Sunday, March 13, 2011

Goodbye, Richard and Rose

The end of an era. Well, for me, anyway.

In 2000, I started writing the first words of a book that had been on my mind for some time. But when my children were little, I didn’t have the time for sustained writing. I’d written as a hobby all my life, and when my health deteriorated after the birth of my second child and it became obvious that I wasn’t going back to work as I’d planned, I started thinking about something I could do from home.

I’d never considered writing fiction seriously. I knew the money wasn’t good, but since it was a choice between earning something and earning nothing, I went for it. But not until my children had grown up enough to go to school and give me a few hours writing time every day. I gave up all but the most essential housework, and someone gave me a word processor.

That thing was a turning point for me. I’d never been a great typist. My work always ended up stiff with white-out. But the word processor meant I could correct my mistakes and increase my typing speed. And finally write about the couple I’d been planning for the last few years.

I’d been on a visit with my parents to Calke Abbey when it first opened to the public. Instead of restoring it to its pristine glory, the Trust had chosen to preserve what was there but leave it as a picture of a country house in decline. So there were rooms incongruously filled with stuffed stag’s heads and geological specimens from the estate, and the upstairs nursery was black with damp, the toys all spilled and abandoned. That nursery haunted me, and I knew I’d have to set a story in the house.

So Richard and Rose first met in the rough cobbled yard of the manor house which its owners had let to rack and ruin. There was a story behind that house, one I never told completely, and the reason why the Hareton brothers had turned away from the life of privilege they had been born to. There are hints in “Yorkshire,” and the clever reader can pick a lot of it up from clues dropped here and there, but I never told it. I don’t think I ever will, since it’s a very sad story.

My first shock was when Martha refused to be the centre of the story. I wanted Martha and James, Rose’s sister in law and brother to be the centre of a series of country house mysteries. The emphasis would be on the mysteries, not the couple. But I’d written a few chapters in their points of view, and the book refused to work. I needed someone less settled, someone who had a journey to make. So I settled on Rose, and I started to tell the story in the first person. I’d never written in the first person before, and I haven’t since. I find it a really difficult way of writing, but this story refused to be told any other way, and if I was going to get any peace and write more of the characters crowding my head, then I had to do this.

The second shock was Richard. I wanted a mild-mannered minor aristocrat, just enough to get him invited to the country houses where the mysteries would take place. A kind of Hercule Poirot of the Georgian age, without the moustache but with a wig. I wanted it accurate to the times, but reflecting the lack of a police force. I set it in the 1750’s deliberately, just after the creation of the Bow Street Runners, the first seedlings of what would become the Metropolitan Police force.

What I got was Richard Strang, dandy, philanderer, destroyer of reputation, Viscount Strang, heir to one of the oldest and richest peerages in the country. And his twin, Gervase, only slightly less flamboyant than his brother. I honestly don’t know where these two came from. They just appeared on the page.

“From the first coach alighted a figure that made my mouth drop open in disbelief. A vision of male gorgeousness, a sumptuous feast of a man. Lizzie gasped, but I didn’t turn to look at her. I kept my gaze fixed on the mirage before us.

He wore scarlet velvet, dressed for the Court. He would be sadly disappointed here. His white powdered wig was set just right, his waistcoat was a dream of embroidered magnificence. He swung around to help a lady descend from the vehicle, and when I again glanced at Lizzie, I saw she had temporarily lost all faculties of speech. No doubt remembering her manners, she closed her mouth.

This younger lady was attired—dressed would have been too clumsy a word—in a French sacque of blue watered silk, embroidered down the hem and the robings in fine floss. Frills and furbelows seemed to take on a life of their own, romping over her petticoats. Pearls gleamed at her neck. “Dear God,” whispered Lizzie.

Behind these visions of fashionable excess, another man climbed down. He wore his fair hair simply tied back; his clothes were just as well cut as the other gentleman’s though not as extravagant, and his attitude far more natural. “They’re twins,” Lizzie told me, back in control of her voice.

“I know,” I said. “You told us. More than once.”

To see the Kerre brothers was a different experience to merely reading about them.

The only identical twins in polite society, they made themselves more conspicuous still by creating scandal after scandal. Lizzie’s information continued, “The younger went abroad after eloping with a married woman. He’s only lately returned, after twelve years away. I wonder which one it is?”

“The peacock.” It had to be. The other looked far too sensible.

They glanced at us. The gorgeously dressed gentleman turned back to the coach, and said something only his brother could hear. His twin spun on his heel, the gravel grating under his foot and stared at us for one impolite moment before he looked away. I guessed the popinjay had said something like “country bumpkins”, and I resented the comment while at the same time agreeing with it. We were in a hired coach, and hadn’t thought to make a stop to change into better clothes as the other party obviously had. I smoothed my hand over my worn, brown wool gown.

With a leisurely gait, the peacock approached us and bowed.”

And there he was. Richard Kerre.

I’ve just written the last sentence of the last Richard and Rose book. I want to go back one day and write some more, but I don’t know if the magic will still be there, or if they’ll be waiting for me to continue their story. Eleven years after I first made Richard’s acquaintance, I’ve finally said goodbye. And yes, of course I’m in tears.

If the book had never been published, if I hadn’t received all the kind letters of support asking me what was next for Richard and Rose, if certain people hadn’t believed in me, they would still have been there, and I would still have written the books. But it’s been my privilege to write them for you.

The seventh and penultimate Richard and Rose book is out on the 15th of March. You won’t see the last book for a little while yet. It has to go through the process, be polished by me, be read, and judged by my publisher. But you can find out what happens next. “Maiden Lane” is set in London, and sees them facing the most danger yet.

Life is cheap. So is death.
Richard and Rose, Book 7
With Rose expecting again, it should be a joyous time for her and Richard. Yet old enemies and new come out of the woodwork, seemingly intent on using whatever means possible to destroy their happiness. Not only is the legitimacy of their marriage called into question, a young man steps forward claiming to be a by-blow of Richard's dark, wild past.
Closer to defeat than he has ever been, Richard musters all his friends and allies to defend against this attack on his own ground. However, no amount of incandescent lovemaking and tender care seems to keep Rose out of harm's way.
Then a mutilated body turns up on their doorstep-and all fingers point at Richard. Rose has no choice but to emerge from his near-smothering concern to do what she must to save the love of her life. Even if she must appear to work against him.
As she lays her heart on the line, Richard fights to keep the violence that marks his past from claiming her life. For if he loses Rose, with her will go his humanity.
Warning: Rose gets her mad on, and Richard gets turned on. Contains married love, married sex and married fooling about. And pink coats with lace ruffles. And swords. And wicked goings-on.

Life is cheap - so is death
ISBN: 978-1-60928-384-1

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