by Olivia Knight
With the beautiful new Black Lace covers came three new lines: paranormals, contemporaries, and historicals. Last Wednesday, Madeline Moore introduced contemporaries; the week before, I did the same for paranormals. Today, historicals are in the spotlight.
• Black Lace line: historicals
• Colour: red
• Committed Lusties, past and present: Deanna Ashford, Kristina Lloyd, Madelynne Ellis
In a nutshell
Historicals means place comma date. Russia, 1917. London, 1875. Paris, 1935. These are the authors who know what people ate in ancient Mesopotamia, what women wore under their dresses in the Renaissance, how long it takes to get from Rome to Egypt by horse and ship, and how to take off Elizabethan clothes. Plus the names for everything and what a ‘reticule’ is.
Who wants to fuck peasants? Eww. Lords, Princes, Comtes, Marquises, and Earls are so much cleaner. You can have a slave, if he’s a nice washed well-educated Greek one, but not one of those nasty barbarians – unless he turns out to be from a pristine Druidic tribe in whose ancient and nature-embracing rituals… but I digress. If you prefer machismo to depraved aristocrats, then army captains, gladiators, and knights abound. Historical heroes are contrary creatures: he’ll either rescue you from debauchery then debauch you himself, be engaged to you and refuse to touch you, or make do with you occasionally but pine for your fiancé. Occasionally he’ll love you straight out – but he just has these pesky wars to fight / cities to conquer / manacles to break / lions to slay in the arena…
These are the polar extremes of femininity. Whereas paranormal heroines get in some action between running their kingdoms and slaying mythical beasts, and contemporary heroines are lively, normal up-for-it girls, the historical heroines are either blushing virgins (well, at first…) or scandalous nymphomaniacs hosting secret societies of vice behind their gracious, period façades. Here, the contemporary brain-twister – how to keep her innocent – is the no-brainer. Peeling away the innocence is the fun part – deflowerment is always so delightful the second time around. More challenging is how to keep her in society post-deflowerment.
The best bit about writing historicals
• Ever said “I was born fifty years / a hundred years / twenty centuries too late”? Get in your Tardis and go back there!
• Built-in plot: it’s suddenly a lot easier to create tension when people really aren’t allowed to sleep together, when there really is a war on and no-one can accuse you of making it up for convenience, when characters really might die, in startlingly visceral ways.
• Holidays are reclassified as research: if you’re going to sweep the reader to another time and place, there’s just no avoiding that month in Greece, week in Rome, or weekend wandering the Left Bank in Paris. But let’s be honest: for historicals, there’s no escaping research, even if you escape the country for a bit.
The best bit about reading historicals
• Slaves! They’re big, they’re built of brick, and they have to do what you say. Plus they wear little white skirts.
• Naughtiness! In contemporaries, the only way left for us to transgress is to say wildly politically incorrect things like “Anal sex is just disgusting.” In paranormals, whatever your characters do is read as normal, in their world. If you want to get really naughty, back in time is the best place to go.
• Sex! It may seem anachronistic for a pair of Victorians to be at it like bunnies, but we’re all here – proving that people throughout history have been getting it on and taking off (or discreetly readjusting) some interesting clothes to do it.
Top tip: chronology
Shakespeare may have got away with his anachronisms, but if you put clocks in ancient Rome, readers will squeal. If it’s a turn-of-the-century ball, the chickens might be fine – though unexpected. The plane, however, will not be.
What not to say
• “She slipped on a pretty lace reticule and darted down the palladium to open the door.”
• “What the hell is a ‘kirtle’, anyway?”
• “But if it’s historical, don’t they have to be real people? I’m not sure it’s all true.”
What to say
• “She slid her fan out of her reticule and waited for the servant to open the door.”
• “It’s not porn, it’s educational.”
“The notion of what’s transgressive in other societies and times can shed significant light on our own, contemporary prejudices.”
Over to you...
• What period should you have been born in?
• What's your favourite historical-hero type?