The Antrim author who has written books on some of Britain's most famous aristocratic families - and whose work prompted one of the Mitford family to exclaim she detested her
Lyndsy Spence tells Laurence White how her fascination for the landed gentry and their stately piles was prompted by her great-granny, who had her own interesting lineage
The six Mitford sisters were probably the most caricatured and scandalous group of siblings of the 20th century described by some columnists as the duchess, the fascist, the communist, the Nazi, the novelist and the other one.
Two of them, Diana, who married British fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley and was jailed with him in Britain during the Second World War, and Unity, who was reputedly close to Hitler, had the most notorious reputations. Jessica adopted communism, Nancy became a novelist, Deborah married Andrew Cavendish and became the Duchess of Devonshire and Pamela, alone, managed to stay out of the headlines.
But whatever history makes of the sisters there is one Northern Ireland woman who is determined to keep their memory alive - and who says she owes every job she has had to them.
Lyndsy Spence (29), from Antrim, has written extensively on the Mitford sisters and founded a popular blog, the Mitford Society, in which she writes essays on the women and their contemporaries, as well as book reviews.
It may seem a strange fascination for a young girl who growing up was far removed from the aristocratic circles inhabited by the Mitfords, but Lyndsy says her great granny Sadie was a big influence on her.
"Even her own life story was fascinating," says Lyndsy. "My great-grandfather was Cuban and arrived in Belfast en route to the US from Europe after the Second World War. Sadie literally fainted at his feet in the centre of Belfast and he made sure that she got a taxi home. Obviously love blossomed from that encounter for they were married a short time later.
"There were a lot of fascinating people in that side of my family and I was actually able to trace my great granny's lineage back to a sister of William the Conquerer, although whether that means I have any aristocratic blood is a moot point."
Lyndsy says she always wanted to write - she did her degree course through the Open University because she didn't want to rack up huge student debts - and began writing as a hobby.
"At the time I thought it was just something quirky and old-fashioned to do but a few years ago I discovered there was a market for historical books," she says.
"I saw a documentary on The Lady magazine - founded in 1885 by Thomas Gibson Bowles, maternal grandfather of the Mitford sisters - and realised the interest in historical figures especially those to whom scandal was attached. Many of those were old film stars and that market seemed saturated, and I was drawn to the Mitfords. I was fascinated by how they had each gone off and found their own niches in life.
"My first book, The Mitford Girls' Guide to Life, was reviewed in The Lady magazine - the Queen actually subscribes to it - and afterwards the books editor asked me if I fancied a job on it. I now review books and write features for the magazine, but all my other opportunities in life have come through my writing on the Mitfords."
A lot of research is involved in compiling material for her books and blogs and such was the intertwined lives of the aristocracy that frequently ideas for new books or articles emerge from exploring those lives.
In her blog Lyndsy recalls the incredible story of the daughter of a German prince who was connected to many of Europe's royal families and who spent a lengthy part of her later life in Glenarm on the north Antrim coast.
Mariga Guinness - she was married to Desmond, a member of the famous brewing family, whose mother was Diana Mitford - helped reinvigorate that Irish Georgian Society which was credited with preserving some of the finest Georgian architecture on this island.
She moved to Glenarm when her marriage broke down and lived for a time in the old courthouse. It was a spartan existence, far removed from her previous gilded life.
Showing that nothing stands in the way of her research Lyndsy recalls how when she went to visit the Conolly Folly near Maynooth under which Mariga is buried she found the gate locked but managed to squeeze through the railings to stand next to the memorial. "Now I am going to fast like a snake if I am going anywhere that I think I may be barred from," she jokes.
Another career opportunity which has arisen recently due to her Mitfords writing is working with Zoe Rocha on luxury clothing brand Always Wear Red.
"Michael Owen, the co-founder, started following me on Twitter and became interested in the content on my blog. He thought it resonated with the brand, as they support individuality as well as drawing on Britain's fashion heritage.
"We started to chat and I've become involved in their brand's progression, as it's fairly new, and he bounces creative ideas off me. I gave him an idea for a scarf inspired by the women aviators from the Twenties etc, and that scarf is ready to launch later in the year."
Away from her writing Lyndsy is fascinated by abandoned grand country homes. Her interest was sparked by a visit to Cairndhu House, located in Carnfunnock Country Park off the Antrim Coast Road near Larne.
It is reputedly Northern Ireland's most haunted house and Lyndsy says that each time she has visited it she has felt a different energy.
She is part of a group which sources and explores similar abandoned homes. She admits she always brings companions with her.
"You never know if someone else is in there or what you will come across," she adds. "I love the idea of tracking down these properties and then the sense of adventure when you first go into them. You never know what you will find. It may be simply an old newspaper from the last day the house was occupied or it could be family photographs or other interesting personal relics.
"I love trying to piece together the history of the place from the things we find. You never know where these little clues will lead you."
There is one country pursuit beloved of the aristocracy which holds no appeal for Lyndsy - shooting. Recently, she went clay pigeon shooting with her brother and his girlfriend but admits she was rubbish at it. "The gun was nearly as big as I was. This was just clay pigeon shooting but I am against hunting so I cannot see me ever being out with a gun again."
Lyndsy, however, found herself in the sights - albeit it metaphorically - of a descendant of Diana Mitford. Diana's granddaughter Daphne Guinness launched a volley of criticism at her over her biography Mrs Guinness: The Rise And Fall of Diana Mitford.
In her outburst she described Lyndsy as a "charlatan" and "scurrilous" profiteer and said she was sick of people making money out of writing about her family. "I am a Mitford and I detest you," she added.
Lyndsy points out that the comments were made before Daphne read the book and that her cousin Patrick read it and loved it.
"However, the criticism bothered me. I worry that if someone is trying to find out something about me they will come across this criticism and get the wrong impression of my work and wonder what I did to upset the Guinness family. I just wish she had asked me to see the book first before making her comments," she says.
While admitting that she owes the Mitfords a great debt in her career to date, Lyndsy stresses that the book she is most attached to is one she wrote on the actress Margaret Lockwood. Her agent warned her that it would be difficult to get it published but she pushed ahead and found someone willing to take a chance on it.
"I didn't make much money out of it but it was a project I always wanted to do. I suppose it all goes back to my great granny and her love of the old movie stars. During my research I became friendly with Margaret's daughter, Julia, also an actress, and she gave me one of her mother's rings which she had worn in numerous movies and an Agatha Christie play. That is something I will always treasure."
Life is hectic for Lyndsy at present. She is busy writing a biography of Margaret, Duchess of Argyll, which will be published next year and two of her books - Margaret Lockwood: Queen of the Silver Screen and The Mistress of Mayfair: Men, Money and the Marriage of Doris Delevingne - are being published in paperback this year. She is also hopeful that the life of Doris Delevingne, great aunt of supermodel Cara and a noted courtesan of the 1930s, will be the subject of a television documentary this year.
Another project may take her to Cuba, home of her great-grandfather, to see where his family came from and also to research the lives of famous pre-revolution women.
One problem is Lyndsy's fear of flying - she always stipulates that any commission for her which involves travelling by plane includes paying for a companion.
Closer to home she also has her eyes on some local aristocracy whose lives she would like to commit to print. It seems there is no shortage of subject matter for this chronicler of the landed gentry.
For more information about Lyndsy's work go to www.facebook.com/themitfordsociety or www.themitfordsociety.wordpress.com