This represents my notes on the presentations at the 2019 Historical Novel Society of Australia conference. They should not be taken as a precise record, and any mistakes are mine. There are gaps in some of the discussions because of my hand-writing speed, or because I took a note but couldn’t remember the context around it. I hope you enjoy reading about this conference as much as I enjoyed observing it. This blog uses affiliated links.
Stoking the Flame – maintaining the sizzle factor in historical romance
Anne Gracie chaired this panel with myself (Renee Dahlia), Elizabeth Ellen Carter, and Lizzi Tremayne.
Obviously I didn’t take notes as I was on the panel, so this is completely reliant on my memory, and to be honest, the usual nerves of talking in front of people tends to make me an unreliable narrator! 😊
We dressed up in period costume.
We talked about writing in series – how romance series tends to be different to other genres because series is built around characters rather than story arc. Anne Gracie talked about her debut novel. She wrote a character with three sisters, and her editor asked “Which sister gets the next book?” She hadn’t considered to create them as a series when writing the first one. That quickly changed.
We talked about heat level – Anne and Lizzi both write at the lower heat end, EE in the middle, and myself at the higher end. But the key isn’t the physical acts, it’s the tension between characters and that needs to be there regardless of closed door or wide open door.
This led into a discussion on sex in historical romance and the timing of it in a book. Anne talked about the need for women in many eras to wait because of the risks around pregnancy and the need for security. I expanded on this and talked about understanding the medical details for the era you are talking about, eg risk of death in childbirth, understanding of contraception, common diseases such as syphilis. EE talked about clothing and how that impacts on writing sensual scenes – not the easiest to get undressed, although as Lizzi said in the regency no one wore underwear, so access wasn’t as difficult as you’d expect. EE responded with the number of buttons on breeches. Anne said “he fumbled with his buttons”. I concluded this by saying that sex is more than just penis in vagina, there are many ways you can have sex, and pregnancy isn’t an issue for many different pairings. In lesbian historicals, characters could have sex on page one if it suits the plot, because there is no risk of pregnancy.
We talked about internal vs external tension, and how they intersect. There was a lot of discussion around each author’s own books and how they handled this. I talked about finding the gaps in history. History is largely written by straight white men, and they didn’t write about people outside that description. Look at those gaps and find the really interesting stories that haven’t yet been told. For example, the scientific paper that has the footnote “Many thanks to my wife for collecting all the samples and doing the data.” Basically, she did all the work, and his name is on the paper. What is her story?