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Friday, June 01, 2012

Book Review: The Running Vixen by Elizabeth Chadwick

The Running VixenThe Running Vixen by Elizabeth Chadwick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Elizabeth Chadwick's THE RUNNING VIXEN, the sequel to her debut novel THE WILD HUNT, is much more than just another historical romance. Instead it's a vibrant and often moving story of the loving relationship that develops between two opposed characters, supported by a rich historical backdrop that most authors have difficulty in achieving.

Many of the supporting characters return from THE WILD HUNT and Chadwick has lost none of her ability to bring the Norman era to life. From melees and tournaments to cross-Channel trips and rides around the Welsh border, her story is never less than alive and full-bodied. The protagonists are likeable and, crucially, believable, and their developing romance is both poignant and devoid of cliche.

One of Chadwick's particular strengths lies in the richness of the historical detail that she brings to the table and I can think of few authors who achieve the level of seemingly effortless realism evident in this novel. Another aspect I really like is that the harshness of the era is evident in the plotting; there's no sugar-coated fantasy here. Instead of dragging the mood of the story down, however, these dark inroads merely add to the novel's themes of love, sacrifice and understanding.

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Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Importance of Setting in Historical Romance

Previously, I explored a couple of the ways in which setting is crucially important when writing fiction in general. For this blog post, I’m going to be looking at its uses in the historical romance genre in particular.

The Regency period has been an ever-popular staple – particularly among American readers – of the historical romance genre since its first inception, no doubt because of the Jane Austen effect and more recently the books of Georgette Heyer. Such stories utilise bustling ballrooms, expansive country piles, landscaped parks, promenades along beachfronts, run-down slums and rattling stagecoaches to grand effect.

I’ve deliberately chosen to avoid writing stories set during the Regency era. That’s not because I don’t like it, but because I feel like I can add little that hasn’t already been done in an over-populated genre. I’ve gone out of my way to research an era we still know relatively little about – the Dark Ages of Britain, aka the Anglo-Saxon period – to allow me extra freedom in creating my own worldscapes.

Other consistently favourite eras include medieval Scotland – the Braveheart effect, perhaps – and Ireland, along with the Norman era of jousting knights and hulking stone castles, of whom Elizabeth Chadwick is one of the hardest-working authors. I also find stories set during siege warfare to be particularly intriguing; one I once read took place during the English Civil War and was very inventive.

For the latest historical romance we’re working on, Sue and I are concocting a wild and bleak landscape in which the story will play out. I’m talking wide, desolate marshland and storm-wracked coastal landscapes. The idea is that the harsher the elements, the warmer the love and the more heated the passion.

Time will only tell if it works out that way…

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Setting in Fiction: Why it’s Important

In this two-part blog series, I’m going to be talking about how the actual setting of a historical romance story is a crucial element of the narrative and one which can be used to enhance the writing no end. Part 1 will look at the importance of setting in general, while Part 2 will examine its uses in historical romance.

Setting is one of the most important things to me when I read a book. I can’t imagine Jane Austen’s stories without scenes taking place in busy ballrooms, gossips a-chatter in every corner. Try imagining the work of the Bronte sisters without their backdrops of windswept moors. It just doesn’t happen.

Scenery is important for a number of reasons. It adds atmosphere to the story, for one thing; there’s no better way to give your reader’s imagination a workout than by placing your story in remote or exotic wilds, or in a place where danger lurks in every corner. In this sense, scenery enhances and adds flavour to any story.

It’s also possible to enhance characterisation via setting. You can portray an accurate reflection of your character’s mindset in their surroundings; placing them in a field of summery wild flowers is the perfect romantic idyll, and will set them up for a romantic encounter accordingly, while depicting a character alone and adrift in a grey, featureless world will create a depressive state in an effective way.

Personally, I love stories that are well-grounded in a landscape; I’m a very visual reader, and I like to ‘see’ what’s going on in my mind as I explore a book. I suspect many other readers are the same. The good news is that scenery-building is great fun, too…