Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Repeal of obsolete laws

People often ask where writers get their ideas from. The answer is that they come from all over the place. They can be sparked by anything: an overheard phrase, a picture, a piece of music etc.

Something recently caught my eye which sparked various ideas in my mind, because I saw on the news that a number of obsolete laws in the UK are being repealed, including a law from 1792 which made it a criminal offence to give a false reference for a servant.

Several 'false reference' story ideas popped into my head: a good servant whose mistress gives her a bad reference because she doesn't want to lose her; or a bad servant whose mistress gives her a good reference because she wants to be rid of her.

Either one of them would lead to an interesting set of circumstances as far as Regency romance is concerned, the good servant perhaps leaving anyway and finding someone who would take her without a reference. But who would it be and why would they do that? A recluse, perhaps, scarred by the war, who found it hard to get a servant because of his disfigurement? This idea would lend itself to a Beauty and the Beast type of story. Or perhaps the maligned servant would decide to go into employment on her own account and open a milliner's shop, stepping into a new world and a new set of possibilities.

The bad servant would perhaps get a position in a good household because of her glowing reference and then create havoc, maybe because she drinks or is a slattern or a thief.

If the story was set before 1792, what would the new employer do about it? Without legal redress, would they accept the situation, or try to pass on the servant in the same way by giving a false reference, or try and curb the servant, or would they call the last employer a liar, leading - if both were men - to a duel? Or, if a man passed a bad servant on to a woman - a widow, perhaps - would she go and see him to remonstrate with him, and where would that lead? Would he be contrite? Would he tell her she was making a fuss about nothing? Would he laugh at her? Would he say that the servant worked well for him?

And if it was set after 1792, then would the new employer use the law, and where would the legal process take them? Would it form the backdrop for the book, with the hero and heroine meeting this way, perhaps with the hero being a lawyer and the heroine being a defendant wrongly accused? Or would it be a minor incident which put the heroine in a bad temper, leading to an altercation with the hero at their first meeting? Or perhaps her bad temper led to an error of judgement with serious consequences; so serious that she decided never to ride / drive a carriage / argue again? With the hero then helping to heal her.

Would the servant remain in the book as a minor character, perhaps for comic relief? Or would they disappear from the book once events had been set in motion?

All those ideas came from one small item of news. It remains to be seen if they ever transform themselves into books!

Amanda Grange

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Jane said...

Mandy, that was a fascinating post, and a brilliant example of how a tiny snippet has the potential to grow into a complete and complex story - or several!