Love and Marriage – an anniversary

Lynn and Richard

Twenty three years ago today I got married and the anniversary has made me think about love and marriage, an important issue in all of my books.

Inevitably it was in a castle.  Dalhousie Castle on the Scottish Borders is a beautiful place, converted into a hotel with a small chapel which as far as I know still does weddings.  Ours was a small affair with only close family and two or three friends.  We went on honeymoon afterwards and then came back and had a huge party with all our friends to celebrate.

I write historical fiction with a strong element of romance so relationships and how they develop are of interest to me.  I also spent years working as a relationship counsellor which meant I saw the ups and downs of more couples than I can remember.  And I’ve been in a relationship now for around twenty seven years.  Believe me, I’ve thought about love and marriage during all this.

It’s the aim of a writer of romance, even if the romance is only part of the theme of the book, to try to make it realistic while still retaining the magical element of falling in love.  A lot of romantic novels end with wedding bells, or at least with the couple falling into each others arms and admitting that after all their trials and tribulations, they want to be together.  There’s something very satisfying about reading the last page, closing the book, and knowing that the couple that you have become attached to (hopefully) have worked it out.

Of course they haven’t.  They’ve just worked out the first bit.  There’s a whole lot of work still to come which a lot of the time we don’t see.  But because I do get attached to the characters I write about, I do wonder what happened to them next.

In historical fiction, the drama of divorce would have been less common.  Certainly before the Victorian era when divorce became slightly more realistic, although still very difficult, only the very wealthy could afford divorce which had to be confirmed by an act of Parliament.  And it was only available to men.

This didn’t mean that couples didn’t separate.  For many it was a quiet affair, simply drifting apart and living separate lives.  There was not always the same pressure for couples to spend all their time together as we have now.  These days, if one partner takes a job which keeps them away for weeks, months or even years at a time, there is often an expectation that the marriage is going to fail.  In the early nineteenth century, married officers and men in the British army might not see their wives or families for years.  Some marriages did end during that time but a surprising number succeeded, helped along by endless letter writing and a determination to keep the relationship alive.

There was probably a different attitude to adultery in some quarters, for men at least.  It was not considered so shocking for a man to have relations with a mistress as long as he was discreet.  In an age where many marriages, particularly among the middle and upper classes, were arranged for reasons other than love, one wonders how often both partners were unfaithful at times.  Some of these marriages worked very well.  Others did not.  There are examples of both of these in the books I’ve written.

I do wonder, though, if some couples pushed through their difficulties and came out stronger when divorce and separation were more difficult.  Some, we know, lived in misery, and I wouldn’t go back to the days when divorce was seen as shocking.  But relationships are tough at times and there’s a feeling of satisfaction in coming out the other side of a difficult patch and feeling close again.

A Marcher Lord - a story of the Anglo-Scottish borders
A Marcher Lord – a story of the Anglo-Scottish borders

I’ve been thinking about the couples in my books so far and wondering how they’d do.  Jenny and Will from A Marcher Lord will do well, I suspect.  Both had parents who made successes of their marriages; Will’s had an arranged marriage and Jenny’s was a runaway love match but both worked.  Jenny and Will would have led a busy and active life keeping castle and estates running successfully and they have already proved they make a good working team.  They’ll argue, but they have shared values and interests and I think they’ll be fine.  I’m planning a second book featuring this couple some time next year and I’m looking forward to catching up with them.

The Reluctant DebutanteCordelia and Giles from The Reluctant Debutante come from different social backgrounds, but she’s already proved that she can make the shift into the Ton very well.  I think both of them enjoy country life.  They might argue about social obligations; she’s probably always going to be more social than he is, have better manners and be nicer to people.  But they share a sense of humour and a love of the ridiculous and I think for Giles there will always be an enormous sense of gratitude to her.  He was in bits after Waterloo and she’s a big part of his rehabilitation. There is a planned series of books set around the lives and loves of some of the men and women of the third brigade of the Light Division after the war, of which this is the second, so I think we will meet Cordelia and Giles again.

