Friday, 6 May 2016

Y is for...? by Annie Burrows

On the first Friday of every month, Novelista Annie Burrows has been sharing a very personal view of what it is like to be a writer. And is dealing with themes in alphabetical order. This month, she's reached Y which is for...

OK, I have to confess that I resorted to going through the dictionary to find a word that began with Y, round which to write this month's blog. I could have cheated, and gone with "Why" which would have given me a lot of leeway. But I didn't want to do that.

Anyway, there aren't that many words in the dictionary beginning with Y, so I knew it wouldn't take me long to read through them.

Thankfully, it took only a few seconds to discover this little gem: Yesteryear which is a poetical or archaic form for "a time in the past". Which seemed appropriate, as that is where I set my stories.

I've always had a fascination for yesteryear. It started when I was a little girl, with family trips to various stately homes. When we got home, my sister and I would dress up as ladies of the manor, and romp round the garden on imaginary horses - or, if it was wet, we'd draw plans of our ideal stately home, complete with dungeons, secret passages, and of course, massive libraries.

I started reading historical romances at school, although I didn't know it then. I thought I was studying Jane Austen, and Thomas Hardy. I still thought I was studying English literature at University, without realizing that reading all those stories, written in the past, had given me a love of reading about people from the past. After I left university, I didn't want to keep on studying great literature, but I did still find myself gravitating towards stories set in the past.

At first, I devoured books by writers such as Norah Lofts. I absolutely loved the way she took us into the lives of relatively ordinary people and brought an era to life. And then carried that story to the next generation.

Then I discovered Georgette Heyer, and learned that historical stories didn't need to be dark and melodramatic, they could be amusing romps.

And then, much later, when I was doing a writing course and I began to research the market, I discovered the "Masquerade" line produced by Mills & Boon. And I fell in love with historical romance - as a reader and as a writer. These were the kind of stories that were already forming in my imagination - where simple country misses won the heart of an apparently cold, aloof, brooding aristocrat. Or survived kidnap by pirates, or ran away from evil guardians disguised as boys, and generally discovered they were far stronger and braver than they'd been given credit for.

So I began to write stories set primarily in the Regency era. Why Regency? Because there was an established market for that type of story, and because I thought I knew most about that era, having read so many others set in that time. Stories, I feel, should provide an escape from real life. And the Regency is a great place for many of us to escape to, since it is far enough away from Nowadays to feel suitably exotic, but familiar enough so that we don't feel all adrift when we get there.

The only trouble is, once I began to write Regency romance, in earnest, I began to discover just how little I knew. When I sent my first heroine on a journey to find her long-lost brother in Spain, for example, I had no idea what route she might take, or how she'd get back to England once he died, either. I didn't know a thing about troop movements in the Peninsula, or how wounded soldiers were looked after, or what happened to their effects once they'd died. What was worse, it was extremely difficult to find out. I would go to the library for a book on a specific topic, and read lots and lots of them without finding out the one thing I wanted to learn. (Although I picked up a lot of other interesting facts instead). The only way round it, at that time, was to plough on, and hope for the best. Anything I didn't know, I skirted round, but even so, I'm sure I made a lot of mistakes.

Fortunately, Nowadays, I have access to the internet. If I want to know how long it would take to travel by stagecoach from Yorkshire to London, I can probably find out within a matter of minutes. And what coaching inns my characters would be likely to have changed their horses, too.

Annie's latest book is a sort of road trip, through a section of fictional Regency countryside, since she is still wary of sending any of her heroes to a coaching inn in a real town which didn't exist in Real Life. However, the heroine does discover she can survive no matter what the villains try to do, and impresses the hero with not only her bravery and ingenuity, but also her singing voice.

You can find it at Amazon, and Mills & Boon


  1. I loved Norah Lofts as well - and Jean Plaidy and Anya Seton! Enjoyed reading this blog :)

    1. Yes, I loved Anya Seton, too Annie. But then, I love so many historical authors, the blog was in danger of turning into a long, long list!


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