An Irregular Regiment – Book Two coming soon

Wellington’s HQ in Pere Negro, the Lines of Torres Vedras
An Irregular Regiment
Book 2 of the Peninsular War Saga

An Irregular Regiment, book two in the Peninsular War saga, is due for publication on 4th July.

The novel continues the story of Major Paul van Daan and the 110th infantry as they prepare to meet the French on the ridge of Bussaco in Portugal.  Back on the battlefield only two weeks after his scandalous marriage to the young widow of Captain Robert Carlyon, Paul is ready for the challenge of the invading French army.

But Lord Wellington has another posting for his most difficult officer and Paul and Anne find themselves back in Lisbon dealing with a whole new set of challenges with army supplies, new recruits and a young officer who seems to represent everything Paul despises in the army’s views on discipline and punishment.  Anne is getting used to life as the wife of a newly promoted regimental colonel as two other women join the regiment under very different circumstances.  And an old adversary appears in the shape of Captain Vincent Longford whose resentment at serving under Paul is as strong as ever.

It’s a relief to return to the field but Paul finds himself serving under the worst General in the army in a situation which could endanger his career, his regiment and his life.

Given a brief by Wellington which requires him to use tact and diplomacy as well as his formidable fighting skills, it’s hardly surprising that the army is holding it’s breath waiting for Wellington’s newest and most explosive colonel to fail spectacularly.

An Unconventional Officer
Book 1 of the Peninsular War Saga

Read the first chapter of An Irregular Regiment here.  For those who haven’t read it yet, why not order an Unconventional Officer.

Georgette Heyer, Regency Romances and how much sex is really necessary…?

Of all historical novels, Regency romances seem to be one of the most distinctive genres, and although their popularity has waxed and waned they have never completely gone out of style.  Set approximately during the period of the British Regency (1811–1820) they have their own plot and stylistic conventions. Many people think of Jane Austen when Regencies are mentioned and certainly her novels are set in the right period, but of course she was writing as a contemporary not as a historian.

It has always seemed to me that Georgette Heyer was the mother of the current Regency genre.  She wrote more than twenty novels set during the Regency, between 1935 and her death in 1974 and her books were very much like a comedy of manners.  There was little discussion of sex, understandable given the different views of her generation, and a great emphasis on clever, quick witted dialogue between the characters.

These days, Regencies seem to be divided into two sub genres.  There are the traditional Regencies which are similar to Heyer’s originals, and a more modern Regency historical genre.  Many authors do not seem to confine themselves to one of these two types but may move between the two.  Both are currently popular.

Traditional Regencies emphasise the main romantic plot.  They play close attention to historical detail and take care to replicate the voice of the genre.  There is a good deal of research for writers of traditional Regencies.  Heroes and heroines generally remain within the accepted rules and conditions of the period and although their may be some sex it is very likely that the action stops at the bedroom door, probably at the proposal of marriage.

The more modern Regency historical novels break more rules.  They may be set during the time period but not necessarily in high society with an insight into life outside of the world of wealth and privilege inhabited by Georgette Heyer’s characters.  They may also include characters who behave in a more modern way, particularly when it comes to sexual behaviour and moral values.  The style can be very different to the more traditional works.  There is another sub genre, the sensual Regency which has become very popular in recent years.  These novels are far more explicit than the traditional Regency and the sexual relationship between the hero and heroine is key to the book.

There are some elements which are likely to crop up in all genres of Regency novels.  Many are set in, or will refer to the Ton, which means the top layer of English society.  They revolve around social activities such as balls, dinners, assemblies and other common pastimes.  Men are often involved in sporting activities.  There are detailed descriptions of fashion and a consciousness of social class and the rules of behaviour.  The difference between them is that in traditional Regencies the heroine is likely to stick to them; in the modern genre pretty much anything goes.

The shift in the genre seems to have come about because of a slump in the popularity of Regencies in the 1990s.  Some authors began incorporating more sex into their novels and while lovers of traditional Regencies disliked it, publishers and readers seemed to approve and the Regency novel got a new lease of life.

I grew up reading Georgette Heyer and owned every one of her books in paperback – I still have some of them and still read them from time to time.  They are, for me, the ultimate comfort book – the only other series which comes close are P G Wodehouse’s tales of Jeeves and Wooster.  These are the books I’ll turn to if I’m ill or miserable or sometimes just because my brain hurts and I can’t focus on anything else.  They are written to entertain and with their quick dialogue and comedic moments they never let me down.