A Respectable Woman Kit and Philippa from A Respectable Woman are the most interesting in some ways.  Somebody who has just finished the book and loved it asked about a sequel and it has made me think how this marriage is likely to work.  Of all of them the gap between these two is the widest.  Philippa has a lot to learn about how to be a Countess and for all his protestations that she can do as she likes, Kit is going to need to learn to let her be herself.  I think the key to this one is going to be for both of them to find something to do outside of the marriage so that neither of them feel smothered.  They’re both used to being busy and having a job to do.  The big advantage that they have is Kit’s mother, a very wise and understanding woman who is going to be a big help to Philippa.  I think they’ll be all right but I suspect there might be a few fireworks along the way.

An Unconventional Officer - love and war in Wellington’s army
Book 1 in the Peninsular War Saga

Then we have Paul and Anne who began their journey in An Unconventional Officer.  There is a lot about relationships in this and the subsequent novels in the Peninsular War saga.  There’s no point in speculating about Paul and Anne because their story doesn’t end with the book, it continues through the series.  We’re going to see how Paul and Anne and the other characters cope with trying to be together in the middle of a war and it’s not always likely to be easy.

 

 

George and Iris BryantI’ve been lucky enough to see an example of a very happy marriage with my parents.  They’d been married for over fifty years when my Dad died and there were definitely ups and downs.  But they stayed devoted to one another.  Theirs is a story I’d like to write one day

 

In the meantime, Happy Anniversary to the man I married.  23 years and we’re still here.  It feels like something to celebrate…

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The Reluctant Debutante – Ensign Giles Fenwick

The Reluctant DebutanteWelcome to a short biography of Giles Fenwick, hero of the Reluctant Debutante which is my bestselling book so far.

At the age of thirty two, Giles Fenwick, Earl of Rockcliffe had earned himself a reputation in the polite world as a dangerous rake, adept at seduction and quick to boredom with the women he pursued. The matchmaking mammas had welcomed him with open arms three years earlier upon his return from Waterloo, a professional soldier come unexpectedly into the ancient title and accompanying fortune.
These days, the Earl was aware that the same ladies eyed him askance and warned their delicate charges to avoid him if possible. There seemed no prospect of him doing his duty and marrying to secure the succession, and few mothers would have wanted to entrust their daughters to the scarred, cynical Earl with his unpredictable temper, his reputation for seducing married women, for keeping low company, having expensive mistresses in his keeping and for saying whatever outrageous thing should enter his head on any occasion.
The nobility of his birth and the size of his fortune ensured his continued welcome in the houses of the ton. Rockcliffe, who had returned from the army reluctant to be in any kind of society, was sardonically amused at how easy people found it to ignore his behaviour when dazzled by his title and money. But he had little in common with most of the well born people who saw themselves as his equals, and at times found their company stifling and overwhelmingly tedious.

Rockcliffe knew that the nature of his military service had a good deal to do with that. For many years he had served in the Peninsula under Wellington. Initially an excellent junior officer of light infantry, his intelligence, his talent for languages and his initiative had brought a transfer and he had served for much of the war as an exploring officer. These officers in Wellington’s army were under the command of the Quartermaster General. They operated on their own or with one or two local guides and their task was to collect first-hand tactical intelligence by riding to enemy positions, observing and noting movements and making sketch maps of uncharted land. The work was highly dangerous and required physical fitness, good horsemanship and a willingness to take risks. Captain Giles Fenwick had been a legend in Wellington’s army, his exploits talked of and laughed over in mess and over campfires.

It was a solitary life, and bred independence and impatience with rules and conventions. Hardly the best training, the Earl thought wryly, swinging himself out of bed, for an Earl entering polite society. But he could have done better if he had tried harder. He had not wanted to. The years of danger and excitement, the fights and the killing had culminated in the horror of Waterloo where he had seen friends and comrades cut down around him. He had expected to die from the wounds received on that day. But he had lived, had come home to be courted and feted by the polite world who would have petted him and made a hero of him if they could. He could not bear it – and made no attempt to hide the fact.

