Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Historical Romance and Historical Fantasy

Yesterday I put a post up on Facebook about historical accuracy, and the lack of it. I had read a book description that described a book set in the 1860s as Regency.
Is it too much to ask that Amazon, authors and publishers at least try to get historical periods right?
In the replies, one author pointed out that she never used a specific time and place. That I didn’t understand at all. How can you call a book historical; when you don’t know when it’s set?
It isn’t just a picturesque setting and pretty clothes that makes a historical romance so fascinating. It’s the way people thought at the time, the way important events affected them, and what they thought about it.
It’s also details like character names and titles. Title errors are particularly annoying because they occur through the whole book. Like calling Sir Sydney Smith “Sir Smith,” or addressing a duke as “my lord.” I can’t read a book that does that. Besides, if the writer didn’t do that much research, how reliable is the rest of the book?
There is, I believe, a whole subgenre of “historical” romance, that I would call “fantasy historical.” This is a world where girls run about London on their own, and don’t get kidnapped for their fortunes or forced to marry someone. It’s a world where whores can marry dukes and become the centre of society, a world where a lady can pose as an actress with no ill effects on her social position. And the women all wear party dresses, but they dream of independence and turn down offers of marriage on a whim. Where a wife demands a divorce from her husband, and lives to fall in love with another member of the nobility.
Now let me say there is nothing wrong with these stories. They’re lighthearted, amusing and wile away a few hours. Since I research my period quite heavily, they’re not for me. I find them too superficial. They skim the surface but never explore issues, even their own, with any depth.
I would love a way of differentiating them from the historical romances that I love. Why not call them “fantasy historicals”? I write paranormal romance, where vampires and dragons live in our world. Fantasy. So why not fantasy historicals, too? A genre that could stand separate from historical romance. There are distinct markets for both, but they rarely coincide. Readers of Dorothy Dunnett aren’t going to migrate to Julie Garwood’s books, for instance, although both have their place.
I’m not talking about covers here. Cover art is often imposed on an author, who may have little or no control over it. And there is precious little historical stock art out there that has any degree of accuracy. The adage not to judge a book by its cover is never more true than it is today.
So let those of us who love history have our historical romances, and the people who enjoy vague history set in a vague periods have theirs, too.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Summer Garden

As a child I was only aware of three butterflies: the red admiral, the tortoiseshell and something I called a cabbage white. Although my family were keen gardeners they were not particularly interested in insects or fauna and it was many years before I realised that there were a whole host more of British butterflies and to learn something of their names and history.

The word butterfly is ancient. It is first recorded in an Anglo-Saxon manuscript written 1300 years ago and the name is common to several North European languages. Since butter is yellow it seems that the original butterfly must have been the male Brimstone, which is bright yellow in colour.

The English names for butterflies are also very poetic, or many of them are. Often these names are assumed to have been given in the nineteenth but most are far older than that. However it took a while for consistent butterfly names to evolve. This did not stop people from describing them in gorgeous language though. In 1589 the Tudor physician Thomas Moffet described the Peacock butterfly’s wings as: “Four adamants (diamonds) glistering in a bezel of Hyacinth which shine curiously like stars and do cast about them sparks of the Rain-bow.”

It was James Petiver who in the 17th century invented many butterfly names to go with the simple
descriptions and engravings of them that he published.  Most of his names are lost now. He invented The Royal William, for example, which we now call the Swallowtail. It was named after the reigning king and had been caught in the gardens of St James’ Palace. These days it can only be found in Norfolk.

By 1748, when The English Moths and Butterflies by Benjamin Wilkes had been published, most butterflies had acquired their modern names.  Many of these include a colour: Clouded Yellow, Small Copper, Orange-tip. Wilkes was an artist and so may well have been looking at his butterflies with the same sense of colour and imagination he used for his art. Other were named simply for the places they were found. The Wall is self-explanatory and the Gatekeeper often flies along the side of hedges and meadows.

What of my childhood Red Admiral? It is apparently nothing to do with the sea and derives from its size, beauty and colour. It was originally called “Red Admirable.” Because there is also a White Admiral butterfly I had assumed that they were associated in some way with naval squadrons! However, they are both indisputably admirable.

