Noble Bastards Research

The series I’ve been working on for the past year focuses on something that has fascinated me while reading “real historical” and “written-right-now historical” romance novels: Bastards.

In modern day America the stigma may not be completely lost, but it is much lessened from what it used to be.  After all, now over 40% of first-time mothers in the US are unmarried.  This would have been an unthinkable concept in 19th century England, where bastard children were kept a shameful secret.  Just think of Sense and Sensibility where Colonel Brandon’s poor ward, Eliza Williams, and her mother both bore illegitimate children and came to a tragic fate.

Many of the great people in history have had bastard children that are either kept secret or exposed.  At one point the future king of England was simply chosen from the offspring of the king without regard to legitimacy, until the pope issued a decree saying that the offspring needed to be of a legitimate marriage.  Regardless, Athelstan and William the Conqueror where both bastard children.  FitzRoy was often the last name of a bastard child of a king, and King Henry I fathered at least 21 bastards and Charles II fathered at least 20—and these are just examples from the royals that were acknowledged.  Nobility could be just as promiscuous and often refused to acknowledge their offspring.

In the 19th century bastards were regarded with a mixture of pity, caution, and disgust.  People knew that the state of their birth was not a bastard child’s fault, but at the same time they saw the threat that a bastard presented to the legitimate family unit.  The general opinion was that a bastard could not help but envy the things that were a legitimate family member’s right and thus they would try to take it, try to sneak in where they didn’t belong.  Thus there was a stigma of bastards being jealous, spiteful, and generally malicious (Think Don John the Bastard from Much Ado About Nothing).

Often times people tried to conceal the birth of a bastard child by passing the child off as one of its grandparent’s children or by sending it off to live with a relative in a different part of the country.  Nobles often gave their illegitimate children away to be apprenticed or bought off the mother to quietly raise the child far away from them.  Occasionally there were Nobles who fell in love with their mistresses and treated their bastard children much as legitimate children, but much more often they were considered nuances to get rid of.  On rare occasions, where there was a bastard child and no legitimate children, the bastard was brought up as an heir.  Bastards couldn’t inherit titles or entailed land, but they could inherit property and wealth.

In the Noble Bastards series, I had an interesting time exploring the different types of relationships an illegitimate son could have with his parents.  Peter Gale, the protagonist of A Noble Secret was sent off to live with an older couple and never even met his father until he was in his early thirties.  Astor, another one of the bastards, grew up seeing his father much more often than his father’s legitimate family did.  Carrington, the product of his mother’s infidelity, processes the title meant for her husband’s son and heir.

Their different circumstances led to very different relationships with their parents and with the world around them, but they all have one thing in common, one thing that keeps them bound together in brothership: they are all Noble Bastards.

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Top 5 Things I Learned About Trying to Be a “Real” Writer

So, for the past few months, I’ve been trying to become a more serious writer.  It has always been a dream of mine to have a book published and for people to actually read it.  The problem was, I had no idea how to go about being a “real” writer.  I wrote– I wrote every day, I wrote what I loved, I wrote what I knew– but when reading what I wrote I realized that simply writing isn’t enough.  So I started looking into things and taking classes.  It wasn’t until I was able to meet a real writer (Thank you again, Danica) that I started to understand just what was necessary to make a “real” novel.  There is a lot that goes into it.  I even swallowed my pride and bought Writing a Romance Novel for Dummies, a very helpful resource by Leslie J Wainger, a top romance editor (though  I still object to being called a dummy.)

When I was doing all of this, I realized that there were some things that I was doing right and some things that I was doing very wrong. In case there is someone out there that is in the same position that I was, here are the top ten things I learned.

5.  Write, write, write.  It can be difficult to do so without encouragement and the first pages can be daunting, but if you don’t write consistently, you’ll never have anything to work with.  I remember a couple of years ago I was moping about how I wanted to be a writer, but I never could be because I didn’t have a whole story and my sister encouraged me to write a page a day.  A page a day doesn’t take much time and keeps you writing consistently.

4.  Some ideas are good.  Some suck.  A good writer can make a sucky idea a great story and a bad writer can make even the best idea a travesty.  So its important to hone your craft and become a good writer– as well as developing good ideas.

3. Concentrate.  Finding a spot to work on your writing is important, as well as getting your friends and family on board with letting you do your thing.  Otherwise there will always be something to distract you from your work– and your goals.

2. Don’t live in a bubble.  This might seem contra to the last item, but its also important.  There are plenty of great ideas for inspiration out there, and secluding yourself can sometimes keep you from them.  It also helps you to see what ideas are selling, which is important when you are writing commercial fiction.  Being out there, having a social presence, ext, can also help you to sell your book (so I’ve heard).

1. Research.  Especially if you like to write historical fiction, like myself, this is vital.  Nothing can pull a reader out of a story more quickly than a glaring inaccuracy.  Admittedly this part can be a pain– you have no idea how long it took for me to discover how long it would take a carriage to get from Hertfordshire to London in 1817– but if you research something well and learn your topic, it helps pull a reader in, which is ultimately the goal.