Victoria here, delighted to welcome fellow SWFRW member Kerryn Reid for a guest blog. Her debut novel, LEARNING TO WALTZ,has been named Best Regency in the Chatelaine Awards for Romance Fiction, sponsored by Chanticleer Book Reviews, among other honors. Click here for her website.
“Julian!” Deborah called, then whipped around and called again. The stitch in her side tore her ribs apart. Her skirts were wet to the thighs, tangling themselves around her knees and ankles. Her old boots, soaked and broken, scooped up dirt and pebbles from the road, making her stagger. Thankfully, her feet were numb – her bare hands too, torn by snags and brambles. Not that it mattered. If she didn’t find Julian, nothing would matter.
A lost child herself, Deborah Moore has learned her lessons well – feel nothing, reveal less, and
trust no one. Now widowed with a child of her own, she leads a lonely, cloistered existence, counting her farthings and thinking she is safe. When five-year-old Julian is lost that bitter December day, she discovers how tenuous that safety is.
Evan Haverfield holds no title, but he’s aristocracy nonetheless. He has not seen a kitchen since he was a child. But his life changes when he finds Julian Moore half-frozen under a hedge and carries him home to his mother. This impecunious young widow cooks her own meals and scrubs her own doorstep – she will hardly be welcomed into his family. Yet this is the woman he wants.
As a modern Western woman, that kind of social stratification seems alien, even detestable. But it was a fact of life during the Regency. In fact, it’s one of the classic tropes of Regency romance. Why would I choose such a time to place my stories, when I enjoy reading historical fiction from many periods?
My mother loved to travel. She was also in love with the British Isles. Don’t ask me why; her heritage was German, as was my father’s. Neither of them spoke any language but English, however, which made English-speaking destinations more comfortable. Dad was a university professor, and with Mom at his back there was no way he’d be spending a sabbatical leave stateside!
Dad and his three girls by the Chapel at Ashby de la Zouch Castle, Leicestershire, 1958-59
I’m the little one!
There was Leicester, when I was three. In Dublin, I was a 12-year-old British-Invasion fanatic. By that time my parents had discovered British antiques and mystery writers. And that, I suspect, was how they found Georgette Heyer.
But they were broadminded enough to read and enjoy Heyer’s romances, too. (In fact, I think my father liked them more than Mom did.) I don’t remember when I read my first Heyer Regency, or which one it was. Suffice it to say, I spent my adolescence with Georgette Heyer. I was intimate (I wish!) with Lord Damerel and Dominic Vidal years before I read Emma in high school English class. I cringe to say, I found it boring. Can you imagine? It took another couple of years before I “got” Austen’s humor and devoured the remainder of her frustratingly brief bibliography. Then did it again, and again.
Visiting Bath, that essential Regency setting 1965-66
By the time I’d read a zillion more Regencies by a thousand different authors, I figured I had a good handle on the tropes, the language, the social conventions. Writing one of my own should be easy, right?
Wrong, of course. There were a few unforeseen difficulties.
First of all, I didn’t know how to Write. Oh, I was good at putting words together, mostly into long, pretty, complex sentences. (Not as long, pretty and complex as Austen’s, but still.) Not until I finished the first draft of Learning to Waltz did I join a writing group and begin learning how I should have done it. Show, don’t tell. Start in the middle of crisis. Background is B-O-R-I-N-G. Who knew there were rules? (A year or so ago, I picked up Arabellaafter a long hiatus. I doubt Hey
er would ever find a publisher if she were writing today. POV? All over the map. Dialogue tags? All kinds. Adverbs? Tons. No wonder my manuscript needed so much work, with Georgette as my teacher.)
I also had no idea what my Voice would sound like. Turns out it’s far different from Heyer’s, and I don’t think it’s quite like anyone else’s either. I do drama much better than humor, and surprised myself by writing some darn good dialogue. Who knew?
And then there’s that troubling little business called Research. It’s amazing how much I still don’t know about Regency life. Maybe I just didn’t pay attention to the details as I read all those novels. Did they hang bells by the front door, or use knockers, or just their knuckles? Sure they used candles, but how did they light them? What did they call the flu, or a cold, and how did they treat them? And very important for Learning to Waltz, how did they celebrate Christmas and New Year’s?
Like Austen’s, my stories are small. Intimate. A review from the Historical Novel Society said, “Reid excels at the slow, careful picture of two complex personalities learning each other’s nature.” I’m happiest delving into my characters’ hearts and revealing them to my readers.
In Deborah’s village in Leicestershire, they hold a ball on New Year’s Eve. But Deborah doesn’t come, and Evan escapes the festivities to berate her for denying him the dance he was counting on. Alone in her shadowed parlor, he teaches her to waltz. Yet that waltz is also a metaphor for all the other things Deborah must learn, like trust, and laughter, and how to deal with one very persistent man. And isn’t that what life is about? We are all learning to dance, one set of steps or another. For instance, I’m still learning to write. As I work on my next Regency, I’m still learning the secrets of this new cast of characters and the details of their lives.
I’m also groping my way through social media and the business of promotion. What, for instance, should I do with this fabulous award from Chanticleer Book Reviews? For one thing, I’ll write guest posts for fabulous friends like Victoria!
Finally (for the moment), I’m having a blast with my monthly newsletter, Seasons of the Past. Focusing on seasonal and holiday customs past and present, with a particular interest in the Regency, it offers history, recipes, excerpts, personal photos and more. You can find subscription forms on my website here.
THANK YOU, KERRYN! ENJOY EVERY MOMENT OF YOUR SUCCESS!