If I had been alive in the nineteenth century, they’d have locked me in an asylum

Feminism and the historical romance novel:  two concepts that I’ve found are pretty hard to reconcile with each other, if I’m going to be completely honest.

I am a feminist; I believe totally that men and women should have equality in all aspects of their lives. However, I choose to write about a time period where women were very much not equal.

Women were not educated in the same way that men were. Upper class ladies were taught the feminine arts – a foreign language (usually French) how to sing and play an instrument, drawing, painting or embroidery and perhaps, if their mothers valued it, enough mathematics to manage household accounting. The richer the lady, the worse her education often was; why bother to stuff your daughter’s head full of knowledge she’d never use as the wife of a man who could afford servants to run the house, write his letters and manage his accounts? Instead she practised her handwriting for placement cards and memorised the orders of precedence so that she did not commit a social faux pas.

In the UK, women did not get the vote until 1928. Some could vote beforehand if they met the property qualifications, but it took the efforts of the Suffragist movements and the social impact of the First World War to get men in power to understand that women were capable of taking a full role in the political life of the nation. They could hold drawing rooms and salons hosting famous politicians, they could even canvass for votes and appear on the hustings, but they could not enter a voting booth until 1928.  How utterly ridiculous.

Rules about divorce and child custody changed during the nineteenth century but they were always weighted heavily in favour of the men. In 1857 a law was passed allowing men to divorce their wife in court without needing an Act of Parliament if one case of adultery could be proved. Married women were not allowed to divorce their husbands. Custody of the children of the marriage was granted to the husband, who could ban his wife from seeing their children.

It wasn’t until 1882 that a woman was able to keep control of her money, property and earnings after marriage. If she married before then, her father would have had to do some nifty legal footwork to protect them from becoming the legal property of her husband.

A woman’s body was not her own – it was not seen as possible for a man to rape his wife, as consent was deemed to have been given from the moment of their marriage vows and could not be retracted by her. A woman disappeared as a legal entity once she married.

Who would want to have been a woman then? And why on earth would a committed feminist like myself write at all positively about the time period?

I find it difficult, I have to admit, to write female characters in a Victorian setting that do not set my teeth on edge. They would have been brought up with very strict ideas about what was correct and proper, and what women should and shouldn’t do. My heroines have to be defiant and ahead of their times for me to even think about liking them. I cannot write passive, submissive women, content with their lot in life as a second class citizen. It goes against every feminist bone in my body! I also cannot read a book with characters like that. Why do we like Elizabeth Bennet so much? Because she stands up to herself to Mr Darcy, that’s why. Politely (just!) and within the rules of early nineteenth century society, but she’s no pushover. Why has Jane Eyre lasted so long as a famous heroine? Because she would only accept Mr Rochester on her terms, not his. She may have been following the rules of society in not willing to be a mistress, but she stood up for herself against a strong and domineering character. It’s only once he is maimed and blinded that she takes him as her husband – note the word order in that famous line, “Reader, I married him.” I know who wears the trousers in that household!

I love nineteenth century writing. I grew up with the What Katy Did books, Little Women and Eight Cousins. I moved onto Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice and Middlemarch.  All these books have strong female characters in them. Who among us did not admire brave Jo March, who cut off her hair to raise money for the family? Who didn’t cheer when young Jane Eyre told evil Mr Brocklehurst that the way to go to heaven was to stay in good health, and do not die? Who didn’t love Elizabeth Bennet for popping Mr Darcy’s balloon of priggishness?

These characters were all strong despite the awful restrictions placed on their lives. Although my writing can’t hold a candle to Eliot, Bronte, Austen or Alcott, these great authors have shown me that it is possible to create female characters that can be admired and respected despite their terrible context.

So at my keyboard I sit, trying to create a few fictional women who won’t let a few stupid laws and the ideas of a stuffy, overly-moralistic society stop them from being strong, independent and clever. And being somebody I wouldn’t mind having a drink with!

All done! 

I’ve been working like a crazy person for the last two weeks, and finally it’s finished. I’ve written the final draft of what I hope will be the first in a new series of books for the lovely people at Blushing Books!

I think it’s the most concentrated period of writing I’ve ever done. Time restraints have forced me to sit down and bloody well write this thing. No sitting and pondering the deep meaning of every single word choice – just prop myself up in the corner of the sofa, move the cat from my notes, open up Word and go for it. I edited as I wrote, often going back mid-chapter to tweak, re-word and often hit the delete key with so much force that I think it won’t work properly now.

Previously, I had a completed, imperfect MS and then went back to redraft the whole thing as a unit. This time, it’s been a constant process of editing as I went along. I’m not sure which is the most useful way to handle editing and re-drafting, or whether I can manage this editing style when I have to return to a 5000 word a week schedule, rather than 40000 words in 50+ hours of one week like I’ve done this time.

I’m glad this book is done. It works as a stand alone story, as well as leading into a bigger cast of characters. I have 20000 words of the second in the series, which had been intended to be the first. That’s been sitting on my hard drive for about a year and will need a bit of a re-write to make it fit with what I’ve established in this, but it does give me an impetus to finish it now. I was stuck – it’s far more sexually explicit than the stuff I’ve written before,a nod there’s a big shift away from just spanking to more bdsm and power exchange stuff. I think I needed a lead-in to it, which is what the first novel is.  What that toys with, the second will jump straight into.

I’ve popped my bdsm cherry, so to speak, and now I’m ready to explore!

How does it feel to be an author?

For as long as I can remember I’ve had my head in a book. So much so, in fact, that my father lovingly called me Edna for the majority of my childhood. You know – short for Edna Book.  (It was better than his first nickname for me, which was Kojak. Both Telly Savalas and I suffered from a distinct lack of hair in the late seventies.)

I read anything and everything I could get my hands on – pulp sci-fi, nineteenth century children’s books, murder mysteries, autobiographies, historical non-fiction, backs of cereal packets; you name it, I read it.

What at made me think I could write a novel? Is it because I read so many that the next natural step was to write one myself? Or is it true that all of us have a novel inside us, and mine just found an easy way out? There was none of Hemingway’s opening up of a vein and writing – all I needed to do was open a Word document.

Blushing Books have given me the biggest compliment anyone could – they looked at my silly little story and thought it was good enough to be made into a proper book. I’m still not quite sure how I managed to fool them into thinking I, or the book, was something that people would like to read.  Either they’re very stupid, or the book must be fairly good.

You don’t last long in the business world being stupid, and they’ve been around for a while. I suppose that means the book must be fairly good!

It’s a strange concept, that the words buzzing around inside your brain will be buzzing around in somebody else’s very soon.

I’m not sure I’m quite ready for it – but it’s too late now! The release date for Spanking The Governess (guess what it’s about, go on, guess) is September 11th 2015.  On that date I’m going to turn into one of the people that have brought me so many hours of pleasure over the years! I lurch between excitement and pants-wetting terror on an almost hourly basis.

Is that how a real author feels? I’m not sure. But it’s how this author feels.

passionate about the past