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.

 

 

 

Blogging with Labradors: History, Writing and Life

Toby and Joey

Welcome to blogging with labradors – my very first post.

I’ve read so many times about how daunting it is to be faced with a blank page.  That’s probably very true for normal people, but I’m not sure I’ve ever been normal.

From a fairly young age a blank page has always been a challenge for me. I can fill it with ease; with stories, with doodles, with information, with ideas.  Writing things down has always come more easily to me than speaking the words, although having said that, I quite like to talk as well.

So Blogging with Labradors is my author website and blog.  Wow, that sounds mad.  It means that after years of prevaricating and making excuses and sending endless manuscripts and sample chapters I am finally going to take matters into my own hands and publish what I’ve written.

As I said, the writing was never the problem.  I’ve always written.  The business side of writing, the risk of putting my ideas out there and letting people read them hasn’t come as easily to me.  It’s not that I’m shy.  I’m actually not.  It’s just that it feels slightly arrogant, slightly conceited to assume that just because I’ve written something people will want to read it.  I don’t even tell most people that I write.  It’s been like a guilty secret for most of my life, draft after draft of novels and stories hidden away.  I used to write in exercise books and then on an old manual typewriter.  Now I have laptops and Word and Scrivener.  It doesn’t matter what you use to write with.  What matters is finding the courage to let people read it.

The world of publishing has changed beyond recognition.  Self-publishing used to be called vanity publishing and involved paying a large sum of money to print a book which might never sell.  These days we can all do it online, and somehow it seems to have less of a stigma attached. But there’s a bit of me that still wishes I’d found an agent or a publisher.  I did try, although not as hard as I might have done since I lack the patience to wait four months every time.  I’ve entered competitions and done quite well.  I’ve joined new writers schemes and tried Mills and Boon because at least I know they read the stuff.

I’ve had some great comments.  To summarise all of them, I have learned that I don’t write pure romance and I don’t write literary historical.  They don’t fit the Mills and Boon mould.  I can write, and people seem to like my characters.  My research is excellent and my books are apparently easy to read.  But they don’t fit.  They’re not currently marketable.  They’re not particularly strange or wild or unusual.  They’re just not part of a current trend.

That might be true.  If it is, I don’t really mind any more.  I’m putting them out there into the world of e-publishing and I hope some people find them and enjoy them.  I’ve realised, at this advanced age, that I’m not going to stop writing.  I love what I do and perhaps some other people will enjoy it too.  If not, I’ve lost nothing but the time it took to create them, and since it was a joy that’s no loss at all.

Lurking in the bowels of my computer I’ve found three standalone novels which I’m going to publish first after some revision, more as a test run than anything else, although I’m fond of them.  I’ve also been working on a series of novels set during the Napoleonic wars which I’m going to revise and start publishing.

My late onset of publishing bravery has taken me into a whole new world of technology.  It’s never been my strong point, and I’m lucky that the man I married is a software developer and resident genius, although if he has a fault it’s his passion for finding out every single feature of literally everything before writing a single word.  I owe him so much for all the work he’s put in on this website and on helping me work out how to publish the books.  More impressively he’s even read one of them, came up with several intelligent ideas on improving it, and genuinely appeared to enjoy it.  Blogging with Labradors, and it’s website, Writing with Labradors, is written by me but would never have existed without his help and patience.

I’m intending to upload the first book within the next week and I hope people will read it.  If you like it please review it and recommend it.  If you hate it, feel free to review it anyway.  I’ll be upset because I’m human but I might learn something from it, this whole thing is a learning process.  So far it’s a process I’m enjoying.  I hope some of my readers enjoy it too.

Toby, Joey and I welcome you all to Blogging with Labradors.