By far the best advice I ever received from my editor/mentor was to write a good story, you have to base part of it on your own experiences. The obvious reason is the story has to be believable. Tea with Henry was set in my grandfather’s house in New Jersey. It was built in 1710. I moved it to Princeton where my main character, Amelia Wainwright, worked as a professor of Tudor history. As was the case with the real Sydenham House, it once belonged to Amelia’s grandfather. You’ll see photos taken by our friend who visited in 1999. They are PDF files, but open them when you’re done reading this and you can envision my scenes through my eyes because I describe what I experienced and saw while living in this amazing piece of historical architecture.
I replaced my dog, Gina, with Eddie, a Maine Coon cat. Eddie existed as a beloved rescue until he passed away in 2014. His character was my homage to his beautiful soul. Henry and Anne Boleyn took a tumble down the stairs and Amelia’s friend, Irene, sees the ghost of Anne Boleyn staring out one of the second floor windows pictured as well. The grape arbor existed and you can see some of the vines and part of the arbor as well.
Setting a historical scene was easy since I had lived in a historical house. The feel and smell of it were different from a new or more modern home. The walls were two-feet-thick and made of lathing and plaster inside. The furniture was awful and uncomfortable, and George Washington had sought shelter for his troops there en route to New York. They were refused due to lack of enough ale or beer, bread, and cheese according to a letter I found in a drawer. The floor planks were almost two-feet-wide. Electric light was swallowed by the cavernous spaces and the lighting was never good, no matter how bright the sun outside. In a way, the house became a portal in America for Amelia to reach Tudor England, where she met Henry in Hampton Court Palace as it was in his heyday.
Every book I’ve written contains many elements of fact. Whether it be an event from my own life, or stories gleaned from others, places I’ve been, lived, and worked. I recalled when my mentor gave me the advice about keeping it real. I resisted the good words then, but now, I get it. It’s true and will make your story even more believable.