Today Michelle Styles and Michelle Willingham will join us to continue the discussion on UH (Unusual Historicals)! Comment for a chance to win a signed copy of one of their books…
With the war drums echoing in her ears and the sharp northern light glinting off the sharpened swords, Sela stood with trepidation on the shoreline. The dragon ships full of warriors had come, ready for battle and glory.
But it wasn’t the threat of conquest that shook Sela to the core. It was the way her heart responded to the proud face and chiseled body of Vikar Hrutson, jaarl, leader of the invading force–and Sela’s ex-husband!
“A perfect combination of highly-charged tension and tender intimate moments” –Medieval Book Reviews
Michelle S: I have done a number of different settings for my books. Ancient Rome, the beginning of the Viking era (790s), the North East of England both in the early Victorian period and during the Regency have all formed the backdrop of my books. It gives me the opportunity to indulge in research.
Currently, because I just finished Lady Worsley’s Whim by Hallie Rubenhold which is a non-fiction book about a sex scandal that touched the ton in the 1780s, the late Georgian/early Regency periods hold a fascination. But I have promised my editor several early Victorians first!
As a reader, I simply love a good story. It is more if the blurb interests me or not, rather than reading for a specific time period. The great thing about reading in an Unusual Historical period is that I get to experience different themes and time periods.
MS: I love history, and the whole thought about how people lived and the social constraints they faced fascinates me.
The advantages to writing in unusual periods or settings is that the field is more open. You can find themes that maybe not everyone has already explored, and it gives me the opportunity to tell a number of different types of stories. For example, Viking warriors versus Regency rakes versus early Victorian railway men. The opportunities to research should not be underestimated! Also, it means I can allow my imagination to take flight.
The disadvantages are the vast majority of the historical romance public prefer their romance in Georgian/Regency/Victorian garb, so the market is smaller. This can be that people want a familiarity with their stories, or it could be that the period captures the imagination more than others. Also by switching time periods, I know that there are some readers who refuse to read certain periods. For example, some might prefer Rome and hate the Vikings. And there are some who will read the Unusual Historical but won’t touch a Regency or Victorian.
However, I really do think the freedom that writing in a wide range of periods brings far outweighs its disadvantages!
MS: I love doing research–both doing the physical research, which involves going to the places where my book is set or learning various different crafts and skills. In the name of research I have fallen off horses in Iceland, gone down sewers in Rome, and ridden replica trains in Northumberland.
I love finding new research books, as well. One of my great joys is belonging to the Literary and Philosophical Society in Newcastle, which was founded in 1795 and is one of the last remaining private libraries in Britain. Its reading room dates from 1825 and is largely unchanged. The Lit and Phil is where George Stephenson first demonstrated his safety lamp for miners and where Swan gave the first demonstration of the electric light bulb. They allow you to take out books as long as they are post 1850.
One of the advantages to writing Unusual Historicals is that my editor actively encourages a historical note at the back and I’m able to list my favorite sources. For my Viking novels, my favorite source is some of the Icelandic sagas which are basically the primary source for much of what we know of the Vikings. I have also found Women in the Viking Age by Judith Jesch to be really useful.
I have found the book review section of the Spectator to be really useful in highlighting books on social history. This was how I discovered Consuming Passions by Judith Flanders, which is all about the growth of consumer consumption, and now Lady Worsley’s Whim.
RR: What are some Unusual Historicals you would recommend to readers?
MS: Harlequin Historicals publishes a number of unusual historicals! I enjoy Michelle Willingham’s medieval Irish knights. Nicola Cornick has done an Edwardian, The Last Rake in London, as well as an English Civil War story, Lord Greville’s Captive. And I am looking forward to reading Amanda McCabe’s latest, as I do love a good pirate story! Kensington is beginning to offer more unusual historicals. I am looking forward to reading Carrie Lofty’s take on the Robin Hood legend, What the Scoundrel Wants.
