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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!