Interview: Part I ~ Walking around Regency London with Louise Allen

NOTE:  Book giveaway! ~ see the end of this post for details!

 Please welcome author Louise Allen today as she answers questions about her new book on Regency London.  Louise is a very successful writer of historical Regency romances, over thirty-five titles to date!  Her interest in all things Regency is fed by constant research into the period, as well as the development of a fine collection of prints and ephemera from the era – all this to help in her writing. In December 2010 she released her first non-fiction work titled Walks Through Regency London [available direct from her at louiseallen [dot] regency [at] tiscali [dot] co [dot] uk


JAIV:  Thank you Louise for joining us here in Vermont today! I was so pleased to get your new book on Regency London hot off the press! – I ordered two copies and gave one to another London-obsessed friend and she is most enjoying your book!…we only wish we could both be in London together and exploring Town with your book in hand, rather than this armchair traveler thing! – hopefully, sometime soon…we’re working on it!

JAIVSo first, tell us something about yourself.

LA:  Thank you very much for inviting me to join you – it is great to be in Vermont, even if only in cyberspace! I live in the East of England with my husband and we are about to move even further east, to a cottage on the North Norfolk coast. I was first published back in 1985 and for years I wrote alongside my full-time job as a property manager, but for the last three years I’ve been writing full-time and I love it.

JAIV:  When did you first discover your love of the Regency period? Why this time and place?

LA:  I think I first became aware of it when reading Georgette Heyer as a teenager. I’ve always been an historian – I studied landscape history, historical geography and archaeology at university – but it took me a while to settle on the “long” Regency as a period to write in. My first book was set during the English Civil War of the 17thc but my editor encouraged me to look at the Regency and I fell in love with it. I think it is because it occupies a transitional place between the agricultural and aristocratic world of the 18thc and the rapid technological change and urbanization of the Victorian era. Boundaries are always interesting and complex and it is also sufficiently different and yet recognizable, which makes it fascinating to write about. And I’m English, so English history felt right.

JAIV:  Did you read Jane Austen as well as Georgette Heyer? – do you re-read them? Which are your favorite titles, if it is possible to choose?

LA:  Yes, to both authors and yes to re-reading. Austen – I love Pride & Prejudice, but I find Sense & Sensibility more interesting. I was at Jane Austen’s house at Chawton last year and it was very moving to walk in her garden and to see her tiny writing table. Heyer favourites? The Grand Sophy and also The Toll Gate, which isn’t everyone’s choice, but I’m tall, so I identify with the heroine!

JAIV: You obviously use London and the London social scene in your fiction, and the need to be accurate has led you to amass a great deal of research through the years – hence your “Walks” book – what first prompted you to pull all this together and publish it?

LA:  My husband and I love walking, and we love London, so it was no hardship to start exploring when I wanted to check details. Then we got hooked and started exploring specific areas – when I looked at my notes and our photos I realized that I had the makings of a book.

JAIV:  You cite the 1807 The Picture of London guidebook as your main source. What other books did you use? – there are so many works on London – which are your favorite and why?

LA:  I use the 1807 guide because it is fun to take it for a walk where it must once have gone with its Regency owner – it is the real thing, much used and slightly battered. We also take the invaluable A-Z of Regency London published by the London Topographical Society. Their historical A-Zs are a brilliant resource. When I checked my shelves just now I found I have 55 reference books on London, so it is a problem to pick out just a few, but I would say The London Encyclopedia (published by Macmillan) is an essential. Peter Ackroyd’s London: The Biography is full of fascinating, unusual and often downright weird information and Dan Cruickshank’s book on the sensual life of London The Secret History of Georgian London is about so much more than sex.

JAIV:  What are your favorite haunts in London, for both Regency times and the present?

LA:  The St James’s area is the best preserved Georgian/Regency quarter. Soho is endlessly fascinating – so many layers of history. The City, although it has been leveled by the great fire and then again by the Blitz still preserves its medieval street patterns and modern office blocks must contort themselves to fit the shape of some ancient workhouse or monastery cloister. You can even see the curved walls of Newgate Prison fossilized in the shape of an ultra modern building. But it is hard to find a part of London that isn’t interesting if you are prepared to be very nosy!

JAIV:  The book is fact-filled and anecdotal, and culled from so much available information – how did you decide what to include and what not to include?

