Monday, August 29, 2011

Early Holiday Spirit

It's hard to believe but Christmas will be here soon. Really, we'll blink and next thing we know, the decorations will be up at stores and the television ads will be pushing us to buy, buy, buy. Don't get me wrong, I love the holidays but it always sneaks up on me. I swear, as I get older, time flies by faster.

This year though, I'm even more excited for the holiday season, for it will bring my second novella in the Merry Widows series, Her Christmas Pleasure (coming November 28th to Carina Press). I've seen the cover. I've even given a teasing glimpse of it on my personal blog. I'll reveal it later this week over there but in the mean time, here's a little excerpt (first time ever shared!) to whet your appetite. Enjoy!

Celia watched while he quietly shut the door. “You’re so wonderful with Theo.”

They stood facing each other in the darkened hall. Only the flickering light from the sconces on the wall shone upon them. It cast Celia in an ethereal glow. She was otherworldly, angelic.


“He’s a good boy.” Damien took a deep breath. “He shall make a fine earl someday.”

“Indeed he will, and especially with your influence.”

Her words shredded him. How could he tell her he was leaving? And so soon after the holiday?

“The present earl is much more of a strong influence, and a finer one at that. I’m but a mere friend of the family.” He was desperate to downplay any role he might have in the formation of Theo’s character.

“You’re not just a friend, Damien.” Celia took a step closer. Too close. He could reach out and touch her easily. Encircle her elbow with his fingers and pull her to him. Feel her breasts crush against his chest when he wrapped his arms around her and kissed her senseless.

“You are a part of our family. And an important part, too.”

He struggled to find an answer, but his tongue grew thick. She moved toward him, the whisper of her skirts sounding loud in the quiet of the hall. Resting her hands on his chest, she gazed up at him, her eyes luminous in the dim light, reminding him of the way she touched him earlier beneath the mistletoe.

“Damien.” The breathy whisper made him release a shuddering breath. “When you kissed me earlier…did you mean it?”

Confusion swamped him. “Did I mean what?”

She smiled. Her simple touch nearly unhinged him. “I must confess I felt…something during our kiss beneath the mistletoe. Something I didn’t expect. Did you?”

“Celia, perhaps we shouldn’t discuss this now.” He protested only because he didn’t know what else to say. His dream was coming true. She was touching him. She’d felt something when he kissed her. The next logical step would be for him to agree and kiss her again. Kiss her until she melted in his arms and begged him to never let her go.

But he couldn’t make that next step. He wasn’t the man for her or her son. She needed to find someone better. Wealthier. Titled.

He could offer her nothing.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Historical Language in Books

**Sorry for posting late, had kindergarten orientation all morning...**

Yesterday, my mother came to visit. Recently, she purchased one of my new releases, which happens to be a medieval.  She said it took her awhile to get the "language" of the story.  Contemporaries are her normal genre of choice, so to her it was a whole new world reading a medieval.

I'd never really thought about it before. I know when I'm writing, I do have my characters speak in a particular way, depending on era, sex, class, etc... But since I'm so engrained in history the majority of the time, I don't have to "get into the language" as she put it.

Now, luckily, after the first chapter, she fully understood the language and quickly sped through subsequent chapters.

Looking at the chapter, some of the words that were used that may be considered historical were: headdress, mayhap, border holding, Hadrian's Wall (a historical site), broke their fast, walls (as in the high walls surrounding the castle), keep (castle), etc... It was interesting to go through and see they words, and realize that to someone unused to seeing them, they might sound odd.

Question for writers: How do you write? I know for myself, my editors will say "sounds too modern" if I use a word or phrase that wasn't used in the era I'm writing. How do you keep your book "in character" so to speak, since the history truly is a main character.

Question for readers: Do you find the language confusing at times? Do you enjoy the historical language?

Can't wait to see your answers!


Monday, August 22, 2011

Gone Fishin'

As I write this, I'm sitting under an African sun (gorgeous!!!) Tenerife is one of a handful of islands, known as the Canary Islands, just off the North West African coast. They're a stone throw from Morocco, but belong to Spain.

