What makes a great historical romance novel? We ask Clyve Rose, author of many a historical romance, fantasy, and speculative fiction. Her work is laced with the intense passion and curiosity for historical and mythological research. Clyve believes that love is the highest and strongest force in the world and that it only manifests when we are our best and truest selves. In this interview with Clyve Rose we discuss love, the portrayal of women in her books, and her novel, “Always a Princess.”
What was the inspiration for Always A Princess?
We have such a ‘handed-down’ version of the British Empire at its height and such a controlled perspective on this. I love Austen and I love Heyer, but I can’t stop thinking about the voices that are rarely heard in these stories. I wonder who else was there? That draws me into my research and then, of course, I can’t stop there. Like all storytellers, I am perpetually curious.
Chapter 39 of Austen’s Emma stirs the same ire in my breast as Shylock’s portrayal in The Merchant of Venice or Fagin’s characterization in Dickens. The way the Roma are portrayed in this Regency novel inspired the creation of my heroine. She is also partly based on a Romany woman I used to work with, who was feisty, proud, and generally magnificent.
What makes this book special?
Always A Princess is more than a love story. It portrays a clash between two cultures, English and Romany. Tell us a little bit about the Romany culture and what made you portray it in your novel.
There was a time when the Romany was thought to be one of the Lost Tribes of Israel. Being of Jewish descent myself, I researched this ‘lead’ compulsively. The link turned out not to be accurate, and it has since been found that Romany people originally hail from India, but I still felt some connections.
As well as being another marginalized culture, Jewish people have a strong oral tradition. There are also some similarities between some of the Roma language root words and old Hebrew. The close link between the way both cultural groups were persecuted last century also caught my interest. Half a million of Europe’s Romany were lost in the death camps of the Third Reich. My experience of prejudice is not the same of course, but the weight of such targeted hatred is one I understand.
In my research, I came across a Romany-English dictionary from the 1800s, and I fell in love with the words and the way the language worked. I find it interesting that the Romany lived alongside the English in the same (fairly small) land, and yet we hear so little of their stories in English canon – and when we do, the portrayal is not balanced. This strikes a chord with me every time I come across it. I wanted to show a shared land, a shared Regency period – because there were more people there than the older stories tell us.
How did you research your book and what were the most outstanding facts you uncovered about the Regency period?
The Romany culture has very different underlying values to the English culture, especially the Haute ton of English Regency society. Ownership is more of a communal experience, and there is a belief in fair dealing and equal trade between parties. This is very different from the capitalist ideal that was in the ascendant in Regency England. There is also a strong belief in family and duty, and in a kind of Providence-at-your-service, so if food crosses your path when you’re hungry then it is meant for you. This is very different from stopping to establish ownership and arguing about possession. The Romany social conditioning operates very differently to that of the English and given the dominance of English culture surrounding the Romany way of life, and the power of that society to diminish the Romany people, there is a tension there worth exploring, and from which I believe we can learn.
Your tag line says Love takes courage. Can you explain it?
I hear ‘in love’ spoke of a lot, both within and without the romantic fiction community. ‘In love’ sounds like a place, a destination, whereas ‘Love’ (capital L), feels more of a journey. One with no endpoint, because it’s strong, resilient, and powerful. There is nothing more terrifying in this less-than-authentic world we’ve built than exposing our true selves to this power. The trust it requires is immense.
The author Emily Lockhart once said that ‘love is giving someone the power to destroy you, and trusting that they won’t.’
Most people are afraid of power – their fear is proportionate to the strength of the power, so the fear of love is very great. You can analyze it millions of different ways, but the bottom line is that being vulnerable can be terrifying. Love demands this of us. It requires we make an active, conscious choice to love, rather than just falling helplessly ‘into’ something. Love is a choice, to be All of You, and that’s scary. It’s also worth it. This is an act of courage and also, self-love.
What is the one thing your future readers need to know about Princess Syeira before they read the book?
Syeira loves with her whole heart, and she’ll do anything for those she cares about including speaking truth to power. She learns to choose herself, in the end, and to allow love to choose her. It’s a brave call.
You challenge the portrayal of women in the romance and erotica genres. Why and what should be changed?
I’d like to see more agency in the portrayal of women in romance. During the Regency era, marrying for companionship and love was a new idea. For many women of the period, marriage was treated as their career, and the more realism around these portrayals, the better. I like to see women choose, or try to choose, more for themselves. While this may fly in the face of historical canon, people’s hearts were no less complex then than now. Love is not ‘historical’, and neither is human connection. I truly do not believe we’ve changed that much. Just because women ‘couldn’t’, did not mean they didn’t, because well, here we are.
