austen’s brothers had lived. She visited frequently, supposedly basing Rosings on the manor house and Mr. Collins’s parsonage on the parsonage next door.
Jane Austen attended this Norman church! here’s a sign that says so.
If we walked up the hill beyond the river, we reached the Pilgrim’s Way – that’s right, the old footpath to Canterbury. I was surrounded by literature, as well as sheep.
Although seriously, there were plenty of sheep.
If you want to accurately envision Goredd, the world of my novel, Seraphina, south-eastern England is a good place to start. I sometimes suspect that half the reason I’m a fantasy writer is that the landscape and architecture captured my heart and wouldn’t let go. My imagination laid down roots, and still draws sustenance from the things I saw that year. I travelled back recently, after almost twenty-four years away, and felt once again that I was in the place where my imagination intersects with reality.
First of all, there's the bucolic countryside:
Check out the South Downs! Also, the big chalk dude.
Some of those public right-of-ways are a thousand years old; they let you walk straight through farmers' fields. We used to hike around on weekends, or even after dinner, crossing chalky, flinty meadows, edging through hedgerows, all over the rolling weald. This land was domesticated long ago, and yet one can't help feeling that there is some still older wildness lurking just beneath the surface.
History is writ large in the buildings. I walked the streets in Canterbury, admiring Roman walls, Tudor and Georgian buildings, many eras living side by side. Country houses often have floors at many levels, where wings were added without quite enough forethought (or measurement). I am particularly fond of oast houses, and made sure Goredd had its share (as mentioned by Sir James in a story about encountering a battallion of dragons).
Oast houses are a type of kiln for drying hops; that pointy bit on top turns when the wind blows, keeping the ventilation just right. Technically, this round-house design dates to the 19th century, a bit late for my fantasy world, but I figure Goredd has its own variation on the thing. In fact, Goredd has all kinds of wondrous buildings. Here’s another style one often sees, the brick-and-half-timber:
We stayed in the room above the arch.
The most important building in Goredd, of course, apart from the castle, is the cathedral. St. Gobnait’s in Lavondaville is modelled directly upon my favourite cathedral of all time, the one and only Canterbury Cathedral.
I got this off of Wikimedia Commons because all my pictures turned out crappy.
Oh, how I love this building. I’m not even sure why. Maybe it’s the literary angle, the dramatic history, or the fact that they let you walk around in the spooky Norman crypt. Maybe it’s the fact that it can make you feel so small and so large at once, or simply that this was the first cathedral I ever saw and you never forget your first. Whatever the case may be, I could stare all day at that perpendicular nave.
This one’s mine. Crappy.
Seraphina’s Garden of Grotesques also grew out of a quintessential English place: Sissinghurst Castle Gardens. The landlord of our rented Coach House had lived at Sissinghurst, and we had visited the gardens on several occasions when they were closed to the public. As a teenager, I found it magical. It was wonderful to see it again, to rediscover every nook and cranny of the place and let myself get lost in the hedges.
Totally lost, here.
The garden is divided into many little sub-gardens, almost like rooms, and I think that’s where I got the idea that each of Seraphina’s Grotesques might have a designated space. There's an orchard, a moat, some pristine stretches of lawn:
And statues. And topiary.
There’s a cottage garden and a lime walk.
OK, I didn’t get a picture of the cottage. But what a lovely lime walk!
And last, but far from least, there was this bench:
You're not allowed to sit on it, which is a pity.
If you’ve read Seraphina, you may remember a bench like this belonging to Pelican Man. His is planted with oregano; he finds the smell soothing when he sits there. Well, when I spotted this bench at Sissinghurst, I started pointing at it and laughing. My husband and son, who were somewhat reluctant visitors to this garden, thought I had heat stroke until I was finally able to explain to them that this was the bench I'd described in my book.
And that I'd forgotten it existed in the real world.
England is still trickling into my work, even when I'm not aware of it. Who knows what new detritus accumulated during this vacation? I can't wait to write some more and see what unexpected footpaths my imagination takes next.
Thanks for sharing some of your inspirations with us, Rachel! You made us a bit jealous with all of your beautiful vacation photos.
Hartman will be on tour in September to promote her new release. Is she coming anywhere near you?
9/18 – 7pm – Children’s Book World
, Haverford, PA
9/19 – 5pm – Warren-Newport Public Library
, Gurnee, IL
9/21 – 7pm – Barnes & Noble
, Skokie, IL
9/23 – 2pm – Barnes & Noble
, Lynnwood, WA
9/25 – 7pm – Copperfield’s Books
, Petaluma, CA
9/26 – 6pm – Barnes & Noble
, El Cerrito, CA
9/28 – 7pm – Barnes & Noble
, Santa Monica, CA
9/30 – 2pm – Authors Tent, The Word on the Street
, Vancouver, BC
Rachel's publisher, Random House
, has provided a finished copy of the book for one lucky winner in the US. The giveaway will be open until 12:01 am EST on 9/5/12. Good luck!