In the Interview chair today is the lovely Erato...
(1) What actually inspired the writing of your novel(s)?
Ans: So, my entire Regency Romantics series began with choosing plots from actual old books and plays, and using those as scenari; kind of like you do with a commedia dell’arte play, where you use the same stories over and over, but it comes out new and different because you’re filling in the details from scratch – working in fresher or better ideas you got, improving what failed in the past incarnation, stuff like that. The book Sweet Errors is based on an opera from 1790 called Cosi fan Tutte. There are some significant differences even in the general description of the two plots, but that’s what Sweet Errors was modelled from. I tried to correct some of the issues with Cosi, such as how the scheme to test female fidelity had seemingly come out of nowhere, and consequently the characters seemed a bit unsympathetic because there was no motivation for putting everyone through the wringer like that. So, for instance, I made it that the girls were the ones who really started the ball rolling with this whole testing of fidelity, and the boys were motivated in response to that.
(2) Alpha or beta hero –profession/title/rank? – brief description!
Ans: Sweet Errors has two male leads. They do have the fits of passion and emotion usually associated with alphas, but the fact that they aren’t really running the show sort of takes away the implication of leadership I would think of when I think alpha. They are both young guys, sons of wealthy country landowners, who don’t really have their own fortunes or properties yet, but also have every reason to expect they will eventually inherit those things from family members. Bertie Wooster types, I suppose, though a tad more rugged as befits their era.
(3) Can you describe your heroine’s personality- title/rank? – brief description!
Ans: The two females are sisters, and they are daughters of a reasonably wealthy merchant-landowner. They’d be marrying up by marrying squires. Their personalities are rather more ditzy than I’m used to writing, but I’m a believer in making characters to serve the plot, and Sweet Errors has a plot that doesn’t really suit heroines who are too intelligent or steadfast.
(4) Are there secondary lead characters with important roles?
Ans: Mr. Hackett was originally going to star in a romantic subplot all his own, but I quickly found there wasn’t enough space for that in a book of the length that I wanted. I had imagined he’d end up with Despa, the maid, who was going to be smart enough to escape from her own crummy situation as a housekeeper who doesn’t even get to choose her own name; but her role was chopped down to almost nothing by the time it was over. I suppose I might recycle that story for some future work. Omitting that romantic plotline actually caused Hackett to come off as possibly gay, between his female pen name, his misogyny, and his unusual attention to the two young men – which maybe worked better for the story, really. One of my favorite romantic heroes in the whole Regency Romantics series is Richard Kensington from In the Fire; and he and Mr. Hackett actually seem to be almost the same character; they are men of science who didn’t find it to hold the answers they wanted, and turned to the comfort of literature instead. The main difference is that Hackett got older and kind of channelled his life’s disappointments into a literary career, whereas Kensington, alas, merely got really into Goethe’s Sorrows of Werther, and consequently didn’t get older. In Sweet Errors, Hackett is the one who is actually pulling the strings – the highwaymen didn’t come up with these stupidly literary backstories and Adam Ant style costumes on their own. That’s all Hackett’s direction.
(5) Where is the novel (s) set? – time-frame – country etc.
Ans: Sweet Errors is set in 1797, which is the year in which it is generally assumed that Jane Austen completed the writing of her book Pride and Prejudice (though that book wasn’t published till much later.) That was my only real reason for choosing that year. It is set mostly in a place called Walton Bay, which is apparently little more than a trailer park nowadays; but I wanted it to be set at the seaside, for reasons related to my memories of the staging of Cosi fan Tutte, I suppose; and it had to be in kind of a rural area where the characters wouldn’t encounter a lot of other people who might spoil their schemes. I had also intended to use the proximity to Bristol for some plot purposes, though in fact I wound up not using those sequences I had planned for the city. But, the female leads live in Walton Bay, and their boyfriends live nearby in Walton-in-Gordano and Weston-in-Gordano. I’ve never been to these places and had to learn about them from Google Maps, town websites and a couple little references in old books.
(6) What is it about your chosen era/periods that you most enjoy?
