As most of you probably know, I love historical romance. My preference has always been a Regency romance and I shy away from the other historical periods because there’s something missing. Today I’m honored to welcome Lecia Cornwall to Literary, etc! Her newest release, The Secret Life of Lady Julia is now available and I’m hoping to start it this weekend.
I’ve always been curious why historical romance writers chose the period they tend to set their books in. When the opportunity came to have Lecia write a guest post, I wanted to know what drew her to the period (thank you!).
Why I write Regency Romance
I didn’t plan to, actually.
I loved to write stories at school. I wrote bad poetry, good essays, and painted passably in high school until I discovered a love of photography. When the time came to choose a career, I knew I wanted to write, but the powers that be (guidance councilors and my parents, mostly), firmly steered me toward ‘real work’. My mother, a psychiatric nurse, wanted me to be a psychologist. My father wanted me to be a chiropractor, like the smart girl next door. My guidance councilor did a career aptitude test, which came back with a strong suggestion that tree surgery was the right job for me (to this day plants come to my house to die, despite my bet effort. Imagine what I’d do to a tree!). ‘Writer’ was low on my potential careers list, past accountant, even, despite my excellent English grades and desperately awful math marks.
I decided to buck the advice and study English, since universities in the early 1980s didn’t offer creative writing programs. Then I fell in love with the man who was my blind date for my senior prom, and we got married a year later. Now I ask, isn’t all this the stuff of story and legend, the kind of thing a writer makes up? It’s true, though. My husband had finished university, and had a full time job, so the government turned down my application for a student loan. Remember those early days of marriage? All Kraft Dinner and used furniture and pity dinners from the in-laws, and no money to spare. Still, I could just afford a program at a local community college, a two-year course in advertising. It was a chance to develop my writing skills, and hopefully learn how to create the next great ad campaign for cereal or luxury cars. Instead, I found a job as a junior copywriter for a company that marketed insurance products by mail. My dream of writing the next great novel was spiraling the drain.
When we moved to another city, jobs were scarce, so I worked as a freelance writer, specializing in direct marketing. Instead of insurance, I wrote donation solicitation letters for one of Canada’s major political parties, newsletters, and fundraising mailings. I told myself it was all in preparation for the day I’d get the chance to write a novel.
It wasn’t until I had children (believe it or not) that the opportunity presented itself. I stayed home to raise them (a decision I’ll never regret) and worked freelance when I could. Mostly I was a mom.
When I decided the time had come to try and write a novel, I thought about the things I loved most. I loved history and fairy tales when I was growing up, and I decided the perfect way to combine them was to write historical romance—the kind of tales that start with “Once upon a time”, and end with “they lived happily ever after”. I thought medieval tales of knights and ladies would suit me best, so I went to the local library and read all the medieval romances I could find.
Eventually, they ran out. There simply weren’t any more medievals in the Nepean library I hadn’t read yet. It was time to try a different time period, so I brought home a Regency romance.
I fell in love with that wonderful world. From the paperback romance shelves of the library, I rushed for the non-fiction history section. I read all I could about the Prince Regent, Lord Wellington, the Peninsular War, Jane Austen, society life, etc. I prowled bookstores and used book sales for reference books, and kept on reading Regency fiction, as well.
Each era of British history has its own flavor, but the English Regency is a banquet. This time period has everything a writer could want. The Napoleonic war was raging in Europe—so good for creating drama, spies, brave soldiers, and danger. There was a mad king on the English throne, and his son was also a bit of a twit, but that’s good for gossip, humor, and social interest. New technologies were emerging, along with great advances in science and philosophy to potentially hang a plot on or build a character around. It was an opulent age of extreme wealth and privilege with incredibly strict rules for behavior, inheritance, and etiquette—which must all be navigated by our plucky heroine on her journey to true love. And the clothes, oh, the clothes—the most feminine gowns for our heroines, the most elegant garments for gentlemen.
I quickly learned that setting a story in the midst of all that is both a challenge and a pleasure. There are a great many social rules to be observed, and the history of this time period is well known to readers. Another challenge is creating a satisfying story in a familiar time period with an unfamiliar twist or two. My early efforts are languishing under the basement stairs, waiting to be revived and rewritten or recycled.
Although I wrote while the kids were at school, my days were mostly taken up with homework, lessons, appointments, volunteer activities, and other aspects of family life. It wasn’t until my son was in university and my daughter was finishing high school that I had the time necessary to devote to a writing career. My first novel, Secrets of A Proper Countess, was published just days after I turned 49.
Over five published books in three years, I’ve learned a lot, both about the Regency and about writing good books. There must be plot twists, deep characters, romance, a touch of humor, and a few surprises between ‘Once upon’ and ‘happily ever’.
My new story, The Secret Life of Lady Julia, takes readers out of England, on a journey to Vienna in 1814, where one of the most unique peace conferences in history is taking place at the end of twenty years of the Napoleonic wars. Crowned heads from the Tsar of Russia to Napoleon’s Empress Marie Louise are in Vienna, along with hundreds of diplomats, spies, social luminaries, and hangers-on. They hunted, danced, argued, spied, had torrid affairs, and even got around to discussing peace once in a while. But six months after it began, the congress ended when Napoleon escaped from exile on Elba and started the war all over again. With the lovely city of Vienna as such an intriguing setting, I couldn’t resist setting a story there. I loved researching this book. I usually don’t include real historical characters in my stories, but in this case, several of the secondary characters are based on real people, all fascinating. I hope I’ve done them justice.
So that’s why I love and write Regency. What made you fall in love with this wonderful time period?
Lecia Cornwall lives and writes in Calgary, Canada, amid the beautiful foothills of the Canadian Rockies, with four cats, two teenagers, a crazy chocolate Lab, and one very patient husband. She is hard at work on her next book.