Somerville College

I spent most of book 1 of the Portia Adam’s adventures, referring to the College she attended as ‘Queen’s College’, a made-up name that I intended to replace with a real college when I got around to doing the research.

That time is now, and I believe I have picked

Somerville College 1907, Oxford

Somerville College as Portia’s educational centre. As part of Oxford College, it is a little out-of-the way – an hour by tube from Baker Street to Oxford, but it fits the bill in every other way.

It was a degree-granting institution (since 1920) and didn’t admit men until the late 1900s. The principal at the time Portia would have attended was named Helen Darbishire and in the 1930s, the College was actually expanding (despite the Great Depression).

Wikipedia article on Somerville College
Somerville College’s own history pages
London’s best historic houses, palaces and stately homes

From Scotland Yard to 10 Downing Street

I was writing a scene where Portia hops in a cab to get from Scotland Yard to Downing Street, but it occurred to me that those locations might not be far apart – glad I checked!

What is the plural for Bobby?

a British Bobby
a British Bobby

Ah ha, the things you will learn on this blog my friends!

The plural for Bobby (slang for an English police officer, named after the man who first organized the British police force – Sir Robert Peel) is Bobbies. “Bobbys” is not a word in the English dictionary.

I’d love to tell you where this image on the left came from and give credit where credit is due, but I have been unable to chase it down further than here.

Also of interest in this subject line is that the Constables were also called Peelers (the name obviously coming from the same man) and that Peel established several principles of policing that are still very relevant today. You can read his nine principles here at the New Westminister Police Department website.

The uniforms for the Bobbies varied, but you should see how the helmets changed! There’s thankfully an entire site dedicated to archiving images of historical helmets of our favourite British Constables here.

Adding some locations from Book 6 to the Google Map

Screen cap modification of a Google Map
Portia’s London

I added two more locations to Portia’s London – that of WhiteChapel, where Portia’s newest clients are from and ply their trade, and of Mecklenburgh Park where they meet.
There is a lot of history to the area, and after Portia’s time, quite a few famous authors and literary types called Mecklenburgh home. Read more about it at Wikipedia:

UPDATE: The WordPress Daily Challenge for Jan 7, 2013 was called ‘Map it Out‘ so I totally nailed that one friends!

Historical accuracy

Philippa Gregory
Philippa Gregory

Historical fiction seems to be about a careful weaving of facts that can be verified and the stories you tell around them. This is most evident in Philippa Gregory‘s books about the royals in Britain, a series of books I think I own entirely in hardcover (demonstrating my respect for them).

In an interview posted on AbeBooks, she says ” In historical fiction, you have to imagine conversations that may have happened, based on the historical facts.”

I wonder if that also extends to deaths of historical figures where the cause of death goes undocumented (as far as I can tell through my research)?

Scouting locations

In addition to always keeping my map front of mind, I spent most of today researching (yay – Wikipedia is back!) appropriate locations for Elaine Barclay’s extravagant wedding.

Elaine is of course from Book 2: A Case of Darkness, and has returned for a brief cameo in the form of her wedding that will take place in Book 5, which I am currently writing.

Lancaster House layout from Wikipedia
Lancaster House layout from Wikipedia

I think Lancaster House (renamed from its original name Stafford House in 1912) is an apt location for both such an event and for the items I need to be present during the reception (mysterious enough for you? 😉
One of the main reasons to use this building is that “From 1924 until shortly after World War II, the house was the home of the London Museum, but it is now used for government receptions and is closed to the public except on rare open days.” (Source: Wikipedia)

Perfect. Next step: figure out what could have been part of the collection being housed at the Lancaster House in 1931.

Relevant Links

Time to start writing that query letter methinks:  this site called AgentQuery had some interesting suggestions:

Paragraph One—The Hook: A hook is a concise, one-sentence tagline for your book. It’s meant to hook your reader’s interest, and wind them in. The best way to understand how to write a hook is to read the loglines of the titles sold by agents in our free searchable AQ database.

Paragraph Two—Mini-synopsis: This is where you get to distill your entire 300 page novel into one paragraph. Lucky you. We’d like to offer advice on how to do this, but really, it just takes practice, hard work and lots of patience. Then, like we said before, get your friends to read it and if their heads hurt afterwards, go back to the drawing board. We don’t envy you. We really don’t. Summing up your entire book in an intriguing single paragraph is worse than a root canal.

Paragraph Three—Writer’s bio: This should be the easiest part of your query. After all, it’s about you, the writer. Okay, so it’s a bit daunting, especially if you’ve never been published, never won any awards, hold no degrees from MFA writing schools, and possess no credentials to write your book. No problem. The less you have to say, the more space you have for your mini-synopsis. Always a plus.

Your Closing: Congratulations! You’ve finished your query letter. As a formal closing, be sure to do two things. First, thank the agent for her time and consideration. Second, if it’s nonfiction, tell them that you’ve included an outline, table of contents, and sample chapters for their review. If it’s fiction, alert the agent that the full manuscript is available upon request. And in case you still don’t believe us, we want to reiterate: don’t query agents until you’ve finished your full fiction manuscript. Agents will want to read the whole novel before they offer representation to you and your book.