One of the things I found myself doing when I started Point of Honour was deliberately trying to take up the glittery surface of the historical romance (particularly the Regency romance, since that’s where I got my start) and check out all the worms and slimy bits below. A number of the Regencies I read when I was a teen had so little to do with the actual period that even I, as a fifteen-year-old, could catch them out. And there was one, in particular, that drove me nuts.
Understand, this was multiple decades ago. I no longer remember the title or the author; I do remember the set up of the book because it was so intriguing. Briefly: Our Heroine, having lived with a man without benefit of clergy for philosophical reasons, is left alone when said man dies. He leaves her an income, not large but enough to keep herself on, and the house in which they lived. The only condition: to keep the house she must live in it or lose it. Only, see, the house is in the same town where she grew up, where her history is known to all. To the men in town she’s a dirty joke, a woman to be had for the asking. The matrons who knew her as a child refuse to speak to her or let their daughters speak to her; she is a cautionary tale, a hissing and a byword. Maybe some of the servants and peasant-types talk to her, but maybe they don’t. She’s looking at a lifetime of misery, and I began to wonder why she got involved with a man who would set her up to be punished and ostracized this way.
Well, my fifteen-year-old-self thought. That’s really interesting. She’s ruined; can’t even rehabilitate herself by moving somewhere else. How on earth is the author going to rehabilitate her and give her the happy ending this category romance requires? This ought to be a really fabulous read; I’m dying to see how she does it.
Simple: she didn’t. Having built herself a really interesting box, the author got out of it by deciding the box wasn’t there. Within a chapter or two you’d have thought the worst this young lady had done was be seen talking with the guy after church with her chaperone beyond arms’ reach. By half-way through the book no one seems particularly concerned by her moral lapse. And even at fifteen I knew this was cheating. I knew the consequences of making a decision to live with her lover would be serious, and it infuriated me that the author had ignored it.
So many years later, when I sat down write Point of Honour, I wanted to avenge my disappointed fifteen-year-old self by writing a book in which the consequences of a decision were serious, life-defining, and potentially deadly. I had first readers ask me why I had to make things so hard on my heroine; because the times would have been hard on her, and I couldn’t magically forget that. All I could do was give her the character and resolve to cope, and follow her lead.