What has this got to do with historical romance, I hear you ask. Well, um, nothing I guess, hence the 'gone fishing' sign, lol. I'm soaking up the sea, sun and cocktails on the beach here, and my brain has gone on holiday.

But, ooh, wait, here's something...

Later this week we're going to a medieval feast at the castle of San Miguel. There'll be a grand show and an authentic medieval banquet in the finger-grabbing,  mouth-stuffing, tankyard-downing style. Here's a snap of the brochure...

A couple of years ago, I went to an Irish medieval banquet in a peel tower somewhere between Galway and nowhere on the Irish moors. The authentic food was rather bland, but everything else from the lord and ladies around us to the minstrels and the show they put on was an experience I'll never forget. So I'm really looking forward to doing in Spanish style and seeing the differences.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Great Love Story of Llangollen

by Susanna Ives

The following is an archive from my travel blog documenting my trip to Wales.

So mom, the kids, and I were stuck in the tiny cottage, cut off from all civilization. Just us and the sheep. Lots and lots of sheep. Mom and I would take turns venturing out on the long and treacherous walk to the local Tesco for groceries. By the time my husband returned from his business trip, we were almost crazed with cabin fever. According to my husband’s plan, we were to head straight to our elite and insanely fashionable Holiday Inn on the east side of the London. In my head, I saw myself desperately clutching my wild children’s hands while trying to navigate the crowded London streets. When they were younger, I had taken them about the city strapped in the McClaren stroller, the best stroller in the entire universe. It was a lightweight and could be folded down and strapped over your back. In Liege, we bought this thing that allowed G to stand on the back and be wheeled along.

In the absence of the best stroller in the entire universe, I asked N to take a small detour to calmer Bath for a day. I had had it up to my dazed eyes with British traffic and desired a nice walking city.

Our first stop on our way south into England was to the Valle Crucis Abbey. In the images I had seen of the old Abbey, it stood like a graceful, majestic ruin set against the wild mountainous scenery. Turner painted the Abbey in his sojourn to Wales. However, now the abbey is adjacent to a Caravan/RV park.

The abbey was founded by the Cistercian Order in 1201. The “White Monks” sought remote locations where they prayed in solitude, while the poor lay brethren farmed the land for them. Henry VIII shut the abbey down -- that Catholic problem and all.

Our wonderful Welsh landlords suggested touring Llangollen. It’s a lovely place with soaring mountains and a rocky, roaring river filled with kayakers.

The most famous place in the town is a unique cottage called Plas Newydd. In the late 1700s Miss Sarah Ponsonby and Lady Eleanor Butler settle there and became known as the “Ladies of Llangollen.” The two came from aristocratic Irish families and met at an Irish boarding school when Sarah was Eleanor’s pupil. Eleanor was 29, sixteen years older than Sarah. Nonetheless, the two fell in love. Sarah’s family pressed upon her a rather offensive engagement to man who was waiting for his terminally ill wife to die. Meanwhile Eleanor’s brother schemed to put his sister in a nunnery. The two women tried to elope, dressed as men and armed with a pistol. They were stopped by their families and separated. Yet, they refused to be kept apart, and Eleanor ran away to Sarah. With a maid's help, Sarah hid Eleanor in her room. Finally, their families relented and let them live together. The women came to Llangollen. At that time, it was just a tiny village beside the River Dee. The ladies became quite controversial celebrities in their day, entertaining the Duke of Wellington and William Wordsworth.

Plas Newydd is filled with oaken carvings and stain glass collected by the ladies. Unfortunately, the house was closed when we visited. Here are pictures of the grounds.

At the time the ladies lived at Plan Newydd, I don’t believe there was a front garden, nor was the house painted white and black. We can thank the wonderful Yorke family from Erddig for these enhancements. As a boy, Simon Yorke III’s younger brother John had fallen from his pony near the ladies’ cottage, and Sarah and Eleanor had given him oranges. Later, John would be severely wounded in the tragic charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean War. He bought the house in 1876.

I highly recommend stopping in Llangollen if you are touring Wales. Queen Victoria chose to stay here rejecting an invitation from Erddig (The Yorkes never forgave her.) Here is a shot from the deck of the restaurant where we stopped for lunch. If you look high on the mountain, you will see the ruins of an old castle that was built upon an even older wooden hill fort.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

If at first you don’t succeed…do some more research.

