Conferencius interruptus

Pie and chipsLast weekend (well, from Thursday evening), I attended the Harrogate History Festival, but I took a break on the Saturday for an awayday to London.

And I wasn’t in the bar at The Lamb in Conduit Street just for the mouthwatering steak & kidney pie and chips! Upstairs in the meeting room,   Christina Courtenay (historical and Young Adult fiction), Monica Fairview (world of Darcy sub-genres) and I gave a workshop to fellow London & South-East chapter members of the Romantic Novelists’ Association about writing in a specialist genre with in the romantic field.

So what are Darcyworld, YA and althist?

Jane Austen’s books are immensely popular and Mr Darcy is the favourite of all her heroes, Monica said. Sequels, spin-offs, pastiches, modernisations, or paranormal, there have been hundreds of variations. However, the hero had to retain Darcy’s essential nature (even as a vampire!), his inner conflict and his journey out of unwarranted pride. Elizabeth and Darcy need to be the core couple as in Pride and Prejudice.

Christina followed with a definition what is meant by ‘Young Adult’: a readership of 13 to 18 years old and shorter books, often 60,000 words, centred on teenage concerns, especially teenage angst and first love.

I outlined how alternative history differed from fantasy, paranormal and science fiction; I wrote at the history end of the scale. Plausibility and consistency were key and it was important to follow historical logic to project the alternative path that history had taken. (More about ‘althist’)

Language, violence and sex

These should be readership and age appropriate, especially for the YA readers. All three of us who were to some extent historical writers were very aware of using straightforward language with no ‘prithees’ and no very date-specific slang.

The Darcy sub-genre, Monica said, included work from sweet and inspirational to erotica, but courtship was the most important element. The Roma Nova books are mainly for adults – I have readers from 16 to 85 years old – so I include levels of language, violence and sex as appropriate to any contemporary set novel with a core romantic relationship.

YA tends to concentrate on the ups and downs of the main character’s first love/crush. Bering in mind the age range of 13-18, YA writers would not describe sex and sexual tension in the same way as in books for adults. Each publisher had its own guidelines, but Christina was firm in saying she would’t write explicit sex scenes in her YA novels.

Tips and hints 

RNA panel Oct 2014

Alison, Christina and Monica (photo courtesy of Janet Gover)

Althist – If you want to write in an alternate history setting, two things: do your historical research and build your new world. You won’t use more that a small proportion of that accumulated knowledge and invention, but you must immerse yourself in it if you are to write in a way to convince your readers.

Young Adult – Read a lot of YA books and watch YA films and TV programmes. Chat with a friend who was a teenager when you were. Dig out the old photos and reminisce.

Darcy/Jane Austen’s world – If you haven’t yet, immerse yourself in the Austen books, especially Pride and Prejudice. Interact with fans online and find out why they love the books, spinoffs and sequels.

My main message: The story, whatever the setting, must be strong enough to stand as a narrative in its own right as must the development of the emotional relationship.

So that’s knocked firmly on the head the popular, but unwarranted, view that romantic writing is all about pink gauze and marrying a duke. Today’s reader wants more, a lot more, and the romantic field is widening into every sort of sub-genres to meet this demand. Any more suggestions?


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers, INCEPTIO, and PERFIDITAS. Third in series, SUCCESSIO, is now out.

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2 comments to Conferencius interruptus

  • Thanks for this summary, Alison. I really enjoyed the panel and I hope people found it informative. I certainly learned a few things about Alternative Roman.

    • Alison

      I was equally fascinated by the world of Darcy! It was a very enjoyable workshop and I’ve had some very positive feedback from others who attended.