I wrote my first Regency novel for the Mills and Boon market during the years I was trying to find a traditional publisher.  I’d tried several other novels, including at least two contemporary ones which are never going to see the light of day again, and had joined the Romantic Novelists Association new writers scheme.  After very positive feedback on both A Respectable Woman and A Marcher Lord it was suggested that I try to adapt these to Mills and Boon.  I did try, but it couldn’t be done.  It appeared that I simply could not have a heroine who defended herself very capably against attack; it was the job of the hero to rescue her and Jenny Marchant simply wouldn’t wait.  In fact she was more likely to do the rescuing.  Philippa Maclay was even worse, she didn’t make it through two chapters without doing something so appalling that it put her beyond hope of redemption.  If I rewrote these characters then I would be writing a different book.  I gave it up and decided to start from scratch.

Out of that decision came Cordelia Summers and Giles Fenwick of The Reluctant Debutante.  Once I got into the swing of it I really loved writing this book.  It’s fun and fairly light hearted.  I was already doing a lot of research into the period for my series set during the Peninsular war and that fitted very well with a Regency so it wasn’t that much extra work.  And the fast paced dialogue and witty characters of the Regency genre exist in all my books, no matter which period they’re set in.  I realise that those years of reading Georgette Heyer and Dorothy Dunnett have affected the way all my characters speak.  They may have different accents and different levels of education, but most of them are smart mouths.  

I had a lovely response from Mills and Boon on the Reluctant Debutante.  It was a no, but a very detailed no.  They liked the setting and the characters and even the plot, but once again my characters let me down.  There was not enough internal conflict between them, it seemed; most of their difficulties were external and their way of overcoming them was not dramatic enough.  Could I rewrite it to include more conflict between Cordelia and Giles?

I did try.  I wrote a selection of scenes for them.  The trouble was, trying to fit them into the book made no sense whatsoever.  I’d already created these people and their responses to events grew out of their essential character.  Cordelia might have flatly refused to see Giles after their quarrel and there could have been weeks of agonising and misunderstandings.  But there wasn’t.  Cordelia was as mad as a wet hen but once she saw him again, she didn’t have it in her not to listen to his explanation.  She’s a practical girl with a wealth of common sense.  She simply can’t behave like a drama queen.

So Giles and Cordelia remained as themselves and I published the book pretty much as I’d originally written it, with the removal of one or two completely gratuitous sex scenes which didn’t seem to add anything to the plot.  I’ve been delighted with people’s response to it.  So far it’s the best selling of all the books although the others are starting to catch up and readers seem to love it.  

The amount of sex in my books varies a fair bit and for me that reflects reality.  Everyone is different in how they feel about sex both in books and in real life.  It’s not hard for me to write about sex; I used to be a relationship counsellor so I’m difficult to shock.  At the same time I need my characters to develop their own attitudes towards sex and it needs to fit within the social norms of the time and one of the most important things to remember is that there was no reliable form of contraception available to any of my heroines which meant that there was an enormous risk involved in illicit sex.

Jenny and Will in a Marcher Lord are very compatible.  He’s around thirty, never been married although knows he should be for dynastic reasons, and likes women.  You have the sense he had a good relationship with his mother and adores his younger sister, so he’s likely to be fairly respectful around women although given his age and status there have definitely been a few adventures along the way.  He’s not particularly a womaniser despite some of his cousins jokes about it and he knows how to behave.  Jenny on the other hand grew up in a loving family where marriage wasn’t really an issue which has given her a very untraditional view on marriage and sex.  Circumstances rather than morality dictate the progress of Jenny and Will’s relationship and they understand each other very well.

For Philippa and Kit, sex is a very different issue since at the start their entire relationship is based around his attempt to persuade her to be his mistress and her steadfast refusal.  Their stances on this are very traditional for the time but there are a lot of other reasons why a sexual relationship is complicated for this couple and it was quite hard to write about at times.  Certainly this was not a couple who were going to fall into bed every five minutes, that’s not what their story is about.

Giles and Cordelia are also fairly traditional.  Giles might forget his manners from time to time but he understands what is expected of him.  They are strongly attracted to one another but their relationship takes a fairly traditional course, for the first half of the book at least.