Anyone who writes historical romances knows how much research can go into developing and creating a story. Since I am a voracious nonfiction history reader, this is one of my favorite parts of the process, but it can be tough. History in broad strokes is easy to discover. It’s the small details of daily life that can be elusive.  Sometimes I can find the details, other times I have to take some artistic license based on my knowledge of the period. And then there are times when, despite my research, my careful fact checking, I still manage to get it wrong
I was recently editing my manuscript for Mask of the Gladiator, my ancient Rome novella, and double checking my facts when I discovered I had made not one, but many mistakes.  I would read a sentence and something about it didn’t seem right. Off to the internet or a research book I would go, only to find out it was incorrect. Then I’d ask myself, “How did I miss this during the umpteenth times I’ve read this story?” or “I know I looked this up before. How did I get it so wrong?”
Since catching mistakes and making changes is part of the editing process, I can’t be too hard on myself. Also, after listening to a recent interview with Pulitzer Prize winning author and historian David McCullough, I know I’m not alone. When asked about his research methods, he admitted that he continues researching right through the copyediting process. I breathed a sigh of relief when I heard this. If a noted historian of his stature can keep researching until the last minute, then so can I. After all, in the end it doesn’t matter when you get it right, as long as you do.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

The whys and hows of dialogue

Over the years, I've been told that one of my strengths as a writer is my use of dialogue.  I hope people are right about that because I write light-hearted stories, and it seems to me that most of what we find humorous in fiction comes from what the characters say to each other.  There are other important uses for dialogue.  It's easy to read, which makes it pleasurable for the reader, giving her a rest from introspection and description.  It creates the sense that something interesting is happening.  Furthermore, having one character tell another about what happened in the past allows the author to insert backstory without having to use flashbacks.  On to the hows:  Let me pass along a few tips I've learned over the years.

Obvious points

Eliminate all the extraneous fluff that we use in real life to lubricate social interaction.  "Hi.  How are you?  Haven't seen you in a while," doesn't belong in fiction.  Keep things interesting by cutting to the chase.

Use simple words, even in historical situations and with highly educated characters.  I spent years surrounded by brilliant people at the University of California at Berkeley.  None of them "visited to the lavatory."  They went to the bathroom.  Having said this, though, there is some room for flexibility.  I generally decide at the beginning of writing a book which of the two main characters will use the somewhat more flowery language.  That helps to give them different voices.

Use contractions, even in historicals.  I know this will rub some the wrong way, but I find it tiring to read "I cannot," "you do not," "I will," and "you are" over and over.  Save the long form for when you want to make a point emphatic.

Use short sentences and sentence fragments.  People don't speak in paragraphs.  They often don't even speak in complete sentences.  Honest.

Break large speeches into shorter ones.  You can have the other character talk, too.  That's why it's called dialogue.  If you have a section that you can't easily break up, consider putting a speech or action tag in the middle.  For example:

"Brilliant.  Just brilliant," she said.  "I hope your second plan for getting us off this island is better than your first."
Insert action and snippets of introspection and description where appropriate to avoid having your characters sound like "talking heads."

Somewhat less obvious points

Don't bury dialogue in the interior of paragraphs.  It gets lost in there.  Put it at the beginning or the end or in a paragraph of its own.

In general (this is not a hard and fast rule), don't have your characters answer direct questions.  This sounds odd on the surface, but you can create a wonderful battle of wills if one person requests information and the other person refuses to surrender it.  Even "who wants to know?" can be more interesting than a direct answer.

Figure out how your characters swear, even if it's only "horse feathers!"  Your characters are going to be in conflict and in frustrating and/or dangerous situations.  They're going to do quite a bit of swearing, in external dialogue and in introspection.

Far less obvious points

Send in some dialogue from "out in left-field."  Left-fieldedness implies something unexpected or odd -- on the surface wrong but containing some element of rightness or fit.  Over the years, left field has come to be thought of as a home for oddball notions and people.  As Yogi Berra, the great catcher and left-fielder for the New York Yankees once said of left field, "It gets late early out there."

