The best historical romances

What makes a truly great historical romance? It’s something that (as you can imagine) I think about almost continuously. What’s missing from this? What’s going to make it the best book my readers have ever read? What’s going to make it stick in their minds, stay on their bookshelf, be recommended to friends?

Some say it’s characters

A truly great character, a hero or heroine that stays with you after you’ve put the book down. Foibles and failures, dreams and dangers, surely taking your time over creating memorable characters has got to be the secret, right?

Others say it’s setting

Many readers prefer to stay within a particular time period, so you’ve got to be careful and see what the market is doing. Are readers loving Regency or medieval, is it cowboys or dukes, or has the alpha hero beat them all out?

It could even be a massive twist

Some readers like their romances to follow the same sort of pattern: a meet cute, a disagreement, growing to know each other, starting to fight feelings, a sudden shock which reveals emotions, and the happily ever after. Others want to see a twist, reveal, or shock right at the end.

If you ask me though, it’s all three and so much more. I personally love it when authors naturally bring historical details into the narrative without it feeling like I’m sitting in a lecture. Others like strong female secondary characters, or pets, or an element of mystery.

Whatever it is you love, I’m probably writing it. Why not check out my latest steamy Regency series, my first ever medieval series, or my bestselling sweet Western series?

Keeping Spoilers Secret!

We all have that one book, TV, or film series that we’re desperate NOT to discover the spoilers for the ending. Right now in my house, it’s Avengers: Endgame. We just haven’t got around to seeing it, and we’re having to keep telling our friends not to talk about it when we’re around, just in case they let something slip!

For me personally, it’s Game of Thrones. There are only two episodes left, but because I live in the UK and the episodes come out on Sunday evenings in the US, there’s a difficult 18 hours when I have to avoid all my American friends on Facebook!

And it’s the same with book spoilers, especially when you’re an author. I am a huge fan of writing books way ahead of publication time – so the book that I’m writing won’t be published for 6-9 months.

That means that when I’m doing a Q&A with readers about book 4, I have to be careful not to let slip about anything from books 5-8, because I’ve already written them! My readers would hate that, and I would hate to ruin things for them.

The way I manage this is being incredibly precise with what I talk about. If I’m doing an interview, I typically request the questions ahead of time – even if that’s not possible. If it’s a live Q&A with readers, I make sure to always stop and think before I answer a question, keeping it as closely related to that specific book as possible.

Have I made mistakes? I don’t think so. I think the only slip up I’ve made is mentioning that a character will appear in a later book when my readers didn’t know that, but it wasn’t like I was resurrecting him from the dead or anything – it was just meant to be a nice surprise to see that character again, and they got a heads up.

But right now I have some really exciting news about my next series, and I HAVE to keep it under wraps! It’s honestly one of the most challenging secrets I’ve kept, but I promise you all, it’ll be worth it.

What about you – have you ever accidentally let a spoiler slip? Have you stumbled across a spoiler online? Tell me in the comments below!

Historical accuracy in romance

The age old question that many of us historical romance authors face is this: how much accuracy is needed?

It’s a difficult one to answer because there are two main groups of thought, both of which have their own positives and negatives.

Group 1: The Purists

“Write a historical romance without all the details 100% accurate? Nonsese!” They cry. “The whole point of a historical romance is to lose yourself in the time period, to feel as though you could actually be there!”

And in some ways, this is true. Nothing is more jarring when reading a historical book than for a character to use modern day slang, or for a historical character that definitely wasn’t alive then to appear on the page.

But the downside to absolute purist books are that authors can spend hours, days even, hunting down the exact time of cotton thread used in the sewing of a particular type of boot, which is actually only described in passing on one page. It’s a very exhausting way to work for the author, and readers don’t often realise how many hours of work have gone into describing the type of candle wax in a dinner scene.

Group 2: The Narratives

“It’s the narrative story that actually matters!” This group cries. “What does it matter if a character is wearing a gown that was popular five years earlier? It’s the emotions that the character, and the reader feels that matters!”

And in many ways, they are right. Our readers typically assume that we know what we’re doing when writing historical romance, and that means that small slips in accuracy go unnoticed if the story is strong enough.

The downside of this, however, is that for those lovers of the time period, they will quickly notice when something isn’t quite right, and that can mean they put down your book in disgust – and not only never pick one up again, but advise others that they don’t even bother.

So what’s the answer?

Honestly, I’m not entirely sure. I saw in an author Facebook group this week that someone got themselves tangled up in knots about whether a certain word could be used in her book based in 17th century England if it had not been invented until the 1800s – and the heated debate showed that there are strong feelings on both sides!

On the other hand, have you ever tried to read a 17th century novel – one written during that time, I mean? Sure, there are plenty of words that you recognise, but could you tell your addle-plot from your borachio, your gapeseed from your mulligrubs? Some of my favourites are nipperkin or pickthank.

You see, if historical accuracy is taken too far, then the story actually gets completely lost. So I’m all about balance: I sit between the two camps.

