I was that child nerd who either a.) wrote stories or b.) thought about writing stories when she was supposed to be doing something else. Most often it was other times and other places that draw my attention, inviting me to escape into a different world.
Things haven’t changed much. When I’m inspired by a new place — Regency England, Cornwall, Russia, the ancient palace of Fontainebleau — I want to actually be there. I want to take you there too, in the company of complex characters that you will fall a little (or a lot) in love with on the way.
It’s not just places and periods of history that inspire me, though – or the desire to create characters you won’t forget. Writing is my way of trying to answer difficult questions, too.
When I first started exploring the world of Wicked by Design, my idea of a soldier was very much the 007 style smooth operator, untouched and untouchable. After being invited to visit the battlefield of Waterloo by the charity Waterloo Uncovered, an archaeology project with a support program for veterans which aims to understand war and its impact on people, it became important to me to at least try to respect what the cost of that impact can be. How does a soldier run into danger when every instinct screams at him to run the other way? And afterwards how does he find a way to live among people who have so little comprehension of what he has experienced?
It’s not only war that interests me, though. The face of Europe did alter radically throughout the Regency era, but I often find myself wondering about the women behind those battlefields, from Napoleon’s Empress Josephine to the influential wife of a diplomat who counted statesmen and generals among her personal friends: women writing letters and nurturing relationships at court that changed the course of history in ways we don’t always realise.
As a writer researching the reality of war – and meeting veterans dealing with PTSD – I have at times at times been witness to the very real consequences of their training. There have been moments when I have had to stop and ask myself where research ends and the exploitation of someone else’s trauma begins.
One of the most rewarding aspects of my life as a writer so far has been helping others unlock their own gift for writing, and it was an honour to lead writing classes with veterans taking part in the archaeological dig at Waterloo. I will never forget one participant telling me that he could feel the echoes of the battle; that it chimed with his own experiences. It was a humbling experience for me. To be honest, I find writing very like archaeology – it’s all that consistent and painstaking digging for a story.
So, why the Regency?
Twenty years ago, I found an old Georgette Heyer novel on a dusty bookshelf and fell headlong into a world of gloriously practical heroines and charismatic heroes. I read everything that I possibly could about this compelling period of history Heyer made her own only to discover that the dark side of these decades was extreme.
It was a time of progress, discovery, glittering ballrooms and wild excess. It was also a time when a starving six-year-old child could be hanged for stealing bread. Despite the grim side of history, one thing my early reading of Georgette Heyer did was inspire me to write the kind of books that would make people happy.
When not exploring my obsessions and gleefully living in a world of ballrooms, battlefields and occasional hand-to-hand combat, I’m renovating our tumbledown Georgian house in the Welsh borders. That or in the pub, having a gin.
THE WORLD OF HESTER & CROW
If you’ve read Wicked By Design and require another fix of Hester putting Crow in his place, may I suggest you also read False Lights? It’s set in the same world and features many of the same characters. It is, I suppose, Hester and Crow’s origin story, although it doesn’t matter which order you read them in.
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