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Elizabeth Rolls Blogs!

First, let me start with a grovelling apology to all the Riskies. This blog was meant to be posted on April 1st. You know; All Fools Day. Also my wedding anniversary, but let’s not go there! Anyway, when I flagged it to give me a reminder on the computer I must have been low on coffee or something because I flagged it for the wrong date. And of course when Diane emailed to remind me about it I was having a very virtuous off-line day keeping away from the evil distractions of the internet. Mea culpa. My bad.

Harlequin is celebrating its 60th Anniversary this year. As part of the celebrations they giving away 16 books for free download. (www.harlequincelebrates.com ) His Lady Mistress is one of them.

I hadn’t thought about His Lady Mistress in quite a while and when Diane asked me if I’d like to blog I wondered what on earth I was going to say about it after all this time.

A day or so later someone asked me where I get my ideas from . . . If a dollar was donated every time an author is asked that question world hunger would be history! I’m always tempted to reply; “The ideas department of K-Mart – they’re on special this week!” Of course, the reason writers are tempted to sarcasm with this question is that we really have no clue where our ideas come from and feel stupid admitting as much. Anyway, being asked made me remember, if not where the spark for His Lady Mistress had come from, at least what that spark, or sparks, had been.

The thing is we don’t know where the ideas come from, but if we think about it hard, we may actually come up with something that seems as though it has been there forever, just waiting to be used. It’s as though somewhere inside us there is a supply, a well if you like, of seemingly useless tidbits of information, that left to brew for long enough with the right ingredients will eventually bubble up with an idea.

Sometimes tossing in one extra vital ingredient at the right time is all that’s needed to bring forth . . . the premise. At least that’s how it worked with His Lady Mistress. I was reading a research book, Kristine Hughes’s Everyday Life in Regency and Victorian England. Near the end Ms Hughes very kindly reminded me of the details of something I’d forgotten; that until 1823 in England, a suicide was buried at the crossroads at night with a stake through the heart to prevent the ghost from walking. Until 1832 it was required that the burial could only take place between the hours of 9pm and midnight. Until 1870 all personal possessions were forfeited to the Crown.

Ouch. Barbaric.

At least that’s how any nice-minded person would react before turning the page quickly with a lady-like shudder. Not me. I’m a writer. My first thought was: ‘Oh, GROSS . . . but how would it be . . . ? What if . . . ?’ Several practice what-ifs slid through my mind and back into the brew before I had the real thing . . . what if my heroine, aged fifteen, was orphaned by her father’s suicide? Hmm. Potential there. But why did the guy commit suicide? Why does his death haunt Verity? Why does she feel responsible?

Still, I had my opening. Dark, wild night. Orphaned 15 year old creeping out to follow the cart to her father’s grave and being rescued by the hero. It’s the only time my original opening has EVER made it right through to the final draft. But I still didn’t know why the guy had committed suicide.

And this is the point where something I’d been interested in academically for years floated up from the depths: opium. At which point I realised that Verity’s father was addicted to opium. Okay, there were a few more, make that a lot more, questions that I had to answer before I had the whole thing worked out. (After that I still had to write it!) But those were the two snippets that bonded in my mind to provide the spark for His Lady Mistress.

Opium and suicide.

These days we are well aware of the dangers of opium and its derivatives. In the early 19th century the dangers were not so well understood. Opium acts on the brain, changing chemical balances to cause addiction. It could be bought over the counter with no questions asked and was widely used as a painkiller. Generally it was dissolved in alcohol and was known as laudanum. Mothers and nurses gave it to teething babies and plenty of people took it in small doses without ever becoming addicted. Yet for those who became dependent on it hell waited. But I still didn’t know why Verity’s father, William Scott, committed suicide over it, let alone why Verity blamed herself.

Opium and the Romantic Imagination by Alethea Hayter was an interesting source. Hayter gives a fascinating account of the English Romantic poets and their opium taking. Perhaps the most striking use of opium in literature, though, is the novel, The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. Not only does the whole plot turn on the effects of the drug, but Collins, himself an addict, gives us the minor character of Ezra Jennings as both warning and plea for understanding. But I still needed a reason for William Scott’s suicide . . .

Finally I read a description of going “cold turkey”. The physical consequences for an addict in missing a dose sounded about as grim as a suicide’s burial. Excruciating abdominal pain as the bowels cramp causing extreme vomiting and diarrhoea, muscular cramps, constant discharge from nose and eyes, sweating and shivering all at once. The victim can neither eat nor sleep and this can go on for up to a week. After that the symptoms will abate of themselves, but very few people have the strength to go through all that. I’ve drawn these details from Martin Booth’s Opium: A History where he quotes Dr Robert S, de Ropp’s 1958 study Drugs and the Mind.

