Swoon Author Samantha Hastings' First Draft Report: 14 Years (and a Few Centuries) Later
The idea for The Last Word came to me when I was reading Elizabeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters—a very thick Victorian novel. For the last fifty pages of the book, I nervously kept hoping that Gaskell would start wrapping things up. Then I turned the last page and saw the Editor’s Note saying that Mrs. Gaskell had died and explained how she would have finished the story. I was shocked and disappointed. I didn’t get to read the end of the story and witness for myself how the two main characters finally got together.
This experience gave me the idea to write a story about an unfinished book and a determined heroine who needed to know the end of the story. But it took me fourteen more years before I was able to create my own two main characters: Miss Lucinda Leavitt and Mr. David Randall.
The Time Period
Originally, I planned on setting the story in 1865—the same year that Elizabeth Gaskell died (bottom right picture). But while doing background research on the Victorian period, I read about an event that happened in 1861 and I knew that I needed to include it in my story (no spoilers).
Just like today, fashion in the Victorian Era was ever-changing. I checked out several books on Victorian fashion from my local library and zeroed in on the early 1860s. As you can see from the top picture, female clothing at this time was very ornate. Geometric patterns were in vogue, as well as flounces (layered skirts). But the most interesting piece of women’s clothing in the Victorian era, in my humble opinion, was what was worn underneath the skirt—the infamous crinoline (bottom left picture).
I couldn’t resist having Lucinda Leavitt and David Randall go through Reading, England, where I went to graduate school. They visit the Reading Abbey ruins (left picture), Forbury Gardens (top right), and the Abbey Gate (bottom right) where Jane Austen briefly attended school from 1785-1786.
Jane Austen reportedly fainted when she heard that she and her parents were moving to Bath, England. But I loved the City of Bath from the moment I stepped off the bus.
Lucinda Leavitt and David Randall visit Bath, attend a musical concert in the Assembly Rooms (bottom left picture), and drink the famous healing waters of the Pump Room (bottom right picture).
After mulling over the idea for fourteen years, the actual writing of the story was very fast. My original draft of The Last Word took less than two months to write. I started out by outlining my manuscript, with Lucinda Leavitt and David Randall alternating the POV for each chapter.
Once I finished the manuscript, I sent it out to some friends and family to read and give feedback. Then I took a break from the story for a month so that I could see it again with fresh eyes. After reading and revising it several more times, I uploaded it to the Swoon Reads website. And as they say, the rest was history… or at least historical fiction.