When I was growing up, I had no interest in history of any kind. Maybe I was just waiting for the right moment—or the right book—to strike me before I realized Historical Fiction was my favourite genre. Now I love to imagine myself faraway and long ago: castles and cloaks, heroes and ladies … hearing the clashing of swords and howling of dying men, hiding in darkened cottages that reek of pig, eating freshly killed meat, bathing once a month if I’m lucky …
Aye, as they say. There’s the rub.
The thing about historical fiction is that it’s based on fact, and the better the writing, the less appealing the time period can seem to be. I mean, back then folks didn’t change into a t-shirt when it was warm, didn’t programme their day around skyping relatives, didn’t check their daytimer to see if lunch would work that day. If they didn’t hunt they didn’t eat. If they didn’t defend their property they found themselves without a roof over their heads. If they didn’t have the stomach for killing, well, they’d fall first.
And yet ... it’s still romantic. Those were the days when men dueled to the death over a woman’s honour, when family was everything, when love was rare and precious, when people laboured over writing exactly the right handwritten note. And from that concept springs Historical Romance.
Technically, Historical Romance has what people call a HEA, or Happily Ever After. That, and it has to include romance. Fortunately for authors like me, those are the only rules, really. Lucky for me because my books don’t step carefully around distasteful subjects, avoiding ugly truths. I write about normal, everyday people who lived back then, the people who had never even felt the luxury of satin with their fingers, whose floors were dirt, who barely traveled farther than their traplines. Because now that I’ve learned so much about history and so many of its little details, I am loathe to hold back and miss out on so much of what made history real—and romantic.
I’m learning about the absence of any kind of rights for women. I’m learning that a child had to grow up awfully fast back then, and I’m learning about slavery—and not the kind of which you’re automatically thinking. Starting in the 17th century, did you know hundreds of thousands of white slaves were brought over to the colonies from Europe? I’m not referring to “indentured servants,” though that was no picnic either. I don’t know why that’s not more widely known fact, but I think it should be. So I include it.
Of course there’s also a point where you have to decide just how detailed you’re going to be. After all, it’s Fiction. Though actual 18th century Highlanders were more often five feet tall and clothed in hair, I’d rather fantasize that my hero is six feet tall, with clean locks flowing neatly by his muscled, hairless shoulders. Oh, and he bathes frequently. When prisoners were left for two days, alone and unfed because their captors doesn’t know what to do with them all (which did happen), how did they fare? Fortunately, my hero managed not only to survive, but to still have the strength to stand up for some of his weaker cellmates. And his heart is consumed with finding the woman he loves, not with the question of where he’s going to find his next meal. Yes, it’s fiction.
(don't worry - I used picture #1 in my mind)
So what is Historical Romance? I think it’s different things to different people. For many, it is the cleaner, “safer” stories told of lives lived in salons, featuring privileged dukes and duchesses and the like. To me it’s knowing history was unkind and only the strong survived. From those survivors, only a few could find love. But that love meant everything to them. It became their purpose, their destiny, and they are determined to beat the odds so they can have their HEA.
How do you look at Historical Romance? Do you prefer to get down and dirty with the common man and the realism of the times, or are you more comfortable with “court” romances?