The United States is at the beginning of a long, drawn-out, hysterically frantic election process that usually covers an entire year, gazillions of dollars, and more hyperbole than you’ll find in an entire series of fiction. So when I escape to 1830 to write about my scientific Ives family and my psychic Malcolms, what does my Muse choose to plot? An election.
I may end up killing my characters first, or throwing out the entire plot. Only time will tell. But in the meantime, I sketched up this lovely draft based on the interesting reform happening in 1830 England. I read about the various boroughs holding elections over a summer after the death of King George IV, when the new King asked for a new Parliament. Elections back then were nothing like those today. At the time, many aristocrats controlled “pocket” boroughs, some with as few as five voters. In other areas, the local landowner might buy a few rounds at the tavern and tell his tenants for whom to cast their votes—all very polite and leisurely and ruled by aristocrats, even though the Commons was supposed to be for the common man, right?
Except at this time of political upheaval, with the Industrial Revolution raising up a new middle class, they couldn’t even count the votes correctly, much less predict the winners. The need for reform was so popular that even the pocket boroughs swung to the reform party, unseating members who had been in the Commons for decades.
So here we had farmers rioting in the south, laborers rioting in the north, elections swinging widely against the aristocrats who held all the power… exciting times to place my characters in. I read the history books. I knew Lord Grey became prime minister on November 22, after the general election when the Whigs and reformists came into power. Silly me, I thought someone actually had to VOTE him in. I drafted up a plan for parties and election day shenanigans and parades and flag-waving…
And there was none of that. Obviously, resentment festered when Wellington, the Tory prime minister, stated he was unequivocally against reform. Not so obviously, the resentment was taken to back rooms and non-public forums to decide where to make their stand. And what did they choose? The Civil List—a list of government expenditures on the monarchy’s pensioners. They speechified all day, decided to vote on a committee to look into it (if you really want to put yourself to sleep, read about it here . They held a vote, and the Whigs voted for a committee. Giant yawn.
The next moment, Wellington resigns. No vote, no fanfare, just a polite farewell. A few days later, the king sends a polite letter appointing Earl Grey. Parliament says nice going old boy, and business went on as usual. Arggghhh! No flag waving, no riots, no parades… I even looked up the London newspapers hoping for a carriage-stoning or two. Nothing.
Where’s the high drama? How will I pull off an action-packed climax or even a ticking clock if all I have is a committee, a king and a letter that leisurely showed up one fine morning? I want to lie and cheat and change the way things were… History may be a great springboard for dramatic action, but sometimes, reality is a pain!
I can totally understand turning to alternative history. There was poor little Vicky, Queen Victoria-to-be, appointed heir to her elderly uncle, locked up in her ivory tower, and I can’t even have her come out to play with my characters’ kids. A little kidnapping, a carriage chase… give me something!
How much reality do you want with your romantic fantasy? How much actual history do you need? Since I’m writing about a family of women with psychic gifts, I try to ground them in real history, but does anyone really care?