Interview with Mary Stewart. “I wrote the kind of stories I wanted to read… the setting came first. Then you shove a few people into it and let them get on with it.”
Whatever you’re writing can be fixed.
Just get the words down. Then fix it.
Um… no, not the NY Times Bestseller’s list. Better than that. (Sorta.)
The English Lieutenant’s Lady is listed on …
(dramatic pause for suspense)
The Most Anticipated Christian Fiction 2018
It’s on a list on goodreads. All right, it’s at the bottom of the list, but that’s not the point. It’s there. People can see it. There are so many books out there, anything that helps a story become more visible to readers is awesome.
If you’re on goodreads, you could go vote for The English Lieutenant’s Lady.
No guilt. No pressure. Just saying.
Won’t you vote?
Okay, maybe a little guilt. Look at that sweet kitten’s face. Would you disappoint him?
One detail I put into The English Lieutenant’s Lady was how the city of Portland, Oregon, got its name. It was almost called Boston!
I just put down a book because I was too irritated to keep reading. This is an author who’s written several books set in 19th century England, and she’s clearly done a lot of research into various subjects. So I cannot understand why she was so careless about getting titles wrong. I mean, she got one woman’s title wrong three different ways in three pages. That falls into “I don’t care” territory.
I know I sound cranky. But that’s only because this subject makes me cranky.
If you write a historical novel, you’re going to have to do some research if you want the reader to believe in your characters. So why not do a little research into titles if a) you’re going to use them and b) you don’t know what people are called and why?
Here’s a shortened version. If you’re a woman, unless you’ve been granted a title in your own right (rare), what your title is depends on who your father was and who your husband is.
- The only way I could have a title like Lady Evelyn Hill is if my father had been a duke, a marquess, or an earl.
- Since my father was not a lord, if I married a lord or a knight my title would never be Lady Evelyn:
- If I married Sir Hugh Grant, my title would be Lady Grant. Never Lady Evelyn Grant.
- If I married Richard Armitage, Lord Awesome, my title would be Lady Awesome. Never Lady Evelyn Awesome.
- If I married Prince Harry (yes, I know, I know, this is just for the purpose of providing an example, work with me here), then my title would be Princess Harry, never Princess Evelyn.
If you ever feel the need to write a historical novel with titles, then please, please go check out this site.
Sometimes when I write a novel, I don’t know what it’s about until I’ve written it. In the case of The English Lieutenant’s Lady, my subconscious nudged me into including details about the Oregon Territory itself, how beautiful it was. (And is.)
I wrote a scene when I was first playing around with this story, discovering the story, that turned about to be one of my favorite scenes in the book. At the time, I didn’t know why it needed to be in there. It wasn’t until I finished writing the novel that I saw the whole picture, as it were. Geoff gives her a little gift at the start of the story that becomes a reminder for her, throughout the story, of the beauty of nature and the need to put your trust in nature’s Creator.
Mr. Montgomery was silent. It was as if he were listening to the words Lia had not spoken aloud. Then he said, in his deep voice, “‘In my Father’s house are many mansions.’ That’s what the Bible tells me. I should imagine there’s a place waiting for you. If the Lord went to all the trouble of creating a world so beautiful, with so much attention to the smallest details, do you think he would have neglected to pay a little attention to what happens to you?”
“Sometimes it doesn’t seem like such a beautiful world.” Lia refused to turn around and see Henri discussing his future with his uncle. Deciding her fate. She would not look. Instead, she turned to look up at Mr. Montgomery, this enigmatic man who could quote scripture but who was clearly hiding something from her.
Mr. Montgomery took a few steps down to the water lapping against the shore. He crouched down and plunged his hand into the river. A quick scoop, then he was up again and striding back toward her.
He opened his hand. On his palm lay a collection of pebbles that glittered like jewels: gold-flecked rose quartz tumbled in with carnelian, topaz, and jade-colored stones, all glistening with water and sparkling in the sunlight.
“Beautiful,” she murmured. The tension inside her began to ease. She wasn’t sure why exactly—his obvious concern perhaps, or the warmth in his eyes as he stood there looking at her. There was still something about him that she couldn’t quite figure out. Even so, she felt better.
Hands as large as his should have been bumbling and awkward, but his fingers deftly plucked an arrow-shaped stone, red as a rose, out of the pebbles and handed it to her. “As a memento of our meeting.”
He gave her a bow, like a gentleman from back east. The courtly gesture was so incongruous in this wild land that her lips curved upward.
“Ah, you can smile,” he said softly. “Beautiful indeed.”
Tongue Point, Oregon Territory
Geoff heard the click of a rifle being cocked in the bushes behind him, and then a woman’s voice, deadly calm. “Stand up—slowly, now—and keep your hands where I can see ’em.”
He obeyed without question. Several years of service in Her Majesty’s Army had taught him not to argue with people pointing weapons at him. Not at the moment, at least. Once he got his hands on the pistol at his belt, this would be a different conversation.