Suffice it to say that by the time I’d finished reading Booth and Hayter I had nothing but pity for William Scott and I knew why he committed suicide. If he ran out of laudanum the effects of being denied his dose would have been so physically and mentally agonising that suicide was perfectly believable. But why would Verity have blamed herself for what happened? If you’ve already read His Lady Mistress then you’ll know the answer. And if you haven’t, well, what are you waiting for? Harlequin has your free download waiting.

Best,

Elizabeth

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Diane Gaston
13 years ago

Welcome, Elizabeth! I think a cheery topic like suicide and opium addiction is perfect for our tax day!

Thanks for sharing with us.

And, everyone, get the free download!!!! It’s FREE.

Maggie Robinson
13 years ago

I loved this book. Bought it when it first came out and gave it to a friend, then downloaded it in glee when I realized I could get it back! I have yet to read some of the other free downloads, but know they’re waiting for me on my computer when I have time.

How did Harlequin decide which books to offer? (And if they ever do this again, gently suggest more historicals!)

Louisa Cornell
13 years ago

Hello, Elizabeth! Fascinating stuff on the metamorphosis of one of my favorite books. I really loved it and the opening is part of the reason why.

I had to laugh at your response to the question “Where do you get your ideas?” It really is hard to explain, isn’t it!

Elizabeth Rolls
13 years ago

Hi everyone! And thank you, Diane for having me here again. Commiserations on your tax day.

Maggie, I’m not entirely sure how they made the selection of books. My editor told me they were choosing books they felt exemplified the various lines, and I’m sure that is a part of it. Also I guess they wanted books that had already earned their money in the English speaking markets, which is fair enough. At the same time they would want books that were not TOO old, that still represented the lines well today. And finally in my case, His Lady Mistress quite accidentally ended up being the first book in a series . . . and the third one is out in June. May if you are in the UK.

Amanda McCabe
13 years ago

Welcome to RR, Elizabeth! I could definitely use some of that opium afetr filing taxes yesterday. 🙂 Fascinating post.

I actually have the paper copy of “His Lady Mistress” in my TBR box! And luckily I am going on holiday Friday, and looking for a good book to read on the trip…

Keira Soleore
13 years ago

Scary topic for a scary day. I’ve read a few romances dealing with opium addictions, most recently Madeline Hunter’s EASTBOURNE, and they’ve all been chilling reading. Given how much the British were politically involved in growing and pushing opium in Asia, I’m not surprised that it was also readily available back home in London.

I’m curious to know if in your researches did it reveal if people knew back then why some folks could get addicted and others not?

Jane George
13 years ago

All nicely downloaded. And thanks!
That’s quite an opener! I look forward to the rest of the story.

Anonymous
Anonymous
13 years ago

Loved this book, but then I confess, I own all of Elizabeth’s books. 🙂

Reading the “cold turkey” symptoms, can you imagine someone going through that and not knowing there was an end in sight? We know now and doctors knew then, but would the poor common soul have known? To imagine that one would feel that way for the rest of their life…

A third book! Woohoo!! Added to my wish list. Definitely a cheerful note. 🙂
~Judy

Helen
13 years ago

Great post Elizabeth and very interesting I have downloaded this book but haven’t read it yet I will be moving it up can’t wait to read it.

Have Fun
Helen

Elizabeth Rolls
13 years ago

Thank you, Amanda, Jane and Anon!
Keira; they didn’t understand why some became addicted. Quite a number of well-known people were addicted and managed on the absolute minimum dosage to get by without withdrawal sickness. The poet George Crabbe was one such example. If you’ve read Jo Beverley’s To Rescue a Rogue, I think Dare is managing in that way, but of course, being a hero, he wants to kick the habit entirely.
Before the discovery of quinine opium was also effective against the symptoms of malaria which was endemic in the fen country of East Anglia and Cambridgshire.
Keats used it to alleviate the symptoms of tuberculosis. If he was addicted, he kept it well under control. Coleridge didn’t. If you check out poems like The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and Xanadu you’ll find them full of opium derived imagery. Unfortunately for one of the effects of the drug is that in filling his mind with glorious dreams and images, it also saps the will to realise them. Also, as the writer Thomas de Quincy points out, its capacity to stimulate the imagination is in proportion to the intellect/imagination of the user. And like any addictive drug its power wanes with each usage. You end up taking more and more for less effect until you are only taking it because of the fear of withdrawal. I’ve banged on a bit here because I do not want some teenager reading this and thinking it’s something to try! Or Amanda . . . Tax isn’t THAT bad.

Cara King
13 years ago

I found parts of DeQuincey’s OPIUM EATER fascinating, particularly when he talked about the time he went to a druggist to buy a large amount of opium (because addicts, of course, need ever larger and larger amounts.) The druggist at first refused, thinking that such a large amount could only be in the purpose of suicide, and fearing he would be prosecuted for assisting a suicide if he sold it! But once DeQuincey managed to convince the druggist that he was an addict, the fellow was relieved, and sold him the requested amount…

(It’s such a weird story! That’s why I love it.)

