Here it is! The very first of its kind, celebrating a long-time Musae Mosaic community member and wonderful friend, Alicia Wallace, with her new book Awakening Passions!
MM: So … tell us about you as an author. How long have you been writing?
AW: I started writing in school, thanks to an hour a week that was dedicated to story writing. At the time I read a lot of Enid Blyton and my writing reflected / mimicked that. I only stop writing when my mental health makes it impossible, and even when I’m really ill I sometimes try poetry. The funny thing is, it’s not for the writing. It’s always about the storytelling for me – and the times my writing takes the biggest hit is when I’m most socially active, because I’m telling my stories out loud.
MM: Give us an outline of this book.
AW: During the Regency period, when ladies weren’t allowed to know sex existed until they were married, and young ladies weren’t allowed to be with gentlemen outside their immediate family unescorted, two orphaned young ladies are cast onto Society. The rules are drummed into them over and over, with different impacts. One of the girls is healthy, curious and naively willing to risk her life for a bit of fun. The other discovered her sexuality in a very traumatic way and is now convinced she’s the lowest of the low. They meet several men, among them a pair of gentlemen rakes who decide to play with the girls’ affections, for their own reasons.
MM: What message do you feel your book most openly conveys?
AW: I hope it says that it doesn’t matter what the “rules” are, or how rigidly you adhere to them, the most important thing is that you have the courage to be honest about yourself and you treat everyone with kindness, dignity and respect. Treating people differently because they don’t fit a particular mould is harmful to us all, and going against popular opinion can be very, very hard.
MM: When did this project begin for you? From the first seed of inspiration to the finished product?
AW: Even today girls get a lot of mixed messages – you’re either a slut or a prude, you’re too much of one thing or not enough of the other, so it’s really hard to figure out who we are as individuals – and this is in an age where we talk about sex very openly. Even in the most supportive environment, you still get bombarded with messages from films, media, etc. It’s almost impossible to think about sexuality as a teen or young adult without a sense of confusion at best. 200 years ago, when to express any interest in a young man could be considered unseemly, it must have been dreadful. So I spent a while exploring that idea. It took about 18 months before I felt able to commit words to a page, and that was for NaNoWriMo. I wrote the whole novel in about 40k words originally, which is fortunate because I have a massive problem with ski slope endings. I spent the last week of November padding out the end and wrapping everything up and ended up with my very first full novel. The process didn’t end there, but I’ll talk about editing later.
MM: How did it feel, getting the story out from you and onto the pages, and out into the world at last?
AW: It was amazing. I was so proud just to have finished writing something that long. It really broke down an internal barrier for me because since then I’ve written several long-form stories, and the process gets easier each time. I also have to confess, even though this isn’t a “proper” publishing contract, when I realised some complete stranger had read the book (my first royalties of 24p came in from the US where someone read the whole thing on Kindle Unlimited) I actually screamed. I had an awful cold at the time so it wasn’t a particularly impressive scream, but it was an amazing feeling. I was – still am – overjoyed.
MM: What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
AW: Getting to know the characters was, without a shadow of a doubt, the most amazing part. I’d written a lot of short stories, vignettes and other bits and bats, but nothing where I’d been so close to a character before. When I started writing, I thought Helen was a real person and everyone else acted as a support structure for her. It wasn’t until I was half way through writing that I realised they were all real people. It was funny – I’d had a scene in mind from the very start of writing, based in a ballroom where George’s ex-mistress is trying to seduce him back to her and he throws her over for Helen. I swear, when I reached that part of the book and tried to write it, for a second I was stood in that ballroom with them and they all looked at me in varying shades of disgust and ridicule. They collectively refused to do what I wanted and I thought: “Well, that’s me told.” I stopped writing, re-read the novel from the start and edited big chunks that didn’t feel right. By the time I got to the ballroom the story was *completely* different and infinitely better.
