|Photos courtesy of the author|
Last August, I dragged my sun-hating, heat-hating husband to Wyoming for our holiday. A strange thing to do, you might think. But read on – I had my reasons …
… which relate to a book. Naturally. Let me wind the clock back to early last year when I was driving along to meet a friend for lunch, all the time thinking about what to write after The Road Back. The radio was on in the background, and I suddenly heard the words ‘mail-order brides’. I mentally sat up - I’ve always thought the idea of mail-order brides most romantic. My imagination went into overdrive, and I knew I’d found the pivotal story point for my next novel.
The radio programme was about mail-order brides in modern day Russia. But Russia didn’t excite me – I like the heat too much. However, I knew that mail-order brides were fairly common in the pioneering days of the American West, and by the time I’d reached the lunch venue, I’d set my novel in Wyoming.
In the days that followed, I worked out the story of widower Conn Maguire, a second generation homesteader, whose parents had staked their claim south of the Overland Trail, the route whereby the early pioneers crossed Wyoming from east to west, on their way to destinations such as California, Oregon and Utah.
Conn’s eight-year old daughter, Bridget, was about to start school and could no longer help with the woman’s work around the place, so Conn advertised for a wife. A wife, not a housekeeper – he wanted a son who could take over running the homestead in the fullness of time. Enter Ellen O’Sullivan.
Had I set my story in the 1850s or 1860s, my research would have been easy as there’s a mass of information about this period, but despite buying many books and using the internet, there was little to be found about life in a second generation homesteading family in the late 1880s. I didn’t want to make an educated guess – I wanted to know the answers to my questions. And that’s where our holiday in Wyoming comes in.
Of course, I could have set my story in an earlier year, which would be easier to research, but I deliberately chose 1887 for the reason that …
But since the answer lies in the pages of A Bargain Struck, I won’t risk repeating myself but will leave you there.
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Liz Harris can be found at