Hidden Gems

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

I just got back from London late last week, and, as always, I loved exploring the city and discovering hidden gems – places or items that I find provide unexpected insight or inspiration for my writing. That’s partly why I love traveling for research as well as fun (book research is, after all, always fun for me!) – I get to immerse myself for a brief time in the sights and smells of a place I hope to bring to life in my books. This time, I had no specific research needs and was busy showing my mother-in-law the sights, but nonetheless those hidden gems were still there to be discovered.

The first of these came on our trip to Kew GardensIMG_3711 when we discovered Kew Palace (which hitherto I hadn’t visited). Inside I discovered a little Georgian gem which unexpectedly fed into my current middle grade WIP. There was a hidden staircase for the servants to enter and leave rooms without bothering their occupants, mourning heraldry to be displayed in the event of a death in the family and a meal laid out representing  one of the last meals George III ate (I always love learning more about food!). There was also a wonderful physic garden with some interesting medicinal herbs that I will be able to incorporate into the book as well.

The next few gems were found during a visit to the lovely V&A museum when I discovered an illustrated herbal book that had been digitized and open to the very hIMG_3593erb I was using in another WIP of mine (references to which are found in Greek mythology). I then also discovered an instrument called a claviorgan decorated with the story of Orpheus – an instrument that could slip in nicely to a chapter in this same WIP. I was probably way too excited about these two finds that any normal tourist would be!

IMG_3604By the time we travelled to Bath I was ready for the next few gems, including a reference to a potential character in the Bath abbey and a visit to a charming town in the Cotswolds that had a small medieval church and graveyard that could totally be used in a future book.


You can obviously tell how much I love deriving inspiration from places I’ve been and the hidden gems I discover are always unexpected and exciting. Sometimes they even spark brand new novel ideas (now just to find the time to write them…).

So TKZers what hidden gems have you discovered on your travels that helped inspire your work?


10 thoughts on “Hidden Gems

  1. Clare, sounds like some exciting discoveries.

    I took my wife to Amish country in northern Ohio, for a Mother’s Day get away, and to do some research for my next book.

    Sitting in one of the best known restaurants in the area (Boyd and Wurthman’s), I heard the locals call the restaurant “Boyds”. My antennas went up.

    Biggest gem of the weekend was found in a museum. I was looking for a copy of Martyrs Mirror, brought to America in 1750 by one of my mother’s ancestors. I knew the owner was going to donate it to the museum, but it hadn’t happened yet. However, right beside the collection of historical Martyrs Mirrors was a display of old Bibles. And in the middle was “The Johannes Holly Bible”. Johannes Holly was the first Hooley to come to American (also in 1750). I had no idea the Bible even existed.

    Yes, research and hidden gems are fun.

  2. Loved hearing about your discovered gems, Clare! Years ago my dad retired to live in a remote West Texas town, Ft. Davis, which is home to a frontier-era fort (now a museum). I was greatly inspired by my visit to the fort and its surrounding area. In particular, I focused on the story of one soldier who had served with the 10th cavalry at Ft. Davis. I wrote his story into a screenplay called FIRST LIEUTENANT. (The screenplay was optioned by a studio a couple of times, but alas, never made it into theaters). While I was in Fort Davis, collecting material and doing research, I was like a sponge, soaking up detail wherever I looked.

  3. Clare, I lived in the Cotswolds for twenty years. Let me know if you use it and I might be able to provide some additional information.

  4. Oh man, so many examples it’s hard to remember them all.

    The windmill at the Longchamp race course in Paris, one of three mill still left in the city. It was once part of a nunnery. We put a dead body inside.

    Sutro Baths in San Francisco, this vast empty haunted place out on the ocean near the west end of Golden Gate park. It was once a gigantic Victorian bathhouse but now it’s just ruins.

  5. The great hall at Ellis Island, seen from mid-stairs, so you can take in the whole room (above the museum displays) as well as the small tiles that cover the ceiling;
    The San Diego/Sante Fe Railroad Station in San Diego (CA);
    The view from the helipad at Halifax Hospital, Daytona Beach, where you can see the racetrack and the Atlantic beaches;
    And I’m DC:
    The Pope Rotunda at the National Gallery (West),
    The entry to the Korean War Memorial,
    The Hall of Rememberence at the Holocaust Memorial ~ from the center of the space, not the edges.

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