MM: What was the hardest part of writing this book? The parts that really through you for a loop?
AW: Editing! You know how proud I was when I finished the 50k words? Well, I stupidly thought that I’d written a good book and I kept thinking that for almost two years. After a long break I came back to read it again (I wanted to feel good about myself) and discovered it was deeply flawed. I was very upset, very embarrassed and got to work hacking and slashing it into something that would be readable to people who aren’t me.
That experience basically made me immune to hurt from any constructive criticism, though, so I’m very glad it happened. It also taught me a lot about *big* mistakes I need to avoid which I rigidly adhere to – number one being it doesn’t matter how much I know about the regency. I’ve written a novel, not a thesis. If the facts aren’t absolutely 100% essential no arguments no nothing THEY’RE OUT!
MM: Throughout the writing of your book, which character did you feel you most related to? And how did you feel their character development impacted you?
AW: I originally intended Helen (aside from the crippling sexuality issues) to be very similar to me. I thought that would make her more authentic, but the truth is I’m far too eccentric to be a repressed Regency lady. George’s sister, Marianne, was originally a more or less throwaway character that was only there to display all of my eccentricities, but she turned into a very beautiful, lovely person, with a phenomenal amount of strength and generosity within her. Her back story made me cry like a baby the day I discovered it.
MM: How did you get interested in writing this particular genre?
AW: Georgette Heyer – I think that’s the most common response from people who’ve written a Regency romance and with good reason. Her knowledge of the era was impeccable and she was capable of writing the most ridiculous things in a way that made them seem either frivolous or threatening depending on how seriously she wanted you to take the character. The Duke of Avon is a masterpiece – by turns awful and alluring, depending on the nature of the scene. Anyway, after reading Heyer, I got into Austen, and then I devoured every Regency Mills and Boon that came my way. It seemed like the easiest place to start writing – some of those M&B were not great, and I was sure I could do better!
MM: What kinds of research went into this book and what are some of the references used in it?
AW: Oh I love me some research! I own *many* books about the Regency era (by which I inaccurately mean everything between 1793 and 1820) covering politics, social structure, wardrobes, weapons, food, slang and other such things. I also use the internet a lot: one lovely thing I refer to are the historical maps you can find online because they can give you a real sense of place – this is one of my favourites:
As well as maps, you can find church records online quite easily and to me the ability to refer to the curate of a particular church by the name of the guy who was there at the time was a lovely feeling. Also, although I’ve been trained not to rely too heavily on Wikipedia, it can be a great place to pick up on gossipy tidbits about some of the more prominent figures of the age that might not be accurate, but can embellish your sense of place without overwhelming the reader.
MM: Did this book have a soundtrack? Music that you loved listening to?
AW: I listen to Radio 2 while I write. If I try to choose my own music I end up with a very limited selection. However, the Jeremy Vine show isn’t to my taste – it’s too often people arguing, which is very disruptive when I’m writing – so if I’m at home on a weekday, I turn the radio off at 12 and take a 2 hour lunch break!
However, I do have a music playlist on Youtube that I sometimes set to random and bury myself in. It started a mellow background music for when I play the Sims, but it’s good for writing too. Hopefully the link will work!
MM: Any chance of a sequel? 🙂
AW: Marianne’s story is waiting to be told. I know roughly what happens to her, I just haven’t been able to find her voice yet. If people want it, that will be more than enough encouragement for me to work harder at getting that written.
MM: What do your plans for future projects include at this point?
AW: This is quite a long list, but crucially, I’ve switched my primary genre into thrillers. I’ve just finished writing one called “A Better Place” which I’m going all out on getting an agent for (as soon as I pull together a pitch/ query) and I’ve started a new one called “After Life.”
“A Better Place” is the story of three women who are linked by a murder: the killer, the victim and the detective investigating. It was a dark, dark thing to write, but I’m very proud of the finished product.