The cabbage white is actually the Large White, which has a taste for cabbages. And now I have discovered so many more butterflies with wonderfully historic, evocative names: The Purple Emperor and The Duke of Burgundy for example. (Unfortunately no one seems to know which Duke of Burgundy it is named after or why). A visitor to my own garden is the Painted Lady, which sounds slightly raffish and disreputable, like a courtesan perhaps. So as I watch the butterflies in my summer garden I not only admire their beauty but also think about the astonishing stories behind their names.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Dunkirk - thoughts from those who were actually there.

The book I have in the sale.
As the release of the much awaited film, Dunkirk, is due next week I thought I would share some of the personal stories, from the men who were actually there, that I've come across in my research.
The RAF were erroneously accused of abandoning the army to be bombed by the Luftwaffe. In fact the opposite was true. If they hadn't flown non-stop protecting the beaches behind Dunkirk the miracle of evacuation wouldn't have taken place. They might not have been seen by the soldiers but they were there doing their job.
The man in charge of the Luftwaffe convinced Hitler to let his pilots destroy The British Expeditionary Force so the advance of the tanks and soldiers was halted to allow him time to do so. History tells us that this was possibly the decision that changed the course of World War II.
Squadron Leader Al Dere 54 Squadron, said they were flying for fourteen days non-stop. He did thirty-seven hours in ten days. They just kept flying. They had no reserve pilots.
Flying officer Geoffrey Page, 56 Squadron. He states that his operations over Dunkirk were in two main categories. The first was that they had to do a fighter sweep – they would fly all the way round behind beaches and try and intercept any German aircraft coming up to attack the soldiers on the ground. The other role was to escort the Blenheims when they went to bomb targets related to the evacuation from Dunkirk. He reports that their ground crews got into fights in local pubs because the soldiers would say, "where were you?" And the ground crews knew very well what we'd done over there.
Bernt Engelmann, Luftwaffe pilot.
He reports that on the dunes north of Dunkirk there were thousands of light and heavy weapons abandoned on the sand along with munition crates, field kitchens, scattered cans of rations and many wrecks of British army trucks. He writes that if the German tanks and Stukas and Navy had managed to surround the British here, shooting most them, and taking the rest prisoner, then England wouldn't have had any trained soldiers left. Instead, the British seemed to have rescued them all – and a lot of Frenchmen too. Adolf can say goodbye to his blitzkrieg against England.
This book is in the promotion too -but not in the sale.
Lady Chichester who was a civilian volunteer work in Hampshire talked of her husband's experience. "He was in the guards, in the retreat, and was picked up by private yacht with a lot of other Welsh Guardsmen and brought back to England. They had to abandon everything they possessed, except their guns – even their sleeping blanks, their clothes and their equipment. They just got on board any ship that was able to take back twinge. At the time, knowing the French given up the fight, the Germans all along the coast of France, we really did think that any day they would be invading."

To coincide with the release of the film Dunkirk there will be a 50+ author book sale (all with one book reduced to $ 0. 99/£0.99) of historical fiction all in some way connected to Dunkirk. There is also a raffle, to give away and a variety of other things – including lists of the most popular World War II films.

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Regency's Darker Secrets

Many readers think historical romances are all the same. They are not. True, they are set in the past, true they all have a (mostly) happy ending, but stories and styles vary enormously.  I have just finished writing a sparkling Regency romp for Harlequin, which will be published next year, but my September publication, Pursued for the Viscount's Vengeance, weaves far more serious matters in amongst the romance.
Image result for Quincey Opium Eater images wikicommons

This book required research into some of the Regency's darker secrets, such as the use of laudanum. Opium mixed with a little alcohol was widely used to provide pain relief in a time when there was nothing else. It was even given to teething children. Laudanum was highly addictive and amongst the "opium eaters" of the day were the poet Coleridge and even the reformer, William Wilberforce (the extent of the Regency's opium addiction was exposed in Thomas de Quincy's, "Confessions of an Opium Eater ").