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

Paul and Anne are very different.  Technically, An Unconventional Officer could be considered a Regency given the period but it is not; it’s a love story but it’s also the story of two very individual people and their experiences in the army during Wellington’s Peninsular wars and the Ton and Almack’s don’t really feature.  When Anne and Paul meet there is no question of a romantic relationship between them; he’s married and she’s going to be soon.  But of all of my characters, Paul and Anne are by far the most openly physical in their relationship.  He is a shameless womaniser with a string of broken hearts behind him and she is young and inexperienced but neither of those things really matters.  For Paul and Anne the chemistry is instant and undeniable and completely irresistible.  It is also really obvious to everybody around them.  It isn’t hard writing love scenes for Paul and Anne, the difficulty is trying to get them to behave with any degree of propriety at all.

I suspect The Reluctant Debutante falls somewhere between the old and the new when it comes to Regency.  I do like my heroines to have something more about them than a pretty face and good manners, but on the whole I’ve allowed Cordelia to be fairly well-behaved in public although privately she’s a little different.  She’s very grown up but she’s also led a sheltered life in comparison to all three of my other heroines and she behaves accordingly.  It was nice to write something normal for a change…

My new Regency has the working title of A Regrettable Reputation and it’s early days yet but at least some of it is likely to be set in Yorkshire.  Sophia Dorne is very different to Cordelia both in circumstances and in character.  Nicholas Witham is nothing like Giles, having neither his fortune nor his arrogance although they do have some things in common.  I’m looking forward to seeing how things work out for them.

Watch this space…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Peninsular War Saga:The Joy of a Series…why one book sometimes isn’t enough…

Cannon

Many thanks to all of you downloading An Unconventional Officer, the first book in the Peninsular War saga.  I really hope you enjoy it.  It’s a long book and it’s the first in a series so I am hoping that you make a connection with the characters and want to read on.  Discovering a new series of books is something of a commitment.  You can read one book, put it to one side with a smile or a shrug, and not worry about it any further.  But to read a series, the story and the characters have to matter.

All of my characters matter to me but I probably have more invested at the moment in Paul and Anne in An Unconventional Officer because I know a lot more about them.  I’ve worked out where they are going and what happens to them and I know what they have to face along the way.  I know about their friends and their family and their children.

I love reading a series.  There’s a real sense of anticipation about the next book.  In terms of historical novels, these are my favourites, in no particular order:

Sir Robert Carey and the James Enys series by P F Chisholm (Patricia Finney)

Falco and Flavia Alba novels by Lindsey Davis

Brother Cadfael novels by Ellis Peters

Lymond and Niccolo series by Dorothy Dunnett

Amelia Peabody novels by Elizabeth Peters

The Barforth family saga by Brenda Jagger

There are a lot of others but these are definitely my favourites.  I quite enjoy some other series as well.  I like thrillers, and I enjoy Val McDermid, Jeffrey Deaver, Tony Hillerman, Jonathan Kellerman, Colin Dexter, P D James, Tess Gerritson and Elizabeth George.

Sometimes a series starts well and then tails off so that I lose interest.  That definitely happened with the Alex Cross series by James Patterson.  I enjoyed the early ones enormously but then for me, the stories became too similar or sometimes too bizarre, in an effort to keep the series going.  Sometimes I suspect it is time just to find an ending and move on.

Sometimes a series just wears me out.  I’m a big fan of Game of Thrones and have followed both the novels and the TV series with considerable enthusiasm.  But the last book was a struggle and although I’m still enjoying the series, I’m not sure I’ll read the next book when it arrives.  It had become unremittingly depressing and hard to follow even for me, and I’ve waited too long for it.  I think he’s an amazing writer, but I’m just done with them now.

Writing a series brings both opportunities and challenges for an author.  There are challenges of continuity, of making sure no glaring errors occur with events and characters and history.  List making, chronologies and obsessive detail is essential here.  There is the challenge of keeping your readers interest.  No matter how much your readers love your main characters, if all the books are about them and nothing else they are going to get bored.

I think historical novelists have an unfair advantage here, because unless we want to rewrite history, we can’t cheat.  The events of the day are going to happen to our characters whether we like it or not so it forces us to think about how they might genuinely affect our protagonists.  A good example of this is the growing friendship between Colonel Paul van Daan, my fictional hero of the Peninsular Wars saga and General Robert Craufurd, the irascible, brilliant commander of the light division.  There are no spoilers here.  Both Anne and Paul are very attached to Craufurd but anybody can check Wikipedia and realise that at some point they are going to get very upset.  Craufurd died in the breaches of Ciudad Rodrigo and his friends were devastated.  I can’t rewrite that to make my characters feel better…

Those are the challenges.  The opportunities are equally important.  A series means you get to find out what happens next.  You don’t have to tie up all the loose ends in one book.  You can start and end each chapter when it makes sense.  You can explore other characters alongside your leads.  And you can develop people in the way that happens in real life, gradually, in a series of conversations and events not in a three paragraph summary which is all you have time for.

