Thursday, 10 June 2010

Midsummer Eve

Midsummer Eve is fast approaching and to mark the event, publishers E-scape Press Limited asked me to do a Q & A session about my Regency short stories, Midsummer Eve at Rookery End.

I thought I'd post the results over here too :0)

You normally write novels, what inspired you to write a collection of short stories?

I’ve always loved reading short stories so it was a natural progression to write them. Midsummer Eve at Rookery End seemed a good way of introducing readers to my writing, and I liked the idea of stories being connected by a theme on which I could hang a number of plots.

I’ve never subscribed to the ‘I’ve just got into it and then it’s all over’ point of view on shorts. In my opinion a well-written, carefully crafted short story brightens any day. It can also act as a palate cleansing sorbet between novel-sized courses.

Short stories are fabulous when you are pushed for time and need a quick fiction fix. Contrary to perceived wisdom, they seem to be enjoying a revival in popularity if, indeed, the demand for them ever went away. There is no doubt the format suits today’s hectic lifestyle and desire for immediacy. Coupled with more small presses and publishing platforms springing up, conditions seem perfect for short stories. Let’s see more of them.

Of course, I love novels too. One form of storytelling is not worth less than another, they are just different.

Was it easier writing short stories?

The end is always in sight so that’s a big plus. It’s a cliché, but every word counts in a short story which makes for lean, elegant prose and a great read.

Also, it is often a better format for concepts that would feel overstretched in novels.

The main difficulty is amount of plot and characterisation. You have to get enough in there to engage the reader, but you can’t go overboard on detail because of the word count. It’s a fine balance, but if you can get it right - woohoo!

Why did you pick Midsummer Eve out of all the possible festivals in the year?

Midsummer Eve was one of the favourite times in the year for love divinations. The origins of these divinations are unclear, but they were widespread in England by the 17th century. Popular ones included girls throwing hemp seed over their shoulders at night in the hope of seeing the form of their future husband, and ‘Midsummer Men’ which involved placing orpines side by side in pairs to represent a man and his sweetheart. If one plant inclined towards the other, it indicated love. If it reclined, it indicated aversion.

The idea of a midsummer Regency ball to celebrate these ancient customs, and romance in general, seemed a very appropriate one and Rookery End provided the perfect stage for three tales of midsummer love and passion.

You have written wonderful heroes in your short stories. Which is your favourite and why?

Oh, this is so tough!

Let’s see ...

Sir Benedict’s been badly hurt in the past and a damaged hero is always appealing.

The Marquess of Shaftesbury is a rakish bad boy and who doesn’t want to see a rake tamed by love?

Sir Tristan is handsome, urbane and decisive, the ideal man to turn to in a crisis...

Each is wonderful in his own right so I can’t pick a favourite and, interestingly, neither can readers – votes flood in for all three! I will say the Marquess was great fun to write. Taking him from rake to hero in 7,000 words was an intriguing challenge ;0)

And the heroines. Which is your favourite and why?

They are all passionate, determined and resourceful, but by a whisker I’d say Verity from A Scandal at Midnight.

As a lady forced to eke out a living as a governess, Verity Brook is trapped between two worlds: her lowly position excludes her from the ton yet she’s treated with suspicion by other governesses and companions because of her background. Then, when she tries to avert a scandal at the Midsummer Eve ball, she falls for a man who is utterly out of her reach. You sympathise with the awful situation Verity finds herself in while admiring her pride and indomitable spirit.

But to find out if she gets the happy ending she deserves, you’ll have to read A Scandal at Midnight ;0)

Much of the action takes place outside of the ballroom. Was that deliberate?

All I knew at the outset was I wanted some scenes to take place in the garden – a garden on Midsummer Eve is a magical place for romance. As I went along the action evolved to incorporate more of Rookery End estate, and beyond. It worked well, giving me far more scope than if I had kept the characters in the ballroom.

What sort of research did you do for MSE?

Researching Midsummer Eve customs was great fun, but I also spent time drawing up a list of favourite features from my favourite historical properties. I used this list to create an imaginary, awe-inspiring country house and garden - Rookery End is the result.

The Regency period is a very popular one with readers. What attracts you to write in that time period?

The Regency has become synonymous with elegance, wit and refinement, but it was also a time of innovation in science, technology and the arts, and an age of excess and extravagance. Many crises and events – the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, the Industrial Revolution and the continuing ill health of the King – helped to shape society’s manners and mood. Regency society was on the cusp of reform at all levels. I’ve loved it since I was a teenager and for me, this dramatic, exciting and paradoxical era provides the perfect backdrop for romance.

Oh, and I should also mention the Regency fashions. There’s something very attractive about a hero in a well-fitting coat, elegantly-tied cravat, thigh-hugging buckskins and polished top boots *g*

Are we going to see more of Rookery End?

Yes. I don’t want to overstretch the premise, but I think there is room for one more story ;0)

And who knows, Rookery End might appear in future productions.

If you wrote your autobiography, what would you call it?

I’m a fan of the Marx brothers and this quip from Groucho would do nicely:

‘A likely story – and probably true.’

Finally, who are your favourite authors?

Georgette Heyer, PG Wodehouse, Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell, the Brontes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Wilkie Collins, Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Roald Dahl.

There are many romance authors whose books I enjoy, too numerous to list here.

When I want a complete change, I’ll pick up a Tom Sharpe, Clive Cussler or John Grisham novel, or some non-fiction. I’ll read anything by Simon Schama, Ian Kelly, Richard Holmes or Dan Cruickshank.

Midsummer Eve at Rookery End is available from E-scape Press Limited, Amazon UK, (paperback and Kindle editions) and The Book Depository (with free worldwide delivery).