What type of reader will enjoy your book?
Those who are interested in knowing who else was there during the Regency period, and who enjoy a different take on the time. Those who believe in choosing love, rather than just stumbling across it, and also that real love helps you choose yourself over passively having matters arranged for you. It’s a slow-burn romance because love takes time.
What is your favorite place to write?
My car (with apologies to osteopaths everywhere.)
How do the ocean landscapes near your home inspire you?
There’s always a water scene – in every story I write, someone gets wet. Rainstorms, lakes, random puddles, and the see itself…and I find the ocean endlessly symbolic. Of love, of people, of human hearts in general. Of stories too, for that matter.
You live in Australia, yet you’re an expert in Regency England? What draws you to that particular epoch and country?
I don’t know about expert, but the period is interesting for many reasons.
For a start, the novel as a form of entertainment was developing. Marrying for love was a new and novel idea (one wonders how this impacted the working lives of men’s mistresses everywhere), England was at an interesting stage of mercantile and geographic development. The middle classes were on the rise because of this, frightening the aristocrats – and it was all presided over by a truly Biblical-style tussle between the younger and the older generations, as typified by the Regent and his father (or his ministers at least), the King. A full-on values clash.
Many of the issues we’re grappling with today show up during this period, from slavery (abolished in England but not its colonies) to women’s legal status, and the rise of the industry over agriculture. Not to mention the French Revolution and Terrors, the US War of Independence, and the first time all of Europe attempted to unite, and then appease, a common enemy (Napoleon).
It’s almost where our modern world began. It’s where decisions were made as to which voices could be heard. This is the work so many are attempting to undo at the moment.
What is the first thing you see about a new protagonist?
It’s usually a scene. In the case of this book, it was the lake scene so they were both there. That’s a straight-out homage to Colin Firth’s Mr. Darcy, from the BBC’s 1995 Pride & Prejudice by Andrew Davies.
What is your favorite passage from the book?
It’s Chapter 24:
Wil creaked the main door open. Shrugging in against the blinding, freezing rain, he faced the walk across the estate the way he’d faced his commanding officer. Quick march.
He found her beneath the old cypress tree in the Little Chapel kirkyard. Though it was difficult to hear anything above the pounding rain, he detected murmuring. A steady stream of Romany words, most of which he was fairly certain were curses. Wil shivered where he stood.
“Are you all right?”
She did not reply. Her eyes were closed, her brow pressing lightly against the tree trunk. The drumming rain increased in volume. Or her silence made it seem that way.
“Syeira, are you—”
“I heard what you said,” she shouted without turning around, crying aloud to the sky as much as to him. “Stefan falling from his horse, my Mama succumbing to illness. Papa cannot help the feebleness of his mind now. Valkin’s ribs and now you—you. You.” She swallowed, clearly doing her best to rein herself in, but there was no stopping this now. “You play at tragedy like it is nothing.” She wiped uselessly at cheeks that would be wet anyway, even without the rain, and it was then that Wil realised: Syeira stood with her back turned to him, wet through and getting wetter—and crying.
“Why are you crying?” His voice was as gentle as ripples on lake water. Like ripples, it had a calming effect. “I assure you, there was no danger.”
“You misunderstand.” Syeira sniffed indelicately. “I am crying because there was danger. There was clearly a chance you could be hurt, and you do not care. You care less than I do and that is wrong. Wrong.” She sucked in a breath. “It is like everything in this place. The games matter more than the people, and I—I cannot learn such careless ways to live.” She stopped then and seemed nearly to sway. “I will not,” she affirmed and Wil only heard her because he was attuned to her voice now, taking in each word. She did not turn, did not even look at him.
Reaching out, he touched her shoulder. She jumped. Started, actually, whirling around as though ready to unleash another cyclonic scolding.
“How could you?” she said next. “How could you?” Her voice, when she spoke, was quiet now in a sad and frightening way. Like the hush before battle. A heartbeat later she launched herself at him, beating at his chest with all the strength she had in those slender, skilful, wonderful hands now balled into fists, weapons and utterly, utterly useless against the thickness of his fencing jacket and his soldier’s strength.
“Syeira. Stop it, Syeira. There was no danger.” He tried vainly to capture her flailing fists and then gave up, letting her beat out her fear over his well-guarded heart until she stopped, exhausted and worn out with the frustration of not reaching him. Not touching him.
