I began to plan The Chateau on the Lake with the vague thought that it would be interesting to write a love story set at the time of the French Revolution. I didn’t know much about it then but everyone knows that the starving poor rebelled against the greedy aristocrats and beheaded Louis XVI, don’t they? Except that, once I started to research, I quickly discovered that it wasn’t as straightforward as that.
France had been involved in several wars in Europe and America in the forty years leading up to the Revolution and the financial implications of this were considerable. The cost of maintaining the army severely depleted a treasury already drained by royal extravagance and the country was almost bankrupt.
There was no call on the titled nobility and the wealthy clergy to pay taxes and the burden of this fell on the bourgeoisie and the poor. This was manifestly unfair and the bourgeoisie began to rally support in the salons of Paris and London.
The discontent grew and an angry mob stormed the Bastille. In 1790 the nobility was abolished and two years later Louis XVI was guillotined. Soon France was not only at war with Austria, Prussia and Britain but also had to contend with bitter civil war and rioting.
It’s often perceived that the victims trundling their way to the guillotine in a tumbril were all powdered and patched aristocrats but this wasn’t the case. The great majority were working class who had taken up arms against the Revolution. Many ordinary people were denounced for very little reason and a terrifying atmosphere of suspicion and fear prevailed.
I began to wonder what it would be like to live in France as the Revolution gathered momentum. How would it feel to be in constant fear for your life? What if you were half French and half English and visiting France for the first time to search for relatives you hadn’t known existed? What if France declared war on England just as you arrived and you couldn’t go back? These questions intrigued me and so Madeleine Moreau, the heroine of The Chateau on the Lake, came into being.
More questions followed, thick and fast. Could Madeleine pass for a native French woman? How would she find a way to live undercover, whilst in perpetual fear of being denounced and guillotined as a spy? Would she maintain her idealistic pre-conceptions of the people’s revolution or would she discover that it was not at all how she’d imagined it would be?
As the Reign of Terror casts a dark shadow over the populace, two very different men become rivals for Madeleine’s affection. One is a forbidden love, a former noble, and the other his charming friend and estate manager who has high political aspirations. Madeleine cares for both men but she must take control of her own destiny and unravel the tangled secrets of the past before she can find future happiness.