I'm so pleased to welcome author, Katy Moran, onto the blog to talk about how her love of Georgette Heyer, brought about the publication of her latest Regency romance, Wicked By Design.
Two decades ago, I stumbled upon an old romance novel on my parents’ bookshelves. I’d never heard of the author, Georgette Heyer, and it wasn’t the sort of book that would normally have appealed to me. For a start, the cover artwork was seriously old fashioned: a couple locked in a passionate embrace. Intrigued all the same, I flicked through the first few pages. I’ve never been so glad to have taken a chance. I fell totally in love with Heyer’s Regency romances, especially her pragmatic, witty heroines as they navigated a world of ballrooms and high adventure. As if more than twenty years of reading pleasure wasn’t enough of a gift, that book would change my life in another way, too: one that I could never have begun to suspect. I still wrote in secret then, and publication was just a far-distant dream I didn’t allow myself to think about too often.
My love of these gorgeous and accomplished Regency romances ignited a fascination with acompelling chapter of history. I learned that the Georgian period might have been a time of masquerade balls, hot air balloon ascents, exploration and scientific discovery, but it was also a time when a child as young as six could be hanged for stealing bread. I was reminded too of Britain’s involvement in the Atlantic slave trade, when millions of people had their freedom brutally stolen in one of history’s worst chapters, and of the extreme poverty which made the harsh reality life as a soldier a better prospect than trying to survive at home.
By now, I was writing professionally – historical fantasy for children and folklore-based urban fantasy for teenagers, but no matter how I tried to ignore it, a different story grew at the back of my mind, like a pearl forming around a piece of grit. The more non-fiction I read about Regency England, the more fascinated I became. You can’t read much about the Regency, though, without being drawn into one of the most pivotal moments in European history: the Battle of Waterloo. And you don’t have to read much about the Peninsular War and Waterloo itself to quickly realise that the outcome of that final, bloody battle between England and France could easily have been very different. What if that battle had gone the other way, with victory for Napoleon instead of the Duke of Wellington? What if France had actually invaded England? However unlikely an invasion might have been in reality, it was an eventuality that people were certainly frightened of.
Fast forward to 2014 and, in the brief snatches of time stolen when my baby slept, I started to write the book that had been forming within me for so long: a Regency romance set in an alternative history timeline. It was at this point that a chance conversation with a friend changed the course of my research. I was invited to visit the battlefield of Waterloo itself by the charity Waterloo Uncovered, an archaeology project with a support program for veterans which aims to understand war and its impact on people. Yes, it’s true that I now know how to fire a musket, and research like this always adds valuable texture to historical fiction, but my experience with Waterloo Uncovered also altered the flesh and bones of my story in another way.
Up until I first visited the archaeological dig at Waterloo, my hero had been very much a stereotypical 007 figure: cool, calm, and collected (as well as devilishly handsome, of course). Meeting veterans who have been affected by PTSD made me realise that, although we can never retrospectively ‘diagnose’ redcoat soldiers who lived two hundred years ago with combat stress, formed as they were by such a different culture and society, there would have been some whose mental resilience was broken down to the point at which they really suffered. As a result, I wrote my hero Crow in a completely different way (he’s still devilishly handsome, though), and it’s a question that is still relevant now. Today, soldiers are trained to run into danger when every instinct tells them to run the other way. Afterwards, how do they find a way to live among people who have so little comprehension of what they have experienced? I’d never given much thought to military life before, and I’m glad to now have more understanding of what it can be like to operate within a theatre of war and then return to a civilian world in which hardly anyone can relate to what you’ve experienced.
In the end, my research for Wicked by Designand its companion novel False Lightsbegan with gloriously escapist Regency romance, but that research didn’t only change the way I wrote the book: it changed my understanding of a pivotal period of history, and the way I see the world now, too.
Katy Moran has written two Regency romances for Head of Zeus, one of which was written under the pseudonym KJ Whittaker. Now a bookseller, she is a former publishing professional and children’s author.
Katy grew up near Cambridge and has lived in London, Manchester and the Welsh Borders. Katy has written short stories for Women’s Weekly and S Magazine, and has contributed to the Guardian, Wanderlust, and Writing Magazine.
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