On Friday my 55th book for Mills & Boon was finally accepted. The Earl Who Sees Her Beauty is the first in a Victorian duet titled Revelations of the Carstairs Sisters, and I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve ever endured such a torrid time writing a novel. Now that it’s signed off and I’ve had a few days to decompress with the help of a large martini or so and some gardening time, I am able to sit back and reflect – why was it so difficult?

First and most importantly I think, was lockdown itself. We’re now beyond the one year anniversary of the first lockdown caused by this pandemic, and like almost everyone, I’ve found the last three months, since the start of the year, really taxing. I blogged before about my efforts to recapture my positivity, and on the whole I’m still patting myself on the back for having succeeded in doing that. But the effort of being creative has taken a huge toll, there’s no denying it. The words for this book flowed slow as treacle, which they often do with a particularly tricky book, but there’s usually a point in my writing where it all clicks and suddenly I can’t type fast enough. Not with this one. Right up until the deadline of the deadline of the deadline, I wasn’t able to get past about 4K a day (and I’ve achieved double that as a matter of course in the past). I reckon too, that I’ve probably deleted/discarded/re-written at least double the actual finished wordcount of 70k.

Blairmore Gardens Fernery which I have adopted for my hero

This is the first book for Mills&Boon Historical that I’ve finished since working with the Duchess of York on Her Heart for a Compass, and I under-estimated the effort it would take me to move from one mindset to another. I also under-estimated the emotional toll that the subject matter would inflict – because what I’ve just finished is essentially a romance written during lockdown about lockdown, Victorian style (which I talked about on a previous post). It’s a claustrophobic subject, and it reflects a great deal of what has been going on in my head and in the news. So much so that at times I felt quite crushed by it all. My heroine has lockdown dreams as so many of us do, and though they are not my dreams, writing about her dreaming made my dreams more vivid. Art reflecting life reflecting art in a bit of a vicious circle!

Of course I don’t like to make things easy for myself, so I created a heroine who is so badly facially scared she lives behind a veil, and a hero with a traumatic military past who has inherited an earldom against his will and is determined to rid himself of it and all its trappings as soon as he can. Add to that the fact that both of them have ‘who do you think you are’ heritage back-story issues and you have quite a lot of weighty issues to resolve.

My lovely Frank, who has a walk-on role

Way too much, in fact, which was one of the biggest problems. The core components of the plot have been radically simplified from when I first began to write, with gay half-brothers all but written out, and the issue of adoption radically altered. Having a supportive and insightful editor who really ‘gets’ my writing strengths and who can sort out the tangled web that I had woven for myself, is the most amazing gift a writer can have. I have worked with Flo on almost all of my books and she has contributed to making every one of them better. When I lose my way, she sets me back on the path – never, ever by telling me what to write, but by gentle nudging and more importantly by knowing the right questions to ask at the right time. It was Flo who made me see that the main focus needed to be on my heroine’s scars, on the effect they had on her life and her outlook, how they defined her, and the obstacles they were to her ever believing she could be happy. It was Flo who made me think about how my hero could use his unwanted power and influence to her advantage, and as a result gave me two of my key set pieces.

Finding a believable and satisfying happy ever after for a heroine who could never live a ‘normal’ life was a real challenge. Creating a world that was inherently Victorian without giving a history lesson was another one. And my goodness, writing sensual scenes while dealing with the sheer impenetrability of my heroine’s Victorian apparel was another!

Crossness Pumping Station By Stephen Craven, CC BY-SA 2.0, httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid=9294629

But of course there were lighter moments too. I have a character called Sarah, named (with her consent) for my friend the Duchess of York, whose destiny will not become clear until the second book in this series, and I had great fun with her. My heroine’s interest in Victorian plumbing led me to Crossness Sewage Pumping Station, a very unusual location for a romantic encounter. Envious of my sister’s endless pictures of her lockdown kitten on our family WhatsApp group, I introduced Frank to the story, in memory of my own, sadly long-gone cat. My passion for ferneries was finally written in, and as the book progressed and life started to creep back into my own garden, I wrote in more of my hero’s gardening. One of my oldest friends, Peter, launched himself on Instagram as Peter Revamped (@peterrevamped) at the same time too, recording his ongoing garden transformation, and there are tiny elements of this in my book. And there’s a beach scene, because I can’t resist a beach scene, and because there is a link that I’m going to keep to myself, between the naming of my hero, and my childhood Cornwall holidays, that I’ve blogged about previously.

Happy memores of Cornish holidays – my mum with the Twinnies

The book is done, and is released in September this year, and I am extremely happy with the end result. It’s not quite the story I started out to write, but it is exactly what I was aiming for in terms of the highly emotional journey it takes my hero and heroine on, and I’m very proud of it.

Marguerite and Peter, whose Peter Revamped Instagram inspired a little bit of my hero’s gardening

And next up, I’m very excited to reveal that there will be an on-line read which will introduce the Carstairs family to the world, and will be available free to read in August.

After a very brief hiatus, it’s time to get back in the saddle again!

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6 Comments

  1. Congratulations on reaching the deadline and finishing! Champagne and celebrations are definitely in order!

    I think everything you said about the effects of lockdown here, and in your previous Blog, are absolutely spot-on. It’s been very difficult to hold on to routines and timescales and focus since Christmas.. At least that’s been my experience too.

    Here’s hoping the weather will soon improve and lockdown will relax. We are due to spend a week at Arduaine (south of Oban) on May 8th – fingers crossed we have moved from ‘stay in your Council area’ by that time! We are so looking forward to a change of scene.

    Gardening has been interrupted as we moved from warm sunshine and 17 degrees C on Saturday to minus 2 and snow today!! Enjoy a well deserved rest Marguerite. Looking forward to reading your story when it comes out – it sounds amazing.

    1. I do hope you get your break, and you are coming to my part of the country too. Fingers crossed. I picked today to get back on the regime of exercise and diet, and already feeling better for it – though it usually takes me about three days to start to rebel!

  2. 55th book for M&B, wow!! I have a lot of backlist to catch up on, LOL.

    I’m looking forward to this book – the more you talk about it, the more curious I become. Having a heavily scarred heroine will definitely be different (usually the scars are saved for war-torn heroes). And of course I’m happy to hear a cat is making an appearance, however small 😻 I can understand why its been so hard to write, period, during the lockdown, but to find yourself unwittingly tackling issues that hit close to home in ‘real life’ can make it 1000% more uncomfortable. YIKES! It’s good to hear that you have a great support system around you. Editors are underrated when it comes to their part of the writing process. You pretty much never notice a good editor’s touch, but boy can it be obvious when there isn’t anybody reining the author in!

    Congratulations on getting over the final hurdle with this one! Enjoy your very deserved break and time with other hobbies.

    1. Thank you. The book is out in September, so not too long to wait. You’re spot on about the editor. I read a novel recently – actually I didn’t finish it – that could have done with a really solid edit, just to iron out some of the whistle-stop tour narrative, and it would have made all the difference. It’s a touch job though, especially if you are giving negative feedback, and I never forget how lucky I am that Flo and I understand each other so well. There have been times when she’s had to administer tough love, and she knows that I’d always rather she told me straight rather than faff about, but it’s a very, very personal thing and getting it wrong can wreck a relationship with a writer. I have been up a ladder painting all afternoon, and came down to discover that I’d managed colour my nose and my ponytail the same as the ceiling, which wasn’t a good look, but I’m thoroughly enjoying having the pressure off, even if it’s only for a week or so.

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