Elizabeth Rolls
13 years ago

Hi Cara! How’s Bertie?

De Quincy is fascinating. His habit was staggering and the druggist was right in a way; the amount De Quincy was taking WAS enough to kill just about anyone else. Part of the problem with writing His Lady Mistress was to tread the line between our own modern understanding of drugs and the early 19th century understanding. I needed a character who had actually taken the stuff, felt its pull and resisted. So there was the hero’s brother, Richard, who had been given it as a boy when he broke his leg, but didn’t like the dreams it gave him. I also realised that he could have come into contact with de Quincy at Oxford, so made a very brief reference to “a chap he knew at Oxford”. And of course, my heroine Verity’s father kept a journal – I included a few excerpts, and I admit that I stole the images from de Quincy, Coleridge et al! My researches stopped well short of trying the stuff!

Sandie Hudson
13 years ago

Hi Elizabeth,
Great post & very interesting. I have your novel downloaded ready to read as a treat when I finish my editing.

I love it when I read or hear something & the wheels start turning on an idea for a new novel. Thanks for letting us know you were blogging today.

Sandie

Keira Soleore
13 years ago

Elizabeth, thanks for your detailed comments. This stuff’s scary. (Ammanda, do take note, for heaven’s sake.)

Elizabeth Rolls
13 years ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

Elizabeth Rolls
13 years ago

It is scary, Keira. All the more so because according to what I read it’s so damn seductive. Makes you feel wonderful at first and in the end you’re just taking it to survive. Like modern drugs in society, the effect dilutes over time. It’s such a horrible trap. One Amanda is far too smart to fall for!

Hi Judy! I wondered if you might be Anon! I’m pretty sure you will enjoy Braybrook and Christy.

Hey, Sandie! Thanks for dropping by. Sandie is one of the members of Bootcamp – an online writing class I took recently.

Elizabeth Rolls
13 years ago

Hi Helen

I’m glad you enjoyed the post and I hope you enjoy the book.

It’s funny what odd little things will spark an idea, Louisa. At the end of the book I was going mad trying to work out a way for Verity to save herself and not just wait for Max to ride up and I happened to be watching the end of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets where Harry distracts the Basilisk by throwing a stone. Light bulb moment there! Helped that I knew about flints being present in chalk.

Amanda McCabe
13 years ago

“(Ammanda, do take note, for heaven’s sake.)”

Ah well–I probably couldn’t find any, anyway. 🙂

Elizabeth Rolls
13 years ago

Don’t know about that, Amanda. A friend of mine said she tried it years ago in Asia. She said it gave her a physical high, lots of energy, but no mental high beyond a certain perceived clarity of thought. But then, as she says herself, she’s a very prosaic sort of person. De Quincy points out that opium will only act upon and amplify what is already there. Which perhaps partly answers Keira’s question about understanding who was in danger of becoming addicted. People like poor, Coleridge, not to mention De Quincy himself, were at risk precisely because of their intellect and gifts of imagination. For them that initial high must have been amazing.

Amanda McCabe
13 years ago

I did try once to write a scene after a couple glasses of wine (I’m a total lightweight when it comes to intoxicants, LOL). I thought it was great while I was writing it–but it made no sense at all when I read it over later. 🙂

Anyone else try something like this??

Elizabeth Rolls
13 years ago

Amanda, once I have a glass of wine in the evening, that’s it for the day. I don’t bother trying to write any more. I’ll do emails and other stuff, but not write. I think though that it’s more a case of having a glass of wine is a let’s-relax-and-stop-work signal for me and my brain just shuts down automatically.

If I want to work in the evening I stick to tea and coffee.

Diane Gaston
13 years ago

Whew! I sure am glad we pulled Amanda from the brink of the opium den!

Sandie, which bootcamp were you in? Were you in 209? That’s the one I did a workshop for!

Elizabeth Rolls
13 years ago

“Whew! I sure am glad we pulled Amanda from the brink of the opium den!”

It’s Cara I’m worried about. I’m sure she’s gone off to join Bertie in a den!

Judy
13 years ago

LOL!! I love this place.

Diane Gaston
13 years ago

Gotta say….I just love it when Cara visits us! Like a long lost sister coming back.

Elizabeth Rolls
13 years ago

I love coming here to blog. It always feels like a proper party. Thanks for having me again. I’m looking forward to next time.

Cara King
13 years ago

It’s Cara I’m worried about. I’m sure she’s gone off to join Bertie in a den!Naw, Bertie would never do such a thing! Opium dens are rarely clean. 🙂

Cara

Keira Soleore
13 years ago

Thanks goodness for Bertie’s shallowness.

Judy
13 years ago

Bertie shallow? Perish the thought. Decidedly fastidious. ;-D

Always good to see you, Cara!

Elizabeth Rolls
13 years ago

Fastidious. Exactly right, Judy! That’s our boy to a tee.

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