Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Real Rakes: Not Only the Good Die Young

Richard Barry, 7th Earl Barrymore (1769-1794), was just 24 when he died. Known as 'Hellgate', he was a womaniser and a sportsman, and was said to have squandered 300,000 pounds in his short life. One of the founding members of the famous Four Horse Club, he had a lively wit and founded a number of other clubs with rules like 'if any member has more sense than another he be kicked out of the club'. Even though he had obtained her guardians' consent to the match, he eloped to Gretna Green with Charlotte Goulding, niece of the infamous Lady Lade and daughter of a sedan chairman. The lady shared his interest in bare-knuckled boxing and actually sparred herself, hardly the sort of pastime we expect from a countess!

Despite his reckless way of life, it was while doing his duty that the earl was killed. His regiment was stationed at Sussex during the French revolution with orders to strengthen border defence. In addition, he was responsible for some French prisoners, which obliged him to keep a loaded gun with him at all times. While driving a gig, the gun went off accidentally, shooting him through the eye. He died 40 minutes later.

A bare telling of the facts of Barrymore's life raise the most intriguing questions about this young man. No doubt he was selfish, profligate and insensitive, yet he had a keen wit, displayed qualities of leadership, generosity towards his dependants and considerable physical courage and sporting prowess. I wonder what he would have been like at 40? Raddled with gout and riddled with the pox? Or upon maturing, would he have put his intelligence and talents to good use? Can a rake be redeemed as so many Regency historicals tell us? Perhaps, when there is enough of the good mixed in with the bad, they can.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Should the Artist turn Critic?

At about the same time I sold my first book, I joined a romance readers discussion group called brraddicts. It wasn't until I began particpating in this group that I realised I'm in a different position now from the position I was in as an unpublished writer. I feel I have to be more careful about giving an honest critique of a book.

My opinions remain the same, of course, but if I do criticise, especially books in the same genre as the one I write in, others might think I believe I can do better. That's not the case. I'd find it very difficult to critique my own work the way I do when I read published novels. In fact, when I think about how I approach critiquing other writers' unpublished manuscripts, it is different again from the way I evaluate a published novel. I don't care too much about structure and word choice when I'm reading a published novel, though I appreciate both when done well. I concentrate more on whether I like the main characters, whether their conflicts ring true, whether the ending is satisfying--all the things any reader looks for in a romance.

I don't think a person must be able to do better before they are qualified to criticise someone else's work. Everyone has an opinion on art, that's what it's for, to stimulate thought and reaction. But I still can't help tip-toeing around the subject if anyone asks me what I think of the latest Regency historical I've read. Privately, to my writer friends, I can be candid. In a semi-public forum, I would rather focus on the positive.

Does that make me a wimp? Should writers comment publicly on novels that are in the same genre as their own books?

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Wimpy Heroines Need Not Apply

When you write Regency historicals for the modern market, there is a balancing act that goes on. How do we make our heroines appealing to the modern reader, yet avoid the trap of writing about modern women in period costume?

I don't think many bestselling authors in the genre write about the average Regency female. In fact, the extraordinary has become the ordinary in fiction. We always meet the girl who rebels against the feminine ideal, the lady who defies society's rules or at least the accepted norm of the time.

The extraordinary woman has almost become a cliche in historical romance. In fact, it takes a very skilful author to write about a heroine who behaves exactly as women really did in those days and still make her interesting to the modern reader. After all, we modern women almost pride ourselves on our lack of interest in traditional feminine pursuits that were so highly prized at that time. We don't admire a heroine who is only concerned with her needlework.

However, some authors go too far the other way and confuse decorum with dullness, restraint with a lack of passion. I don't think a heroine needs to be wishy-washy or clingy or subservient to be true to her period. Regency heroines can strong and admirable in all sorts of ways that don't involve the physical or indiscriminately flouting society's rules. They can have wit, honour, a strong sense of duty and sacrifice, courage in the face of great adversity.

Having said all that, I can forgive a lot if the heroine has a sense of humour, or at least a sense of irony, coupled with intelligence. Not intelligence that the author and other characters tell me about, but intelligence that is shown in the heroine's speech and actions. My favourite heroine is probably Sophy from Georgette Heyer's The Grand Sophy, though Loretta Chase's Jessica in Lord of Scoundrels comes very close.

Who is your favourite historical romance heroine, and why?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Update on Recent Posts

Be careful what you blog about

A while back, I rambled a little about unreliable narrators, in response to a post by Nadia Cornier on her blog. Little did I expect that Ms. C would google herself and find said rambling. Even less did I expect her to take offence at my tongue-in-cheek comment about her habit of flying off at tangents from the central discussion. The habit is part of her unique charm and if it was my post that made her resolve to be more 'normal' in future, I sincerely regret it!


I met the first of my deadlines last week. One more to go and then it's full steam ahead on the work in progress. As long as my lovely editor likes it. Fingers crossed!

Snake Burial

Very sad to say that we found a snake the approximate size of the one that invaded my kitchen a couple of weeks ago dead in our swimming pool courtyard the other night. Who knows if it was the same one, but I can't help thinking it is. And I suspect that one of our dogs killed it, too, which makes me feel terrible. But I suppose that's the way the animal kingdom works. It's sad, I feel like the victor of a long, hard-fought duel with a formidable opponent, who wakes up the day after the fight to hear that his challenger has died of a cold.