I can't define left-fieldednss, but I can recognize it when I see it.  Other Yogi-isms include, "The future ain't what it used to be," and "No one goes there any more.  It's too crowded."  They're nonsensical, but they make sense, nevertheless.  I hope you'll find a few lobs from left field in the excerpt below.

Create and use tension between the on-going dialogue and your POV character's thoughts.  In much of romance, all exposition is internal monologue, anyway.  Even objective states of the world are interpreted through the character's perceptions and thoughts.  By having one dialogue going on with another character and a contrasting internal monologue going on in the POV character's head, you create tension that's pleasurable to the reader.

In the following scene, my hero (who by the way is the Orchid Thief) has to find some explanation for why he and the heroine have been out all night -- something that most assuredly wasn't done in polite society in Victorian England.  Because he hasn't had a chance to prepare a story, he finds himself having to make one up on the spot.

“Where have you been, Philip? I’ve been sick with worry.”
"You needn't have been," he replied.
“How can you say that? That murderous Orchid Thief was right under our noses.”
“I don’t think he’s murdered anyone, Mother.”
“Right under our noses,” she continued. “They almost caught him, you know.”
He knew that far better than he cared to. “Did they really?”
“Chumley had him trapped in one of the bedrooms, but he escaped. Impossible, if you ask me, how a thief can slip into and out of bedrooms without being seen. It isn’t natural.”
“Now, Mother, it’s done every day, and not for thievery. At least, not in the strictest sense of the word.”
“I wouldn’t know about that,” she said. “And I wish you didn’t, either.”
“People know entirely too much these days, and just look at the state of the world as a result. Your father didn’t know anything when I married him, and almost forty years later, he still doesn’t.”
“I’m sure you’re right about that,” Philip said, although he couldn’t quite picture his father never having found his way into a bedroom where he didn’t belong.
“Marriage does that for a man,” she said. “But I wasn’t talking about that. What was I talking about?”
“The Orchid Thief,” he supplied.
Her eyes narrowed. “No, I wasn’t. I was talking about where you were last night. Or, where you weren’t. You weren’t here—I know that much.”
“I was out.”
“Obviously.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “Where?”
“Here and there.” He had to do better than that, but he hadn’t had any time to prepare for this inquisition.
“And did you take the princess here and there with you?”
“As a matter of fact, I did.”
“Oh, dear heaven.” She pulled a handkerchief from her bosom and dabbed at her eyes with it.
“I could hardly leave the princess behind, not with the Orchid Thief on the loose.”
“It’s all my fault,” his mother wailed. “I’ve been too indulgent with you.”
He stood and stared at the woman he’d called Mother for his entire thirty-five years on earth. What she said didn’t normally make complete sense, but it normally made some sense. How in hell could any of this be her fault? Still, if she wanted to accept blame for the fact that he’d disappeared with a princess during a jewel burglary and hadn’t returned until the next morning, who was he to object?
“I let you run wild all these years, and now my chickens have come home to roost.”
“Chickens?” he repeated.
“Isn’t that the expression?”
“Yes, absolutely. Chickens.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” she said. “This has nothing to do with barnyard animals. I want to know where you and the princess were all last night.”
He cleared his throat, attempting to buy a bit more time. His mother wasn’t having any of it, though, as she made clear by tapping her foot against the carpet.
“Ah, well,” he said finally. “That’s confidential.”
“Nonsense. I’m your mother.”
“How right you are,” he said. “But, you see, it’s the princess’s secret.”
“How could she have any secrets? She just arrived in London.”
“She’s an incredibly quick study, our princess.”
His mother’s foot-tapping grew more vigorous, until the hem of her dress shook with it. “Go on.”
“Well, you see, she’d grown very upset at being so nearly accosted by the Orchid Thief that she begged my assistance in seeking the only solace that helps when her nerves are shattered.”
“And that is…”
“Yes, well.” He cleared his throat again and searched his brain for someplace—anyplace—that might be acceptable for a young woman to be in the middle of the night in London.
“A church,” he blurted finally.
His mother’s foot stilled. “A church?”
“Yes, a church.” Thank heaven he’d thought of that. “A Greek Orthodox church.”
“Greek Orthodox,” she repeated, her eyes growing wide. “The princess is Greek Orthodox?”
“Well, no, she isn’t, exactly.”
