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Monday, 20 July 2015

How to create historical romance heroines that readers love

Readers tastes have changed. It used to be that a swooning, simpering heroine who lacks backbone, was not only commonplace in historical romance, but also acceptable to readers.

These days, that just won't fly.

Modern women are independent, self-directed and increasingly focused on interests beyond finding romantic fulfillment and Mr Right. Many just aren't interested in reading about women who lack spark - these days feisty is in, passive is out!

For historical romance, the challenge for authors is to create a female lead who is both true to the time, and someone modern readers can actually relate to. No easy task.

I write historical romance set in a brutal age - 7th Century Anglo-Saxon England. I don't shy away from the grittier details of the time, or the fact that women in that period were the property of men. My readers demand realism, they don't want stories tied up with a pretty bow. However, at the same time, they don't want to read about subjugated, abused women who have no rights, freedom or autonomy.

It's a challenge I enjoy...

I love creating believable female leads that my readers can relate to... and here are three guidelines that help me do just that.

  • USE ARCHETYPES NOT STEREOTYPES: women have been women throughout the ages. Just because our heroine lives in a time where women didn't have many rights doesn't mean she's a doormat. Feisty females have always existed - it's just that many didn't make it into the history books! Write about women you feel you could know. It doesn't matter what time she lives in, most women want friendships and a sense of fulfillment in life. Most of them want to love, and to be loved in return. Many have insecurities about their looks, weight or intellect. Stay away from cliche and make your women real.
  • FIGURE OUT WHAT SHE WANTS: whether she lives in a castle or a hovel, your heroine is not going to exist in a vacuum.What are her hobbies and her pet-hates? What are her goals, aspirations and dreams?  How do events, other characters, and the hero conflict with them?
  • DEVELOP RELATIONSHIPS: it's not just about the love story between the heroine and hero that matters. We learn a lot about someone by seeing how they relate to those around them. Siblings, friends, servants and pets - ensure your heroine has a network around her, so that the reader sees her as a 3D character.
I write about women who rarely get to choose their husband - yet none of my heroines are wimps. Even if it appears that our female lead has few choices at all in life. she still can retain her emotional and intellectual independence. Sometimes, she can also rebel.

Every time I pick up a historical or fantasy romance, I want to read about a heroine I can relate to on some level. Grace Draven, who writes fantasy romance, does a great job of this - I love her heroines. Sure, we live in completely different worlds to the heroines in these stories, but we're all women. Are we really that different?

And since, the majority of romance readers are also women, it makes sense to write for them!

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Saturday, 4 July 2015

The Battle of Winwaed - the defeat of Penda

On 15 November 655 A.D., Penda of Mercia met a grisly end. 

I'm a bit sad about that as Penda has been my favorite 'bad guy' over the past four books. He's cold and ruthless, and a warmonger, but I'd become fond of him. But, since my novels are following actual historical figures and events, I cannot avoid his death.

The Battle of Winwaed took place on the 15th day of blod monath, or Blood Month - the month we now recognize as November. It was the date that marked a shift in power between Mercia and Northumbria. After decades of tension and battles between the two kingdoms - Northumbria finally prevailed.

Penda had been attacking the northern borders that autumn, and had refused to accept treasure from the Northumbrian king, Oswiu, as a bribe in order to leave them in peace. After his campaign, Penda had headed for home. Unfortunately, he had left it too late, for winter was approaching and the weather had taken a turn for the worse. Instead of heading across the marshes, which had flooded due to heavy rains, Penda was forced to take his army east on higher ground - and that's where it all started to unravel...

Things went pear-shaped when he reached the River Winwaed.

Historians aren't really sure where this river actually was, although many think it was a tributary of the Humber, possibly somewhere near Leeds. Penda had been planning to cross the river, but found it a raging torrent, and impassable.

King Oswiu of Northumbria had been waiting for this moment.

Unbeknown to Penda, the Northumbrians had been tracking his army south, biding its time. With the river at their backs and the higher ground before them, the Mercians were in a terrible position, strategically.

They had a significantly bigger army. Penda had a fyrd (a king's army) of 30 warlords, but the Mercians had some significant desertions upon the eve of battle: Gwynedd, a welsh ruler who would be hence-forth known as the 'battle-shirker;, and King Oswiu's nephew, Aethelwald, who had sided with the Mercians but then pulled out of the battle at the last moment. It's thought that Penda's own son - Paeda - also sided with the Northumbrians - the ultimate betrayal.

On the morning of battle, it was pouring with rain, and the two armies would have fought in mud and soft clay. The Northumbrians pushed the Mercians back into the river, where many of them drowned.

Why is the Battle of Winwaed important in my novel?

This battle is vital to DARKEST BEFORE DAWN because it signifies the agreement that Oswiu of Northumbria makes with Paeda of Mercia. He agrees to allow Paeda rule over southern Mercia, and also agrees to led him wed his daughter Alchflaed - the heroine of our story.

The hero of this novel, Maric, is a Mercian warrior who survives the Battle of Winwaed but is forced to follow Penda's treacherous son. Paeda instructs him to travel north to collect Alchflaed from Bebbanburg (now Bamburgh Castle) and escort his bride-to-be home to Tamworth.

Hence, this battle sets in the entire plot of DARKEST BEFORE DAWN in motion!


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