Friday 21 November 2014

History as a Character in Historical Romance by Regan Walker

Once again it is my pleasure to welcome a guest author to the site to share tales of writing and history. Without further ado I shall leave you in the delightful hands of Regan Walker and the fascinating topic of history as a character in historical romance.


For me, writing historical romance must include real history—and it’s a character in each of my stories. What do I mean by that? First, the historical element is not just setting or “background.” Rather, the historical events of the time are woven in along with real historical figures. Unlike historical fiction, because I write romance, there is always a main love story in the foreground and a happy ending.

Typically, I begin with an idea, a scene or a character. For the first in the Agents of the Crown trilogy, Racing With The Wind, it was the character Lady Mary Campbell. I have always believed that women in past times were no different in character, hopes and dreams than women are today. There have always been women who were happy to conform to the expectations of their times and there have always been women who did not. Perhaps because of their intelligence and curiosity, those who do not conform become bored with the role carved out for their sex and so they push the envelope of what is acceptable. I wanted to take a woman like that and look at her through the lens of Regency England. What would she do differently than the women of her age?

Racing with the Wind

While Regency England (the period from 1811-1820), was characterized by a Prince Regent who lived a debauched lifestyle where courtesans might have been treated better than the wives of arranged marriages, still a young lady of the nobility would be raised in a certain manner with certain expectations of proper behavior. My heroine is one of those but she will rebel. She will ride astride in men’s clothes (as some, in fact, did); she will be educated and read the classics; and she will be adventure seeking. So armed with that information, I went looking for history that would make for an interesting setting. And I found it in Paris in 1816.

With Napoleon exiled to St. Helena and Louis XVII restored to France’s throne, much was happening in Paris. The allied troops were still encamped around the city and the officers frequented Louis’ Court. Knowing what I do about governments, I knew there would be spies as well as statesmen. And that brought me to my hero. He had to be strong enough to handle Lady Mary Campbell, and wise enough to appreciate her unique personality. Of course, while drawn to her beauty and spirit, he would find her independent nature most troublesome. Enter the Nighthawk, a mysterious figure—a legend in France during Napoleon’s reign—who stole secrets in the dead of night, secrets that were at the heart of Napoleon’s military campaigns.

Then I had to have other characters, a best friend for Mary, a colleague or two for the Nighthawk, also known as Hugh, the Marquess of Ormond. The interesting thing to me was that I found a woman who actually lived in Paris at that time who was so like Lady Mary that I decided to incorporate her into my story. Thus, the real person of Germaine de Stael became a friend and mentor of sorts to my fictional heroine. And the rest, of course, is the romance!

Germaine de Stael
Germaine de Stael

For the third in my trilogy, Wind Raven, a seafaring Regency, I started with the hero, Jean Nicholas Powell, a sea captain and an arrogant Englishman who gave up on love (and virgins in particular) some years ago. Now he loves only his ship, his crew and his life at sea. For this man, I needed a woman he would come to respect who would defy convention and give him a major run for his money.

Wind Raven

Enter the American patriot, Tara McConnell from the shipbuilding family of privateers who built the Boston Clipper ships that helped America run the British blockades in the War of 1812. Tara, who grew up on her father’s ships, disdains the English even though the war has been over for a few years. Yet she was forced by her father to spend a year in London with her aunt, a dowager baroness, and to have a Season. I had a real, historic model for Tara in Anne Chamberlyne, a scholar’s daughter and member of the gentry who, declining offers of marriage in 1690, at the age of twenty-three, donned a man’s clothing and joined her brother’s ship to fight the French off Beachy Head. Tara was just such a woman. Once Tara becomes a passenger on Nick’s ship, the sparks start to fly. She wants to act a member of his crew and he wants her far from the action.

It was important to me that I get all the ship scenes correct and use all the right terminology, particularly since both Tara and Nick well understood the workings of a schooner. I read my 4-inch thick Sailor’s Word Book and studied drawings of schooners of the period until I was seeing them in my dreams. I also took a ride on a schooner of the period, the Californian (pictured below) to get a feel for the movement of the ship—and in doing so, I found a friend and my consultant in the person of the ship’s gunner to whom the book is dedicated.


I did extensive research for this book. It included not just schooners of the period and the War of 1812, but what was happening on Bermuda (where Nick makes a stop and they dine with real historic figures living there in 1817), how a schooner would weather a major storm at sea, and, most importantly, the real pirate Roberto Cofresi, who is a character in the story and falls in love with Tara. A tall, blond giant of a man from Puerto Rico, Cofresi preyed on merchant ships not flying the flag of Royal Spain. And he had reason to do so, as you’ll see in my story. While you are reading a romance, you are also learning something about a real pirate who plagued the seas at the time.

My latest novel, The Red Wolf’s Prize, is a medieval set in England in 1068, two years after the Norman Conquest and features the Siege of Exeter, the Battle of York and a love story for the ages.

The Red Wolf's Prize

About the Author

Bestselling author Regan Walker loved to write stories as a child, particularly those about adventure-loving girls, but by the time she got to college more serious pursuits took priority. One of her professors encouraged her to pursue the profession of law, which she did. Years of serving clients in private practice and several stints in high levels of government gave her a love of international travel and a feel for the demands of the “Crown” on its subjects. Hence her romance novels often involve a demanding sovereign who taps his subjects for “special assignments.” In each of her novels, there is always real history and real historic figures.

Regan lives in San Diego with her golden retriever, Link, whom she says inspires her every day to relax and smell the roses.

Written content of this post copyright © Regan Walker, 2014.


Sarah said...

Sounds excellent! History can drive a novel, and odd events change the course of it when they pop up during research! the events, the weather, it all counts!

Green Dragon said...

That's how I like to write as well! Great insight, thank you!

Regan Walker said...

Hi Catherine! So glad to be on your wonderful blog.

Regan Walker said...

Thanks for stopping by, GD. So glad you found similarities in our approaches.

Catherine Curzon said...

Small things can make such a huge difference!

Catherine Curzon said...

Thank you for visiting!

Catherine Curzon said...

It's my pleasure; return anytime!

Regan Walker said...

Catherine, the book I'm writing now, the prequel to my trilogy set in 1782 in France and England should provide some delicious history for us to chat about!

Catherine Curzon said...

I can't wait!

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Regan,
Your historical research is meticulous and it shows. I loved reading Wind Raven, and Nick was a wonderful hero.



DL NELSON said...

Places can serve as characters as well.

Catherine Curzon said...

Very definitely!

Catherine Curzon said...

Thank you for stopping by!

Regan Walker said...

Thanks, Margaret. It means a lot to know readers appreciate the details that make the fictional world seem real. Even my Christmas novella, The Twelfth Night Wager, has history of the season in 1818.

Regan Walker said...

Exactly, DL. And I use places, too. In my Christmas novella, The Twelfth Night Wager, Wimpole Hall is portrayed as it was and with its real master and mistress as hosts for a shooting party!