Knowing how popular Harlequin Mills and Boon (HMB) books are with so many readers and having read a few myself, I am fascinated by the writing process for this romance genre. It is with great pleasure that I have a really interesting guest piece from Janice Preston telling us all about the writing process for Harlequin Mills and Boon and about Regency romance in particular.
Janice’s new book Saved by Scandal’s Heir was published yesterday 1st. April 2016. It is her fourth Regency romance for HMB, and it features one of her favourite characters as heroine: Harriet, Lady Brierley, who first appeared in Janice’s second Regency From Wallflower to Countess (recently shortlisted for the RoNA Rose award) as the former mistress of the hero. You can read an extract below.
About Saved by Scandal’s Heir
Harriet, Lady Brierley, is a respectable widow, determined to keep the secrets of her broken heart deeply buried. But when Benedict Poole—the very man who deserted her—returns, Harriet’s safe world threatens to unravel.
Believing Harriet left him for a wealthy lord, Benedict must fight to uncover the true consequence and tragedy of their affair years before. But with his family’s name now synonymous with scandal, can he hope to win back the trust of the woman he has always loved?
Writing Regency Romance for Harlequin Mills & Boon
A Guest Post from Janice Preston
Thank you, Linda, for inviting me onto your blog.
You asked me about the challenges of writing Regency romance for Harlequin Mills & Boon (HMB), and I’d like to answer that in three parts.
The challenge of writing is universal. Ultimately, you just have to get on and do it, or forget it and go clean the oven (insert your own least favourite chore here!)
The challenge of writing romance (also known as series or category romance), as opposed to romantic fiction, is the ability to focus almost entirely on the developing relationship between the hero and heroine (or hero/hero, heroine/heroine if you are writing same-sex romance). The plot is driven by the protagonists’ inner conflicts (ie the emotional or mental obstacles within the character). It is the resolution of those inner conflicts (and not exterior obstacles such as other people) that results in the characters changing and leads ultimately to their happy-ever-after. With a shorter word count (in the case of HMB it is 50000 words for contemporary, 75000 words for historical) there simply isn’t the luxury to stray too far from the central romance.
Nora Roberts once said that writing series romance is akin to “performing Swan Lake in a phone booth”. That describes it perfectly.
The challenge of writing Regency romance is the same as writing about any historical period. Fortunately there are numerous contemporary resources from the Regency era in existence, and the internet is a blessing in providing access to all kinds of information. It must be harder to research, say, Medievals or the ancient civilisations, where fewer contemporary sources exist. On the other hand, with fewer ‘facts’, there is more scope for the imagination.
Google is brilliant for research but it can be unreliable and the advice is to try and find at least three original sources for any fact—sometimes easier said than done. I am slowly building a collection of Regency reference books, often using them in preference to the internet. And my reference books have to be physical books. I simply cannot get on with having reference books on my kindle—I like something to flick through!
I use the internet, old maps and Google maps to research settings, and both the internet and my books to research clothing, interiors, travel etc. It is important not to get carried away with the research, however. Readers buy romances for the developing relationship between the hero and heroine, not to read pages of regurgitated facts, no matter how fascinating.
I like to imagine my stories as a stage play, with the Regency world providing the backdrop but the focus firmly on the interaction of the actors on stage. The world must be authentic, but it is the backdrop. I am writing from my protagonists’ points of view so I try to describe only the details that they might realistically notice which means I don’t describe every single detail of, say, the décor of a room or the clothes a character is wearing unless it is pertinent to the story.
Dialogue is a constant challenge. I bear in mind I am writing for the readers of today, not those of the Regency, or even those of the 1960s or 1970s. I therefore try to suggest the era, with the occasional use of a word or a turn of phrase that will remind the reader they are in the Regency era. It’s a bit like the advice given for writing dialects: use it sparingly and it works; use it throughout and the flow of the story suffers. I hope I get the balance right. I don’t use obviously modern terms, however, and one of my most-used reference books is English Through the Ages (William Brohaugh), which gives the earliest-recorded use of most common words.