“Not that your father or I would care that she’s something like Greek Orthodox, mind you. But not everyone is so open-minded.”
He didn’t doubt that for a moment. In fact, if his mother’s mind got any more open, she wouldn’t be able to hold anything inside it at all.
“I believe the princess is Church of England,” he said. Although asserting that royalty from Valdastok was Church of England would be a dicey proposition, indeed. “Or at least, I think that’s what she told me. But, you see, one of her ancestors was Greek Orthodox. Someone very famous. Charlemagne, I think.”
His mother tipped her head and looked at him as if he’d gone quite mad. “Charlemagne was Greek Orthodox?”
“Perhaps it wasn’t Charlemagne,” he said, tossing his hand into the air as though he might grasp something there that would get him out of this hideous mess. “Perhaps it was Alexander the Great.”
“Alexander the Great?” she repeated. He’d done such a splendid job of confusing her, she’d started to sound like an echo.
“Alexander conquered that entire part of the world, didn’t he?” Of course, he’d done it centuries before the Greek Orthodox Church ever existed. But why quibble at this point?
“Yes,” she said softly. “I suppose you’re right.”
“The crux of this whole tale is that the princess had a very powerful ancestor who was Greek Orthodox, and now any time she feels distressed, she seeks out this ancestor’s wisdom in the bowels of a Greek Orthodox church. As you can imagine, she was most distraught at her near encounter with the Orchid Thief.”
“Of course. We all were.”
“She prevailed upon me to find her a Greek Orthodox church,” he added. “There aren’t many of them in London, so it took some time. And then, we had to wake the priest to let us in.”
“The priest let two strangers into his church in the middle of the night?” she asked.
“I bribed him.”
“And so, all this time, you and the princess have been in a Greek Orthodox church.”
“Exactly.” He walked to her and put his hands on her shoulders. “I’m so glad you understand.”
She looked up at him with the delightfully distracted air he knew so well. All his life she’d nearly caught him at something naughty. But she’d never quite succeeded. It gave him inordinate pleasure to realize that he could still befuddle her into agreeing with him. Andrew had never quite managed the trick, poor soul.
“You and the princess were in a Greek Orthodox church all night?” she echoed.
“It was quite late by the time we discovered the church and got inside. Then, the princess set to praying her little heart out—in Greek, of course.”
“She speaks Greek?” his mother asked in a pitch near what only dogs could hear.
Perhaps he’d overdone that last bit. “A few prayers only.”
“Greek,” she repeated.
“Terrible, droning things, those prayers. On and on she went. Before I knew it, I’d fallen asleep in one of the pews. When I awoke, she’d also fallen asleep.”
“You slept together?” she demanded.
“She was in a different pew. Several pews over, in fact. Nowhere near me at all. Fully dressed.”
“And you stayed that way all night.”
“We awoke some time after dawn, found the first cab we could and came directly home.”
“Well.” She stepped away from him and paced for a few feet toward the window and back. “This just isn’t done. It isn’t accepted. It isn’t…”
Heaven help him, if she said “orthodox,” there’d be no hope for him. He’d burst out laughing at the ridiculousness of his own story.
“…decent,” she concluded.
“But a church, Mother,” he said. “We were in a church. What could go wrong in a church?”
“A Greek Orthodox church,” she said. “How would I know what could go wrong in a Greek Orthodox church? I’ve never been in one.”
“Mother, please don’t exercise yourself over this. We’re both fine, and no one need know about this incident unless you tell them.” Unless the servants spoke to someone else’s servants, which was probably how most of London gossip got spread from house to house. He’d deal with that eventuality when it arose.
“All right, Philip,” she said. “I’ll trust you this time.”
“You’re a dear.”
“But don’t let anything like this happen again. We can’t go on overlooking this sort of behavior, your father and I.”
“I understand.” Although, if she told this story to his father, she’d no doubt jumble it up so badly he wouldn’t understand a word. “You have my promise.”
“We not only have your interests to consider but the princess’s as well. We might be forced to make you do the right thing by her, and I don’t think the right thing is anything like something you’d think of as right.” She stopped at the end of that, clearly having confused herself. “To do. Whatever that might be.”
“I understand.”
She straightened. “Good then. Now, go and dress yourself properly.”
“I will.” He turned and headed toward the door.
“And Philip,” she called. He stopped and turned back. She raised her hand and pointed a finger at him.
“No more churches!”

