Writing with Labradors… An Unconventional Officer, The Reluctant Debutante and Hilary Mantel

Lynn Bryant and Writing with Labradors
Local news story on Writing with Labradors

Writing with Labradors, and Blogging with Labradors came about as something of a joke when I was first setting up my website.  It’s proved popular and I’ve stayed with it…hence the presence of Toby and Joey in our local newspaper this week.

Anybody looking at this post is going to work out from the title that I’ve a few things on my mind this morning.  One of them is recovering from my birthday yesterday.  Not, as you might think, a wild night out on the town, but a rather lovely meal at home (main course courtesy of my son and his girlfriend, cake courtesy of my daughter) followed by Prosecco and Trivial Pursuits.  You can tell that I know how to live…

I spent some time thinking about publicity yesterday now that An Unconventional Officer has been published.  There was a nice article in our local paper the Isle of Man Examiner about the release and I’ve been asked to do Manx Radio as well.

I can remember one of the first posts I wrote on this blog talked about my concerns regarding publicity.  I’ve never been much of a self-publicist and I honestly thought I’d struggle more than I have, but I’ve made myself do it because once I had taken the plunge and published the books it seemed pointless just to let them sit there and take their chances.  And I’ve actually quite enjoyed it.  For anybody interested in psychology, marketing and reaching the right audience is a nice little challenge.  I’m still learning but I think I’m getting better.

It helps that the books are selling – not in their thousands, but steadily.  It also helps that I’ve had one or two nice reviews and some four and five star ratings on places like Goodreads and Amazon.  There’s something very encouraging about knowing that people are reading and enjoying the books enough to review them.  All my reviews are from complete strangers, I hope they have some idea how much it makes me smile.

One of the interesting things I’m learning is what people like.  I grew up with Regency novels and loved them, and I’ve read a few more recent ones.  The Reluctant Debutante was my tribute to those and I’ve been astonished at how popular it’s been.  I had already thought I would write another Regency just because they’re so much fun, but I’m already planning it.

An Unconventional Officer is also set in Regency times and although it’s a far cry from the London Season of Cordelia and Giles, it is about the war which affected everything during those years.  It’s a longer book than any of the others and is the first in a series which follows the men and women of a fictional regiment through the years of the Peninsular War.  I loved working on this book; it’s a bigger canvas with a large cast of characters and the best part is that I don’t have to say goodbye to them at the end of the book.

I’ve done a lot of research for these books.  Earlier I saw an article in the Guardian which caught my attention about the relationship between academic historians and historical novelists which I found really interesting.  I’m sure there are a lot of academics who dislike historical novels, particularly where they take very obvious liberties with history.  Equally there are non-academics who don’t like them much either.  And there are people who like science fiction and chick lit and thrillers and even, so I’m told, those who love Fifty Shades of Grey.  It takes all sorts.

I think I can understand the frustration of an academic historian.  After publishing a book which took years of painstaking research, gained excellent academic reviews and sold very few copies it must be infuriating to see a novelist selling thousands of books which claim to be based on history but which to a serious historian could seem poorly researched, wildly inaccurate and full of mistakes.

I do have a history degree so I’ve a little understanding of both sides of this argument.  The truth is that some historical novelists are not trying to be accurate, they’re just trying to entertain, putting characters in old fashioned clothing but not caring about period detail or anachronisms or accurate timelines.  It doesn’t mean people don’t or shouldn’t enjoy their books.  It just means that they’re not intended to teach people anything about history.

I’ve read some of these and personally they drive me up the wall.  I can cope with honest mistakes but in some cases I think writers might do better to turn to fantasy where anything goes.  Still, I refuse to be a snob about it.  There are also some very well respected historical novelists whose work is clearly painstakingly researched but I just don’t enjoy their style.  Many people do, it’s a matter of personal taste.

I’ve recently come across an author called Jacqueline Reiter, who has written both a biography and a historical novel about the life of John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham, the elder brother of the Younger Pitt who spent much of his life in the shade of his more famous father and sibling.  I’ve now read both, and it’s confirmed what I’ve always suspected that it’s very possible to be both and excellent historian and an entertaining historical novelist.  I would defy anybody on either side of this debate to be snobbish about Earl of Shadows which is the novel or to complain that the biography the Late Lord is anything other than a well-written and very scholarly work.  Both historians and novelists could learn a lot from this writer and I hope she goes on to write a lot more.

The books I’ve written so far are period specific and most of them include some real historical characters alongside my fictional ones.  I try to research as well as I can.  For A Respectable Woman I used a lot of primary sources and for “An Unconventional Officer” I read endless accounts of the war written by the men who fought it.  The problem with these is that they are frequently contradictory in themselves; they were written years after the war and people forget.

Wellington’s letters and despatches are a goldmine of information for the Peninsular War books although they’ve obviously been edited for publication.  Even so, given the immense stress Wellington must have been under during those years, did even he remember everything?