What do you think?

The Perfect Kiss!

Have you ever read a romance book and thought – ohhh. That is the perfect kiss!

Maybe it was a movie. A TV show that made your toes tingle and your heart skip a beat.

I think most of us remember the first kiss that really touched your heart, really made you believe in romance. For me, it was the first kiss between Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe.

Honestly, if you haven’t watched the trilogy, I heartily recommend it! 9 hours of absolute Edwardian bliss, completely PG rated, but so romantic that it actually makes me want to move to Canada and watch it forever!

But I digress. I was thinking today about what makes that moment so perfect for me as a viewer, how it makes me come back to the films again and again, because those are exactly the ingredients that I want in my stories! And I think it comes down to five core things.

1. Genuine chemistry. 

There’s no amazing kiss without chemistry, and that’s built up through conversations, looks, touches, near misses, and time. Without the chemistry, it’s just biology.

2. A setting you didn’t expect.

A truly memorable kiss happens in a place that you didn’t expect – either at a time when you think they’re going to fall out, or a dramatic place. Think Darcy and Lizzy.

3. A reason NOT to kiss.

Hell, there’s no heat in a kiss if you’re not fighting the impulse to pull back! Family disagreements, previous relationships, other engagements – there’s got to be a leap of faith.

4. The suggestion of a follow up.

Just one kiss!?! No way – there’s always got to be the suggestion of a follow up, of a deepening connection. The kiss should mark the beginning of the next stage of the relationship, not the pinnacle.

5. Slight imperfection. 

Okay, so there’s no perfect kiss – and that’s what makes it perfect. You want that little hint of real life, something that reminds you that it could be your life – that kiss could be yours.

Think that I’ve missed something? Not referenced your favourite kiss? Let me know in the comments below!

Planning a historical romance series

One of the biggest challenges of being an author is planning a historical romance series. I know that there will be people who disagree with me, but I think this is true for three reasons:

  1. Planning a series, any series, is complicated. You have way more characters to keep track of, you need to ensure that things like time of the year or even years in a decade don’t get all loose, and that your characters’ descriptions don’t change!
  2. Writing historical fiction is complicated. Depending on the level of detail you want to bring into your books, there’s a huge amount of research that you have to put in before you can even think about writing a word!
  3. Creating believable romances is complicated. This is especially true for a series because romance readers always want a ‘happily ever after’ – so how do you get them interested in reading the next book?

Put all of that complication together, and what have you got?

Yeah. It’s complicated.

But planning a historical romance series doesn’t have to be something you avoid, just because it’s complicated. What you need to do is have a really clear strategy to combat those three problems. Here is how I make sure that planning a historical romance series doesn’t need to be the end of your writing career – before it’s even begun!

Keeping track of everything

For me, it’s spreadsheets. For some authors, it’s notebooks. I’ve even got an author friend who has a whole wall whiteboard that she sticks post-it notes on! The point is, find out the best way that you need to keep track of everything – from character names, ages, descriptions, and emotional arcs – and treat that as your Bible.

Have more than one copy of it. And then never let it go.

Commit to the research

Especially true if you’re writing a series, if you know that you’re going to be creating 3+ books in the same historical time period, remember that all the research that you’re doing is essentially divided by three because you can use it as least three times. That makes all those hours worth it.

I’d also recommend typing up your notes so that you can use the ‘Find’ function to hunt down slightly remembered details. You’ll thank me later.

Link your books together

There are a whole bunch of different ways that you can do this for romance series. I’ve used seasons of the year, siblings, and secondary characters becoming primary characters. I’ve read childhood friends and neighbours on the same street. Whatever you pick, it will need to be something cohesive enough to make it clear to your reader that there’s more of your ‘world’ that they can explore, without being so restrictive that your readers get bored of you.

So is that it?

I wish. Planning a historical romance series is one of the most rewarding and challenging things that I think an author can do. Think I’m wrong? Tell me in the comments below!

New Release: Whirlwind with a Wolfe

Okay. OKAY. So I am beyond excited to announce that I have a new book launched this week as part of Kathryn Le Veque’s WolfeBane Publishing World!

whirlwindwiththewolfe (1)

Kathryn Le Veque’s de Wolfe books are incredibly popular, and I am honoured to be included in her latest release of stories that include de Wolfes in their stories.

Whirlwind with a Wolfe is a crossover between my Ravishing Regencies series and Kathryn’s de Wolfe series. I absolutely cannot wait to see what you think!

How do you write male characters?

I am asked a wide range of different questions about the way that I write, but the question that comes up most often is ‘How do you write male characters?’

It’s a great question, but it’s always a little irritating. I mean, I’ve never been a duchess either, but no one asks me how I manage to write those types of characters!

Basically what it all comes down to is three things, so if you want to write male characters, pull up a chair, and see whether these three tips can help you:

1. It’s all about motivation.

Just like any other character, it’s important to know the motivation of your character. It’s through their motivations, fears, greed, and hopes that you can start to weave your character’s words and deeds. Sometimes this is as simple as the opening plot: man is disinherited and seeks to reclaim his place in the world.

