My book The Dragon's Bride has just been reissued in trade paperback and e-book, and it's about smuggling.
I'm not fond of heroes and heroines who are thieves. Even if they steal from the rich to give to the poor I still reckon 1) they're taking what doesn't belong to them (and usually at least getting their board and lodging out of it, even if they do pass much of it on, and b) distressing fellow human beings, even if their victims are rich. If the victims are spectacularly unpleasant, it does help.
Smugglers don't thrill me much either, but mostly because as organized criminal gangs they were and still are likely to be very nasty to ordinary citizens who get in their way. The crime itself, however, well, it's the tax system, so I'm not so sensitive. In the Regency period, taxes had risen ridiculously, so there was some justification for smuggling and a fair proportion of the law abiding citizens of Britain thought nothing of getting tax free tea, is particular, because the tax was seen as iniquitous.
(The original cover, with modern wedding dress, complete with zipper!)
Which is how I came to write a smuggling story. However, the hero, Con, is not a smuggler. He's an ex-military officer who's sternly set against the trade and sympathetic to the Preventive Officer, also an ex military man. The only reason he gives the local smuggling band a break is because his ex-love Susan Kearslake is involved, and her brother is probably the local smuggling master.
I traveled along the Dorset-Devon coast looking for a good location and settled on the interesting small fishing village of Beer, right on the border between the two counties. Old cottages and inns, looming headland, caves…. Ideal. The caves, BTW, exist because excellent stone was mined at Beer from the middle ages and Beer stone was used for much of Exeter Cathedral.
Alas, with all those attributes, smugglers had been there before my fictional ones, and when I researched I found that one of the most famous, Jack Rattenbury, had been operating there around the time of my story. So I changed the name, but kept most of the details the same.
Jack Rattenbury was famous because he left his memoirs, and you can read them on line here. The picture is from Smugglers' Britain, below.
He starts his story this way.
"I Was born at Beer, in the county of Devon, in the year 1778. My father was by trade a shoemaker, but he went on board a man-of-war before I was born, and my mother never heard of him afterwards; she was, however, frugal and industrious, and by selling fish for our support, contrived to procure a livelihood without receiving the least assistance from the parish or any of her friends. Beer, where we resided, lying open to the sea, I was continually by the water-side; and as almost all I saw or heard was connected with that element, I early acquired a partiality for it, and determined, almost from my infancy, when I grew up, to be a sailor. When I was about nine years of age I asked my uncle to let me go fishing with him, to which he consented; and as there was another lad about the same age who went with us, we were continually trying to outvie each other in feats of skill and dexterity. I mention this circumstance, as I conceive it had a considerable effect in deciding the cast of my character, and probably influenced many of the subsequent events of my life."
Life of ordinary people, especially men, was often a lot more adventurous and varied than we think. That's Beer village today. You can imagine Crag Wyvern, the home of the made Earl of Wyvern up on that headland.
You can read more about Rattenbury and smuggling in general here.
What about the vicious thugs? They definitely existed, but the smart smugglers realized that they needed the local people on side, both to help with handling the goods and with deceiving and deflecting the poor Preventive men. Rattenbury was part of the community and ended up owning a tavern there. I based my heroine's father, the smuggling master Melchisadeck Clyst, on Jack Rattenbury, except that Mel was caught and transported to Australia. I feel sure that he did well over there, however, as Rattenbury would have done.
The Dragon's Bride was a RITA finalist, and you can read the beginning of it here.
It's part of a trilogy called Three Heroes, and the first story, a novella called The Demon's Mistress, is available as an e-book special.
What's your attitude to criminals as heroes or heroines? Which illegal occupations can you tolerate, or even find romantic, and which could you never accept?
There's a copy of The Dragon's Bride to a random pick of the most interesting comments.
Jo, looking out at rain and wondering where summer is. How's your weather?
If you're in the UK, you can buy a copy here.