Tuesday, 27 December 2005

Heyeroines in need of a slap

14. Drusilla Morville (The Quiet Gentleman)

For any person of refined sensibility it must come as something of a shock to find someone like Drusilla Morville comfortably settled in to the opening passage of a Heyer story. Seeing the daughter of a Free Thinker and, of all the unsuitable occupations for a mother, a novelist, usurping the position that should be held by a peerless beauty, or at the very least, a considerable heiress, is enough to make one suspect foul play. As things turn out, however, we are faced with much, much worse.

By prosing on and on about her oh-so-radical parents, and by pretending not to understand the Dowager Countess's shafts of admittedly somewhat artless wit, and by repeatedly insisting on how short, fat and unromantic she herself is, Miss Morville manages to exclude the so much more suitable Miss Bolderwood (who is undoubtedly, it should be noted, not merely taller, thinner and more romantic, but also both a peerless beauty and a considerable heiress) from the action until well into Chapter Four. Past experience tells us that this is a position within the story arc from which, despite her Heroic efforts (that is to say, despite doing her best to look lost but kittenish by the side of the road), there is no serious prospect of her ever finding her way back into contention. The only option left open to Marianne is foul play, something that would surely never be considered by one so tall, thin, romantic, beautiful and, let us not forget, so well-endowed as Miss Bolderwood. How very different from Drusilla.

For now the real mystery begins. Once Miss Morville has insinuated herself, viper-like, into the very bosom of our tale, what is she planning to do with her advantageous situation? Obviously she isn't planning to marry the Earl of St Erth: such a romantic - indeed reactionary - idea must clearly be out of the question for the daughter of that scourge of both orthodoxy and orthography, Mr Harvey Hervey Morville, and his wife, scourge of both Coleridges, Cordelia Consett. And so it proves. Drusilla's aim is not true love, but treachery; not romance but republicanism.

Her objective is, shockingly (but, given her family background, unsurprisingly), the destruction of the entire British aristocracy, one family at a time, and on this occasion the family under threat is the Frants. Miss Morville's audacious scheme involves setting the only three male members of the Frant family against each other. Her plan is to murder the Earl in a way that, to the untutored eye, appears to be at the hand of his half-brother but which to the somewhat-more-but-still-not-quite-sufficiently tutored eye points towards his cousin. You may have thought that Theo was misdirecting you to believe that Martin was the would-be murderer; I suggest that the truth is utterly otherwise: Miss Morville was misdirecting you to believe that Theo was misdirecting you to believe that Martin was the murderer.

And the worst of it is that we cannot be sure that Miss Morville does not succeed. We leave the narrative at a critical juncture, with the Earl carrying Drusilla, who is apparently suffering from a broken arm, up the main stairs of Stanyon Castle. We are never, ever, told whether St Erth ever came down those stairs again.

On a more cheerful note, the langour that went missing in Regency Buck turns up at the very start of Chapter 12 of The Quiet Gentleman, having apparently made a home for itself in the dining room chandelier at Stanyon.

Technorati Tags:

Saturday, 24 December 2005

May I just wish all my readers a suitably self-indulgent Christmas, and my best wishes for an elegant and sophisticated New Year.

Friday, 23 December 2005

In the end I had a slight change of plan, and only sent my two-chapters-and-a-synopsis of Lord Alexander's Cipher; or, the Bridekirk Behemoth to one agent as an trial attempt. This was to my first choice agency - first choice for various reasons, to do with both the clients that they represent, and the fact that I had met them, and we got on OK (and that makes it so much easier to do a query letter). So the package went into the post, and they said that they would be back in touch within four weeks.

They came back in about four days, to ask to see the rest of it.

An instant combination of elation and panic. Elation for the obvious reason; panic because I hadn't checked the rest of the typescript as thoroughly as I might have done, and I knew that there was some work needed doing. Luckily my employers were understanding and allowed me to take some leave at very short notice and I scrubbed through chapters 3 to 11 as thoroughly as I could. Out went a couple of thousand words, in came about six thousand more. Names were changed to protect the guilty (me - I had called the great man "Wellington" in the early spring of 1809, when he was still General Wellesley). There is a limit to how much better one can make a draft in a day and a half, but I think that it was improved.

With the Christmas post what it is, and the agent being not too far away, I biked the package over to the agent this afternoon, had a very pleasant chat, and came home feeling really rather optimistic. They'll get back to me in a couple of weeks, which leaves me time to work on the various Christmas Quizzes that I have picked up about the place, to read plenty, and perhaps to make a start on Lady Cardington's Folly; or, the Limehouse Leviathan.

There may even be time to run the rule over one or two more heyeroines.

Sunday, 18 December 2005

Lord Alexander's Cipher; or, the Bridekirk Behemoth will be bigger than Gone with the Wind. Not in word count - it's nowhere near the length of Margaret Mitchell's monster - but in terms of its chances for best-sellerdom.

Language Log has pointed me at the Lulu Book Title Analyzer, which uses an algorithm based on a book's title to forecast its chances. LAC;o,tBB scores 55.4%, which more than GWTW (44.2%) and considerably more than The Da Vinci Code (10.2%).

I fall short, however of the heights reached by the illustrious Jane Austen. Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion and Sense and Sensibility apparently each have a 59.3% chance of being best-sellers, with Emma only a little way behind at 45.6%. That young lady will go far.

Thursday, 8 December 2005

I burned quite a few lampfuls of midnight oil last night and completed the rewriting of chapter 2. I will give it a final spit and polish tomorrow evening (I'm too sleepy tonight and I could easily miss some silly little errors) and then get it printed off. The first two chapters are about 21,000 words, or 98 pages with the way I have set my margins.)

I really appreciate all the comments, and the thoughts about finding agents at this time of year. I am sure that now is not the best time for approaching publishers, who do, I believe, wind down somewhat in the run-up to Christmas, but I think that things are different for agents, particularly the smaller operations (a view that I am sure I saw stated by Miss Snark recently). If publishers are less responsive then now might be a good time to catch agents with more time to read - and I reckon that Lord Alexander's Cipher; or, the Bridekirk Behemoth is perfect for reading in front of a roaring log fire while the tendrils of a London Particular or the icy blast of a Cotswolds blizzard blows past one's window.

At this stage I am going to limit myself to UK-based agents. I don't plan to post all the gory details of whom I have approached on Wenlock. If and when I do find an agent (or indeed a publisher) who will deal with me I shall tell you about it, but for now it will be a matter of waiting and hoping.

Wednesday, 7 December 2005

I must apologise for my recent lack of posts. I am currently slogging away at rewrites so that I can get Lord Alexander's Cipher; or, the Bridekirk Behemoth off to a selection of agents before Christmas. I hope that by Sunday I will be able to report that a small stack of padded envelopes is waiting to hit the post office the next day. My plan is to try half a dozen in the first wave, and see what happens.

Heyeroines will return, I promise.