A Peek at the Dancing Bear with Author Jessie Lewis
I love the Regency era and am lucky enough to be surrounded by historical buildings and places here in England, many of which have been inspirational to my writing. I thought it would be fun to share a few pictures of those that inspired the setting for this particular story.
In Speechless, Darcy and Elizabeth are stranded together at an inn called The Dancing Bear, owned by the kindly Mr Timmins.
The inn boasts a large stuffed bear at the foot of the stairs, which Elizabeth nicknames Mr Collins. You would be forgiven for thinking this is a little odd, since bears are not native to the UK—or if they ever were, it was a really long time ago.
In fact, I based The Dancing Bear on a real pub called The Bear of Rodborough, situated in the Cotswolds. It’s so called because it famously has a large stuffed bear in its foyer. (The bear was presumably hunted and imported at some point in the past, the ethics of which I shall not venture to discuss here!)
A big scary bear just seemed to suit the location of Mr Timmins’ inn—on the outskirts of a village, surrounded by woods—as well as the events that take place there, which are, at least at the beginning, pretty frightening for our dear couple. Thus, The Dancing Bear was conceived.
The room in which Darcy and Elizabeth spend most of their time in the story belongs to Mr Timmins’ sister, who acts as a housekeeper-come-cook. Her role is pertinent because it demanded certain features be in the room that were essential to the story. I took the inspiration for this room from the housekeeper’s apartments at the beautifully restored Regency Townhouse in Brighton (a visit to which I heartily recommend to anyone interested in Regency life).
The room at the townhouse (pictured) differs from the one in Speechless in that it is bright and
airy as opposed to dark, dingy and cluttered—but it was the design of the space that really interested me. Purpose-built for a housekeeper by the C19th architect, it has a large walk-in cupboard where she would have kept all the most expensive domestic items carefully locked away. You’ll have to read the story to find out why this was such an important feature to have in the room, though…
The taproom at The Dancing Bear is themed around the interior of a wonderful old hotel in my own hometown of Hertford. The Salisbury Arms (originally The Bell) is a coaching inn dating back to the fifteenth century. It has two front parlours, a taproom and a restaurant; three more rooms than I gave The Dancing Bear, which only has one taproom. The gorgeous old room in this picture shows the mixture of bricks, plaster and timber frame that I imagine made up the walls of Mr Timmins’ humble inn.
In complete contrast to all of this is Darcy’s townhouse. I admit, I have never visited the place in this picture. I’m not even sure where it was taken—it’s an image I stumbled across on the internet a long time ago—but I used it to help me envisage one of the most pivotal scenes in the story. Not, as you might think, for the splendour, though it is beautiful. In fact, it was, again, the layout that inspired me. The logistics of where things are in whatever imaginary world I’m writing about can prove problematic if I don’t have a clear idea of that space. Characters can end up whispering to someone too far away to hear, walking through a door that wasn’t there moments before, sitting down in a chair where another character is already perched ... the potential for pitfalls is endless. I find that having in mind a particular room I’ve visited or seen in a photo, or even sketched out on paper, helps me better inhabit the space I’m describing, thereby ensuring that what I write makes sense. The way the furniture is arranged in a circle around this particular room, with one chair closest to the door, from which a person might hold a quiet conversation with someone half-in and half-out of the room whilst everyone else talks amongst themselves, proved remarkably useful to a certain gentleman protagonist in Speechless. Of course, I also like to think of Darcy’s houses as tastefully and gorgeously decorated, so this photo was no hardship to work with.
So, there is a small glimpse of the world I lived in while I was writing Speechless. I hope your readers have just as much fun imagining their own setting for Darcy and Elizabeth if they have the chance to read the story themselves.