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!

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!

Release Day: ‘Peril with a Prince’

I’m thrilled to say that my latest Regency romance, Peril with a Prince, has been released!

perilwiththeprince

A prince hiding his identity, and a woman hiding hers – and sparks will fly when they have only each other to rely on…

Prince Éduard of Aviroux is hunting down the Great Whisperer, the spy helping the French nobility escape the guillotine, and he’s so close when thwarted by the delectable Giselle.

In all his years, he has never seen a woman like her: resourceful, cunning, and ready for a fight. What he doesn’t realise is that she’s just the spy he’s looking for.

Now trapped on an island together with food running out fast, Giselle is attracting his notice for all the wrong reasons, and it surely won’t be long before secrets, as well as clothes, start to fly.

Will Éduard discover Giselle’s terrible secret – or will he reveal some of his own? And can a perilous time with a prince ever lead to something more than just the heady delights of the flesh?

This is the prequel of the Ravishing Regencies.

This is a steamy Regency romance with a happily ever after, no cliffhangers, and part of a series that can be read in any order.

My ‘keep writing’ secret

One of the questions that I’m frequently asked as an author is: “Where do you get all of your inspiration from?”

And you know what? Sometimes that is a really difficult question to answer.

Don’t get me wrong, I am one of those people who drives their spouse insane by waking up in the middle of the night with a fantastic idea and having to get their phone open, dazzling screen ablazing, to write it down in ‘Notes’ – only to wake up the next morning to see:

andt he gloves not white but henot care

(An actual transcription from my ‘brilliant 3am ideas’ notes.)

I am also one of those authors who has, at the time of writing:

  • a twelve book series plotted out
  • a four book series plotted out
  • another twelve book series with the first three written
  • a five book series plotted out
  • and an eight book series with the covers designed, but no plots at all.

And you know what? I still have moments at my keyboard where I have no idea where my characters are going.

It can be frustrating, especially when (as I do), you are an author that works full time at another job. Carving out writing time is a real challenge, and I don’t even have the excuse of having children!

So when it comes to writing, I just want to sit down and go: no distractions, no hesitations.

When that doesn’t happen it can be overwhelmingly frustrating – but I am going to share with you my secret for how I am able to keep going.

tk

Yup, you read that right: tk. The letters ‘t’ and ‘k’ appear together very rarely in the English language, so if you decide to search ‘tk’ in your manuscript then you aren’t going to find many, unless you have a lot of pocketknives in your book.

So whenever I get to a sticking point and I know that it’ll frustrate me and distract me from the narrative, I just stick in tk and then move on.

Can’t think what the name of that piece of Regency clothing is? tk

Need an extra name for a character that is literally only in this scene? tk

Want to check whether that town is a real place, or I need to create one? tk

It may sound weird, but it’s a real simple way for me to keep with the flow of my writing. Then when I come to the end of my creative time, which usually doesn’t reach lunch (I’m definitely a morning bird!), I just stick ‘tk’ into the search, and the places that I need to go back to appear.

I never miss them. My manuscript is always better because of them, because I can then take my time to investigate clothing, find the perfect name, and research eighteenth century geography, without losing precious creating writing time.

So there you have it. YES I have tonnes of ideas. YES I have book ideas coming out of my ears. And YES sometimes my brain grinds to a halt and I have to use clever tricks to keep going.

Happy writing!

The medieval romance novel I thought I’d never write

If you’re looking for a medieval romance novel you’re expecting knights in shining armour, jousting, and at least three feasts. Right?

Well, that’s what I always thought. I’d loved medieval history, literature, architecture, art, music – the works – since before I can remember. I studied it at university first as an undergraduate and then as a postgraduate, and when I starting writing my first ever novel, it was a medieval romance novel.

And yet after the first book was published (which is Conquests, by the way) I realised that I wanted to tell a different story. Because as much as the medieval era was beautiful, and full of mystery and joy, it was also really brutal.

No, really, brutal. People loved and lost more than they lived. Children died young, parents died young, and illness was suffered at every point of life.

So I decided that my next medieval romance novel was going to show a little more of a grittier side of the medieval period. There was going to be kidnapping and betrayal, sickness, and trust and confusion, and pillaging, and more.

And you know what? It was still full of love, and romance. Because that’s what life is. No matter what people and life throws at you, there’s always the opportunity to find warmth and love.

That’s what I wrote. And you can read it here. 

 

(ps. my latest Regency romance is on pre-order! You should totally grab it now.)