Today’s post is from a long-standing British Armitage admirer.
I write ‘classic’ Regency romances. Sadly, it is something one says nearly apologetically, and sotto voce, because the genre has a very poor image (not entirely unearned). Yet I am not ashamed of the books I write. I follow in the Heyer tradition with an accurate world in terms of history, the fashions, language and attitudes. I want the reader to be able to enter that world lit by candelabra, and clothed in silks, muslins and barathea, and step away from the mundane realities of daly life, from the hassles at work, the heaviness of the shopping or that pile of ironing that grows when you look away for a moment. I want them to smile at the repartee, travel at the pace of a carriage, follow the highs and lows as the romantic relationships build, and emerge in a positive and happy frame of mind. Escapism is not a dirty word! I would also say we are now in a world where sex is all about us and romance in short supply, so I wish to provide it, with floss trimming and intricately tied cravats.
I do not see readers as passive, sponges soaking up what is presented to them. I want them, expect them, to engage, to feel, to use their own imaginations. Unlike Heyer, I write far more of the male perspective, After all, the majority of Regency romance readers are female and thus know how females think, and it is nice to hear the other side of the situation. (I do, by the way, have men read the drafts to make sure I am not getting it wildly wrong.)
This expectation of interaction is reflected in two other aspects of my Regency novels – I do not have bedroom scenes, and I do not over describe the characters’ physical appearance. The primary reason for omitting bedroom scenes is not prudery, but that in the world I describe, that of the Regency social elite, unmarried girls of marriageable age were closely chaperoned, and a hint of immodest behaviour with a man would bring ruin to any chance of a good marriage. A wife was at one level merely the method of ensuring the succession to title and estates. Any doubt as to the fatherhood of an heir was potentially disastrous, and taking a girl to wife whose name had already been bandied about as one less than chaste would be foolish. Failure to marry generally condemned a woman to being a ‘hanger on’ within her family, and left her totally dependent. Thus, for the vast majority of my books, the idea of ‘bodice ripping’ is simply historically a no no.
Having said which, the first book to be published, The Devil You Know, is set within a marriage, and yet there is no bedroom scene and merely allusions to the disastrous first night that takes place. The book is actually about two people who marry as strangers, and their path towards expunging the memory of that first night. It is also a tale of mutual desire and male sexual frustration, as George Ledbury is used to an ‘active’ bedroomexistence, (with a series of bored married ladies). He tries to be good, but finds assorted circumstances preventing ‘relations’ with the wife with whom he is falling in love. The more desperate he becomes the more mistakes that he makes, to the point he may lose the woman he realises he cannot live without. I could have had bedroom scenes in this book, but few descriptions of the conjugal act are worth reading. Many are cheap thrills or laughable in the manner of description, and if you need to know how it happens, the best answer is a biology text book! The reader’s own imagination is by far better than instruction from an author, whom I feel does better to give the broad brush strokes by allusion and hint, the atmosphere and frisson, and leave the detail to the reader. After all, the reader will pitch the encounter at the level with which they are comfortable, and indeed according to mood. I am sure most adult readers have imagined what happened ‘after the bedroom door has closed’ in books, and in a book that is well-loved, imagined it differently at different times. You, the reader, cannot shock yourself, nor yet be disappointed.
As an extension of this I do not put too much detail into the physical description of the characters. Fifty readers ought to have fifty very slightly differing images of the ‘hero’ and ‘heroine’. How often is a film ruined when the casting is such that you cry ‘but he is nothing like . . .’ as you have imagined him in that book you love.
Despite the above, this being the Armitage Authors blog it will come as no surprise that a certain tall, dark actor has provided material for many of my ‘leading men’. I have reviewed the ten in my novels thus far and confess all are baritone in voice. Mr Armitage has a voice that is an acting class in itself, can be assertive, cold, passionate, pleading, and very funny. George Ledbury is also pretty much totally Guy of Gisborne, with a better haircut and negative leather. I always found Guy’s emotional maturity of a three year old, and his semi permanent confusion, terribly appealing. Hands up those who also wanted to give him back the teddy he’d ‘thrown from his cot’, soothe his insecurity and then . . . Ah, there is where the imagination comes in!
Of the other gentlemen, a few have little bar the voice, though all are varying levels of ‘tall’ and I am sure you would spot a couple of his mannerisms. Some have his natural colouring, or the dark versions we have seen in various ‘incarnations’. A couple are 85% plus based upon the gentleman. I will not reveal which and spoil things, and hope, if the other books reach print, that you will enjoy finding out for yourselves – and listening to ‘that’ voice when you read his dialogue.