Nicola here. Today it is my very great pleasure to welcome Melinda Hammond back to the Word Wench blog. Melinda Hammond/Sarah Mallory is a long time Romantic Novelists’ Association friend and colleague of mine and we share the same taste in fast cars! She is also an award-winning author of Regency historicals. Today, however, we are chatting about her haunting timeslip novel Moonshadows, set in the Georgian period and the present day, originally published by Samhain and now re-issued by Melinda herself.
I first read Moonshadows a number of years ago and found it a thought-provoking read as well as a beautiful mix of the past and the present. In the interview below, Melinda mentions why she feels the story takes a different slant on the idea of the 18th century rake. The conflict at the heart of the story is strong and heartbreaking and (no spoilers!) tells of the ultimate price of getting what you wish for…
Nicola: Can you tell us a bit about Moonshadows, where the book is set and how you researched it?
Melinda: Moonshadows is set in England – the Georgian England of the mid 18th century and the present day. It has two storylines running through it, two rich powerful men, centuries apart, each attracted to a woman they cannot have. The Georgian period has always been a favourite of mine, so lots of the research was already done. To be honest the more difficult part was the present day. I had to check out church records, graveyards etc. Oh, and one very important piece of research involved test driving a sports car. My modern day Romeo tries to wood his girl with an expensive present, so of course I had to try out this little beauty!
Nicola: That must have been a tough bit of research! Your modern day Romeo also drives an Aston Martin, which is my personal favourite! But back to the book and the key question of what gave you the idea for this novel?
Melinda: As a writer of Regency romance, I have always been fascinated by the thought the rake who didn't get the girl. Anyone who has studied history of the 18th century will know that generally, rakes were not the lovable, chivalrous, heroic figures of romantic fiction. They were, in the main, hedonistic, selfish womanisers. That doesn't mean there weren't some good guys out there – just as today there are probably some tall, dark handsome, chivalrous and attractive bilionaires – but generally 18th century England was a rough world dominated by men with money and power.
So I wanted to write a story that was a little different. A rake who falls for a woman whose conscience will not let her give herself to him body and soul. In the 18th century religion was a much stronger force in many people's lives and although Sarah falls in love with her rake, she holds herself aloof, fearful for his soul as well as her own.
My present day heroine doesn't exactly travel back in time, but she is haunted by a presence, and I needed to add a few spooky incidents to make this work, one of which was a personal experience! Just when I was beginning to think about this story, we were redecorating one of the rooms in our old Pennine farmhouse. When we stripped away the wood-chip paper we had inherited, we discovered the top corner of an old stone peeking out from behind the 1970s fireplace. That was it, I just had to investigate, so we removed the modern monstrosity and found that the original stone fireplace was intact. It consisted of two stone side-supports and a stone across the top, and it had been very roughly bricked up. I got to work with a bolster chisel and lump hammer, digging out the cement and pulling out bricks to reveal a black, sooty hole.
Our house is fairly isolated up on the Yorkshire moors, and I was doing this work on a windy October night. A cold draught came out from the opening I had made. It was too black to see anything inside, even with a torch, and I began to imagine all the horrid, unnatural things that might be waiting to get out! However, I persevered, and eventually we ended up with the lovely country fireplace we have now.
Nicola: Your 18th century thread definitely has a tortured hero – and heroine – but it’s a very interesting and authentic conflict. I absolutely love that there was some personal experience in the current day story as well. How fascinating!
Dual time line stories are so intriguing. How different is it writing in the past and present time lines?
Melinda: I found the timelines had distinct voices and by using the point of view of the women in both cases. The language of the 18th century is more formal, and in some cases Sarah's decisions were much more straightforward, based upon the moral principles of her time.
Jez, her modern counterpart, is much more confused. Her dilemma is that she thinks she is being unfair to her current boyfriend because she feels an attraction for a rich man.
Nicola: Jez is also channelling her 18th century counterpart, isn’t she. And Piers, the present day hero, is drop dead gorgeous, not just to look at but also as a person. The mirroring of the characters is fascinating.