The YA book Mara Daughter of the Nile by Eloise Jarvis McGraw started off my love of historical romance many years ago, and so I suppose you could say it gave me a taste for the unusual.
RR: What’s next for you?
MS: Next out in the UK in April ’09 is Impoverished Miss, Convenient Wife, which is the second part of my Regency duo. My latest Viking and my next Victorian are sitting on my editor’s desk. The Viking has been through 2 sets of revisions, so my fingers are crossed! And my editor has just agreed that I can write the son of the hero in IMCW, so this will be a fun challenge.
Kieran O Brannon is no ordinary slave–defiant, daring and dangerous, he is untamable! Iseult MacFergus is drawn to this powerful man with the strength of a warrior and the honor of a king. She trusts him to help her find her lost child…
Kieran sold himself into slavery to save his brother’s life, but Iseult, with the face of an angel, gives him hope that he can again be a free man. Determined to find her child, Kieran may finally have his freedom–although now his heart is tied to Iseult’s forever…
“…has so much emotion, danger and romance packed in its pages that it will be hard to put down” –CataRomance
Michelle Willingham: I write primarily Irish medieval books, but I’ve also written a Viking short story for the new Harlequin Historical Undone line (The Viking’s Forbidden Love Slave). I love any setting with alpha heroes that make your toes curl!
Medieval Ireland wasn’t a setting I had seen very often, though I was always a big fan of Scottish medievals. When I began researching the period, I found many similarities between the cultures. The mystical Celtic past and the intensity of Ireland drew me in when I visited the country. After walking through some of the castles, I knew I had found the perfect place for a romance.
RR: What draws you to Unusual Historicals? What are some advantages and disadvantages that you see?
MW: I enjoy the variety of unusual historicals, especially when I’m not familiar with the customs or history of the setting. In my own writing, I enjoy introducing readers to some festivals such as Lughnasa or Bealtaine (Beltane). It’s fun to learn about them and see where the research takes me. Irish superstitions fascinate me. I think the only thing you have to watch out for is that the setting can never dominate the story–it always has to be about two people falling in love.
RR: Tell us about your research methods! What are some favorite sources?
MW: I love to consult the experts! When I was researching medieval woodworking, I posted my questions on a listserve of Irish archaeologists, and they put me in touch with a professor at the University College Dublin. Aidan O’Sullivan taught me some fascinating facts about woodworking when I was researching Her Warrior Slave; namely, that medieval woodcarvers had to work the wood while it was still “green” and unseasoned, since their tools weren’t sharp enough to carve the wood. Another archaeologist took me to a few ancient ringfort sites when I was researching Her Irish Warrior on a trip to Ireland. It was amazing, crawling through the brush to find thousand year old mounds. The photo shows you what I saw, though it’s a little hard to tell there’s a 12 foot deep ditch surrounding the ringfort, amid all the ivy and undergrowth.
RR: What are some unusual historicals you would recommend to readers?
MW: On the Night of the Seventh Moon by Victoria Holt was a favorite while growing up (set in the Black Forest and the Austro-Hungarian Empire). I also liked The Princess by Jude Deveraux, which is set in a fictional country during World War II. Helen Kirkman’s Anglo-Saxon settings are wonderful. If you haven’t read Amanda McCabe’s Shipwrecked and Seduced (another Undone short story), that Caribbean setting is really fun, too!
RR: And what’s next for you?
MW: I am currently finishing up Warrior’s Woman, Ewan MacEgan’s book in my MacEagen Brothers mini-series. If all goes to plan, that will be my next US release, while Wedded to the Enemy, a Victorian story, will be part of a duet in 2010. My hope is to wrap up all 5 of the Irish brothers and then explore some new sides to Victorian England!
You can read more of the MacEagen brothers at Michelle’s website!
And be sure and join us next week as we celebrate Jane Austen’s Birthday, with more fun and prizes!