Does history help, or hinder?
By Flora Dain
I think a bit of both. It helps, because you’ve got a ready-made landscape for your story, complete with costume, life-style and habits. It hinders, because you have to get it right. And after all that research, it’s easy to get bogged down in the broader picture and forget the detail. After all, what is history? War, peace treaties, politics, war. Mostly engineered by men. Yawn.
So once I’ve fixed the period and the time-scale, I home in on the people. OK, they wore different clothes and maybe spoke more formally. They also had to manage without welfare, electricity, and cell phones, cars, painkillers, TV, shrink-wrap or tissues (no tissues? Yikes!), but that apart, they were just like you and me. They made mistakes, fell in love, broke hearts, got lucky. Some lost everything, some won through.
Women especially had a raw deal – no rights, no vote, no property, and little chance to shine except through money, exceptional talent, marriage or inheritance. Sound familiar? Sure does – in some parts of the world, and in many cultures, nothing’s changed much. Yet in former times plenty of women still made it, like they do now. We just have to fight harder. Like a comic quipped recently – ‘Weaker sex? Women can bleed for five days. All it does is make them more aggressive.’ I guess cynical male comedians are heading for history, but it’s a fair point. We bleed, we fight. That’s what women do.
I research as much as I can. Biographies of famous people are terrific for this – then I try to write from inside it. Save for the occasional servant or carriage, Jane Austen rarely mentions detail, and never dates or wars. She simply transports us to another place and time, different – but in many ways the same – as ours. The people are her story.
That said, the sparkling Regency period, beloved of romance fiction writers everywhere, was not all candy-coated. In the Suiting Saffina series, set from 1816 to 1818, I wove in some aspects of Saffina’s era that, from today’s perspective, I found impossible to ignore. Extreme poverty, for example, in Taming Saffina; the perils of high politics, with France still in turmoil after years of regime change, in Saffina’s Secrets; and the pitfalls of London’s social whirl in Saffina’s Season, where Saffina’s breezy lust for life brings her within a whisker of downfall. I could hardly claim my heroine walked a fine line between respectability and sin, without sharing with readers a glimpse of the terrifying void that yawned beneath her if she missed her step!
About Flora Dain:
Flora is a multi-published author who is married with two children and lives in the UK. She loves reading, writing, good reviews, cold, crunchy ice cream and hot, smooth movies. And especially connecting with readers—a real thrill!
Taming Saffina blurb:
When an heiress runs wild, her stern guardian comes back from abroad to take the whip hand…
A willful heiress is taken in hand when her guardian, the disgraced Earl of Endale, returns from abroad to find her a husband and launch her into society. With a reputation as dark as his allure, she finds his discipline both exotic and exciting. To her delight, his instruction includes strict and detailed attention to pleasure. She’s fiercely attracted, but when he probes her past, she soon vows to resist. Her heart lies elsewhere, and she means to marry handsome Sir Nigel, her clean-living neighbor and friend. But to her dismay, she finds Sir Nigel has doubts. He suspects her untamed sexuality is due to the Earl’s evil influence. Concerned for her safety and her status, Sir Nigel insists she must be tamed and warns she risks losing both his love and her place in society. He attempts a bold rescue, but now she must choose—respectability or a life of delicious sin?
Taming Saffina excerpt
I gazed, open-mouthed. This was a gentleman—a real one. I’d seen gentlemen sporting the latest fashions in the pages of the Lady’s Magazine, but this was no preening dandy.
His clothes were plain and his necktie simple. His manner was haughty to the point of arrogance. His imperious air alone proclaimed him a lord. As he walked slowly across the dusty barn floor, his riding boots kicked up motes of dust.
They sparkled in the sunbeams like floating diamonds.
My universe shifted.
He had what I craved and plenty of it. I could see its hard lines clearly as the shaft of sunlight slanted across his buckskins.
At that moment his eyes locked on mine with a gleam. He knew. He knew what I craved, as sure as if I’d said it out loud.
Madame lowered the cane and dropped a deep curtsey. Isaac dropped my arms, hastily buttoned himself and touched his forelock.
I gaped like a landed fish. “You are my guardian?”
His eyes narrowed. As the others scuttled past him, he murmured something to Isaac.
With a scared, shifty look, the groom hoisted a length of coarse rope from a newel post. He dropped it at the newcomer’s feet and made for the door.
It swung to with a deafening crash.
The noise echoed off the wooden beams then silence fell. Hay-scented warmth settled around us like a blanket.
My guardian stooped in a graceful curve, scooped up the rope with one hand and walked toward me.
His deep, rich voice flowed around me like melting chocolate. “It’s customary to address me as sir. When you get to know me better, you’ll use it without being reminded.”
He stepped up close, tipped up my chin with his free hand and smiled deeply into my eyes. His touch felt warm and firm. His fingers smelled clean. For a fleeting second I caught a whiff of chypre from his firm, clean-shaven jaw. And mingled with it, the faintest hint of an aroma from his skin—something male.
At the same moment I felt the rasp of hemp as he wound a rough length of rope around one of my wrists. He reached behind me to secure it to the other and swiftly fastened both my wrists at my back.
“And now for a short, sharp lesson in manners.”
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