Taking a chanceThursday, December 24, 2009 8:00
This year I changed my mind about one thing. I’d always thought it was necessary for a beginning writer to be conventional, to go with what works, and leave the book of their heart for another time. Now I’m not so sure.
And it’s a couple of my books that have given me this change of heart. “Yorkshire” was the first book I wrote with a view to publication, before I knew the rules. Write in third person, past tense, was one of the rules. I wrote “Yorkshire” in the first person, because that was the way the story came to me. When I learned the rules I tried to rewrite it in third and learned two things. First, that I would have to rewrite the whole thing, not just ‘transpose’ it to make it any good, and second, that the book just deflated. So I kept it in third person.
Another rule was to make the book a standalone. Well it was, but I very much wanted to carry on with Richard and Rose and make them the hero and heroine of more books. I wanted to show the development of a relationship, the way it changes and how the people within it change. Courtship, marriage, honeymoon, children and the way living together impacts on it. All of it.
The second book in the sequence is “Devonshire,” where Richard and Rose are preparing for their wedding and encounter a smuggling gang. I wanted the gang to show the way the gangs of the period actually operated, more like the Mafia than a group of raggle-taggle peasants doing a bit of tobacco and lace on the side. So my smugglers aren’t the least romantic, or freedom fighters, as at one time they claimed to be. And toward the end of the story something happens that isn’t ever supposed to happen in a romance. I won’t recount it in detail, because it’s a definite spoiler. I angsted about this scene, got more scared as I approached it (I write by starting at the beginning and writing through to the end – not all writers do this). Then, when I came to write it, I went on autopilot and the scene happened as I typed it. That’s one of the things most writers pray for, and it doesn’t always happen.
Several editors and all my critique partners questioned it. It would make the character involved look bad, they said, people wouldn’t want this to happen. But by then I knew I wanted it. Nothing else would do, anything else would have been a cop-out. And it’s one of Rose’s turning points, when she’s beginning to realize what she is and what she could be.
“Devonshire” and “Yorkshire” have remained firm favorites with my readers, and I’m so proud of them I can’t tell you. They’ve had a chequered publishing history, but they’ve found a wonderful home with Samhain, where they’ve reached a wider audience. They’ve proved perennially popular, and feature in best of lists. This week, “Devonshire” featured in the Dear Author 100 favorite list, and I’m thrilled and a bit taken aback to see it there among such luminaries as Kinsale and Gaffney.
I’ve written other historical romances, books I’ve loved, dealing with conflicts I’ve enjoyed writing about, but after this series, I went to writing in the third person, and about characters who I’ve tried to make sympathetic. I don’t think I want to do that any more. I’m going to let my characters do what they want to do, let them tell me what they need to do and then they’re going to do it.
So, new writers, don’t think of gimmicks to make the book different, don’t do it for its own sake, but listen to your muse, and be brave enough to take a chance.