In the end, it only matters if you want it to matter.  I love reading history, both novels and non-fiction, as long as it’s well written and enjoyable to read.  I can sift through either and find what I want and the very obvious disagreements between academics over the interpretation of events means that I don’t feel guilty about putting forward my own interpretation in a novel.  My characters might well have their own views about why something happened which contradict modern historians’ thinking, but then they’re not modern historians, sifting the evidence, they’re supposed to be ordinary people living their lives in a different time and like us they’re entitled to their opinions.

I think I’ve done enough musing about marketing and the meaning of life for a while.  Now it’s back to the writing, which in the end is what I love doing most and the reason that all this is happening.

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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.

 

 

Coming Home

Bussaco Palace Hotel

It can be difficult sometimes, coming home at the end of a holiday, especially a holiday as great as the one we’ve just had.

An Irregular Regiment

When Anne was not busy at the hospital or working with Paul’s quartermaster she rode up to watch training. Her husband and his officers became accustomed to her presence, and took turns to spend time with her explaining what was being done and why, and she was fascinated to watch the process which had made a legend of the 110th. She suspected that very few of the other regiments were working quite so hard with no immediate prospect of a battle and she began to realise with some amusement where Paul’s reputation for perfectionism had come from.

In the relative comfort of their billet she had time to settle in to the life of the regiment and to get used to being married to Paul. Up and down the lines the officers hunted and gambled and attended parties, and she watched her husband rise each day to join his officers and men on the training field, observed his watchful eyes scanning the lines for mistakes and inefficiencies, and laughed at their grumbles as they left the field, knowing that what had already been good was expected to be perfect.
“Every other bloody officer in this army is applying for leave!” she heard Carter commenting, after a particularly gruelling afternoon of skirmish drill. “What the hell is wrong with him? Can’t he take furlough and give us a break? Or even a day off!” He caught sight of Anne’s laughing face and grinned. “Sorry, ma’am. Didn’t see you there. You sure you aren’t due a honeymoon?”
Anne laughed. “Not sure what my chances are, although I hear that even General Craufurd is going home to see his wife for a while. You’re just unlucky that I’m out here, Danny. But it’s looking good.”
“It is bloody good, ma’am. But according to him, it needs to be bloody perfect!”
“It does,” Paul’s voice said, coming up behind Carter. “Stop complaining to my wife, Carter, she doesn’t care.”
In the relative isolation of the convent, the 110th maintained it’s usual level of informality. The officers ate together in the main convent building, but during the evening most of them drifted down to the field behind one of the barns where the men tended to congregate on fine evenings. Two of the women had set up informal grog tents there, and Private Flanagan of the light company was often to be found playing his fiddle, sometimes accompanied by one or two of the drummer boys. Anne would perch on a hay bale at the edge of the barn sipping wine and laughing and talking with Paul and his officers and men. It was a very different experience to life in the army with her first husband. She was busy and challenged and realised, when she gave herself time to think about it, that she had never been so happy in her life.  (From An Irregular Regiment, book 2 in the Peninsular War Saga by Lynn Bryant)

It’s cold and wet and there is a mountain of laundry.  Welcome to the end of a holiday.

Usually I’m in a completely foul mood by now having left both the sunshine and the relaxed feeling of no responsibilities behind but this time I’m still surprisingly cheerful.  I have a feeling that is because I’ve come back with so many new ideas that I can’t wait to get started.

I need to rein in on diving straight in to the Peninsular Books as I still need to finish getting The Reluctant Debutante ready for publication.  I had visions of working on that while I was away but that went out of the window on the first day.  We managed to cram so much into nine days that I was falling asleep in the evenings almost before I’d finished dinner.

I want to go back to Portugal and Spain.  Perhaps next year I can come up with another list of battles and locations.  We missed Talavera and Porto, and I’d like to travel up to Vitoria and perhaps even on into the Pyrenees and into France.  Those books aren’t even started yet although I’ve a fairly good idea how some of them will go.

We have a huge collection of fantastic photographs, courtesy of Richard, and we need to go through them and make sure they’re properly labelled before we find ourselves struggling to work out where they were taken.

It was an amazing trip and I loved every minute of it.  In the chaos of trying to pick up the various threads of my life again, I’m aware that being busy suits me.  Perhaps that’s why I’ve passed that particular trait onto several of my favourite characters.

Just as well, when I look at my to do list…

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The Reluctant Debutante – A Regency Romance – Coming Soon

The Reluctant Debutante

My next book to be published, ‘The Reluctant Debutante’ was originally aimed at the Mills and Boon market.  A number of people in the publishing world who had said fairly complimentary things about what they’d seen of my writing had urged me to try to make my books more marketable by aiming them at a specific market, and Mills and Boon were one of the places suggested, notably by the readers on the amazing Romantic Novelists Association New Writers Scheme.