“After Life” is the story of a man who has been murdered, and in his death he learns he’s one of many victims of a serial killer who has been going for over a decade. One of his fellow victims – one of the first to die – is deeply distressed by the fact that her killer has never once thought of her death, and he is determined to help the police catch him and help her find some peace.
MM: Do you write just anywhere or do you like having your own little nook where the muse feels most at home?
AW: I can write anywhere there’s a keyboard, really, but I live with a dream that when I’m a full time writer, I will have a shed that gets really cold in winter. There will be an electric heater, a kettle and my computer, and I will huddle over the keyboard like Scrooge at his desk, with fingerless gloves and a nightcap on.
My current flat has storage heaters so I spend a lot of time being cold and it really helps me focus 😊
I’d love this:
But I accumulate clutter so it would end up looking like this:
MM: What books have most inspired your writing insofar?
AW: Enid Blyton was my very first inspiration, but as I matured I took on Austen, Dickens, Georgette Heyer, Agatha Christie, Boris Akunin and, of course, Terry Pratchett. I live in hope that one day I will be able to write with the sheer artistry of Sir Terry, but failing that I’ll settle for twists like Akunin, satire like Austen, or characterisation like Dickens.
MM: How do you see writing? As a hobby or a passion, and how do you feel it enriches you?
AW: Storytelling is, for me, a way of life. I can’t give directions (according to my boyfriend) without segueing into a narrative form of speech. Instead of “next left” it’s “you’ll see a left coming up in a minute, we’re turning there.” It makes some parts of my working life really easy though – I have to write reports and convert notes into presentation speak, or textbook entries, and it takes me an hour to do what takes other people days, because I do it *all the time*. I never stop writing and the transferable skills are fantastic.
MM: How do you feel this book impacted you, impacted the way you tell stories and share them with the world?
AW: I learned a lot about things to avoid from my first draft, and I also learned that I can actually do it. That, for me, was *huge*. The other element – sharing with the world – I’ve noticed that when I wrote this book I was very reluctant to ask people for feedback because I didn’t think I had the right to subject them to it, even when I felt it was “finished”. It felt very invasive. Nowadays I’m happy to throw my early drafts around to find out if they feel like something people would want to read, and that’s really good for me.
MM: How did you celebrate the publishing of your book?
AW: As it isn’t a traditional publishing contract, I didn’t go through the period of anticipation after signing a contract and getting a proof copy. I used Kindle Direct Publishing and banned myself from looking at Amazon for almost 48 hours. When I realised it was up, I basically went Twitter crazy. I was so, so happy. Then I figured out how the reports work and learned I’d made 24p in royalties. I’m not kidding, I was more excited by that than I was when I earned my degree.
MM: What advice would you like to pass on to fellow writers still working on the fulfilment of the literary dream?
AW: I’m not there yet, but I’d say there are 3 things:
1) Stop apologising. I know you do. “I wrote this, but it’s probably not very good,” “I don’t think people will really like it,” etc. You think you’re being humble but you’re actually saying “Obviously, you’re incapable of judging the merits of my novel, so I’ll tell you what to think before you read it.” It’s a weird self defence thing, and no-one cares what you think. You wrote that book for readers, not for you. It doesn’t matter what *you* think. It matters what your readers think. Stop telling them what to think. I did this a lot in my early days and once I was made aware of it actually made the whole process of getting feedback so much less awkward.