I’m delighted by how many people seem to be reading and enjoying The Reluctant Debutante which is now also available in paperback.

By the time we meet him in a humble tavern on the London road in 1819, Giles has inherited a title from his uncle and is the Earl of Rockcliffe. It has been a difficult transition for Giles who was, for many years, a penniless young officer in Wellington’s army, initially in a line regiment and then as one of Wellington’s exploring officers. He returned to regular service for the battle of Waterloo where he was seriously wounded and lost Simon Carlton, one of his best friends.

For anybody who would like to know more about Giles’ early years before he met and fell in love with a merchant’s daughter, you’ll be glad to know that the opportunity will arise during the course of the Peninsular War Saga as the regiment that young Ensign Fenwick joins is the first battalion of the 110th Infantry, commanded by the young and flamboyant Major Paul van Daan.

I wrote The Reluctant Debutante as a standalone novel and when I began writing the first of the Peninsular Books some time afterwards, the connection did not immediately occur to me. Giles was an exploring officer who operated away from the main army. However, as I spent more and more time researching Wellington’s army, it became clear to me that Giles would have started out in an ordinary regiment before being seconded to that post. We already know that he was poor, with no money to join the guards or an expensive cavalry regiment, and we also already know that his uncle, whom he visited, had an estate in Leicestershire, the home county for the 110th.

Giles is a few years younger than Paul van Daan. When Paul joins the 110th in 1802 he would have been just fifteen, still at school. But it did not seem unreasonable that when he was looking to join the army, he might have found a commission in the local regiment, the 110th cheap to buy, just as Carl Swanson did some years earlier. Moreover, I had a strong feeling that the young Giles Fenwick was probably the sort of lad who would catch the attention of Major van Daan and his clever wife. They like young officers with a strong personality and a lot to offer and Lord Wellington was always looking for men who might be suitable for his Corps of Guides.

After that the connection was obvious. Giles does not appear in the first book, although he joins the 110th in 1805 when he is eighteen. But he has the misfortune to be commissioned into the seventh company of the first battalion under the disaster that was Captain Vincent Longford, which means it is going to be some years before he finds himself under the command of Major van Daan. What happens then and how he becomes an exploring officer will be told during the course of the series.

I love connections like this, and having realised that I was going to be able to explore Giles’ back story as part of my saga, I realised that thanks to having unintentionally used the same surname in two of my books, I could create another connection, this time with the gallant Major Kit Clevedon of A Respectable Woman Kit is another officer who comes late into a title unexpectedly, but at twenty he gained financial independence from his bullying father when he inherited a small estate from an uncle. It didn’t take me long to work out that the character from An Unconventional Officer who shares his surname would have been 68 had he died that year. It would appear that Gervase Clevedon, one of Paul’s most reliable officers and very good friends, was the uncle from whom Kit inherited. I wonder if it was his idea for Kit to join the army to get him away from his unhappy home life? I rather suspect that it was; Gervase was a very good soldier and would have approved of the life for a favourite nephew…

Giles Fenwick also makes a cameo appearance in A Regrettable Reputation which is now the first book in the Light Division Romances, a series which follows the stories of some of the supporting characters from the Peninsular War Saga back into civilian life after the war.

My third standalone novel, A Marcher Lord is from a different time period entirely. However, the Scottish borders have provided fine soldiers to His Majesty’s armies for many hundreds of years. I have a strong suspicion that although nobody would know it, some red haired descendent of Will and Jenny Scott would have been fighting alongside the Van Daans, the Fenwicks and the Clevedons on Wellington’s front line. I’ll let you know if I run into him at some point.

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Historical Romance

A Redoubtable Citadel (Original Paperback Cover) a historical romance of Wellington’s armyAs an author of historical novels, and specifically historical romance, I will own up to being  a bit of a romantic.

