One of the aspects of writing I have known for some time, but neglected of late, is that I need to have new projects, not just the older ones. The latter require massive efforts at the level of revisions, and I have come to appreciate the revision process. It results in dramatic improvements in the books, especially when other editors are involved. However, the process of revising never seems to achieve the sheer exhilaration one gets when developing a first draft, when the writing leads you into discovery of unsuspected aspects of your own writing. In my efforts to get my books out in the world, I have spent the past two or three years almost uniquely focused on revising. This has led to the completion of two manuscripts for publication, and two more almost ready to go out, plus three more not far behind. Pretty damn good!
But I need to get back to the exhilaration of writing, and for that I need "new". Well, it doesn't have to be completely new. It could be a half-completed manuscript that still needs a lot of "first drafting". My Zoroastrian time-travel thriller, now called 'Splicer', for example, still needs significant chunks of that kind of writing. But because that manuscript is already well-established, it needs several sizeable bouts of sustained writing, and right now I still have several revision efforts I need to complete. What I need is a project involving a lot of background research, which I can undertake in parallel with my other projects. I love doing research, too; I was an academic researcher for 40 years, so hardly surprising.
Just as my time travel thriller came out of a kind of "dare" a writer friend of mine threw at me, my new project is also the result of a similar discussion. For the past year I have been reading what are euphmistically called "Regency romances". Think Bridgerton, but also Jane Austen (I've read all of Austen and six of the eight Bridgerton novels). My writer friend oriented me towards Georgette Heyer's writing - she single-handedly "invented" the Regency romance in the 1920s and 1930s. I had read some of her books before, but not so much the Georgian and Regency books. But like the time travel project, I have to do something very different from the standard fare. I can't follow recipes in cooking, and writing is no different.
So without yet having a plot, what I have is a context, and one which is rich in multitudinous details. First, the Regency period itself, named after the mental illness of King George III led to the naming of a regent to oversee the kingdom in 1811, who remained in power until the ascendance of George IV to his father's throne in 1820. George III was married to the mixed race Charlotte, also a highly influential figure. And what an extraordinary thing to have a period named as a result of dealing with mental illness! Charlotte herself was a symbol of the 20,000 or more blacks in England at that time, largely as a result of the slave trade which was still in full swing. The Regency period also coincided with the rapid development of the Industrial Revolution, involving not just iron and steel manufacturing but also textile mills, the beginnings of the railroads, newspapers and magazines, food production, banking, etc. This is hardly mentioned in either Austen or Bridgerton, or indeed, the Heyer novels, and yet it was a hugly important period of economic growth.
In the Regency novels, fashion plays a major role. However, the focus in these books is on the "modistes" who worked for the aristocratic classes primarily. Fashion underwent significant change over this period, partly as a result of the growing availability of cheap cotton from the mills (whose raw materials were harvested offshore largely by slaves, in the plantations in the Carribean and southern United States). Clothes became "democratized" to the masses, and there was a strong market in second-hand clothes even among the wealthy, as a result of the durability of new textiles such as wool worsted that were being mass-produced. Now, I make no secret in these pages of my passion for clothing and textiles. The idea of developing a novel, or novels, focusing on the fashion industry at this time leaves me panting with excitement.
The third element where my own life story crosses the events of this period is the presence of a sizeable and highly influential community of Quakers in England at this time. Many were captains of industry; indeed, the Quaker community of that era was split between those who owned and exploited slaves and those who had become virulent abolitionists, and so the Quaker community itself embraced those contradictions. Similarly, the larger part of the community was plain-speaking and focussed on a restricted range of fashions and activities, while others, the so-called 'gay Quakers', were more openly worldly. As a 21st century Quaker, I am fascinated by Quaker history and this aspect of the era also appeals to me.
So what kind of story will emerge from this confluence of ideas and contexts? At the moment, the answer remains unclear, but it will likely not follow the "classical" formula of regency romances as developed by Julia Quinn (author of the Bridgerton novels), Heyer or even Austen, who seems to have had a more nuanced attitude towards fashion, for example. I need to find my own way. On the other extreme, one has novels such as those developed by Delderfield concerning industrial developments over the same period - he wrote extensively about the carting industry from a historical novel point of view, romanticized in its own way. And it seems likely that my writing will include black representation as well as gay romance (in the other sense!) and perhaps also gender fluidity.
But right now I'm having fun with the research, which I can do in parallel to my efforts at revision. The rest will have to take care of itself.