Jo Beverley and I have previously commented on the upcoming (November 2nd) UK publication of our books by Everlyn, a new imprint specifically set up to bring American historical romances to the British market. As you might imagine, we both think this is totally cool, particularly for Jo, who is returning home to England at exactly the time when her books will start to become readily available there.
Jo even gets to do a book tour along a path that includes the route her Lady Notorious characters take. I think this is brilliant promotion, while at the same time I’m glad I’m a safe 3000 miles away. <G> But I’ll enjoy reading the blog of her tour once she starts next week.
You might enjoy looking at the Everlyn site, which shows the lovely covers, has articles by Jo and me, and also gives some background on the company. Richard and Lynda Tunnicliffe live in Wales and got their start in publishing with Welsh language editions of popular children’s books. Hobby became vocation, a family member picked up a delightful historical romance while traveling in the US, and an idea was born.
Everlyn is starting with my Regency Fallen Angels series and Jo’s Georgian Mallorens makes a nice contrast in time period. My first book for Everlyn, Fallen Angel, was published in the US as Thunder and Roses. The title was changed because the Everlyn publisher couldn’t figure out what Thunder and Roses meant, and I had no good explanation. (“He’s thunderous and like most roses, she comes well equipped with thorns, and we had to come up with a title overnight” is the real answer. <G>)
The whole experience is making me think about the different flavors of romantic historicals. Stories set in the past have always been popular, and Sir Walter Scott is sometimes considered the father of the historical novel. Most of those early books featured swashbuckling male heroes, though. Even books by female authors, such as Baroness Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel, generally had male leads, though there was often a good romance woven into the story.
But the genre keeps evolving. The saga with a female lead is very well established, and then there were the Gothic romances like those of Victoria Holt, which were a transition to modern historical romance.
As I understand, many British romantic historicals these days are “clogs and shawls” stories, a saga-ish type of women’s fiction featuring a northern working class heroine who is struggling for a better life. (Naturally that includes romance!) The late Catherine Cookson was the goddess of this sort of story.
There are also the queen books, a subgenre practically invented by Philippa Gregory, and which now has many authors of fine books focused real historical women. (Such as Lady Macbeth by our own Susan Fraser King.)
In contrast, the American style historical romance is a courtship book that focuses very strongly on the developing relationship. Generally the points of view of both heroine and hero are offered, and the heroine's emotions and character arc are central. Plus, we insist on our happy endings. Harlequin Historicals follow this same pattern and the books are much like single title American romances, though generally shorter.
Even so, the genre keeps changing. The first historical romances by writers like Kathleen Woodiwiss and Rosemary Rogers were big, sprawling stories 150K words and up, and often globetrotting was involved as characters sailed the seas, were kidnapped by gypsies, or separated by wars. Usually there was a LOT of plot—and plot has been the first thing to go as book lengths have become shorter due to reduced attention spans and cost cutting.
So I look at the first three of my Fallen Angels books which Evelyn has scheduled for November, February and June, and I know that they are not the same as what I’m doing now, primarily because my current books are 40K or more words shorter. I still like the same kinds of characters and challenges (torture those heroes, yes!), but there is now less history, fewer subplots, and fewer secondary characters.
Longer isn’t always better—I’ve fallen asleep trying to read some of those big sprawling early books. It take a lot of skill to maintain tension and character arc over 150K.
It’s still possible to have real history in books under 100K, though it’s harder, and there will probably be less of it. Becoming more focused and using words with more precision isn’t a bad thing, at least for me. I just hope that word lengths will never fall to the point where the books can’t deliver the romantic hit we readers want.
All of which is a lot of rumination to be inspired by the happy fact that my stories are about to be published in the UK! I hear from enough British readers to think that Everlyn books will find an audience, and my feeling is that the UK readership will probably like the longer books with more layers and history. We’ll find out soon!
By the way, if you want to buy Everlyn books in the US (some of them are no longer in print here) the British website The Book Depository ships books world wide with free shipping, and no minimum charge. The company is a great resource for British books. Everlyn will also have a contest giving away signed copies of the first two books–I imagine details will be on their website soon.
In the meantime, how do you feel about the evolving historical romance genre? Do you miss those big, juicy early historicals? Or does your busy schedule mean that you fare better with the shorter romances being published today? Are there other forms of historical novel you also read? I’d like to hear—