A lot of people who know me would be surprised at that.  I don’t come across that way at all, but I like a good love story.  I love the classics: Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice and Jamaica Inn.  I love a happy ending and I’m not averse to a couple walking off into the sunset holding hands.

But what happens after that?

My three first novels are all standalone historical romances so far and I enjoy each of them for different reasons.  In A Respectable WomanKit and Philippa are fighting against the rules of society which says that marriages need to be made between social equals.  In A Marcher Lord the conflict between Will and Jenny is that of patriotism and national loyalty during a time of war.  And for Giles and Cordelia in The Reluctant Debutante we have a comedy of manners, a couple from very different backgrounds whose courtship is beset by difficulties.

And then we come to An Unconventional Officer, the first book in a series set during the Peninsular War.  For Paul and Anne nothing is simple apart from their feelings about one another, feelings which prove impossible to fight or to hide.  They are are about to create one of the big scandals of Wellington’s army, to upset the social norm and shock the officers and their ladies.  And quite simply, neither of them gives a single damn.

The challenge of Paul and Anne is that on this occasion, the story doesn’t end when he picks her up and carries her to bed.  The story carries on, and it is happening during wartime when fighting and dying and burying comrades leaves little time for romance.  In writing the story of Paul and Anne, I have had to adapt what I intended to fit around the relentless and exhausting pace of Wellington’s war.  There is no time to pause and reflect, no time to hold hands and gaze into one another’s eyes, no time to plan.

Because of that, they are people of action.  Both of them have their part to play in the conflict and both, over the years, will suffer and struggle.  The challenge of writing a series is to follow their love story through the ups and downs of war without any possibility of closing the door and setting the violins playing before it all gets too difficult.  I’m looking forward to seeing how Paul and Anne cope with the challenges which lie ahead.

 

 

A Respectable Woman – the history behind the book

A Respectable Woman - set in a 19thc school based on Raines in Arbour Square, Stepney

A Respectable Woman - the historyRespectable Woman was the first book I published and I wanted to share some of the history behind the book.  I have been writing for as long as I can remember, almost always historical fiction.  There are even, I believe, one or two short stories in my old school magazines which were set in the past and with a degree in history I thoroughly enjoy the research aspect of writing.

If possible I love to visit the locations where my books are set, but with A Respectable Woman, it wasn’t hard to visualise the settings since I grew up in East London in the 1960s and 1970s and the school where Philippa Maclay goes to work as a teacher is based entirely on the old grammar school I attended as a child.  The streets she walked are the ones I grew up with and although I have lived away from London for many years, it felt like going home.

Raine’s Foundation Grammar School was founded by Henry Raine and the original Lower School opened in 1719.  Like Wentworths, boys and girls were taught separately and reading, writing and arithmetic were taught as well as useful skills which might help the girls get work in service and the boys to learn a trade.  In 1736 Henry opened a boarding school which took girls from the Lower School and this would have been the equivalent of the school where Philippa taught.  In reality the original schools were in Wapping and did not move to the Arbour Square site in Stepney until 1913 but I have chosen to base my story in the school that I knew. By coincidence, when I went to Wikimedia looking for a photograph of the school that I could use, I found one attributed to a John Darch, whom I rather suspect is one of my old history teachers. If that’s so, thanks very much, Mr Darch…

There are surviving records from the old Raine’s schools and I used these extensively when writing about the day to day running of Wentworths.  I was particularly fascinated by the records of punishments and the day to day activities of the pupils.  Times were hard in the Victorian East End, and it must have seemed like an amazing opportunity for some of these children to get an education at all as well as being housed and clothed and well fed.

The church where the girls go for their Christmas service and then for Founders Day is based on St George’s in the East on the Highway.  As a child I attended services there, sang in the choir for many years and during my final year, as head girl, I laid the wreath on the tomb of Henry Raine.  At the time it was simply a tradition, part of the school year, although I always loved it.  Despite the fact that as teenagers we all mocked the old traditions I’m really aware now of how good it felt to be part of something.  The school year was punctuated by these events and I have tried to give a sense of that in the book and of the sense of belonging it gave to Philippa, orphaned and cut adrift from the world in which she grew up.