Saturday, August 06, 2011

What's in a (character) name?

I’ve always been fascinated by names. I used to read baby name books and online discussion boards years before I got pregnant, and I still have a sneaking interest in them even though I don’t plan to have any more kids.
I always read those articles about each year’s top ten baby names, and when I get my alumni magazine I skim through the class news section for birth announcements. I’ve even gotten into discussions of what names each of us might choose if we had as many children as the Duggars.

So one of the small things I enjoy about writing is getting to name all those people. That might surprise you, since my heroes and heroines so far have had relatively ordinary names. In The Sergeant’s Lady, Anna (Wright-Gordon) Arrington finds love with Will Atkins, while A Marriage of Inconvenience stars Lucy Jones and James Wright-Gordon.

The ordinariness is a deliberate choice. I tend toward the realistic end of romance writing, so I want my characters to have names that wouldn’t seem out of place among all the Richards, Henrys, Georges, Charlottes, Janes, and Catherines running around the real Regency England. But within those bounds, I put careful thought into how each name enhances the image I’m trying to convey for that character.

For example, Anna got her first name mostly because it had the right sound for someone who’s feminine and beautiful, yet also tough and straightforward. But I also like the name’s etymology. It comes from the Hebrew “Channah,” meaning “favor” or “grace,” which just seemed to fit a character who gets the grace of a second chance to build a happy life for herself after her disastrous first marriage. Her maiden name, Wright-Gordon, shows both her Highland maternal heritage and hints that her family’s money is relatively new in that her father’s name, Wright, is an ordinary English occupational surname rather than a fancy place name or a vaguely French name hinting at Norman ancestry.

As for the Arrington part, well, Anna’s evil first husband, Sebastian Arrington, who’s also the villain of A Marriage of Inconvenience, is an Arrington because it sounds a bit like “arrogant.” He’s a Sebastian because it’s such a common hero name, and I was playing with the idea that he looks like a hero on the surface--big handsome cavalry officer that he is--while in fact he’s rotten to the core.

Moving on to my hero, he’s a William who goes by Will rather than, say, Bill or Billy because “Will” suggests, none too subtly, that he’s a strong-willed, resolute sort. And Atkins is because “Tommy Atkins” was for a long time a generic reference to a British soldier, so it felt right to borrow the last name for my common sergeant hero.

Lucy Jones is the one character I’ve written so far that I’d rename if I could. Not the Lucy part--the etymological meaning of “light” feels right for her. I also strongly associate the name with Lucy Pevensie in the Narnia books, and therefore a certain sweetness and sense of wonder--though, come to think of it, I grew up reading Peanuts comics too, and Lucy Van Pelt gives the name a whole different resonance. Anyway, it’s the Jones part I might change. I was trying to show how ordinary and common the heroine feels, especially compared to her arrogant Arrington relatives, but I think “Jones” hits the archetype a little TOO hard on the nose. If I were starting the manuscript today, she’d probably be Lucy Evans.

I’ve already mentioned why James is a Wright-Gordon. He’s a James because I love the way it sounds and because it has a certain Scottishness about it, especially once we see that his Scottish relatives called him Jamie when he was growing up.

Over to you. Readers, do you have likes or pet peeves when it comes to character names? Writers, do you have a naming process or does the Muse deliver your characters pre-named? And what would YOU name a baby if you had a new one today? I’d pick Eleanor Frances for a girl (it was runner-up when we named Miss Fraser) and either Malcolm Arthur or Miles Arthur for a boy.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Striking a Balance

Last week, there was held--in Milton Keynes, UK, the second annual meetup of authors who write GLBT Fiction. It started in 2010 with just 12 of us meeting up in Ely library, but this year we had writers coming from all over the UK and even one or two from Europe and America! Over 40 attendees for our second year, and we even had three male writers attending which was SO encouraging.

The website is here, for those who are interested. We are planning something even bigger next year, perhaps over 2 days. Stay tuned!

