I’m trilled to welcome Marguerite Kaye to the blog today to talk about the process of writing her recent release Rumors that Ruined a Lady (see my review here). Take it away, Marguerite!
Caro, my heroine, is the fourth of five sisters, and she’s known as the ‘dutiful’ one – the one who has tried hard to conform, who’s done her best to be the person she was expected by her family to be. And where has it got her? Well, at the start of my book, she’s hit rock bottom, having fled a miserable marriage, been disowned by her father, and resorted to taking opium.
I had this opening scene in my head right from the start of writing Caro and Sebastian’s story. I was very clear that one of the things I wanted to write about was the conflict that arises from trying to mould your character into the form that others expect of you. We all do it, to a greater or lesser degree, because we want to please those we love (or think we ought to love!) – in particular, our parents. When we’re just gritting our teeth and doing minor stuff like paying duty visits to the aged relative with the smelly dog, there’s more positive than negative in doing our duty, but when it comes to bigger things – like, say, working in the family business, having kids (or not), staying at home to look after the kids (or not), and getting married – these are pretty thorny issues, and even today it takes conviction to rebel. So how much more difficult must it have been two hundred years ago, especially for women? It’s not surprising that Caro conforms and marries the man her father has chosen for her. What’s astonishing is that she has the courage to walk away from that marriage.
However, I didn’t want duty to be the only issue my heroine had to confront. One of the things I love about writing historicals is trying to address today’s problems in a historical context. I originally planned on being a lawyer, and studied Scots Law at university. Though I very quickly realised it wasn’t for me, I’ve never forgotten my outrage when I first discovered how incredibly biased the law was, and how relatively recent was the idea of blame-free divorce and separation. At university, when you’re young and pretty naïve, you think the cases you’re presented with are funny – I recall one case where the evidence of the wife’s adultery was a photo of her footprints on the windscreen of her lover’s car, and I remember much tittering in the lecture theatre when the term in flagrante delicto was introduced, and illustrated with a number of juicy cases where the couple were caught in the act. It’s only when you think about it, that you realise the couple concerned must really have been in extremis (to use another legal term) to pursue a divorce, and when you dig deeper into the law, you can see why. Marriage was a contract, and until relatively recently, it was constructed so that it was nigh-on impossible to escape.
Unfortunately, I didn’t think about the practicalities when I started writing Rumors that Ruined a Lady. It was only when I was well into the story and hurtling towards the happy ever after that I realised I’d put Caro and Sebastian in a situation where there might not be a happy ever after. In Romanceland, the hero and heroine finally realising they’re in love is usually the cue for the curtain to come down. In my story, it was the cue for Caro to exit stage left alone. Ripping the story apart and killing her husband off was my first idea. In fact, in one of my original plot-lines, Caro herself killed her husband. But that felt like cheating. I could get her a Parliamentary Divorce, but that was a very long and drawn out process (which I explain in the Historical Note in my book) and it wouldn’t necessarily free her up to marry Sebastian. It would also ostracize her from society. Think about the reaction in Britain to the ex-King, Edward VIII, marrying the divorcee Mrs Wallis Simpson in 1937. Less than a century ago, and they were still forced into exile. Imagine how it would have been two hundred years ago.
So I was on the horns of a dilemma. I could re-write my book, or I could remain true to my original ideas, which meant coming up with an unconventional happy ending. I’ll leave you to read the story, and find out for yourself which path I chose, but be reassured, there is a happy ending!
I finished Caro and Sebastian’s story feeling humbled. I’ve always believed I was a bit of a maverick, and I’ve had my fair share of guilt-ridden moments when I’ve fought against the tide of duty – I’m sure we all have. But would I have had the courage to fight my corner as Caro and Sebastian do, when the consequences of going against custom and convention, to say nothing of the law, were so hard-hitting? You know, I’d like to think so, but I’m not so sure.
Thank you for having me on your blog today and for allowing me to share some of my thoughts. I’m wondering, have I struck a chord? Do you like your historicals to address real, modern-day dilemmas? Does it matter that the happy ending is historically accurate or don’t you care? Do share your thoughts, I’d love to know.
Rumors that Ruined a Lady is out now, in print and digital, UK, US and Canada. You can read an excerpt of this and all my other books over on my website: http://www.margueritekaye.com.