What is it about the timeslip genre that appeals to you as a reader and/or an author?
Melinda: When I visit historic places – old houses, castles, battlefields – very often I can almost feel the past. It's like a shadow at
the edge of the eye, not quite visible. Perhaps it's because I love history that I really would like to be able to visit the past, to explore it, taste it, feel it – within limits, of course, I wouldn't want to experience the horrors of the torture chamber, or be burned alive as a witch! A good timeslip persuades me to believe that there really is a link between past and present. I love the idea that one can be influenced by people and events from the past, either in a supernatural, ghostly way or by actually stepping back in time. I love the contrast between the past and the present, the differences in behaviour and beliefs. It is great to be able to explore how the society we are born into affects our character.
With all fiction, it is the author's ability to make the reader suspend belief that is the key to a good novel. In timeslip, the author must blend history with the modern world in a way that makes it credible, and makes the reader want to believe it could happen.
Nicola: That fits beautifully with your title. I loved the bit in the book where a character describes a spirit as like a moonshadow, often too pale to be seen in the harsh light of the present day. As readers of timeslip I think a lot of us like that idea of something mysterious you glimpse out of the corner of your eye…
Which writers inspire you?
Melinda: On timeslip? I suppose we could go back and start with C S Lewis and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe! Okay, so perhaps that is not exactly timeslip but the idea of people being able to enter another world has intrigued me ever since.
It is good writing that inspires me. Barbara Erskine's Lady of Hay showed there was an audience for the timeslip novel, and since then we have had outstanding examples from Pamela Hartshorne and Word Wenches very own Nicola Cornick, to name but two.
Nicola: *blushes*Thank you! What are the best bits, worst bits and most surprising bits of being an author?
Melinda: Best bits – never being bored! Every day is a new adventure, and at the end of every book there is another, different story bubbling up and insisting that I write it. The worst thing is the frustration of not being able to get a story written quickly enough, and those days when there are mundane tasks that have to be done, when one would much rather be writing. The most surprising b it? Re-reading a book I wrote years ago and thinking, "you know, this isn't bad!"
Nicola: What is your writing process? Do you plan first or dive in? How many drafts do you do?
Melinda: Usually I start with an idea, and maybe an ending, but then I just get on a write it, letting the characters take the story where they want to go. One thing I always know is that there will be a happy ending. I get the story down first of all, maybe jumping ahead to a scene if it is fresh in my mind and then going back to link everything together. Then I re-read and edit it. Sometimes I have to go back and add a few more scenes, or delete parts that I realise are unnecessary or that don't move the story on, but it's never more than two drafts.
Nicola: I love that every writer has a different take on a similar process. There’s no right way of working, just the way that suits us individually.
If you could be the original author of any book what would it have been and why?
Melinda: Wow, there's a question. I think it would be Heyer and one of her Regency comedies – possibly Black Sheep, which I re-read over and over again for the quality of the writing and the humour. Entertainment at its best.
Nicola: What are you working on at the moment?
Melinda: Perhaps its being a Gemini, but I like to have more than one project on the go at any one time! In my alter ego as Sarah Mallory I am writing a Regency set in Yorkshire for Harlequin, about a young widow and a rake (naturally he is one of those with a noble soul just waiting to be reclaimed!) and as Melinda Hammond I am revising one of my early Regencies, originally called "A Rational Romance". It is retitled "To Marry a Marquis" and will be published on Kindle in March, as part of the Regency Romantics "Ladies in Love" Spring box-set, along with Regency romances by four other British authors.
Nicola: I cannot tell you how much I envy you Geminis your multi-writing! Thank you so much for joining us today, Melinda!
You can find Melinda online in the following places:
Website – www.melindahammond.com
Twitter – @SarahMRomance
Facebook – Melinda SarahMallory Hammond
Melinda is offering a digital copy of Moonshadows to one reader who comments between now and Midnight on Saturday (good book title!) The question she is asking is: If you were to visit the past, where would you go and who would you like to meet?