Saturday, May 16, 2009

Historical Romance/Historical Fiction - Grumpy Arse's Saturday Whinge

I've had a crap week.

So, I'm going to have a whine. Bear with me.

I write Historical Romance and Historical Fiction. I can't help it. As soon as I emerged from my girlhood obsession with horse books, I stumbled onto these genres. This was in the 1970s when you could wander into a British bookshop and find lovely, thick tomes by Anya Seton or Rosemary Hawley Jarman. These were wonderful books, rich with plot, real characters and history woven with beautifully written, leisurely descriptive passages. I devoured them and my love for these huge stories never faded. In the eighties I fell in love with Diane Pearson's books. For a moving and compelling tale of Hungary during the two World Wars, 'Csardas' can't be beaten. Likewise, Pearson's 'The Summer of the Barshinskeys' is a gorgeous portrait of rural England and the crumbling Russian Empire during the First World War and the Bolshevik Revolution. There were many others and I spent many a rainy Sunday afternoon wallowing in these stories.

I'm a fast reader and I like BIG books. I like the writer to set the scene, I want to see the red brick house, as old as the land, surrounded by beeches and oaks. I want to see the grumpy Cook in the manor house kitchen, her arms covered in flour as she kneads the daily loaves of bread. I want to hear the blackbirds calling across a shadowy green lawn and I want to smell the honeysuckle that grows wild and tangled on a grassy verge.

I tell stories and I like to take my time telling them. I want my readers to see my MC reading a book under the spreading blue shade of an ancient copper beech. I want them to fall in love with my characters and cry when things go wrong and cheer when it all goes right. My great love is early 20th century history. Anything from the Great War, to the Boshevik Revolution to World War 2. Ordinary people became entangled in great events, their lives changed and society changed. To me, telling these stories takes a little time. I don't want to start my books with mortars landing in trenches or Spitfires crashing in flames. I think readers should get to know the characters and their settings. I know, as a reader, that I'm not alone in this.

There has been some discussion in the Twitterverse, with Agent Day and Query Day about writing for trends. Agents are quick to advise writers, quite rightly, to write what they love because that passion will shine through in their work. So, that's what I do. Unfortunately, writing what I love leaves me out of the loop. I don't do pirates, Scotsmen or courtesans. Nothing much happens in the first few pages because I Set The Scene.

There are days when I wake up to an in-box full of Query Rejections and I light a cigarette, drink my coffee and wonder if it's worth it. I feel like a moth dashing itself against a lightshade. Yet, I stub out the cigarette, open up Querytracker and search for another agent.

That's all I wanted to say. I've always been one for wearing my heart on my sleeve. I also leave my heart on my pages.

Thank you for your time. Have a great weekend.


  1. I have to say that the bits of description in this post make me green with envy for your ability to "set the scene." They're just gorgeous.

    It's hard to know how to think about trends in publishing. Heck, it's hard enough to even know what they are with any certainty. If publishers could do that, they'd be rich, so it's all guessing.

    I do believe in writing what you're passionate about and in a way that's satisfying to you. I think that's how you do original work. And in the long run, it's what matters. I believe that readers can recognize that passion and catch it. The question is how to get them to read something they didn't know they might like.

  2. See, and you write beautifully and thoughtfully even in a blog post...this is the place where writing is art, not business.

    I'd like to think that a beautifully written,lush book still has its place in this fast-paced world, and so I say keep going, keep creating, keep writing those stories the way you believe they need to be told.

    Writing is a constant balance - inspiration, craft, art...and then business. Do you write what you love regardless of what can sell? Or do you write what can easily sell, regardless of whether you personally don't love it? And when should the business not interfere with the stories?

    I'm getting tired of hearing what can sell - it always reminds me that we can't know what can sell until we try to sell it, and try hard - not just toss it out there and see...

    I'm more in the first camp where writing is art, it is inspiration plus craft, and I get the sense you're in that tent with me (even though we also write very different things).

    And maybe some agent or editor is going to come along and like out camp enough to say, hey, what if we find a way to make this work...

    At least I hope...

    Keep writing the stories that need telling...

  3. I write science fiction and I love scene setting. Whether it's a future Earth, Alternative Earth, another planet or a ship. Keep on keeping on with the scene setting. Because it's not like today.

    My favorite historicals are about America moving West, dealing with getting captured by Native Americans or a white "captive" being sent back "home" to their white family. Oh and mail order brides or a story where a woman is traveling to meet her husband or future husband.