New contemporary novel coming SOON
Some months ago, I watched the powerful film A United Kingdom (2016), which relates the story of Ruth and Seretse Khama and their struggle to gain acceptance as a racially-mixed couple both in the UK (where Seretse was training as a barrister) and Bechuanaland, in the 1940s. That led me to take a closer look at colonialism and the struggle again British rule. The west African country of Ghana gained independence in 1957, the first African colony to do so, and was initially ruled by Kwame Nkrumah. Nkrumah studied in London and for a short time also undertook legal training at Gray’s Inn (Seretse was at the Inner Temple around the same time).
This background gave me the idea for the context of my latest novel. It’s a contemporary romance set in 1981/2 and the heroine is the daughter of a Ghanaian/British racially-mixed couple. It’s called Beatrice and is due out in December, available on Kindle, KDP Select and Amazon paperback.
Escape to nostalgia
The RNA defines a historical novel as one set 50 years or more ago in the past. Technically, that means a contemporary novel is set within the past 50 years. That got me thinking about the meaning of such labels. A Victorian novel could be set in the late 1830s or any year up to 1901. Yet in 1837 there was no railway, no motorcar, no bicycles, no telephone, no Origin of Species, no electricity, no sewing machine, no typewriter or camera A lot of inventions arrived during Victoria’s reign. Then again, if the reader resided in Australia or BC, it could have an entirely different meaning, relating to geography rather than date.
So a contemporary novel could be set in the 1970s, before many readers were born, and also before the advent of the world wide web, emails and all the electronic communications we now take for granted. As a young adult I taught in rural central Africa on a school compound without electricity. Our refrigerator was powered by paraffin and we had to learn the vagaries of oil lamps for lighting after dark. During my 2-year contract I rang home once, on the occasion of my parent’s 25th wedding anniversary. I had to book the call and experienced the several second time delay as we took turns to speak. I wrote and received a lot of letters!
If you’ve been following my blog you’ll know I recently read a number of Betty Neels’ romances, many set in the 1970s/80s, and recently produced my own tribute novel (Joanne). I like being able to slow things down, so communication is not instant. It gives more time to describe the journey and the feelings along the way. In the present climate of uncertainty as the world tackles a life-threatening virus, might it be true that people want a comfort read and a bit of nostalgia. The word nostalgia in fact comes from the Greek for return to pain! Since I’m after a return to comfort, what shall we call it as a genre? How about nostfort?
Reality of the Regency
Regency is one of the most popular periods for romantic novels and TV dramas, but behind the glitz portrayed on page and screen, the reality was somewhat different. Here are some less palatable facts, which most of us authors choose not to mention!
1.Hands and faces were regularly washed but not so much bodies, not least as soap was highly taxed and beyond most purses.
2.Sanitation was non-existent and that and the poor quality of water exacerbated the spread of diseases like typhoid and cholera.
3.Sugar was an expensive luxury enjoyed by the rich, but not by their teeth, which went black and caused halitosis.
4.The best dentures were those made with healthy teeth harvested from the thousands of young men who died at the Battle of Waterloo.
5.Addiction to morphine and heroin was commonplace, including imbibing laudanum for pain control and to fuel addiction.
6.Arsenic was commonly used in face creams, remedies to increase fertility and cure baldness and in the manufacture of everyday items like candles and cloth.
7.Prostitution was commonplace and in the late 18th Century ‘gentlemen’ could purchase a copy of ‘Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies’ detailing what each lady offered.
8.A slightly different publication was produced by Mr John Penn, also for circulation amongst upper-crust gentlemen, listing the qualities of marriageable society ladies.
9.Pineapples were expensive and tended to be passed on from one household to another as gifts of status, to the extent that they were never eaten, but eventually went rotten.
So, next time you pick up a Regency novel, read between the lines!
And now for something completely different
Last month I wrote about Betty Neels, the prolific writer of medical romances published by Mills & Boon in the closing three decades of the 20th Century. They are so popular that they have been republished as e-books. I caught up with a few available online through my county library service and began to consider what gives these stories their enduring popularity. Do women secretly want to be rescued by a man who has everything and adores her? The stories are predictable (we know he’ll win her in the end and all those misunderstandings will be cleared up and he’ll turn out not to be engaged to that stunning other woman, etc) but still we read them. I’ve spoken to others about reading choices during the C-19 crisis and found some common ground—an easy comfort read for a little diversion from all the stress!
So I decided to have a go. Amongst her many stories, in 1980 she published one called Judith. Mine is called Joanne and is set in 1980 in a seaside resort in Devon. Joanne is the eldest daughter of a widowed clergyman and has run his household for years and brought up the rest of the children. Then a handsome Swiss architect arrives in town, bent on acquiring a run-down hotel for his family’s five-star chain. I hope you enjoy my take on the traditional contemporary sweet romance.
Available now on Amazon Kindle, KDP Select and in print from Amazon.
I’m just an old-fashioned girl
British readers of my generation may have come across the prolific Betty Neels, who retired from nursing in 1969 and then began to write warm-hearted, traditional romances in a medical setting for Mills & Boon. She died aged 91 in 2001, having written over 130 of them.