The established wisdom of publishing now seems to be, that with very few exceptions, long novels don’t work.  It is assumed that modern readers simply can’t cope.  In my opinion this has more to do with publishing costs than public opinion and I do understand why a publisher who is struggling with the advent of the internet and self publishing might not be willing to take on a new author. But for me, because I’m a realist, the phrase “you’re not marketable” actually means “you’re new and therefore too much of a risk”.  And that’s fine.  I’ve accepted it and moved on.  But since I can’t stop writing, I’ve decided to put my books out there and see.  And the good news is, they’re selling.  And getting good reviews and ratings.  Not thousands of sales yet, but hundreds.  Not dozens of reviews yet but a few and very good.

“An Unconventional Officer” was a difficult novel to publish.  It’s long.  Less that the Harry Potter book “Deathly Hallows” which was for children.  Less than War and Peace or Catch-22.  About the same as Fellowship of the Ring.  I thought about splitting it into two books when I was trying to find a traditional publisher.  They would either have told me to cut it or to split it into two books.

An Unconventional Officer
Book 1 of the Peninsular War Saga

In the end I’ve published it as it is.  For those of you who give it a try I hope you enjoy it.  I loved writing it and I’m looking forward to the rest of the series, most of which will be shorter books covering a shorter time period.

 

 

 

 

Creating a book – an interview with Sarah Hendy on Manx radio

Manx Radio on Douglas Head (Photo by Nigel Williams)

I had a lovely time today recording a radio interview for Manx radio with the fabulous Sarah Hendy whom I used to work with at the Sayle Gallery in Douglas.  Sarah now presents Spotlight, the stations weekly arts programme and asked me to come for a chat about my books and in particular the latest

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

release, An Unconventional Officer.

It took me right back to my first ever post when I wrote about how difficult it was for me to ‘come out’ and admit that I write historical novels and consider myself to be an author.  I was writing when I was working with Sarah but we didn’t talk about it because at that stage only my closest friends and family knew that I wrote at all.  I’m not sure why, looking back on it, except that it is a slightly unusual hobby.  A lot of people put reading or hiking or cycling at a hobby on their CV but writing tends to raise eyebrows.

I enjoyed the interview.  It helps a lot to know the person interviewing you and Sarah and I know each other very well.  But I also enjoyed some of the questions, in particular the one about the process of creating the story.

I don’t know how other authors put together their novels.  Do they start by typing chapter one and then write through in a logical order until the end?  I’ve never been very good at doing that.  I tend to write a selection of scenes involving my characters and then string them together.  Once I’ve got a fair chunk of the book, I can go back and fill in the gaps, and a lot of rewriting is done then.

It sounds like a slightly mad way of doing things, but my books are very character driven.  One of the comments made by Sarah today was that it sounds at times as if my characters get away from me.  It’s really hard to explain it, but they do.  Sometimes they seem to behave in ways that I find very difficult to understand.  Heroes behave like idiots, heroines lose their marbles at an unexpected moment and a villain who up until now has been completely dislikable will step up and do something good which I then have to deal with.

That’s why writing individual scenes often works well for me.  I can throw a collection of people together in a situation and see how they behave.  Sometimes it works really well and I will incorporate the scene into the book and at other times I decide I don’t want to use it.  But even the unused scenes have developed relationships between my characters and I think that makes the scenes I do use a lot stronger.

The exception to this slightly off beat way of writing has been the Peninsular War Saga.  Initially I began with the same approach but once I got to grips with the research, it was obvious I needed to focus a bit better or the whole thing was going nowhere.  Lord Wellington did not hang about during the war and my poor characters are constantly on the move, constantly busy.  Scenes I particularly wanted to include needed to be ruthlessly adapted to fit in with what the commander in chief wanted.