I took a long, hard look at the Mills and Boon historical fiction line and read a fair few of them before I decided to make the attempt.  I will be completely frank when I say I hadn’t read a Mills and Boon since I was a teenager, and I’d always assumed that I’d grown out of them, but I have to say I did them an injustice.  The point about Mills and Boon is that although they have the reputation of writing to a formula, actually there’s a huge variety of styles and published authors, some of whom I quite liked and others not so much.  There are very definite conventions about the structure of the books and what is and is not considered a good idea.  When I decided to take advice and try to write a Mills and Boon historical, I did a lot of research into this.

My first two attempts were complete failures.  I had already written ‘A Respectable Woman’ and A Marcher Lord’, and I tried hard to adapt both of these to fit the Mills and Boon requirements, but it became fairly clear early on that I wasn’t going to manage it.  ‘A Marcher Lord’ is very much a historical novel, set in a specific place and time.  There is a lot going on which is crucial to the plot and try as I might I could not adapt it enough.  ‘A Respectable Woman’ seemed like a better prospect, but I ran into difficulties immediately because I was told that it was important for the hero and heroine to meet early on in the book and then to spend most of the rest of the novel either in each other’s company or at least thinking and talking about each other.  It’s fair enough.  Mills and Boon readers have come looking for love, and that’s what they expect to get.

My problem was that both my heroes and heroines flatly refused to cooperate.  Jenny was better behaved in terms of showing up and being in the right place to fall in love with Will, but he was completely uncooperative and cleared off to fight a war almost immediately.  It probably wasn’t his fault because the English had just invaded, but it rather left the poor girl hanging about, and far from waiting eagerly for his return, the wretched girl was still dreaming of the man she left behind her.  That was a complete disaster in terms of Mills and Boon, by the way.  They were not happy about Jenny’s adolescent crush and needed him gone.  I did try, but it immediately took out a huge chunk of my plot, and that left me stranded.

Philippa and Kit were even worse.  They barely met for five minutes before taking off at speed to do other things.  He went off to fight the Crimean War: soldiers are completely unreliable when it comes to location, by the way, the only way you can keep them in one place is to injure them.  As for Philippa, not only did she put herself firmly beyond the pale by killing a man – in self defence, admittedly, but it’s still not okay for a Mills and Boon heroine, I’m told – but she then took herself off and got a job, and not a particularly glamorous one.  Once again, I did my best to make the necessary changes, and I think I could have got Kit under control, but Philippa was having none of it.  I either had to change her behaviour so much that she turned into a different person, or I needed to think again.

Out of this frustrating process, was born ‘The Reluctant Debutante’.  I grew up reading Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer and Jane Aiken Hodge books and I loved them, so when I decided to try a Mills and Boon historical from scratch, the Regency was the first period that came to mind.  The stylised tradition of the genre would hopefully make it easier to keep my somewhat wayward characters under control, and I rather liked the idea of a bit of glamour and sparkle for a while after struggling with the blood and gore of sixteenth century battles and the slums of Victorian London.  I was very strict with my characters, I moved the action firmly to post-Waterloo London and gave Giles a very good reason to have sold out, and I gave Cordelia a fairly conventional background with no incentive to go taking off saving lives or earning a living.  This time, I thought I had cracked it.

Sadly not.  Once again, the novel came back with a selection of very complimentary remarks about style and characters, but it was not for Mills and Boon.  This time, although my characters were in the right place, doing roughly what they were supposed to be doing, it appeared that there was not enough conflict between them.  Reading between the lines, I think Cordelia was simply too down to earth and sensible.  I tried a few rewrites on this, but every plot device I came up with to heighten the sense of drama in this relationship was immediately shot down in flames by my alarmingly level-headed heroine, who raised a supercilious eyebrow and simply picked up a book.  It wasn’t happening and I put Cordelia and Giles sadly to one side and accepted that despite my huge admiration for the women and men who write for Mills and Boon, I’m simply not one of them.

Still, I admit I had a lot of fun trying and it was very good experience.  It made me practice sex scenes, since a lot of Mills and Boon books are very keen on those, and that’s been useful since.  It did make me think very seriously about the kind of books I write.  I wasn’t sure at the time if I would write another   Regency romance, but it did make me do a lot of research into the period and it reminded me how much I enjoyed it.

The Reluctant Debutante has changed a good deal since it’s first incarnation.  Once I realised that Giles had fought at Waterloo, and knowing the type of person he is, I felt very strongly that fighting under Colonel van Daan in the 110th would do him a great deal of good.  The Reluctant Debutante has proved my most popular book so far and from that has come my other

A Regrettable Reputation

Regency, A Regrettable Reputation, about another of Giles’ old Light Division comrades.  For those who have read neither of these, A Regrettable Reputation comes first in the series and there’s a cameo appearance from Giles.  Several of these characters also appear in the Peninsular War saga.