December sees the publication of my latest Regency romance for Harlequin Mills & Boon. It is also the time of festive fun and pantomimes, so the Cinderella title is very apt, I think.
Cinderella and the Scarred Viscount
Once upon a time….
The story is set in Regency England but its origins are much further afield. Spain in fact. The whole thing starts with the Spanish Armada!
Many Spanish ships from that ill-fated expedition came to grief around the British Isles, and the are many stories of survivors “leaving their mark” on the local population in the form of dark eyed, dark haired children. My heroine, Carenza, has this dark colouring, inherited from her mother.
Of course, she isn’t the first literary character to have such a heritage. The one that springs first to my mind is Jimmy Perez in Ann Cleeves’ Shetland series (not that the lovely Dougie Henshall, who plays Perez in the TV series is dark haired OR dark-eyed).
Then there are The Westray Dons
According to the antiquarian and folklorist Walter Traill Dennison, writing in 1889, Spanish survivors were welcomed to the Orkney Island of Westray, where they took local wives and formed a small settlement.
There, shipwrecked Spaniards were initially treated kindly but as winter came on, the local population feared the food supplies would run out. They took to throwing off the cliffs any Spaniard they found wandering alone.
Which begs the question, what happened to the fictional Jimmy Perez’s ancestor?
But back to Carenza and Cinderella
I wanted a heroine who is not blond and willowy like her half-sisters. However, she does have a curvaceous figure, chocolate brown eyes and luxurious dark hair. Even her name, Carenza, sounds exotic. Not Spanish, though. In fact it is from the Cornish “Carenz,” meaning loving.
Carenza has been waiting for her story for a while. It is such a lovely name and she just arrived, ready formed, in my head, complete with history!
Carenza’s ancestor was a Spanish nobleman, one of the survivors of the Spanish Armada who was shipwrecked on the Cornish coast.
Unfortunately, Carenza has inherited no Spanish gold and her dark colouring puts her at odds with her beautiful half-sisters and her stepmother, who convince the poor girl that she is no beauty.
It takes a troubled and battle-scarred Prince Charming to discover her real worth, and value her as she deserves….
Meet Prince Charming
Only he isn’t. At least he is not your flawless handsome hero. Major James Rossington (Ross) is now Viscount Austerfield, but his experiences on the battlefield have left him with scars, emotional as well as physical. These days we would call it Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Getting serious for a moment
PTSD is a condition that has only been recognised in recent years. Researching for this book showed me just how destructive and debilitating it can be. For the sufferers and those around them. However, it is possible for PTSD to be treated successfully, even many years after the trauma has occurred. The NHS website says “it is never too late to seek help”. I hope that anyone suffering from PTSD now can find help and support from the many agencies that are out there.
Back in the 18th century
There was little understanding of such conditions during the Napoleonic Wars, or even in the early 20th century. But it would be naïve to think people did not suffer from it then.
As a writer I cannot ignore the more unpleasant aspects of the past, but in a romance, I am also conscious that my readers want a happy and hopeful resolution to the story. So in this case, Ross is only suffering from a very mild form of the disorder.
That’s the characters, now for the plot
I am a pantser – that means I make up the story as I go along, with only a vague idea of what the plot will be. One thing I did know. This was always going to be a Cinderella story and it is the characters who will drive the plot.
Ross is similarly affected, for he has a wicked cousin. A pantomime villain, then, who knows Ross considers himself unlovable and plays upon the fact.
Ross, the prince, rescues Carenza (naturally) but they also save each other from the evil characters around them. By facing danger together, they both show themselves to be strong characters and they blossom into the attractive, good-hearted people we know they can be.
So there you have it
My main characters have back stories and the scene is set for a tender romance, where Carenza’s loving nature can help to heal Ross’s scars and his kindness helps her to blossom. I think it wouldn’t be giving away any spoilers to say that they lived…
Happily Ever After