Friday, August 29, 2008

Eight Reasons Why I Love Historical Romance

When I was first published, I began as a writer of modern romantic suspense. I still love that genre but writing for Kensington and Bookstrand has given me the chance to return to my first love, historical romance.

"Why do you like it so much?" a friend asked me over coffee recently. "History is the past. Everyone's dead!" That made me think - WHY do I like historicals and history so much? I suppose in a wider sense we all live always in the past - we are a collection of past memories and experiences that forms us and makes us what we are.

Here are 8 more reasons why I love the genre:

1. The chance for high stakes and adventure. (This is where history and romantic suspense tend to come close together and perhaps why so writers of romantic suspense such as Mary Stewart tend to write both historicals and moderns.) In a historical romance, I can choose when and where to set the story, so I choose to set my stories in situations of great personal conflict and outer tension. With my ancient historical novel, FLAVIA'S SECRET, set in ancient Roman Britain in AD206, the stakes for Flavia and the hero Marcus are life and death. To save her life and the lives of her fellow slaves, Flavia has forged a vital document, and she does not know if she can trust her new master Marcus, to whom she is also passionately attracted. For his part, Marcus wishes to expose a corrupt and brutal Roman official, the Decurion Lucius Maximus, a man who, if crossed, is quite happy to commit murder.

The whole issue of slavery is also explored in FLAVIA'S SECRET - it's many terrors and cruelties. There is also love and tenderness, as there was in the Roman world itself, where we have gravestones showing that masters did free and marry their slave-women companions.

2. Glorious heroes. In the past, the roles of men have been perhaps more defined by martial qualities, by their roles as warriors. This can lead to unpleasant, brutish individuals but I like to explore its other positive aspect in my historicals - the man as a valiant protector. I love the idea of a strong man who can rescue the heroine. So in FLAVIA’S SECRET and my forthcoming title, A SECRET TREASURE, I have the heroes Marcus and Julio care for and protect the heroines Flavia and Eve - who also care for and protect them.

3. Enterprising Heroines. Because women sadly are still oppressed in many parts of the world and were particularly oppressed in the past, writing about my heroines in a past where they were automatically belittled simply because of their sex gives me lots of opportunities for conflict. My heroines must battle for their places in the world and they do so, with their wits and beauty and knowledge. Often in the past women could also be powerful figures - think of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Cleopatra - with control of lands and men. I like to explore that in my stories, too and I think it's very empowering for women.

4. Exotic and Exciting Settings. I can show cathedrals and castles when they were new or being built. Living in the United Kingdom, I can explore many part of the medieval and Roman worlds - as I did when I set FLAVIA’S SECRET in the Roman baths at Bath. (This is a wonderful, sensual, sexy setting!) For my next Bookstrand title, A SECRET TREASURE, due on September 2, I explore the beautiful city of Rhodes on the island of Rhodes, adding a twist by suggesting how the island may have looked in the late 1930s.

I can also show the pyramids when they still had their white limestone coverings and Egyptian temples when they were vibrant places of faith, as I do in my forthcoming Bookstrand historical BLUE GOLD. I can also use the setting in a more intimate way, as I do in another forthcoming Siren historical ESCAPE TO LOVE, where the hero and heroine are at the Roman holiday resort of Baiae, infamous even then for its wild boating parties and debauchery.

5. Lovely costumes. I know this is possibly a frivolous reason for enjoying writing about the past, but throughout history there have been some truly spectacular fashions! Read about what Roman and Egyptian women really wore in my books and you'll see why I like them so much. And I must admit, I'm a sucker for a man in armor...

6. Insight and empathy. A historical novel can really take you back, in imagination, to a different world and time. It can give you a glimpse into what people might have felt. And people in the past did think very differently to us. A novel can take you into that past, provide a bridge between what people believed then and ourselves. I tried to do that in FLAVIA’S SECRET, where I touch on the pagan beliefs of Marcus and of Flavia herself - she is Christian, but her faith is different to modern beliefs, because of her experience.

7. Play and fun. The past is indeed 'over'. New documents or witnesses might appear but I don't have the particular problem of a writer devising stories in our contemporary world, where imaginary events can sometimes be overtaken by real ones. (This happened to me with one of my modern romantic thrillers, where I set a scene in the famous Italian opera house, La Fenice. Soon after the book came out, La Fenice burned down. It's now rebuilt, but I felt very awkward for a long time!) I can use the 'gaps' in the historical record to flex my own imagination. The old 'What If?' scenario. This is great fun for a fiction writer! In my upcoming historical romance, A SECRET TREASURE, I used 'What if' to consider the following: 'What if a priceless classical treasure was just waiting to be discovered in the then ruined palace of the Grand masters on Rhodes, a palace rebuilt by the Fascists in 1940 as a holiday home for Mussolini?' After I'd posed that question, I just filled in the gaps!

8. The drama of the past itself. A world without phones, internet, safe transport, or amazing life-saving surgery can be useful if you want to to add to your characters' conflicts and problems. I do this towards the end of both FLAVIA'S SECRET and A SECRET TREASURE, where vital 'breakdowns' in communication happen between Marcus and Flavia and Julio and Eve. This is something a modern character could solve simply by making a call on a cellphone!

Lindsay Townsend

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There is also love and tenderness, as there was in the Roman world itself, where we have gravestones showing that masters did free and marry their slave-women companions.

Amazing! I'd be happy to learn more about these true life love stories which transcend social class.