History Hoydens

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Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

08 June 2013

Welcome, Anna Cowan

UNTAMED is set in 1816. Is there a particular reason you chose that year?

I wanted Untamed to be set in the Regency proper, but I have a squeamish aversion to war. I can’t help but be sceptical of happy endings in such a grim setting (despite the many romances that prove me wrong). I liked the idea of setting it in an England that’s dealing with the aftermath of war and social upheaval at the same time.

How did you become interested in this time period? What do you love about it?

Colin Firth introduced me to Jane Austen, and Jane Austen introduced me to the last golden age of the English aristocracy. That’s always how the Regency feels to me, anyway – like this last, blind hurrah in the face of change. The aristocracy’s money still came from owning land, and they still held the balance of parliamentary power. But all of that would change in the next few decades as parliament was reformed and industry became the driving economic force of the country.

What do you like least about this period? Anything that constrained you or that you had to plot carefully around?

Inheritance laws caused me a massive headache. My hero, the Duke of Darlington, has his title threatened by a second claimant. In an earlier draft of Untamed he had already been duke for years before the second claim was lodged. Luckily a chance discussion on twitter lead me to understand that once you’re titled, you’re titled, and no one can take it away from you again. (Unless you commit treason, and then you get hanged.) So a massive thank you for that conversation, Isobel! You saved my book from being completely historically inaccurate.
Anything you flat-out altered or “fudged”? If so, why?

The heroine of Untamed is Katherine Sutherland, and she’s pretty unconventional. She’s certainly not alone in this – we readers love unconventional heroines! However, she’s unconventional out loud. Like, you couldn’t miss it. I love hearing about actual historical women who were loud and unconventional and effective in their own times. It’s just hard to know, when you’re writing a fairytale version of history, where the line is between plausible and entirely far-fetched. I couldn’t help going there with Katherine, though – she was such a joy to write.

Any gaffs or mea culpas you want to fess up to before readers get their hands on the book? I know I always seem to find one after the book has gone to press. *sigh*

The scope of history is so terrifyingly large, I’m sure I’ve gotten hundreds of small details wrong. I still think about a mention of kale in the garden, and can’t remember whether I researched it or not. The most glaring liberty I’ve taken is to have one of the characters buy Gentleman Jackson’s as a savvy business investment. It’s utter rubbish, and I knew it even as I wrote it, but I couldn’t resist.

Tell us a little about your hero. Something fun, like his favourite childhood pet, or his first kiss.

Darlington spends a good deal of the book dressed in elaborate Georgian dresses, pretending to be a woman. He looks pretty spectacular, and acting the woman doesn’t trouble him in the slightest. This is probably because he’s had a thing for dress-ups ever since he was tiny. He once ordered his mother’s dress-maker to make him an Egyptian headdress.

What sparked this book? Was it a character? An historical event? A scene you just couldn’t get out of your head?

I was discussing the trope of cross-dressing in romance with a friend, when it suddenly occurred to me that the cross-dressing only ever happens one way round. As soon as I’d thought it, I imagined a rake trying to fall asleep in a room with five sisters who all thought he was a woman. The story has undergone tectonic shifts since that single idea, but I couldn’t resist trying to write the kind of man who would masquerade as a woman.

Did you have to do any major research for this book? Did you stumble across anything really interesting that you didn’t already know?

The first draft of Untamed was mostly informed by a general knowledge of the Regency from reading within the time period. As I redrafted I had to research small details and read scraps of parliamentary sittings and menus and newspapers. My favourite fact I came across was that sensibility was a respected quality in men, and they used to cry in parliament to underline important matters. The most frustrating detail I uncovered was that the British pound, gold standard, was created in 1816, the year Untamed is set. It was frustrating because I couldn’t find a single record of when exactly during the year it was brought into use. Parliamentary records from that year are suspiciously thin on the ground.

What/Who do you like to read?

The more I write, the less easy it is to really lose myself in reading. It’s a sad state of affairs! I still read predominantly romance, and especially loved Cecilia Grant’s A Gentleman Undone.

Care to share a bit about your writing process? Are you a pantser or a plotter? Do you write multiple drafts or clean up as you go?

I’ve finally admitted the horrifying truth about my writing process: I write a whole draft of the novel, set it aside, then write the whole novel again. Then I work on that and probably mostly rewrite it again. No matter how carefully I plan and plot, I can’t seem to get past this method of getting to know a novel and its characters!

What are you planning to work on next?

I’m really excited about the next book. The heroine is a debt-collector who lives on her own terms and by her own means. The hero is the naïve, lovely youngest son of someone-or-other, and he’s engaged to a proper girl whose family have just been dispossessed – by the heroine. The first time the two meet, he’s gone to speak to her about getting his fiancée’s belongings back, and he sees her murdering a man in an alleyway.

2 Comments:

Blogger Rappleyea said...

I loved the interview; the book sounds intriguing so I checked out the reviews on Amazon. Oh dear! Another book on the Kindle! When reviewers start talking about wonderful and poetic prose, I'm hooked. I'm really looking forward to reading this. So great to "meet" you here.

Donna

11:08 AM  
Blogger anna c said...

Thanks Donna! I hope you have a fab time reading Untamed :-)

2:44 AM  

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