Beautiful Grounds

Diane’s post on Mapping the Ton had me thinking about settings and how we use them in our stories, whether they are real places or our own creations.

I often like to do country settings, perhaps because I have so many happy memories of walking and riding through the English countryside. I sometimes choose counties I’ve visited. Sometimes I choose an area based on the mood of the story or what seems right for my characters.

I used a Sussex setting for LORD LANGDON’S KISS, as that’s where I lived during my UK assignment and thus knew best. For THE INCORRIGIBLE LADY CATHERINE, I wanted a setting that was wilder, to match my rather tempestuous heroine. I ended up using the northern Lake District, around Ullswater. I even had my characters stroll through the area that inspired Wordsworth’s famous poem about the daffodils and was delighted with how the art department depicted that scene (I am less delighted with the depiction of the hero, but enough of that!) I used the Cotswolds for THE REDWYCK CHARM; I felt the more rolling, pleasant landscape suited to the lighter story.

SAVING LORD VERWOOD had a darker thread, which I thought worked best in the far reaches of Cornwall (all sorts of cool ancient sites and great craggy cliffs to push people off). When inventing fictional stately homes, I like to use real houses from the same area as inspiration. Not that I incorporate every detail of the architecture or imitate exact floor plans, but I like to know some of the materials and building styles used. Though I adore Palladian mansions, for Verwood’s home I wanted something older. I found what I was seeking in Trerice House, pictured above. I think the art department captured the essence very nicely (the hero looks hot, too.) 🙂

For LADY DEARING’S MASQUERADE I used Finchcocks as inspiration. It’s a lovely Georgian manor in Kent that also houses a museum of historical keyboard instruments (well worth a visit). Among the cover art suggestions, I also included a picture of an orchard in Kent, with a traditional oast house (used for drying hops) in the background.

So I don’t know how the cover ended up the way it did. Though I do like the overall layout and the color, the close up is reminding me of how very UN-Colin-Firth-like the hero looks. And that hair is giving me the shakes!

Moving on to my current work-in-progress. Part of the story will be set in Norfolk, so I have been looking around for inspiration from real stately homes there.

Holkham Hall (home of Coke of Norfolk of agricultural fame, pictured to the left) is gorgeous but not quite what I have in mind for this story. Felbrigg Hall (on the right) is a possibility.

However, Mannington Hall (pictured below, a medieval manor house now better known for its gardens) is very appealing. It even has a moat! I’ve already written a hero who owned a stone circle but never one with a moat. That could be interesting…

What sorts of settings do you enjoy? Do you have favorite counties, or favorite stately homes?

If you write, how do you come up with imaginary settings?

And do you enjoy seeing settings used in cover art? Personally, I tend to prefer them over clinches and headless male torso covers. Maybe like Elizabeth Bennet, I’m a pushover for “beautiful grounds.”


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Amanda McCabe
14 years ago

Thank you so much for sharing all these images, Elena! I agree that finding just the right setting for a story is a big part of the fun. 🙂 (and recognizing homes I’ve either visited or researched in movies is fun, too…)

On the Regency tour a few years ago, we visited Finchcocks and heard a lovely concert there. I remember the front lawn was lovely, but there was lots of goose poop!

14 years ago

Hi, Elena. Thank you for the lovely pix of stately homes. They are entirely sigh-worthy!

Here’s a resource I use for dreaming up settings, from historical to contemporary:


It’s a UK company that handles location scouting for films & has a huge database with multiple pictures of each property. So if you want a Georgian manor house on a private island in the Thames, for ex., punch in 11197.

If you want a London church-converted-to-loft property, check out 8015.

You can also search by tag, as in “domestic gardens,” “Thames views,” etc.

Happy hunting!

Diane Gaston
14 years ago

greta, what a treasure of a site. Thank you for sharing.

Amanda, I remember Finchcocks as one of the highlights of that trip.

Elena Greene
14 years ago

Wow, what a cool site, Greta! I am bookmarking it. One site that I often use is http://www.picturesofengland.com.

Louisa Cornell
14 years ago

Thanks for the lovely post, Elena and for the great resources too. I do like to have photographs and a basic layout of my hero and/or heroine’s home and some of the other important places in my stories. Because LIL opens on a Yorkshire moor I had to do a little research and found a great Yorkshire National Trust site with photos of the moors, etc. Wonderful stuff!

Amanda McCabe
14 years ago

Louisa, I did a Yorkshire-set book once and found a great source on landscapes and local mythology in “James Herriot’s Yorkshire”–a great book.

La Belle Americaine
14 years ago

I have a weakness for Cornwall and the Home Counties. As for my favorite manor homes/country seats: Cliveden is tops. Blenheim Palace and Chatsworth are runners up. In Scotland…Floors Castle all the way.

Cara King
14 years ago

Ah, Norfolk is nice (says Cara, very biased.) Lots of fast winds, lots of flint churches, lots of wet ground… 🙂


Cara King
14 years ago

Oh, yeah, I also meant to say… Though Holkham is fantastically beautiful, it doesn’t seem to fit in Norfolk, does it? Felbrigg seems to fit better. (I’d never heard of Mannington, I confess! and it sounds nice too.)

(who uses the word “nice” too often)

14 years ago

I like lots of different kinds of stories, so I wouldn’t say that setting is always critical to me; but I do enjoy the kind of novel where the setting is very highly realized, and seems like a character in the story.

A few examples that occur to me off the top of my head: the Paris Opera in The Phantom of the Opera; Cornanagh in Anne McCaffrey’s The Lady; the Library in Lirael by Garth Nix; London in many of the Sherlock Holmes stories; and Bath in Northanger Abbey. (Strangely, the abbey itself doesn’t work as well for me.)


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