Sometimes you want to make it a little more difficult for your readers to work out: man is grumpy and particularly dismissive of women. Was he abandoned by his mother? Spurned by a lover? Betrayed by a sister? It’s the plot narrative that will reveal that to the other characters in the book, as well as your readers.

Before you start to write a male character, sit down and work out their motivation – and this can change throughout the book. Perhaps he starts the book as a private detective, just determined to make ends meet; then meets a woman in criminal distress and his motivations change to help her; then she betrays him and his motivations change to hunting her down and punishing her; then it’s revealed that she never betrayed him it was a misunderstanding, and his motivations end in marrying her and keeping her safe.

2. You need to be observant.

Masculinity is learned.

What do I mean by this? I mean that the way that men sit, stand, and scratch are behaviours that are learned from other men, and that means if you’re observant enough, you can start to learn too.

Now obviously if you are writing a historical romance, like I do, you will need to do a little research about the specific habits of the time. For example, did men in your historical period smoke or chew tobacco? If it’s smoke, was it in a hookah, cigarette, cigar? How did they hold them, cut them, throw them away?

It’s these little descriptions of habits that will make your male characters feel like real living people. I often receive emails from readers telling me that a particular habit of one of my characters has reminded them of one of their loved ones, and of course we’ve never met! But I have observed that exact same behaviour in the men around me.

3. Edit, edit, edit.

No writing is perfect immediately. It’s a great shame really, but there it is! I myself have 60,000 words to edit this afternoon (or at least make a start on), and I write a pretty clean first draft.

After you’ve finished your manuscript, leave it for a few weeks and come back to it. Print it off, and read it as though it’s the latest book you’ve bought. Do the characters ring true? Do they feel a bit awkward? Is there a section that doesn’t fit anymore, or do you need to add an explanatory scene earlier on?

It’s these edits that will fine tune your male characters, and give them the breath of life that only a great author can give. Although it may be painful and time consuming, it’s worth it for your readers.

 

I hope these tips have helped you! Do you have any other tips for writing male characters? Let me know in the comments below!

Editing Away…

You know, I’m going to be honest: editing is exhausting. Honestly, it’s just exhausting! I can easily write 15,000 words in a day, but editing for more than three hours I start to get a headache and I have to look away.

Editing is challenging, especially if you are editing your own work. You know what you are trying to say, and you just kind of assume that the reader will understand you.

You can’t see the mistakes.

You can’t see the errors.

You can’t see the inconsistencies.

And so you spend hours staring at a print out of your latest manuscript trying to work out where you’ve gone wrong, hoping desperately that you’re not going to cut out anything that is golden!

It’s why I depend so much on my Beta editors. They don’t just point out when there’s a wrong word, but when I’ve forgotten that a heroine starts a scene wearing a green dress and ends the scene wearing a blue dress. When I introduce a new character and then never actually follow up with them. When I add a secondary storyline that goes…nowhere.

I could go on, but you can see the challenge. So a big thank you goes out to my Beta readers, my Mum (the best editor in the world!) and any poor editor that has to look through my manuscripts.

Because they are probably awful. Sorry!

It’s Almost Spring!

You know, I can’t be the only one who is desperately waiting for the summer. I love the sun, I love the heat, I love the sound of laughter as picnics spread across green grass, I love birdsong…

…yeah. You get the general idea. I just love it.

So when I start to notice the signs of spring coming, I just can’t help but start to get a little happier. The nights are a little warmer, the sun lasts a little longer in the evenings, the swallows start to return, and I can think about putting away the winter coat and getting out the spring jacket (I mean, this is Britain. It can still be miserable in the middle of summer!).

And yet something in me is a little sad. Because I love being outdoors so much, I find that I want to spend less time at the keyboard and more time topping up my tan.

But this year I have so many amazing book projects that I can’t do that! I have three more books in my Ravishing Regencies series coming, along with a super secret project that I can’t talk about right now, but I will in a few weeks…

So I am trying to get as much done as possible while the days are chilly and frosty, so that you, my lovely readers, have lots of nice books to read!

Happy Galentine’s Day!

Yup, you read that correctly.

As well as celebrating Valentine’s Day this week, I’ll be celebrating Galentine’s Day. Originally created to celebrate female friendships, I’ll be using the day to thank my friends who stand by me, support me, and loving me no matter what.

Everyone has challenges in their lives, and having people around you who love you, take care of you, and stand by you whatever you go through is absolutely vital. I know that I have some wonderful friends and family who I completely rely on.

And yes, I’ve written a Valentine’s book (which you can grab here) but instead of curling up with a good book, why not treat someone else to it as a paperback?

This Galentine’s Day, reach out to a friend that you’ve lost track of. Tell someone you love how much they mean to you. Surprise a friend with a small gift. Just make it count, whatever you do.