Letters to Istanbul: dramatic scenery, an overly literal heroine, found family, sexual tension of the unexpected variety, and the importance of a room of one’s own

Skyline of modern Istanbul, from Galata where the Featherstones lived

Letters to Istanbul — novel blurb

 

1820

When Rose boards a ship from London to Istanbul, leaving behind everything familiar and good, she is not even sure if Owen Featherstone loves her – or is offering to marry her just to be polite. 

When Lillianna finds a loving partner after she is widowed, she is willing to follow Jimini Featherstone anywhere – even Istanbul.

But life in the cosmopolitan city on the Silk Road is hardly simple for the sheltered English gentlewomen. Introverted Rose realizes she doesn’t know anything about building relationships, and Lillianna doesn’t dare leave her compound by herself. They need to reach out beyond the charismatic Featherstone siblings and create their own community.

 When Jimini makes some spontaneous decisions and Owen’s job becomes more complicated, Rose and Lillianna need to count on their own strengths… and they need to have faith in what love really means to them.

This is an LBGTQIA+ story of love and self-discovery, with a focus on the A.

This is a small piano of the period, currently displayed at Kenwood House.

Rose grew up in an intellectual household. She was proud of learning ancient languages and even published scholarly articles under her father’s name. She took for granted the “womanly arts,” like practicing pianoforte every day and taking art and music lessons.

When she arrives in Istanbul, it is eventually her skill on the pianoforte that connects her to her new community, both among expatriate Europeans and the Turks she cannot speak with. She has something to offer. Her ability to create music transcends both her own social awkwardness and her lack of a common language.

Status Update:

Letters to Istanbul is in the writing process, although I have taken a pause to focus on Celia’s duology. Hopefully this manuscript will be in edits in late 2024.

I am very excited about this book, and I’ve wanted to take the time to do it properly. Istanbul is a city which has engaged my heart, and this is an interesting period in its history: a period of cultural and intellectual development right before revolution changed everything. I am also excited about writing Rose, and bringing to life a romance story about an asexual heroine.

Contact me if you are interested in being on the beta reader team for this book.

Searching for Resources:

I am always interested in as many resources as I can find, and personal experience is especially welcome. If you have suggestions for resources or lived experience with any of the following that you would like to share with me, please let me know:

  • anything on early 19thC Istanbul or the Ottoman Empire
  • collections of art, stories, dance, etc, from any of the cultures living in Istanbul in this time period
  • gay and lesbian communities in the early 19th century in Europe — I would especially appreciate if I can find a scholar who has studied this period and identifies as lesbian as well
  • perspectives about a positive, realistic portrayal of a fat heroine
  • perspectives about a positive, realistic portrayal of a romance-positive asexual

What Inspired “Letters to Istanbul”?

this fascinating information coming soon

Turkish living room
Rose’s living room might have looked more or less like this.
This is a museum display at the Antalya Ethnographic Museum, which was an absolutely incredible resource.

Wait — is it Istanbul or Constantinople?

After extensive research, including perspectives from people living in modern Istanbul, I have come to the conclusion that the characters in this book would have called the city “Istanbul.”

This city has been called many names throughout history, often simultaneously by different linguistic and ethnic groups. The most common have been variations on Byzantium, Constantinople, Stamboul, and Istanbul — all of which would have been in use in the early 1800’s. When the British build the Orient Express line to this city, the Victorians codified calling the city by the Anglicized version of the Greek, Constantinople. Before then, my research suggests that the English would have called the city either Constantinople or Istanbul, and by the late 19th century British writers living there were definitely using Stamboul or Stanbul. (Here is one article) Stamboul or Stanbul usually refers to the inner city in the palace area, and the Featherstones would have lived in Galata, which had more of a European community, but “Letters to Galata” just didn’t sound right.

But in the city itself, most ethnic groups including the Turks were using the name Istanbul. (The Greeks have always and still do call it Constantinople.) In Letters to Istanbul, the Featherstone siblings lived in the city when their father was stationed there and they both speak Turkish fluently. It makes sense that they would call it “Istanbul,” and the English characters would have picked up their usage. Besides, Mr Thompson also had a particularly global interest, so he also would have used the international name rather than the British/Greek version.

I had a fleeting desire to be able to put “Stamboul” or some other interestingly historic name in the title, so readers would know that I had done my research. However, the research proves that the modern name would have been the most correct for the 1820’s, so “Letters to Istanbul” it is!

Pictures from the Galata region of Istanbul, near where Rose & Owen lived. They apparently hung colored lanterns on trees in their day, too! 19thC picture of the Galata tower and nearby streets from the Galata Kulesi Museum, and larger buildings on the main street.