LA:  It was a nightmare! I had enough material for twenty walks, but I tried to chose ones that gave a variety of experiences, which were all about 2 miles long and which could be split up if walkers wanted to have a shorter route or spend more time in a museum.

JAIV:  Did you discover anything surprising in your research and exploration? Something you did not already know?

LA:  It wasn’t so much new facts that I found but places which gave me a real frisson of excitement: the 1820s operating theatre where you can see the marks of the surgeons’ saws on the table; the last galleried coaching inn left in London; the great scales in Berry Bros & Rudd where Byron used to weigh himself; having a drink in Tom Cribb’s own pub and exploring the back alleys behind Almack’s which were once filed with high-class brothels and gambling dens. Perhaps the most unexpected discovery was in a Chinese supermarket in Soho – walk past stacks of dried herbs and fish, bags of rice and look up and realize you are in a very old house indeed – and in the back is still the sweeping 18thc staircase. This is the Turk’s Head coffee-house and Dr Johnson and Joshua Reynolds were just two of the great men who  socialized here.

[Image of Samuel Johnson:]

JAIV:  The illustrations in your book are from your own collection. What other ephemera from the era do you look for? When did you start becoming a serious collector? – and did your writing come first or vice versa?

LA:  The writing came first then the more I wanted to know about the period, the more I would look for items from it. I collect fashion prints 1790-1820, prints of London from Ackermann’s Repository, coaching and sporting prints, bills and invoices, playbills and anything else that I can get my hands on. I started buying fashion prints when I stubbed my toe on a box of over thirty, all framed, under the table at an auction. I got them for a song and as the porter staggered out to the car with them he said, ‘Bloody hell, madam, you don’t half buy in bulk!’ He didn’t know how true it was, I’m afraid – I’ve got about 1,000 prints now.

[Charles Street]

JAIV:  Where are your favorite haunts to find items? How do you categorize and store them?

LA:  On-line and live auctions, antique fairs and antique shops are all good places to search, but auctions are the most productive. I store them in archival-quality binders on acid free paper, or have them framed by a specialist framer using acid-free mounts. I arrange the fashion prints by date, the London prints by street and everything else by subject.

JAIV:  You bring the Regency so to life! – better to have this guide while actually walking around London – but even so this journey of readinghas been delightful… Which of your walks is your favorite? – what is your favorite part of London?

LA:  Thank you! I enjoy them all – it depends on my mood. If I am feeling like high society and shopping, Mayfair and St James’s are best. Hyde Park is great for a good walk, Soho is vibrant and slightly edgy and the City surprisingly dark and sinister.

JAIV:  The process of writing fiction and non-fiction is quite different – explain the process for writing this Walks book.

LA:  I was very conscious the whole time that I had to make this crystal-clear for people to follow. It would have more than doubled the cost if I’d included maps, so users needed to be able to do without, or use it in conjunction with an ordinary pocket map. Then, once I had plotted each walk out on a modern map it was a question of picking out the relevant points of interest or short snippets of interesting information and weaving them in with the directions – and then re-walking to check every turning and fact.

JAIV:  Do you have another non-fiction Regency-era book in the works?

LA:  We are tracing the original route of the Great North Road, the main coaching route between Edinburgh and London – but not on foot! This is great fun and needs a lot of detective work and old maps. I see this one as possibly being a Kindle book rather than a print one.

JAIV:  Thank you Louise for joining us today for Part I of this interview! Louise is happy to answer any of your questions, so please ask away!

Stay tuned: Part II  tomorrow where I continue this interview with Louise on her Regency Romances and her thoughts on writing; followed by Part III, a book review of Walks Through Regency London

You can visit Louise’s website here and find her on Twitter @LouiseRegency

If you would like to order the Regency Walks book, you can do so directly from her website – I can attest to the book being mailed right away, arriving safe and sound and very quickly!

Thank you again Louise for joining us today – looking forward to continuing our discussion  tomorrow!

Book Giveaway:  Please enter the drawing for a copy of Walks Through Regency London, compliments of ‘Jane Austen in Vermont’, by asking Louise a question or commenting on any of the three posts about this book.  Drawing will take place next Wednesday 2 March 2011; comments accepted through 11 p.m. EST March 1st.  [Delivery worldwide.]

[All images excepting Dr. J from Louise Allen’s website]

Copyright @2011, Deb Barnum, at Jane Austen in Vermont.