Charity schools haven’t always had a good deal in fiction, from Dotheboys Hall in Charles Dickens to the harsh environment of Lowood in Jane Eyre.  Conditions were certainly spartan, but in many cases they were no harder than home life for the children who attended them and I wanted to try to give the feel of the genuine enthusiasm of some of the people who served as teachers and board members and doctors for the work that they did.  For all the poverty and misery of the East End in Victorian times, there were many philanthropists who gave up their time and energy to try to improve the lot of the working classes.

Lady Alverstone is a good example of a wealthy woman who has chosen to spend her time doing something more useful than simply being a society hostess.  In addition to her interest in Philippa’s school she sets up soup kitchens for the survivors of the Cholera epidemic and chairs various committees including one which campaigns for the cause of Anti-Slavery.

The slave trade was abolished in British territories in 1807 and slavery itself was abolished in 1838, but illegal trading continued throughout the nineteenth century and abolitionists worked hard to bring pressure on the government to take action to stamp out the abuses of the system.  There were two different anti-slavery societies during the nineteenth century which did valuable work.

There were various missionary societies during the nineteenth century, including the London Missionary Society and the Church Missionary Society.  They sent missionaries to various stations around the world and the work of Philippa and her father is based loosely on the experiences of men like Moffat and Livingstone who worked in Africa during the nineteenth century.  Missionaries and their families were more likely to succumb to fever and illness than to be the victims of violence, but it did happen at times.

Kit Clevedon’s military service all took place in genuine theatres of war at the time.  Many soldiers moved from Africa to the Crimea and then to India and the siege of Lucknow is well documented.  During this era Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was unheard of although there are many hints in letters and accounts of the time that some serving officers and men were badly affected by their experiences of war.  Kit’s decision to go into the army as the second son of an Earl would have been seen as entirely normal at the time.  The first son inherited title and lands, the second went into the army and if there was a third, the church was often the recognised profession.  Many young men served for a few years and then moved into other spheres, in politics or making a good marriage, but some found a genuine home in the army and chose to remain regardless of rank or wealth.

The Lyons Home for Fallen Women is based on a number of institutions set up to help unfortunate females who had strayed from the path of virtue, for example the London Female Dormitory.  Many of these institutions had harsh rules about who they would and would not help and how that help should be given.  Women were given only so many chances to reform and if they went back on the streets or to their pimps they would eventually be given up as a lost cause.  The Lyons home was very liberal for it’s day but undoubtedly some homes were run on such compassionate lines and must have been a welcome shelter for women who had nowhere else to go.

‘A Respectable Woman’ is in many ways a very traditional love story, with hints of Cinderella.  But Philippa is not sitting around waiting for a prince to rescue her.  She is in fact, very likely to be the one doing the rescuing, and does so on more than one occasion.  A woman left alone in Victorian times had a very limited number of options available to her and maintaining her respectability was all important.  I enjoyed writing about a girl who developed a successful career and maintained her independence against all odds and I hope you will enjoy reading about her.

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What’s in a name – writing historical novels and when is it okay to call yourself a writer?

Stars of Blogging with Labradors
A Respectable Woman my serious  attempt at writing historical fiction and the first published
A Respectable Woman my serious attempt at writing historical fiction and the first published

Writing historical novels is very different to calling yourself a writer.  I’ve not been online for a few days.  In the other part of my life, I manage an Irish dance school called Manx Trinity Academy of Irish Dance which happened to me by accident rather as one trips over a step.  It sounds very impressive.  To tell you the truth the kids are very impressive although we’re still a small school.  I don’t teach dance, having two left feet, I just manage the business side of things and enjoy being involved.  I have two amazing young teachers and the kids have made great progress.  This past weekend we’ve had a workshop running with a visiting teacher from Dublin so I’ve been administering first aid and saying soothing words to a bunch of dancers who have been pushed to their limits.

