Sunday retrospective

time-machineToday’s Sunday retrospective reaches back to the second half of October 2014, when I was writing the last third of Farewell to Kindness. I was reporting progress—and hiccups—as I went. I finished the month with a photo of the printed first draft of Farewell to Kindness and the heading #amediting. A couple of days before that, I posted a list called ‘Editing the book’ — everything I needed to do between finishing the first draft and sending the book for beta reading.

Criminal injustice was the post I wrote when I found out about the sea change in the British criminal justice system, and how this affected my plot. In 1807,  the old system was no longer working and the new system had not been invented.

Our modern view is that one law should apply to all. It doesn’t always work. Money buys better lawyers, for a start. But the basic principle is that we have laws that lay down the crime and the range of punishments, and judges who look at the circumstances and apply penalties without fear or favour.

The pre-19th century situation in England was far, far different.

I also posted on why I changed the name of my heroine in Farewell to Kindness in a blog post with the longest titleI have ever written: Ewww, just ewww: or the cautionary tale of the perils of naming characters in a whole lot of books at once and then starting one without reference to the real world.

I waxed philosophical about romance writing as a genre in a couple of posts that largely picked up what other people were saying:

  • Fear of vulnerability reports on research that suggests fear of vulnerability underpins the common dismissal of the romance genre by readers of other types of fiction
  • Romance novels are feminist novels has excerpts from a much longer article that directly confronts the view that all romance novels are trivial, and turns it on its head.

The first review I published on my website was for the wonderful Lady Beauchamp’s Proposal. Four months later, I was thrilled to find author Amy Rose Bennett as another potential Bluestocking Belle, and we’ve been colleagues and allies ever since.

And I also published a review of Darling Beast by Elizabeth Hoyt. In less than a fortnight, I’m hosting a Belles’ Book Club discussing another of the Maiden Lane series, Scandalous Desires. Elizabeth has agreed to pop in for an hour, so don’t miss it. You can join the event here: https://www.facebook.com/events/929180810491602/

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Criminal injustice

I’ve been researching the justice system of the late 18th and early 19th century, It’s a fascinating period – a time of change in attitudes to crime and legal remedies for crime, as in so much else.

Our modern view is that one law should apply to all. It doesn’t always work. Money buys better lawyers, for a start. But the basic principle is that we have laws that lay down the crime and the range of punishments, and judges who look at the circumstances and apply penalties without fear or favour.

imageThe pre-19th century situation in England was far, far different.

One of the major plot lines in Farewell to Kindness is the hero’s hunt for his family’s killers. In the course of the book, I reach a point where I want to get some of the minor players out of the way, and I hit on the idea of having them caught with contraband goods, arrested, and incarcerated.

I figured they’d be ripe for a little bit of pressure to make them give up some information about the real villain.

Ooops. 21st century blinkers on.

While my characters were having some money troubles (caused by my hero working behind the scenes), they were still wealthy merchants with powerful connections. And even poor peasants, as long as they had influence behind them (such as the local squire) could often slide gently out from under the attentions of the law in the system as it was then. Wealthy merchants? No problem.

So when the Excise or Customs officers (or maybe both) and the local representatives of the law (probably retainers of the local Justice of the Peace, but possibly part-time or full-time night watchmen appointed by the local City Council – no central police force yet) turned up at the door, the conversation would have gone something like this:

“What do you lot want? I’m about to have my dinner.”

“Now look here, Mr XX. Your warehouse down on the wharf is full of stolen and smuggled goods.”

“My goodness, I wonder how that happened.”

“You knew all about it. We have evidence, and a deposition from a real Earl. And we have to listen to real Earls, because they’re important.”

“Bother. You’ve got me there.”

“Yes, it’s a fair cop. So consider yourself arrested.”

“Really? How about if I just give you the goods?”

“Excellent idea. The sale of those goods should fetch a pretty penny.”

“I’ll even loan you a cart to take it all away.”

“Thank you, Mr XX. Have a nice dinner.”

Here’s a neat summary of the way the system worked. Here’s part of what the writer says about the change that was happening.

The key issue was the transition from (to use Foucault’s distinction) sovereignty to government: from a world in which crime was simply a wrong, a personal interaction between individuals or individuals and their superiors, to one in which crime was disruption, in which an offence against the criminal law was a disruption of the public peace and of the effective working of society. This meant a shift from the centrality of the court (as the place where disputants would confront one another) with no implications for the working of society, to the centrality of police and crime detection (as minimising disruption to the working of society).

To the mind of the law enforcers of the time I’m writing about, contraband goods offended those from whom the goods were stolen, and repaying those people (with smuggled goods, the offence was against the King) set the balance right. And if a little of the payment stuck to the hands of those enforcing the law, that was only fair, since they’d done the work.

So I need to go back to those scenes and rewrite them. But I have an idea!

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