I do push the boundary with regard to the formality with which characters address one another, but I do that deliberately in the hope of making the story more readable and, I hope, to win a younger readership over to the genre. Husbands and wives in the Regency appeared to address one another formally as, for instance, Mr Bennet and Mrs Bennet (although whether they continued that formality in the throes of passion is a moot point!) My characters do conform to the customs of the time in social settings but as their relationship deepens they do graduate to first name terms when they are private and in their inner thoughts. I also have friends address one another by their Christian names, even though I doubt that would be the case in real life, unless they had been friends from childhood. I just find too many Lady this and Miss that peppering the story becomes clunky.
So, that is it. The challenges—to me—of writing Regency romance.
Thank you once again, Linda, for inviting me onto your blog.
Janice, thanks so much for this. I thought I knew about fiction but had no idea that there was a distinction between romance and romantic fiction. Fascinating.
An Excerpt from Saved by Scandal’s Heir
(Harriet, Lady Brierley—a respectable widow—has travelled to Kent. In this excerpt she meets, for the first time in 11 years, her former childhood sweetheart, Benedict Poole.)
‘Lady Brierley. To what do we owe this pleasure?’
Harriet froze. It could not be. Had she conjured him up in the flesh, just by allowing her thoughts one tiny peek at those memories? Moisture prickled her palms even as her mouth dried. She drew a calming breath, gathered her years of experience in hiding her feelings, and turned.
He was framed in the open doorway.
After all this time.
He had the same long, lean legs and wide shoulders, but this was a man, not the youth she’d once known. His chin was just as determined but the high forehead under the familiar fox-red hair now sported faint creases. His lips were set in an uncompromising line and his leaf-green eyes pierced Harriet as he stared into her face, his gaze unwavering. A cat stalking its prey could not be more focused.
Harriet swallowed past the jagged glass that appeared to have lodged in her throat.
‘Good afternoon, Mr Poole.’ Had those composed words really come from her lips? She took courage. She had faced worse than this. ‘I apologise for calling uninvited. I did not realise your…’ What was his relationship to Sir Malcolm again? All she could recall was that he had been Benedict’s guardian. ‘… Sir Malcolm was so very ill. I had hoped for a few words with him.’
‘He is my second cousin. I’m the only other Poole left now.’
The platitude slid readily from her tongue. She wasn’t sorry. The world would be well rid of the Pooles. But she would remain polite. Let nothing of her bitterness show. Sir Malcolm had spent his life in pursuit of his own pleasures, a dissolute rake with not a care for the ruined lives he left in his wake. Felicity’s poor sister had been just one of his victims. And Benedict had proved himself equally as contemptible, equally as careless of the heartbreak he had left behind. Hardly surprising with Sir Malcolm as his only role model since childhood.
Benedict prowled into the centre of the room, nearing Harriet. The very air seemed to vibrate between them. She stood her ground, although she could not prevent a swift glance at her maid, Janet, who had accompanied her, sitting quietly on a chair near the beautifully carved stone fireplace. Benedict followed her gaze.
At least I am not alone.
‘Why are you here?’ The words were softly spoken. Benedict’s green eyes bored into Harriet’s. ‘Did you think to wed another wealthy man on his deathbed?’
‘Brierley was not on his deathbed! And I had no ch—’ Harriet shut her mouth with a snap. She’d endured over seven years with that lecher. Seven years of misery and disgust, empty arms and a broken heart, all because of Benedict Poole.
She had not in a million years thought to meet him here. He had gone overseas—right to the other side of the world. And even that was not far enough away for Harriet. Hatred for this man rose as the long-suppressed memories cascaded through her thoughts.
His lying words. His false promises. All of it.
She concealed any hint of her feelings. He must never know how her heart still ached for what might have been.
If you would like to read more, the first chapter is free to read on Janice’s website.
About Janice Preston
Janice Preston grew up in Wembley, North London, with a love of reading, writing stories and animals. In the past she has worked as a farmer, a police call-handler and a university administrator. She now lives in the West Midlands with her husband and two cats and has a part-time job with a weight management counsellor (vainly trying to control her own weight despite her love of chocolate!)