It was supposed to be a four day workshop, but the arrival of storm Doris put paid to that and poor Michael ended up having to cram four days worth of work into two days.  The fact that he managed it is a credit to him and the fact that they could still smile at the end of it is a credit to my teachers and my students.  In the middle of all this my infant writing career was rather left to it’s own devices.

I reassure myself with the knowledge that at this point it really doesn’t matter since only a few friends actually know of the birth at all.  I have barely put a toe out of the closet although I intend to get braver as the weeks go by.  But today, while working on an author Facebook page, I ran up against an attack of the heebie jeebies over whether or not I am allowed, with only one e-book to my name officially, to call myself a writer of historical novels.

It’s always a challenge for me, laying claim to being able to call myself anything.  I do all right with ‘wife’ and ‘mother’ since they’re fairly standard and besides, other people call me those as well (although if he calls me Wifey one more time we might have a different problem on our hands).  I managed librarian during my early career and then counsellor, but I’d done training and held fairly impressive qualifications in both of those.  I’ve struggled a lot more with the word ‘manager’ in more recent jobs.  Telling people I managed an art gallery, despite the fact that manager was clearly what I was doing, was hard for me.  Often I would mumble something incomprehensible about ‘helping out’ at the gallery which probably gave the impression that I did a couple of hours gentle dusting a week instead of the long hours plus work at home and one memorable occasion writing a funding proposal while sitting by a swimming pool in Tenerife trying to pretend to my husband that I wasn’t working but was actually reading light fiction.

I checked out the dictionary definition, with my usual compulsiveness, and it appears that if I’ve written something longer than a postcard, I am entitled to call myself an author regardless of how many books I have sold so far.  Emboldened by this permission from the Oxford English,  I have decided to come clean and admit that I am an author.  Admitting you have a problem is the first step so I will practice in the mirror for a while, repeating the words in order to get used to them.  “What do you do?”  “I manage an Irish Dance school and I am a writer of historical novels.”  There you see, I can do this thing.  It can’t be as hard as saying, “I am a counsellor and I work for Relate”.  Believe me, that kicks off conversations at parties that you wish you’d never had.

The next thing I need to get brave about is telling people what I write.  It’s historical romance.  I think.  The trouble is, I’m not sure myself.  I mean it’s set in the past, which makes it history.  And there are often real people involved in it, although so far the main characters are all fictional.  It’s not too deep but it isn’t all fluffy bunnies either.  One or two of my characters have had a fairly tough time, which often happened in days when the rules weren’t really the same as they are now, although that needs to be a subject for a whole different post.

I wonder sometimes if I would be more comfortable about it if I were writing something challenging and difficult to read and possibly in line for a prize that somebody has heard of.  Writing books which are intended to entertain people while maintaining a degree of historical credibility and not winding up too many special interest groups along the way is the sum of my aims in life.  Mostly, I realise, I want to write books that people are going to want to read.

So what’s in a name?  I suppose calling myself an author is a step in the right direction and after a time I’ll be just as comfortable with it as I am with some of the other roles and titles I’ve had.  In the meantime I’ll just have to pretend.

 

 

 

A Respectable Woman: a novel of Victorian London (Book 1 in the Alverstone Saga)

A Respectable Woman - set in a 19thc school based on Raines in Arbour Square, Stepney

Today my first book was published, A Respectable Woman, a Victorian historical novel set mostly in London’s East End in the mid nineteenth century.  Available on Amazon kindle and in paperback from Amazon, it looks surprisingly grown up.

Of course nobody knows it exists.  This is the part of writing that I’ve always been worst at.  I am actually not a bad sales person when it comes to jobs that I’ve done, but selling myself as a writer has always felt slightly awkward as if I’m jumping up and down shouting look at me, look at me!  But there is no point in putting in the amount of work that I have and then doing nothing to promote it so I intend to grit my teeth and admit that yes, I have written a book and yes, I’d rather like people to read it and enjoy it and hopefully look forward to the next one.

