|Copyright Rowan Coleman|
I first visited the Bronte Parsonage Museum on a rainy day when I was about ten years old, and it made a lasting impact on me. That day I discovered a passion for the Brontë family, their novels and lives, that would never fade, playing an integral part in my journey to becoming an author myself. Their breath-taking talent, boundless imagination, determination and resilience has always been a constant inspiration to me. I love the combination of resourceful and fearless female characters with dark and often dangerous plots and settings that made the novels of all three sisters genuinely revolutionary at the time. Combine that with my love of a really good, old fashioned gothic mystery and it’s not too hard to see how The Vanished Bride came about in something of a lightbulb moment.
I was in the process of writing my latest Rowan Coleman novel, ‘The Girl At The Window’ - a haunting historical mystery spanning three centuries set in Brontë country. As was writing it I vaguely wondered if it would be possible to weave in cameos of my literary heroes, Charlotte, Emily and Anne investigating the mystery that the story is centred on. But the moment I had the idea I thought that it might be big enough to be a book in its own right. And so, The Vanished Bride, and with it the pen name Bella Ellis, was born.
I’m not naturally inclined to mess around with other author’s literary legacies, and to be honest knowing how very passionate Brontë fans are about the sisters and their novels, I was as petrified by the idea as I was excited about it. But then I realised, this isn’t about modernising their work, or retelling their novels. It’s about imaging an exciting, secret and brand-new adventure based around the true story of the Bronte family. It seems entirely possible to me that these three bright, curious and proactive young women would want to get to the bottom of a local mystery, given the opportunity.
The Vanished Bride is the first in a series of Victorian mystery novels, it imagines that before they were authors, Charlotte, Emily and Anne were also amateur sleuths, heading out across the moors to solve local crimes and misdemeanours, often with Branwell at their side. It opens in 1845 when the whole family are all reunited at the Parsonage for a long time, Charlotte is still in the grip of her unrequited passion for her former tutor Monsieur Héger, Branwell has brought scandal down on the whole family by having an affair with his employer’s wife, Mrs Robinson of Thorp Green which meant that Anne, who also worked there, was obliged to resign. The parsonage is a full and fractious house full to the brim with repressed emotion and discontent. It’s against this backdrop that and they receive news that a young wife and mother that has vanished, leaving behind a blood-soaked room. Realising this shocking crime happened at Chester Grange, where their friend is working as a governess, means they can’t resist the opportunity to find out more. What begins as a distraction soon becomes a mission and the three women realise that no one is really trying to find out what happened to Elizabeth Chester.
Using their letters, contemporary recollections of them, and a great deal of brilliant biographies from Mrs Gaskell up until the present day, I have woven biographical detail into the plot, including the fall-out from Thorp Green and Charlotte’s stay in Brussels. Also, I ‘reverse engineered’ their novels to speculate about what mysteries and experiences might have inspired them, opening up worlds of possibilities. My fictional versions of the family are created with love, humour and the deepest regard and writing The Vanished Bride really has been a labour of love, solid research, coupled with a flight of imagination and my hope is that I have written an entertaining, affectionate and satisfying novel that - with a bit of luck - will bring new readers to the works and lives of these three incredible women.
So if you decide to enter the wild and windswept world of The Vanished Bride I sincerely hope you are thoroughly entertained by what you discover there.
The Vanished Bride: The Bronte Mysteries by Bella Ellis (Published by Hodder & Stoughton) £14.99 Out Now
Yorkshire, 1845. A young woman has gone missing from her home, Chester Grange, leaving no trace, save a large pool of blood in her bedroom and a slew of dark rumours about her marriage. A few miles away across the moors, the daughters of a humble parson, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Bronte are horrified, yet intrigued. Desperate to find out more, the sisters visit Chester Grange, where they notice several unsettling details about the crime scene: not least the absence of an investigation. Together, the young women realise that their resourcefulness, energy and boundless imaginations could help solve the mystery - and that if they don't attempt to find out what happened to Elizabeth Chester, no one else will. The path to the truth is not an easy one, especially in a society which believes a woman's place to be in the home, not wandering the countryside looking for clues. But nothing will stop the sisters from discovering what happened to the vanished bride, even as they find their own lives are in great peril...