I didn’t mind.  Wellington was giving the orders here, it’s our job just to get on with it.  In many ways it makes the whole situation more realistic.  The number of times one of my characters needs to march out to battle just as a crisis occurs at home is numerous but completely real.  It must have happened in real life, which is probably why Wellington didn’t really like his officers and men to be married at all, and if they were, preferred their families to be left at home.  He needed his army to focus and became annoyed very quickly at requests for leave to deal with family crises, romantic interludes or personal bereavement.

Wellington remained in the field for the whole of the war apart from the one occasion right at the start when he was recalled with the other commanders to answer for the fiasco of the Convention of Sintra.  While he was away Sir John Moore marched into Spain, a disastrous campaign which ended with his death at Corunna.  I rather suspect that didn’t help with Wellington’s conviction that everything tended to go wrong if he wasn’t there to personally take charge.

With the Peninsular books I now have my characters, and a fairly fixed timeline, and all I need to do is work out what happens to them during that time period.  It’s fairly obvious where Paul needs to be.  Battle follows battle and he’s going to be involved in them.  Occasionally there’s a short break during winter quarters, but I tend to find him a job elsewhere during those periods.  He doesn’t like to be bored.

I’d like to thank Sarah and Manx Radio for letting me ramble on about my books.  It’s something I love to do.  The programme is aired on Wednesday 7th June at 5.30pm.

 

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.

For regular updates on this site including history, travel, book reviews and plenty of labradors (and a few freebies thrown in) please join the e-mail list here.

 

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…

For regular updates on this site including history, travel, book reviews and plenty of labradors (and a few freebies thrown in) please join the e-mail list here.

Scrivener – the writing software that changed my life…

Quill pen

I thought I would surprise everybody with a review of scrivener for novel writing today.  I love Scrivener,  which I now use to write all my books.

I am a technology cave woman.

I was going to call myself a technology dinosaur.  For one thing, I really like dinosaurs and aspire to be one.  My occasional thermonuclear explosions at home when the mess in the house reaches a critical mass or I can’t get any peace and quiet to finish my chapter have led my family to compare me to a pterodactyl, a sub-species apparently known as the Mumadactyl.

But I’m not really a dinosaur with technology, because eventually, after a lot of swearing and moaning and kicking off, and after more tutorials, online instruction and lessons from the man I married who has the patience of a saint at times, I do get it and I can use it.  That’s why the dinosaurs became extinct and I probably won’t.

I don’t love technology.  I get no pleasure from a new gadget.  Every upgrade to whatever I’m using at the time is greeted not by excited cries as I go through to find out what new and useful features have been added, but by a muttered grumbling sound as I go through to painstakingly relearn a familiar task now that some complete and utter moron has changed the way it looks and works.  When my husband tells me that something is intuitive, I usually snarl at him.  Walking is intuitive.  Using any form of technology whatsoever, including a microwave, is not.  I have to learn it and if I don’t use it very regularly, I have to learn it all over again when I’ve forgotten it.

This shocks many people since I’m clearly bright.  “How can you not remember that?” they say.  “It’s like remembering a phone number.”  Well I don’t remember those either, although ask me to talk you through the causes of the Boer War which I last studied back in 1982 at University and I can do it in a heartbeat.

Just occasionally though I come across a piece of technology which looks as though it might be so useful that it inspires me to fight my way past my instinctive resistance to making my life more complicated.  I learned, eventually, how to use an iPhone, an induction hob and wordpress to design this website and all of those have been well worth while.  And finally, after about six months of cursing, I want to announce that I officially love using Scrivener.

Scrivener is an eBook creator.  With it I can write my novels, format them, muck about with them, easily move between various versions of them and once I’m ready to publish them I can compile and upload them with remarkable ease.  The interface is clear and once you’ve worked out what things actually mean, it’s well organised and makes a surprising amount of sense.

You can do an awful lot with Scrivener, not just novels but non-fiction books or even photo-albums.  I will freely admit I don’t use half of these various functions, but if I should ever need to in the future, they exist.

Scrivener supports almost all of the main files eBook writers use including HTML, MOBI and PDF.  You can upload sounds, graphics and videos onto your projects and it seems to be relatively easy.  But the thing I love about it is the file structure which enables you to put your book together but also to store research notes and other material in a way that is quick and easy to access.  I’ve really only just got to grips with this aspect of it, but as a writer of historical fiction it’s crucial to be able to keep good research notes and character lists and now I have everything I need to hand in each binder instead of searching through endless word or excel files for a list or a reference.