Anyway, the reason I've done a bit of seemingly off topic promo is to mention the panel I participated in. Alex Beecroft, Charlie Cochrane and I spoke on Gay Historical Fiction and some of the pitfalls that authors fall into when attempting the genre.

The pitfalls, however, aren't limited to writers of gay historical fiction, of course! This is my talk, and I hope you find it useful. If you are interested, the whole panel of all three talks is posted HERE.

So here's my segment - Striking a Balance.

I’m going to talk about balance, because sometimes I think writers have difficulty striking a balance when writing. not just historical either. It’s a Fine Line between THIS IS MY RESEARCH LET ME SHOW YOU IT – and just getting the details right.

Don’t get e wrong—you got to do the research. You’ve got to try your very best to get those details right. Readers are forgiving if they can see you’ve worked like stink, but have made one or two silly errors. In Muffled Drum I made a big thing of the Red Light District in Berlin – and too late too late two people pointed out that the street I mentioned was actually in Hamburg and not Berlin.

But readers will be less forgiving if it’s patently obvious that you haven’t even bothered to use Google to check the most basic of facts.

But you shouldn’t over do relating that research to the reader and it’s this that is a little unfair to the writer, because you are going to learn a LOT more than you’ll ever put in the book.

I have to reference Dan Brown here, who does—and i have to grit my teeth to say this—write a damned good page turner. I actually own all of his books, because they are like crack. But whereas he writes a racketing good read and I for one can’t wait to turn the page and find out what’s happening next, he lets himself down with his signature move of telling us everything about everything. I remember reading one of them, don’t know which…and it told you about the engine of the car he was driving and the type of plane he was on, down to –it seemed, every grommet and washer. I found myself flipping over pages of STUFF HE HAD TO TELL YOU BECAUSE BY GOD HE’D DONE THE RESEARCH AND YOU SHALL SHARE IT rather than simply absorbing some of the facts as the flavour of the book.

I got the impression that he was saying to the reader “Look, i slaved over this book. i did research about Russia and China and every conspiracy theory known to man. Look, I seriously worked hard. I spent hours in libraries. you need to see my research or you’ll think i just made it up!!!! It will all be wasted if I don’t write it all down!” and that’s not good, that’s not the message you want to give. I don’t want the author to intrude at all.

I can relate to this, and I felt much the same when I first started to write, but luckily my mother was around when I first started and she pointed out that we didn’t need to know every single detail and she went through and deleted many descriptive words and passages. After that I found it much easier. The trick to it for me was to walk across my own room and described how I did it. I left the sofa, walked past the tv and the dining table to the kitchen. What I didn’t do was to leave the Gillows sofa, walk across the Wilton carpet designed by XXXX in 1792 and the flat screen 32” plasma screen Sony TV (I wish) and into the bespoke B&Q kitchen stencilled with green and yellow flowers.

Modern books don’t do this (or at least they shouldn’t!) and so neither should historicals. Whether the chair is made my Chippendale or whoever doesn’t really matter. Unless it does, of course. If the story revolves around Chippendale and perhaps the theft of a chair made by him, or whether the provenance of the chair is IMPORTANT then that’s fine. But if the detail doesn’t add anything to the story — and in fact, as often happens (Dan, I’m looking at you) intrudes and distracts from the story — then leave it out.

It doesn’t mean that you can’t make the description lush and tangible. Alex, for example, particularly in her 18th century paranormal “Wages of Sin” WORKS magic with her details. How cloth feels, how candle light looks and smells (never forget the smells) what happens to wig powder when it rains. But none of it is infordumping. She is simply creating a real and entirely believeable and visual world that the 21st century reader isn’t familiar with. The details immerse the reader, so they are actually there, and they are participating in historical events rather than distancing the reader, and makingit more clear that they are simply reading a book.

A good beta is worth their weight in gold. A good beta (and not just one who will tell you how great you are!) will tell you if you’ve turned into Dan Brown and you are oversharing that research.

The depressing fact of life is, that 99 percent of the research you will do for your book will (should!!) never appear on the pages of your book, but you can’t skip that research because it will make your book and more 3-dimensional, and in response to that, more enjoyable to read.