Writing historical fiction means I do a lot of research. I love discovering facts or glimpses of life that give colour and authenticity to the background and period in which the story is set.
This was a small piece I came across in a microfiche copy of the ‘Sherborne Mercury’ of October 1795.
‘WHEREAS my wife, ELIZABETH TAYLOR, has lately absconded from me without any provocation whatever, and has been desired, by a respectable person in the neighbourhood of Churston Ferrers, as well as by me, to return to live with me, which she did for a short time, but has since left me again: This is to inform her that I shall be very happy to live with her in case she will return, and will maintain her in a degree suitable to my situation. But in case she will not return to live with me, I do hereby give her, and the publick in general, notice that I will not pay any debts she may contract. As witness my hand, EDWARD TAYLOR.’
What drove her to leave? Was he mean? Brutal? A skinflint? Was she young? Flighty? A wealthy widow? Who is the respectable person asking her to return, and what business is it of his/hers? Is her husband’s notice a genuine plea to her to come back, or simply a legal requirement to he can disclaim all financial responsibility? What is his situation? Why, having risked public disgrace by leaving the first time did she return? Did he promise things would be different? Did she realise she had made a mistake by leaving, that the grass is not greener and a married woman without the protection of a husband is vulnerable? But then she left again. Had she come back to try and get more money from him? Was she pregnant? Was he determined to punish her for making him a laughing stock among his friends and business acquaintance? Where will she go now? Is she alone, or is there a lover?
Questions prompted by snippets like this bring the past to vivid life, and suddenly I have more ideas for characters and plot threads than I can possibly use in one book. That is the joy and frustration of research.