2) The book isn’t about what you know. I made this mistake in my first draft and it irritates me immensely when I see it in other writers. If you’re writing a book about building a ship, spending the first 20 pages talking about how the engines are assembled within the framework only shows off that you have done your research. If it doesn’t further the plot, cut it out. It’s highly unlikely that two experienced engineers are going to be having a conversation and one tells the other “You probably don’t know about this really major thing in our field that had been happening for the last 20 years” and if they do, it had better be because you’re highlighting what a patronising ass they are. (I’m sorry, this is getting a little ranty😊 )
3) No criticism is bad. It may be painful, but that isn’t the same thing. If someone tells you your plot doesn’t make sense, there’s no point in arguing: the reader is telling you their truth, and you write for readers. Ask for more information – what their issue is and why it doesn’t make sense. They may, after all, have skimmed over a really important point. But that’s not strictly their failing either. That’s not to say you won’t get people picking on ridiculous things “Your psycho is from Birmingham. My mum’s from Birmingham.” (has actually been levied at me as a criticism, I kid you not) and obviously, there will be times when 99% of your readers get it and you have to decide how much work you need to put in for that 1% and whether it will negatively impact the rest of your readers.
MM: Anything more you’d like to add?
AW: The hardest thing about writing fiction is authenticity. We all have our own voices, and finding that voice takes a lot of work, but it’s wroth the effort. I could pick out a Terry Pratchett piece – even an early one – very quickly. Same with Stephen Fry, Bill Bryson and many more. When you write with the “correct” voice, it makes a huge difference to the authenticity of the piece.
If you’re writing fan fiction, using the voice of the original writer let’s you get away with a *lot*.
If you’re writing historical or fantasy pieces, try to get a feel for how the people of that time or place would speak.
If you’re writing just as you but struggling to find your voice? Well, playing around with other people’s voices is a good way to learn your own and it will absolutely make a difference.
MM: Where can your loyal fans find you?
AW: I’d like to open with a book pitch once more: Check it out! My first ever published book!
I have a blog where I regularly post short fiction, poetry and the occasional irate discourse on some unimportant facet of life.
I live on Twitter. I’m @demiurgent_g. Currently my timeline is very full of my new book and this cold I have, but it will get better soon, I promise! Follow me – I have many amazing friends that I retweet and chat with. Your life will be enriched by knowing them, even if my cat’s antics fail to entertain you.
Excerpt of Awakening Passions …
By Ruth Richardson
It was a long time before they met again, but their aunt’s reaction had been so strong that as soon as she spied him, Helen murmured to Rose “Earl of Langley and of Fallon, and Lord of Highton.” Rose snapped her fan open and hid her giggles behind it. The list of My Lord Hazlemere’s titles had become their mantra after their aunt had recited the whole amount trying to make clear to them his importance. Both girls found such an ostentation to be stuffy and it rather prejudiced them against the poor gentleman. Rose found his quiet reserve to be dull after her recent experiences with more forward, younger gentlemen. Helen initially considered him to be slow and tedious, but under a feeling of obligation to her aunt – and both girls were truly grateful for the opportunity their aunt had offered them – she persevered with him, trying to find some way to converse with him that wouldn’t leave her utterly bored. Through desperation one day she had made an observation on the recent Corn Laws that she had learned about through her morning habit of working through puzzles and reading newspapers. Instead of responding with horror that a woman should know such a thing he responded in kind and they spent almost half an hour discussing the politics of the day. When the conversation broke up he eyed her with new interest and she considered him with more favour than previously.
Now they met regularly at similar social functions – sometimes only for half an hour before one party or both departed – but such was the nature of the society they moved in that their circles continuously overlapped. Rose found those circles to be increasingly narrow and bereft of interest. Helen felt she had met at least one real friend and considered herself to be lucky. Their aunt observed the budding relationship and although she reflected to herself that she would have expected a man with a history such as Hazlemere’s to be more interested in the lively Rose than the sedate Helen, she was happy as long as one of the girls landed such a prize.
She did not look with such favour on George Carstairs however and her eyes narrowed as he entered the room one evening while they were at a ball. While Hazlemere had renounced his rakish ways over a year ago, Carstairs was still renowned for his appalling behaviour and lax approach to the rules of high society and now that she had two young maidens to care for, Lady Agatha found herself questioning how reliable his reputation was for being no despoiler of innocents. Unfortunately, for some reason, Rose appeared to have caught his eye and he was now spending time around her. Aunt Agatha would have been horrified had she known the truth as to how that came about.