Her voice came again. “Turn around. Let’s have a look at you.”
Slowly, hands raised, he followed her orders. The sunlight fell through a gap in the trees overhead, almost blinding him. He blinked. As his eyes adjusted to the light, a young, dark-haired woman stepped onto the path. She was a tiny thing, the top of her head almost level with his shoulder. But the eyes that studied him were as steady as the rifle in her hands. The one that she was pointing straight at him.
He cleared his throat. “Good afternoon, madam.” Civility never hurt at a time like this.
“Are you calling me a madam?” She tilted her head as though trying to determine if the word was intended as an insult. A loosely bound braid of dark hair shifted to fall over one shoulder of the overlarge man’s coat she was wearing. Her eyes were a truly beautiful gray, the color of woodsmoke before it dissipates in a breeze.
“I meant no offense, ma’am.” He nodded toward the opened pack at his feet. “I was not going to steal anything.”
This wasn’t the first time he’d been on the wrong side of a rifle. He could usually talk his way out of a bad situation. All the same, his heart raced and a tiny thread of sweat trickled down his back. The autumn day was not unusually warm, but he welcomed the breeze that wafted up the hill from the Columbia River.
“So you say.” The woman raised the rifle a bit higher. “If you weren’t bent on thieving, why were you going through my pack?”
“I was looking for some identification, so I could return the pack to its proper owner.” I was looking to see if it had any information that I could use.
Her eyes narrowed, as if what he was thinking showed on his face. He shifted his gaze to focus on her lips, avoiding direct eye contact. “My friend and I are private travelers on a tour of the Oregon Territory. Seeing the sights. Scientific exploration of the New World. Sketching scenic vistas. That sort of thing. While my friend was securing the boat at the landing, I decided to come up the hill to, er, see if I could get a view of the surrounding countryside. The leaves changing colors and all that. Charming, don’t you know.”
As he spoke, he relaxed his features into what he hoped she would take to be an expression of amiable fatuousness. “I was merely passing by when I saw the pack on the side of the road.”
If he were being honest—which he mostly wasn’t, considering all the lies he had just told her—“road” wasn’t how he would have described a barely navigable trail through the woods. Still, this looked like one of those times when it would be as well to be diplomatic. The young woman might take exception to any criticism of the area. A local, by the look of her. Surely no female brought up in civilization would ever dress in an ill-fitting man’s shirt and trousers, topped by an oversized coat. She wore the odd clothes with all the self-possession of Queen Victoria herself, though this girl could not have been much above twenty.
She looked as if she had forgotten how to smile. The corners of her lovely mouth seemed fixed in a permanent curve downward, but the charming sprinkle of freckles across her nose made her seem less forbidding, more approachable. Or as approachable as anyone could be while pointing a rifle.
When I’m reading, I tend to look for stories that start off with a bang. So that’s how I started this story.
Is it too abrupt? I know some people like stories that develop gradually over the course of the novel.
Truth lies not in the accounts but in the account books. – Josephine Tey, Daughter of Time
I had a lot of fun researching the Oregon Border Dispute when I was writing The English Lieutenant’s Lady. (Yes, I’m a geek. I like research.) Specifically, I searched for information about the two spies: a pair of British Army officers named Lieutenants Vavasour and Warre. The Colonial Office sent them to Oregon from Montreal, with instructions to pass as gentlemen of leisure on a scenic tour. Their mission was to evaluate the territory and its population to determine whether the British should declare war against America to defend their claim to the land.
The two men travelled across the continent to the Pacific coast, where they tried to purchase the aptly named Cape Disappointment. Failing at that, they went up the Columbia River and then the Willamette, evaluating sites for potential forts and even drawing up a plan to occupy the only town of any size in the area, Oregon City.
My story focuses on a character based on one of the actual lieutenants, Vavasour, and a fictional woman from the Oregon Territory. At least, I thought she was fictional. But looking through the records, there is evidence that the lieutenant was involved with someone while on his mission.
Looking through the accounts of items purchased by Vavasour at Fort Vancouver, I found evidence that he purchased not only the standard supplies he would need for his stay in the territory, food and such, he also made some intriguing additional purchases. He purchased a pair of ladies shoes and several yards of gauzy material. On a couple occasions he purchased hair ribbons.
All these purchases went on the official record. He was given an allowance to buy what he needed for his mission, and he included these items in the list. Therefore, it is logical to assume he was prepared to justify the act of buying ladies shoes and fripperies as being required for his mission.
Hmmmn… supplies for his mission? Ladies shoes and hair ribbons? Even if I weren’t a romance novelist I would be starting to suspect that love was in the air.
The British in Fort Vancouver held a ball during this time, as well as putting on several plays. Festivities, in other words. Events for which a lady would need special clothes… hmmmmm…