Ans: I’ll tell you honestly, the Regency isn’t one of my favorite historical eras; the costumes are a little plain for my taste and it was the beginning of that “Victorian” idea of kind of prudish good behaviour. I remember once reading an old play from 1706 called The Recruiting Officer – I began reading it on Google Books from an early edition, but with the weird typefaces they used in that era, it was hard to read; so I sought out another copy. I ended up finding an edition from either 1800 or 1810, in a better typeface, but it was amazing how much was censored in that version compared to what was in the original. It showed how much the morals changed in just that 100 year span! Thing is, I find stories where everyone is behaving well to be incredibly boring – I kind of prefer the wild antics of the 18th century, to the 19th century’s backlash against it. When I first began to write Regency Romances, most of what I knew about the era was picked up from the Surgeon’s Hall Museum and from episodes of Blackadder. Consequently, I display what I recognize is kind of an unusual interest in the diseases everyone had. I got to use some of that in Sweet Errors. I was trying to follow the literary rules of disease, where too much stress causes a deadly condition called “brain fever” that was evidently thought to be a real thing at the time, and was understood to be potentially fatal. It sounds like the medical treatments they used against brain fever were the only reason it was ever deadly, though – lots of heavy bloodletting was the recommended course. Nowadays brain fever would mean a condition like encephalitis or meningitis, but in the 18th and 19th centuries, it was the disease that everyone in novels was dying from after receiving distressing news – I guess because when you’re under stress, you can get headaches or have trouble concentrating, so they believed that it was a fever forming in your brain.
(7) Which if any of your characters do you dislike, and why?
Ans: I think I like all the characters in Sweet Errors. The book Honoria has characters I dislike – amusingly because I was trying to make them more likeable to the general public by toning down their worser traits. As I said before, I find stories where everyone behaves well to be so boring! Nobody behaves in Sweet Errors.
(8) Do you avoid sex scenes, gross violence or other in your works?
Ans: Sex scenes, yes – not that I’m exactly prudish about sex, it’s just I don’t feel sex scenes add much to a work. It certainly doesn’t move the plot forward to know the details of her “mound of Venus” or his “Beefy McManstick” or whether anyone’s moaning with pleasure. Especially now that I’m an adult and can easily get real porn, if that’s what I want – I just don’t enjoy a good story interrupted with a description of imaginary characters having sex. It’s a great way to lose my attention. Gross violence, on the other hand – I love that! There wasn’t much opportunity for it in Sweet Errors, but in books like Pursuit I made good use of it. Violence, gross or not, can totally move a plot; and in a book it’s difficult for it to really be properly gross anyway, because you don’t get the kind of visuals you would from a film. When I was young, there were movies my mother forbade me to watch, like A Clockwork Orange – but she was fine with my reading the book versions, I assume because the inherent nature of its being a book just tones down the violence so much.
(9) How would you rate your novel – historical fiction, romantic fiction, tear-jerker, emotional drama, swashbuckling adventure, other...?
Ans: Oh, god, this was really tricky to figure out when I needed to come up with titles and labels for the ISBNs! I think Sweet Errors is pretty definitely a romantic comedy, and in fact might be the most straightforward romantic comedy of the whole series, even if everyone does get the dreaded brain fever. I used the neutral term “novella” for most of the Regency Romantics titles because some of the books aren’t quite as humorous. The ones I labelled as “romances” are usually so called because someone dies – and even then they are often a bit humorous or satirical. Like, In the Fire is almost making fun of the Werther-suicide phenomenon that went on around that time, even though I don’t think it’s quite right to call that story a comedy. I’m not very good at writing anything with a totally straight face, though. There’s very little that I can take 100% seriously, and it often seems kind of arrogant, to me, when people think that everything has to be serious and others are wrong to be amused. That’s not to say I intended the Regency Romantics stories as satires – in fact I was a bit annoyed that that’s how they kept coming out – but it seems to just naturally fall that when I imitate the old style storylines, I automatically seize upon some really weird element that turns the whole thing into a John Waters kind of satire, every time. I don’t even like John Waters’ stuff all that well, but it’s undeniable that my style resembles his – I think because he’s doing the same kind of thing, taking his favorite old books and films and trying to imitate them and improve upon them, but through a mind a little too twisted to interpret with perfect sincerity.
The Richmond sisters have met the men of their dreams — or have they?
Charlotte and Elizabeth Richmond have every expectation of marrying their devoted boyfriends, Thomas Marchant and Robert Benjamin; but when they come to question the fidelity of these men, a series of events are set into motion which can change their lives forever. Two highwaymen in hiding take residence near the Richmond home, and the sisters begin to fall for these mysterious strangers. Will the girls betray their long-time lovers, or will their fidelity stand true? It is a matter of the utmost importance — for Thomas and Robert have bet their entire fortunes on it.
A sweet and silly adventure in love, Sweet Errors plunges the reader into an exciting 18th century world of young lovers, secret identities, romance novels and breezy seascapes. Pick it up and you will fall for the charms of its amusing cast and vibrant story.