At a ball a few nights previously, Rose had been bewailing to Helen the tedium of their admirers, after a particularly miserable country dance with a parson’s son and she cried out “Why are all the gentlemen so boring, tedious and safe? I want excitement and adventure!”
Upon hearing this Helen practically recoiled.
“Oh, Helen, I know you don’t want that, but I do! I want a man who will excite me, interest me, play with me and make this more fun! You can keep your dull, safe, tedious Hazlemere. I know he is exactly what you want, and you have no competition from me. I want more. I won’t settle for being a middle aged wife with children and nothing joyful in my life before I turn twenty. I want to live a little first! I want someone like…” she trailed off and looked around the room, a huge sparkling ballroom with throngs of people until she spied one dark, eagle eyed man bending over a sparkling red-head in her early thirties. “I want someone like him.”
Helen stared across the floor at the dark man and felt a surge of danger rising inside her. Everything in her head screamed out that he was a bad thing to be too close to. She tried to convince Rose that it was silly to get involved with a man like him but she was adamant. When he casually strolled out to a balcony fifteen minutes after the girls first saw him Rose followed and Helen, unable to let her sister fall headlong into danger without at least as much protection as Helen’s presence could provide, followed. Rose elegantly tripped onto the balcony and dramatically thrust aside a curtain to almost collide with the gentleman in question.
When she spoke to him “Oh! Forgive me sir, are we welcome in your domain?” his initial response was to attempt to retreat, but he appeared to rethink when he saw Helen following her onto the balcony. Helen was mortified when she caught his eyes on her and tried to shrink behind the curtain her sister was holding, her aunt’s strictures on proper behaviour echoing in her mind.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you Miss..?” The gentleman spoke and his voice was deep and gravelly, somehow completely in keeping with the feeling of danger that was thrumming through Helen.
“Miss Rose Collins,” she bobbed a curtsey and he bowed and turned his gaze to Helen. “This is Helen, my sister. She thinks we shouldn’t be here so she probably won’t talk to you.”
Helen gasped in horror. Such rudeness was beyond her comprehension and she was truly scandalised by the attitude her sister was taking. He saw her face and read the distress in Helen’s eyes as clearly as if she had shouted it aloud.
“Lord George Carstairs,” he bowed. As he did so, he gestured with the right hand which held a cigarillo. “If you will forgive me, ladies, I withdrew to partake.”
Helen didn’t find the smell of tobacco too unpleasant and was torn between reassuring him that he had no need to apologise and the need to retreat from this situation as rapidly as possible. While she fluctuated in confusion, Rose tilted her head and twittered, attempting to thrust her breasts forward to entice his gaze while declaring that she enjoyed the scent of tobacco so much that it seemed unfair that ladies were not given the freedom to indulge.
“It is,” she stated, “one of the many freedoms gentlemen have that I find the lack of to be so constricting as a lady. I’m sure you could introduce me to others.” George Carstairs was not the sort of man to allow a chit of a girl to lead conversation in a way that this one was attempting to and her clumsiness was wholly unappealing to him. He found himself more in sympathy with her sister’s horror than interested in her own aggressive flirtation.
Noticing the glance Lord Carstairs cast Helen, Rose moved forward to reclaim his attention. “My sister is a little shy, and disapproves of meeting you like this. But then, she prefers a gentleman to be like the eternally dreary Marquis of Hazlemere with his endless prosing on about stuffy politics and farming. I want a man to be adventurous, to be entertaining and to seek out danger; not stay at home every night with no more interest in fun and frolic than a bishop!”
Helen’s horror had turned into mortification as her more forward sister began to disparage a gentleman who she had truly begun to esteem and George Carstairs’ lips twitched as the only thing he wished for upon hearing a thoroughly inaccurate opinion of Hazlemere came true – that the man himself should hear it as George watched.