Her stories are traditional and quite chaste—nothing beyond the bedroom door, nothing below the waist and very little below the neck. She confined her protagonists to the occasional kiss. Her heroes often smoked a pipe and her heroines were frequently described as ‘splendid’ girls. Some were beautiful, some were plain, but they were generally dedicated, kind and quite self-effacing.
Her first book was called Sister Peters in Amsterdam and subsequent stories followed a similar pattern. The hero was usually a Dutch hospital consultant (Neels’ husband was Dutch), the heroine an English nursing colleague or a Cinderella poor girl figure. He usually drove a Bentley or a Rolls, while she was a nurse or did unskilled work and had family commitments. There were generally a large dog or two around and a cat or kitten also usually featured (often rescued by her).
Her stories were mostly set in the age before computers or mobile phones were generally available. The heroines were quite feisty at times, but nevertheless susceptible to the gallant, masterful, honourable, hard-working, RICH knight-in-shining-armour who came to take them away from all this. The heroine couldn’t believe he would fall in love with her, given the sophisticated, beautiful creatures in his social circle. The hero generally had several properties each staffed by loyal longstanding servants who’d known him since childhood and he usually fell in love with the heroine at first sight, before setting out to woo and win her. Nostalgic stuff!
So I thought what if…the result is I am currently writing what I call a traditional contemporary romance, incorporating my own version of some of the features that made Neels’ writing so popular, except mine is in a business rather than a medical context. More on this soon. Hoping to publish in August.
New Regency romance
Pleased to announce my latest Regency romance is now available. His Philanthropic Lady is third in the Regency Lady series, all available on Amazon Kindle, KDP Select and in print. In recognition of the importance of e-books at this time, the Kindle editions are ALL priced now at 99p/99c.
Meet Susannah Thistlewood, who first appeared aged 7 in A Master of Industry, being educated by a somewhat radical governess. Now aged 19, you won’t be surprised to find her full of idealistic fervour to make the world a better place.
Independent-minded and very outspoken, she has no interest in following her older sister Roberta, nor her friend Primrose, into marriage. What a challenge to transform her into the heroine of a romance! I needed a little help and that came in the form of a little bay mare called Florence who liked eating daffodils. Because of her, Sir Edward Derringham is literally thrown in her path, as well as into something less savoury, and the scene is set. Then, of course, there are Mr Penn’s Parties, the Regency equivalent of a high society dating agency, so they simply can’t avoid each other.
Contraception in the early 1800's
If it were understood that it was not disreputable for married persons to avail themselves of such precautionary means as would prevent conception, a sufficient check might be given to the increase of population beyond the means of subsistence.
This was written 200 years go in ‘Illustrations and Proofs of the Principle of Population’ published in 1822 by Francis Place, ‘the tailor of Charing Cross’ who was also a champion of workers’ rights.
Whatever our ethical/religious beliefs about birth control, these days it is a given, as is publicity on menstrual products in the media. Two hundred years ago such subject matter would have been deemed obscene, as would descriptions of how to prevent conception. In the UK, the established Church of England (and other denominations) disapproved of birth control as anti-biblical and those who disseminated such information were liable to be prosecuted.
This may sound a little serious as an inspiration for my latest Regency story, but I hope you will find it entertaining. The heroine, a baronet’s daughter, works amongst the poor in London and has a secret mission to help women prevent unwanted pregnancies to restrict the number of children they have. Naturally she gets into trouble when it’s found out, at the behest of a jealous lady.
‘His Philanthropic Lady’ is the 3rd book in the Regency Lady series (following His Haughty Lady and His Capricious Lady) and is due out on Amazon Kindle, Kindle Unlimited and print next month, a light, romantic diversion in the current stressful situation.
In the past month or so, I’ve been travelling all over the country for various family gatherings. Now, suddenly, being in that age group, my husband and I are being advised to stay at home in isolation. Our usual local activities have mostly ceased. More time for research and writing, yes, but also for thought.
How strangely apt that my research lately has been on population growth and attitudes to birth control in early nineteenth century Britain. No doubt you may have heard of Reverend Thomas Malthus, who published ‘An Essay on the Principle of Population’ in 1798. He argued that population expands in times of plenty until it becomes too big for the resources available for feeding it. He defined checks on population as ‘positive’ ones which raise death rate, such as hunger, disease and war, and ‘preventive’ ones which lower birth rate, such as abortion, birth control, prostitution, postponement of marriage and celibacy. Interestingly, however, he did not advocate birth control by artificial means (though others of the time did).
How apt is the following quote from this work for today:
‘Population must always be kept down to the level of the means of subsistence. Evil exists in the world not to create despair but activity. We are not patiently to submit to it, but to exert ourselves to avoid it. It is the duty of every individual to use his utmost efforts to remove evil from himself and from as large a circle as he can influence.
This research is background for my next Regency romance, ‘His Philanthropic Lady’, due to be published in the summer. In the present circumstances, it might well be sooner! Watch this space.
Good wishes to all readers and that you keep well and safe.