There was also a continuous fight by the Bank of England against counterfeit money. The practice of coining is well known, coins of the realm had their edges clipped off and the clippings were melted down to make new coins.  What is less well known is the trade in counterfeit notes. This was particularly prevalent during the time this book is set, because bad harvests and the ongoing war had reduced the stocks of gold bullion in England to low levels and the Bank of England issued vast quantities of poorly designed one and two pound notes that were easy to copy. Clever forgeries of bank notes were produced and circulated via the use of "utterers", poor women who would use the notes to buy relatively cheap goods and receive good coin in change. The victims were usually amongst the poorer sections of society such as innkeepers, small shopkeepers and market stallholders, many of them poorly educated and unlikely to spot a forgery. Naomi Clifford tells the sad but fascinating story of , Sarah Bailey, who from the reports could justly be labelled a "feisty" woman. She was  caught passing forged notes and was eventually hanged for her crimes, but only after giving the authorities a run for their money! You can read her story here - 

And you might ask, why not call the book the Viscount's Vendetta? To me, "vendetta" conjures up the turbulent, violent times of the Borgias and Medicis, but when I checked more closely I found it originally related to blood feuds amongst families from Sicily and Corsica, and it was not used in England until the mid 19th century. I therefore decided it would be safer not to use the word for a book set in 1817.

The main characters are complex and damaged. Deborah Meltham thinks herself too disfigured for any man to want her and she has given up all thoughts of marriage and devoted her life to looking after her beloved but dissolute brother. Gil, Viscount Gilmorton, is grieving for the loss of his loved ones and carrying a heavy burden of guilt because he was not there to protect them. When Gil and Deb's paths cross, there is an instant attraction, but once the truth is known, there are surely far too many obstacles to a happy ending. Aren't there?

Well, of course not! In the best traditions of Harlequin Historical romance Deb and Gil have to struggle against the odds to be true to each other and themselves and hope you will agree with me that, in the end, they deserve their happiness.

Happy Reading!
Sarah Mallory / Melinda  Hammond

Pursued for the Viscount's Vengeance is published mid August 2017 in North America and the UK by Harlequin / Mills & Boon

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Georgette Heyer: Why I love 'Sprig Muslin'

Sir Gareth Ludlow, is one of Heyer’s quiet heroes; he’s tall, good-looking, rich and has impeccable manners; but he is, perhaps, a touch dull at the beginning. Being an excellent uncle to his lively nephews and nieces is all very well, but it’s not going to make any female reader’s heart beat faster. He needs a problem. His presenting problem is that his beautiful and adored (but spoilt and wilful) betrothed, Clarissa, was killed in a carriage accident seven years previously, leaving Gareth broken-hearted. His only brother was killed at Salamanca, and, if the baronetcy is not to die out, then Gareth must marry and father an heir. Thinking he’s past the age of falling in love, Gareth decides to offer for the Lady Hester Theale who has been on the shelf for years.

But there is another problem he needs to address – and I’ll come back to that.
Hester Theale, our heroine, is twenty-eight. Although pretty and ‘with a sweet face’, she never ‘took’ when she came out, possibly because of shyness. Now, she’s the unmarried daughter, living at home, bullied and ignored by her self-important and prudish brother, Widmore, and his vulgar wife. Her three younger sisters have all married and Hester is at their beck and call whenever they want her help. Her father, the Earl of Brancaster, is addicted to gambling. He sees Hester more of an encumbrance than a comfort.

Hester has no life of her own. She copes in the only way she can by detaching herself emotionally and developing a sort of vagueness. She’s also slightly myopic; although whether she really is short-sighted of whether it’s part of her defence mechanism, isn’t clear. She comes across as mildly dotty.

When Lord Brancaster announces that Sir Gareth has made her an offer, Hester drops her shawl in shock. ‘If you are funning, it is not a kind jest. … I do not wish for this splendid match, Papa.’

The earl is horrified: ‘You must be out of your senses!’

‘Perhaps I am.’ The ghostly smile that was at once nervous and mischievous again flitted across her face.’  Plainly, something is going on, something which her family can’t see. But the readers can see and, by the end of the chapter, when Hester ‘cried herself quietly to sleep’ we realize that she has always loved Sir Gareth and she cannot bear the pain of marrying the man she loves when she knows that he doesn’t love her.

When Gareth does propose to her, he sets out the disadvantages of her present situation with a great deal of sympathy, ‘You are not valued as you should be; neither your comfort nor your sensibility is a matter of concern to any member of your family…  He makes it very clear that he is not offering her romance. But he can offer her, ‘A position of the first consequence. You would be at no-one’s beck and call, you would be your own mistress – with a husband who, I promise you, would not make unreasonable demands upon you. You may be sure that I would always attend to your wishes, and hold you in respect as well as affection. Would that not mean a happier life for you than the one you now lead?’

Her face was very white, she pulled her hand away, saying in a stifled voice, ‘No – anguish!’