She sagged into him as though he were an oak. An oak with arms that came up automatically to hold her against him, as though this was always supposed to happen to him, and she was always supposed to end up pressed against his chest, and Wil stood there, utterly at a loss and amazed.
“There was no danger,” he repeated, holding her fast as tremors shook through her. Fear, fear for him, and he was no less astonished now than he had been that day in the lake.
“Syeira, I—” He stopped because she gave a little whimper, holding him tighter and turning her face into his body. Breath heaving, face streaming with rain and tears and God-knew-what, she stepped back, staring at the dirt. Again, she would not meet his eyes. So, he tipped up her chin, turning her head resolutely towards him. Wil saw her face then, her eyes.
“Ah.” That furious rage he remembered from the morning of the duel. This time, he did not step back from her anger. This time, he understood that the anger was not anger, but fear. A fear for those you loved. He thought of Lydia and Roger and his dear Mama.
“It was not my intent to hurt you, Syeira.”
“What was your intent?” She stepped back, removing herself from his hands. Keeping him at bay with the force of her glare alone. “Why would you risk yourself so? In front of your family?”
Wil shifted uncomfortably on the spot. His challenge to Roger suddenly seemed the act of a far younger man. He tried to look rueful, fearing he failed. He was soaking wet and freezing cold, but a scalding heat broke across his body and he must have turned red.
“I—honestly, Syeira, I do not know,” he replied, shocked by his own admission. “It is what we do. We are sportsmen. Games are sport. Surely the Romany—well, I know Brishen race horses. That’s a game of sorts, is it not?”
Syeira exhaled and nodded. “Yes, but—”
“But nothing,” Wil broke in. “There was no risk. It was only Roger. In any case, I can look after myself.” He paused. This was not about the fencing. Or even the wagers. “I regret anything I have done to pain you, Syeira, but I do not understand.”
“I know.” Her low voice was audible only because the driving rain had stopped. The dripdrip as water tipped from leaf to leaf and branch to branch seemed loud in the sudden quiet. Nothing settled, and everything did. The storm was over, and in its aftermath, a serenely sad silence lay between them.
“I am sorry you lost your pins,” he said then, to use up the silence. To fill it and perhaps bring a smile to her face. It didn’t work. The sky remained grey.
Syeira shook herself as the wind came up, staring at him as though he were far away. Wil could only imagine how cold she must be now.
“Oh Wil, do you not see?” She looked suddenly ill and he felt the first stirrings of alarm.
“What do I not see?”
“Love.” Her voice broke and she stopped speaking.
“Love,” he repeated, breathless, the word as foreign as pain-relieving leaves, as new as this sensation currently invading his chest. He stood still enough to have been the work of stonemasons himself. He could not think what to do. What to say. Every part of him so utterly still. Then he took her hands in his. They were freezing and shaking as he lifted them to his mouth. He kissed them, pulling her in close again. So close he could feel the pounding of her fiercely magnanimous heart all the way through his thickest fencing jacket. He touched his lips to hers so tenderly. As though she were made of porcelain and he had, indeed, been careless.
A strange tolling sound made him start. The Little Chapel bell ringing in four o’clock. Tea, and the arrival of more guests for Lord Clifton.
Syeira pushed against him reluctantly. “Lord Clifton expects Prince and Princess Brishen to greet his guests. I must change.” Her voice sounded rusty, as though it had been an age since she last spoke. “You ought to attend Lady Huntingdon in to dinner.”
Wil smiled humourlessly. “Is that an order, princess?”
“It is good sense,” she responded softly, sadly. “Is it not?”
She would ask nothing of him. Not even the silver pins in his hand. Wil dropped his arms, releasing her, and it felt like a betrayal. A crime. He watched Syeira walking determinedly away from him towards the hall, weighed down by the wet silk. Nevertheless, she held herself ramrodstraight, reminding him of an infantryman returning to battle.
Love. He barely felt the wind whipping around his thoroughly wet costume. He ought to feel it. He ought to be chilled to the bone, but Syeira’s words seeped through him, warming from within, pooling in the pit of his belly even as he recognised the recklessness of such a feeling. Of such a love. The princess Brishen had no place scolding anybody for careless behaviour when she—when she what? Spoke to him of love and walked away from it? A shiver raced down his spine and he closed his eyes, placed his brow against the cypress tree and swore. Love? Since when was love enough?
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