Sunday, May 28, 2006

Regency wallpaper

Recently, there’s been yet another discussion about accuracy and “wallpaper historicals” on a message board, so I thought I’d tell you my story.

I wrote a book called NOBLESSE OBLIGE (well that was the title it ended up with!) about a shy man and the lady he fell in love with, a lady’s companion. The duke in the story isn’t a go-getting alpha, but a nice man, the kind you marry after dating the other kind for a few years. The heroine wasn’t kick-butt, but knew where she stood in life and what she had to do to make a living. I liked her, because her practicality went much further than mere defiance. Her mistress was a wealthy slut, and as soon as the hero hove in view, she went after him, using my heroine as her go-between.

The story was set in Yorkshire, beginning in Scarborough, continuing to York and going on to a stately home remarkably like Castle Howard, but set a few miles further North, near Harrogate.

I sent this book off to a US publisher who was very interested. Only – could I make the hero an alpha, and give him a mistress? Could I also set it in London, while I was at it? And how about giving the heroine a title, making her not the daughter of a country vicar, but the daughter of, say, a duke?

Well I tried, I really did. But in the end I couldn’t do it all. The hero turned before my eyes into the cardboard love-em-and-leave-em alpha, the heroine, while not the daughter of a duke (I just couldn’t do that!) turned into the kind of woman who wouldn’t have lasted five minutes as a lady’s companion. The subplot with the mistress turned into the usual stuff about jealousy and misunderstanding.

I couldn’t stand it.

However, the publisher helped me with one thing. The editor told me to ‘up the sexual tension’ and although I know that is one of the knee-jerk requests they often make, I looked carefully at it, and they were definitely right in this case. So I teased a little more.

Well, I couldn’t do the revisions, so I sent the book elsewhere. And damme, I got the same response!

So if you wonder why there are so many books which have the alpha duke meeting the feisty titian-haired heroine, and a plot that stumbles over big misunderstandings, to a background of riding in Hyde Park, going to balls at Almack’s and London mansions (huh? London mansions?) this is probably why. Until recently, that’s what they liked, so that’s what they got. There are always more writers than publishing slots, so the publishers could shrug their shoulders and move on to the next one.

I can't say they're wrong, because until recently, these were the books that sold. But I've never been in it just for the money. If I'd written a book about a duke's daughter and an alpha hero, I would have been proud of it, but I hadn't. Not in this case, anyway.

By the way, I’m very glad Champagne Books decided to take the book as it is, Yorkshire, reticent lady’s companion and all. I’m proud of it, and it’s a treat to see it on the virtual shelves.

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