And we feel for her. Gareth has tried to be reassuring but he’s got it terribly wrong. He would not make 'unreasonable demands' of her; does he mean that he won't be visiting her bedroom too often? His calm assessment of her situation and what he’s prepared to offer is, unintentionally, surely very hurtful.

There is, as I said earlier, another emotional problem Gareth needs to sort out. Warren, Gareth’s brother-in-law, tells his wife, Beatrix, that, in his view, Gareth was well out of it, when Clarissa was killed: ‘She was devilish headstrong and would have led Gary a pretty dance.’  When Beatrix protests that, ‘I know she was often a little wild, but she was so very sweet! ... She would have learnt to mind Gary, for she did most sincerely love him,’ Warren says, ‘She didn’t love him enough to mind him when he forbade her to drive those greys of his… Flouted him the instant his back was turned and broke her neck into the bargain.’      

Gareth was twenty-eight when Clarissa died; I think we are allowed to ask just how emotionally grown-up he was. If the sensible Warren could see through Clarissa’s beauty and pretty ways, why couldn’t Gareth? And since then, we know that he hasn’t looked at another woman. Emotionally, he’s not only frozen, he also needs to learn about women.

The last third of Sprig Muslin is mainly set in The Bull, a small inn in the obscure village of Little Staughton, where the wounded Gareth is lying. He has been shot by mistake by Hildebrand Ross, a young undergraduate with a penchant for writing stirring dramas. With him is Amanda, a typical Heyer younger ‘heroine’, a spirited and very pretty girl, something like Clarissa, but much more practical and down to earth. Hildebrand has brought Hester to nurse Gareth – and she has had to escape from her home to get to the inn. They pretend she is Gareth’s sister.


This is the part of the story I just love. I love the way that, whereas at Brancaster Park, Hester was ignored by all, here, she is central, important, and heeded. She knows how to nurse Gareth and what will make him comfortable; she’s pragmatic about the runaway Amanda, feeling that she should marry her Captain and go to Spain with him; and she helps Hildebrand come to terms with the nearly fatal accident with the pistol, and his squeamishness about blood.

Gradually, she sheds her vagueness and shyness and becomes the calm hub at the centre of their little world. She soothes the angry landlady who wants to throw them out; she tells Hildebrand that she does not know how she would have got on without him; she accepts Amanda’s determination to marry her Captain as perfectly reasonable; and petal by petal she opens up and allows Gareth to see her as she really is. 

As for Gareth, the reader can see that he, too, is reassessing his feelings. There is a wonderful episode where Hester hides behind a chintz curtain in Gareth’s room when an aged friend of his father’s comes to visit. Amanda has told him that Hester is Gareth’s ‘natural sister’. After the visitor leaves, Hester emerges from her hiding place.

‘Gareth!’ said Hester in an awed voice. ‘You must own that Amanda is wonderful! I should never have thought of saying that I was your natural sister!’
   He was shaking with laughter, his hand pressed instinctively to his hurt shoulder. ‘No? Nor I, my dear!’   
   Suddenly she began to laugh, too. ‘Oh, dear, of all the absurd situations - ! I was just thinking how W-Widmore would l-look if he knew!’
   The thought was too much for her. She sat down in the Windsor chair and laughed till she cried.’   

Gareth looks at her, ‘a glimmer in his eyes, and a smile quivering on his lips. ‘Do you know, Hester, in all these years I have held you in affection and esteem, yet I never knew you until we were pitchforked into this fantastic imbroglio! Certainly Amanda is wonderful! I must be eternally grateful to her.’

Georgette Heyer by Howard Coster, 1939

Heyer doesn’t tell the reader what Gareth is thinking but lets us know that, ‘Sir Gareth had his own reasons for not wanting to bring his visit to an end.’
Hester, we learn, is putting on a new bloom as she sits ‘in comfortable companionship’ with Gareth in the orchard ‘valued as she had never been before.’  And we sense that this is true; up to now, no-one has ever truly valued Hester.

We don’t see inside Hester’s head, instead Heyer shows us, and we can see for ourselves that Gareth and Hester are both falling quietly and deeply in love. This time, Gareth has chosen well, and he's learnt how to tell her what she needs to hear. We feel sure that it will be a happy marriage.   

I find Sprig Muslin a very satisfying book and it is one of my favourites.

Elizabeth Hawksley