Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Why Regency?

When you're a writer, you often get asked questions which make you think about your creative process. This can be a good thing because it forces you to be conscious of the decisions you are making. Recently, someone asked me why I had chosen the Regency period for my books. Like many of my decisions, there are multiple reasons and going through them all helps me understand my choices and do a better job writing within my chosen framework.

So…why did I choose the Regency?

First and foremost: I love Georgette Heyer. Maybe that wasn't clear. I love Georgette Heyer. I wish I could write like Georgette Heyer. In fact, if I had never read a single book by her, I'm not sure I would have wanted to be a writer. Hmmm. That may be too strong a statement. I might still have wanted to write, but I'm not sure I would have wanted it so badly. Between Heyer, Saki, and Wodehouse, I had no choice but to become a writer.

Oh, wait. I didn't even tell you what the Regency is. It's a time period: the early years of the 19th century, from around 1811 to 1820, when King George III of England was not quite competent and a Regent in the form of his son, George IV, sort of ruled in his stead. Most books set during the Regency period are also set somewhere in the United Kingdom. Such books are also commonly referred to as "Regencies" with a sort of artificial division between traditional Regencies and Regency historicals. Regency historicals focus very intensely on the romantic relationship between a man and a woman and are generally very sensual (hot). Traditional Regencies—while still romances—often are less intensely focused on the romantic relationship and include a "broader view" of Society in general or other elements such as suspense, mystery, or adventure. Georgette Heyer, for example, would be considered to write traditional Regencies. As far as publishers are concerned, the Regency period is somewhat extended to include from the late 18th century through about 1825 or so, and the focus has shifted toward Regency historicals and away from traditional Regencies.

For my purposes as a writer, I was interested in this period for several reasons (Heyer not withstanding).

I knew I wanted to move into writing mysteries: romantic mysteries with a bit of adventure. The Regency period was right before true law enforcement agencies as we know them today existed, so you could have private citizens and inquiry agents assist in, or conduct an investigation into a murder without some of the convoluted reasoning authors need for contemporary mysteries which don't have a law enforcement person as the main investigator. Sir Robert Peel became Home Secretary in England in 1822, and he is the one who helped rework many of the existing British laws and created the Metropolitan Police Force in London in 1829 (hence, London police earned the nickname of "peelers"). If I set stories before 1829, I have a lot more freedom in terms of conducting a murder investigation (or rather, my characters have more latitude in conducting a murder investigation). There was also the lovely organization known as the Bow Street Runners, which through the mists of time has assumed an attractive patina of romance.

As a gardener, the first half of the 19th century brought about absolutely amazing developments in horticulture, particularly rose hybridization, which is another love of mine (hence, my first book entitled "Smuggled Rose"). All the explorers running around brought back plants from all over the world and experts were busy creating new hybrids… I won't bore you by going on about this, but it was a truly remarkable period of time. Science was exploding by leaps and bounds. Even germs were eventually invented, and we learned not to drink from the same glass as someone else. How cool is that?

Anyway, the period is close enough to our time to be recognizable and yet far enough away to be quaint and romantic. Men were men (and the sheep ran scared—but not too fast). People occasionally bathed. Duels were outlawed, but still occurred conveniently enough to give a few heroes—and heroines—some early morning angst. There were smugglers and aristocratic French refugees. The Napoleonic wars. Adventures which were romantic when they took place in the 19th century, but would be just stupid, scary, or too darn serious if they took place today.

I am also interested in freedom and a person's place within Society. Regency Society had more "social rules" which are fun to play against and provide a bottomless source for comic escapades that simply would not work in our modern society. As you might guess, because I am interested in the interplay between personal freedom and Societal restrictions, my stories tend more toward traditional Regencies than Regency historicals.

There is also the fact that my heroines can have hordes of servants, wear fabulous long dresses and jewels, and spend their days writing subtly insulting letters to each other while eyeing the footmen. What's not to love? No e-mail. No Internet. No computers. No cell phones. No explaining away why they couldn't just pick up the phone and call the police (although they could send one of the footmen after a Bow Street Runner).

Yeah, that's the ticket: the Regency. A kinder, gentler period for romance and murder…


Eleanora said...

I've always, probably by instinct, avoided Regency romances (both kinds), but, having read this post, I may well have to rethink my stance! I'm not a romance reader ...since I consider romance and it's attendant results a participation, not a spectator sport. However, you make that period intriguing, so off I go (well, tommmorow) to find me some Georgette Heyer!

Amy said...

Oh, YES--you MUST try Georgette Heyer. Look for one of the following:
Faro's Daughter (3/4 of the way through, there is the funniest scene I have ever read)
The Masqueraders
The Toll Gate
These Old Shades
The Devil's Cub

Those are my favorites. Heyer's first three chapters are often slow but just get to the fourth chapter and they are just fantastic. She actually created the traditional Regency genre and frankly, no one can even touch her. I, personally, believe it is because her focus in many books is on the action/adventure, Society, etc, rather than so intensely focused on just the romance. I like that. That's why I read her and why I tend to read more mysteries and science fiction than anything else.
Anyway, give her a try. You really can't go wrong.