Melinda Hammond muses on what it is to be a romantic novelist.
We like to label people don’t we? Housewife, widow, magistrate, artist, athlete – all labels, but they could all apply to the same person (although not to me, I hasten to add). The publishing world is no different, they want to label us so they know which shelf to put us on! So what do I call myself? Well, there’s a problem: perhaps it should describe what I write, so I am a Romantic Historical Novelist – makes me sound like someone who wafts around in a day dream reading poetry (well, sometimes I do read poetry, but one doesn’t waft in the Pennines, its more usually a gale-force wind blowing one around!) – Historical Romantic Novelist? That makes it sound as if I died years ago. No, what I really am is a story teller. One of the oldest professions in the world. I started telling stories in the playground and by the time I went to high school I was making up stories for my friends, usually involving one of them and the latest sinfully seductive pop star to hit the headlines.
So what do I write, I hear you ask. Well it’s historical, romantic adventures.
The adventure bit is quite important. I have three older brothers and no sisters, and I grew up in a street full of boys. Street games consisted of playing cowboys and Indians, spies or war – I must admit I did very well in these last two – not because I was the only girl (young boys have no idea of chivalry!) but because I usually managed to convince everyone that I was a double agent so should be allowed to join in on both sides. Until I went to high school, trips to the cinema were to see action films – although this was in the days when the baddie usually wore black and the good guy never lost his hat in a fight! The nearest I ever got to romance was The Crimson Pirate, The Scarlet Pimpernel or Robin Hood. Although, having said that, I believe there was a tiny element of romance in most of the other films, too.
My poor mother must have despaired of me – I think she sent me to an all-girls school in the hope that I would become a lady! This is where my love of language and history developed – English was my favourite subject and the school encouraged a love of reading and the theatre. As for history, we had a wonderful teacher who would perch herself upon the edge of the desk and give us all the gossip behind whichever great figure we were supposed to be studying, as well as the truth about what actually went on beneath those huge Victorian petticoats. This started a lifelong passion, not so much for the dates and facts but for the people in history. I devoured history, fact and fiction, during my teens and when I couldn’t find the stories I wanted, I started writing my own. Not seriously, of course – this was a secret passion, I never meant my poor scribblings to be read by anyone else. Does this sound familiar to you? I am sure I am not the only writer who started out this way.
I adored period drama with the men in their frills and frock-coats and the women in gorgeous dresses, so it seemed only natural to me to set my stories in the Georgian period. This was a time of great change, there was war on the Continent and the industrial revolution in England. A time of Keats and Byron: Napoleon and Wellington. There was grinding poverty, a harsh legal system, mob riots and by contrast the rich lived in privileged luxury, ruling by a combination of power, social hierarchy and passionate affairs. Plenty of scope for the novelist there. But although this is my favourite era, I do have a penchant for other times, too.
So what inspires me? Well, everything, really. In my latest book, Casting Samson, I drew on inspiration from many sources. I wanted to write something about the Crusades, but I am an incurable romantic, and if my star-crossed lovers could not have a happy ending, there had to be some sort of satisfying conclusion for my hero, at least. There is a poem called “To Lucasta, Going to the Wars”, by Richard Lovelace (an incredibly romantic figure from the days of the English Civil War), and its last two lines have been the motto for many of my heroes:-
“I could not love thee, dear, so much / Loved I not honour more.”
Incidentally, I used the name, Lucasta, for another of my heroines (and as the name of the book, too) – I cannot believe it has not been used more, it is such a lovely name. Perhaps some of you might know of instances where it has been used? I’d love to hear.
So, back to Casting Samson. My first idea was to write a book set in the twelfth century, but somehow other tales got in the way. I discovered I couldn’t resolve my hero’s story in his lifetime: the religion and mores of the period meant that he and his lady couldn’t run away and live happily ever after, so I mixed his story in with a modern day tale, and (hopefully) my hero can now rest easy.
Finally, to show just how life continues to confuse, at the same time as Casting Samson comes out as an e-book with Carina Press, at the other end of the technical spectrum, Harlequin Mills & Boon are publishing the UK hardback version of the latest novel written as my alter ego, Sarah Mallory – The Dangerous Lord Darrington. And, to be honest, as much as I love my Kindle,I don’t ever think I will lose my love of having a real book in my hands.
What do you think – will we still be buying books in the next decade? Personally, I believe we will. I think there is room for both the e-book and the traditional printed version. After all, nothing feels or smells like an old and well-loved book (or is that just me being fanciful?)
CASTING SAMSON pub Oct 2011