During my attempts to find a publisher or agent over the years, one of the things that was always queried was whether what I was writing was marketable.  It accounts for a selection of rather bizarre part finished novels which exist in my archives as I painstakingly researched what was currently selling and tried to produce my own version of it.  Of course by the time I’d gone through the process, the trend had moved on and I was left with a book I didn’t enjoy writing and wouldn’t personally want to read that nobody wanted to publish.

I am currently in possession of eight complete novels which I’ve written over the years.  One of them was an attempt at a contemporary romance, and although I’d never publish it in it’s current form, there’s enough that I like about it for me to hang on to it.  There are three standalone historical novels, one of which was published today, and then there are the first four books in a series set during the Napoleonic wars. Most of these at some point have been sent to publishers, agents or to the Romantic Novelists Association new writer’s scheme, and have all been rewritten and revised so many times that it’s hard to remember how they began.

‘A Respectable Woman’ was the first novel I submitted to the RNA to get a second reading.  For those who don’t know the Romantic Novelists Association has run a scheme for many years to help aspiring romantic novelists.  When I first went through the scheme, I seem to remember there were an unlimited number of entries allowed per year but as the scheme grew it would have been impossible for the readers to manage so a restriction was placed on numbers.  The advantage of this scheme is that the reader puts together a very detailed report on your manuscript.  If it is good enough it is passed on to a second reader for comments and can result in a possible introduction to an agent or publisher.

It is an amazing scheme if you can get on to it and I learned an incredible amount from the four or five times I entered.  Two of my novels got a second reading and one was passed on to an agent for me, but was rejected on the grounds that it wasn’t marketable, and as I grew up in the East End would it not be possible for me to write something along the lines of Martina Cole.  I wanted to say that if I were able to write something along the lines of Martina Cole I would probably not have submitted a romance set in Victorian London but I restrained myself.  Still, the scheme taught me a lot and I’m incredibly grateful for it.

A Respectable Woman‘ is about a girl who grew up on a mission station in Africa among the Mashona people in Portuguese East Africa in the mid-nineteenth century and then has to learn how to adapt to life back in Victorian London with it’s rigid rules about how a respectable woman should behave.  Re-reading the novel and revising it after a few years was an interesting process, partly because I’d honestly forgotten bits of it and partly because I was interested in the characters and how they related to those in the books I’ve been writing since.  It’s clear that there are themes which I hadn’t planned or thought about along the way but I will probably take into account in the future.

All of my leading ladies are strong women in their own way and somewhat unconventional in their outlook.  Partly I think that comes from my own family story where there is a tradition of strong women and they were very much valued for it.  Partly I think that as a historian, I’ve always been interested in the position occupied by women in society over the centuries.  It is not always as cut and dried as one might think, and despite the restrictions imposed on them, history is full of examples of women who fearlessly stepped out of the boundaries imposed on them.  I am very aware of the similarities and differences between my women and I feel that I would like the challenge of writing a novel about a very different kind of woman in the future to see how that works.

Another theme which I was literally unaware of until I looked at all my books as a whole is that my leading men are all, or have been, soldiers. On the sixteenth century Anglo-Scottish border of ‘A Marcher Lord’ every landowner would have been expected to defend his home and his people, it was a violent age.  But in the other cases it seems a coincidence that in books written ten years apart, I have returned to a military theme.  Having thought about it, I have come to the conclusion that once again it has given the men a broader experience of the world which makes it more understandable that they should be attracted to the kind of woman who breaks the rules.

The third theme is very obvious and not hard to understand.  All my books, for all that they are romances, look at the position of women in society.  At various different stages in history women have been restricted and confined and ignored, and in writing about women who attempt to step outside these restrictions it would be unrealistic not to acknowledge that at times this puts them at risk, both socially and physically.  For all their independent spirit they are still women and are expected to behave themselves.  The world was not always accepting to women who did not.

I hope if you haven’t already, you will read and enjoy ‘A Respectable Woman’ as much as I enjoyed writing it.  Please review it if you do, and feel free to contact me with comments.