I won’t pretend it was all plain sailing learning a new tool.  I’ve been using Word for so many years that I was genuinely terrified that trying to adapt to something new would slow me down.  But now that I’m getting the hang of it I love how easy it is to organise things.

A cave woman, you see, not a dinosaur.  Eventually, after a lot of whinging, cavemen and women learned how to use tools.  I’m not convinced that the dinosaurs ever did…

For regular updates on this site including history, travel, book reviews and plenty of labradors (and a few freebies thrown in) please join the e-mail list here.

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.

For regular updates on this site including history, travel, book reviews and plenty of labradors (and a few freebies thrown in) please join the e-mail list here.

An Unconventional Officer – Revision Time…

Sir Arthur Wellesley, later the Duke of Wellington
An Unconventional Officer
Book 1 of the Peninsular War Saga

The battle of Talavera is officially over and revision time on An Unconventional Officer is getting easier.

After weeks of agonising over rewriting this blasted battle, the thing just happened, falling seamlessly into place with the rest of the book. I finally did this with pneumonia, spiking a temperature and with a blinding headache. It’s probably the reason describing an unpleasant battle experience in the middle of a scorching Spanish summer came so easily in the end.

The word in this house is now officially revision. AS level revision, GCSE revision and revising the final draft of this book for mistakes and inconsistencies. It’s a long and tedious process but at least I know what I’m doing with it.

This is a long book in comparison with the other three I’ve published. I struggled with the length for a while and finally decided to stop trying to prune it any further. I can’t tell this particular story any other way because it needs to fit around actual historical events so I’m just going with the flow.

The first chapter of ‘An Unconventional Officer’ is available to read for free elsewhere on this website.

I’m looking forward to publication on May 30th.

A Moment of Calm: time management for authors

Quill pen

References to calm and time management for authors generally raise a snigger around here.  In case you hand’t guessed, the title of this post is ironic.  I thought I’d get that out of the way first because I don’t want anybody to read this and think it’s going to be at all zen.  I’d like it to be, trust me, but it’s not happening.  I keep looking at this photograph of me at Bussaco on our recent trip and wondering when I will feel this calm again.  It’s sort of soothing just looking at it, though…

View from the Bussaco Palace Hotel, site of the old convent

I’m sitting here, dodging the battle of Talavera because it’s the first day of the new term of my dance school, we have about a billion new starters and I am surrounded by reams of paper covered in fee notes, terms and conditions, welcome letters and codes of conduct.  I have literally no idea if anybody is actually going to read any of this, but it’s good that they’ll have it.  I’m wondering if I should also give out a free chapter of one of my books as well…

I’ve often wondered if other writers live in the sort of chaos I seem to be surrounded by.  There are days when I have so much stuff on my desk and on the floor surrounding it that I can’t move.  I can’t get to the stuff on the floor (an atlas of the peninsular war, by the way) because there’s a snoring labrador on top of it, neatly hiding a map of the Estremadura.  Yesterday evening I was rampaging about the house searching for a book about the battle of Talavera which I knew I’d had only hours earlier and accusing my family of having moved it.  The response was predictable.

Husband:  Not seen it.

Daughter:  Mum, if I’d found it I’d probably have set fire to it, you have way too many books about Wellington, it’s not healthy.

Son’s girlfriend:  Do you know, I don’t think I even own a book that I could lose.

Son: Try the bathroom

It was in the bathroom.  Don’t even begin to ask why, I can’t tell you.

Perhaps my life would feel less chaotic if I had a normal job where I went out of the house at eight thirty and came back at five thirty to do normal things.  I’ve read a lot about how important it is when working at home to separate out working time from family time, but my family are entirely used to me reading history books or making notes in front of the TV and holding long conversations with Irish dance teachers while trying to do the ironing.  It’s not easy.

Still, I think this suits me.  I did the traditional thing for years and then I was a stay at home Mum.  I’m not sure I was ever that well organised at home, although my desk at work was always a masterpiece of neatness.  Perhaps it’s just in my own environment that I create havoc.  Or perhaps it’s just the way my brain works.

I’m giving Talavera a break today to concentrate on Manx Trinity, but I’ll be back to it tomorrow.  If I can find the book again.

In the meantime, look out for some free promotions coming up over the next few weeks in the run up to the publication of ‘An Unconditional Officer’.  It’s not looking good for the ironing pile…

For regular updates on this site including history, travel, book reviews and plenty of labradors (and a few freebies thrown in) please join the e-mail list here.