In 1905, Alice Roosevelt accompanied William H. Taft on a trip to Asia. One of the newspapers referred to the trip as Alice in Wonderland: First Maiden of Land Will Travel to Orient. According to the news, Alice Roosevelt, would “cross the pacific in a floating palace” and “have her own suite of rooms.” At the time, William Taft was Teddy Roosevelt’s Secretary of War and the trip involved stops in Honolulu, the Philippines, Japan, Beijing, Hong Kong, and Korea. Apparently, Representative Nicholas Longworth was also on the trip which caused speculation of a romance between Alice and this particular politician.
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art features Alice Roosevelt’s diary entries from that trip along with a collection of photos. This treasure trove sparked a few ideas for The Admiral’s Wife.
Of particular interest was a photo of Alice standing on board dressed in a white jacket and skirt and a straw boater. I incorporated the essence of her outfit into The Admiral’s Wife. “Isabel crouched down, taking care not to wrinkle the white muslin jacket and long white skirt she’d put on that morning in anticipation of finally reaching their destination. White was impractical but it suited her fair skin and auburn hair, and she was keen to make a good impression.”
While in the Philippines, Alice and the delegation visited several islands including Jolo, where the Sultan of Sulu, apparently dazzled by Alice, proposed to her. According to the Marysville Daily, “The Sultan of Sulu, who has more wives already than most men have money, has laid his heart at the feet of Miss Alice Roosevelt, offered her his hand in marriage and declared himself willing to share his throne with her.”
The section of Alice Roosevelt’s diary of most interest to me was that concerning Hong Kong. Here she is talking about going to the races at Happy Valley Racetrack: “We went to the gay little racetrack, where the riders were mounted on native ponies. Besides the regular races they had a gymkhana, egg-and-spoon races, and the like, including a riksha-race in which I took part seated in a riksha.”
This notion of women riding in such a race inspired a brief scene where Isabel Taylor, the main character in the historical timeline, and the admiral’s wife, is with her friend Myrna Symington at Happy Valley Racetrack. Isabel has just won twenty pounds – a significant sum – on the steeplechase.
Further races followed the steeplechase, but none held the same excitement. Later that afternoon, while Henry and Miles went off to the stables, Isabel and Myrna watched a group of young men and women assemble at the far end of the field for a rickshaw race. The women sat in the vehicles; each man grasped the poles of his rickshaw ready to race to the finish line.
“There seems to be much hilarity amongst the racers,” Myrna said.
Isabel nodded. “Henry would never participate in something like that. He has already deemed it nonsense.”
Myrna raised one arm to wave at a woman wearing a bright yellow hat. “When we were younger, Miles would have wanted to be the winner of such a race.”
What always delights me is the unexpected treasures I find while researching. Such treasures may inspire scenes like the ones above, but they also contribute to the sense of time and place I’m trying to create and hover in the background while I write.
According to early reviews of The Admiral’s Wife, such research gems are resonating with readers:
Goodreads member Claire: “For me the stand-out 5+ star feature of this book is Hong Kong itself, past and present. I didn’t know the author had lived there until I finished the book, but she describes it so well, I wondered if she had. I could see the peak, the islands, the green. I felt the heat, the humidity, the rain, the wind. The noise and smells and crowds of the streets and the harbor, and the quiet oases hidden away in the city and the places people live surrounded me. I was there, and I loved it.”
Goodreads member Terry: “I felt the author whisked me away to Hong Kong and I felt as if I was walking the streets with the characters – going up and down the hills – and enjoying the magnificent panaromas. The descriptions were detailed, especially during the typhoon. I could feel the wind and rain on my face.”
The Admiral’s Wife: The lives of two women living in Hong Kong more than a century apart are unexpectedly linked by forbidden love and financial scandal.
M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel is THE ADMIRAL’S WIFE, a dual timeline set in Hong Kong. Mary’s other novels, PARIS IN RUINS, TIME AND REGRET, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Google Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.