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First Page: Untitled Regency

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I suppose I should start with some sort of introduction for I believe it is customary to acquaint the readers with one's name, person and situation at the start of one's story. But I am not so old as to have a long story to tell and not so vain as to imagine that any of it would be of any interest to the public. Then why, you might as well wonder, am I telling you anything at all.

Have I, perhaps, been stranded on a desert island with nothing but a quill and some paper to occupy myself with until I am rescued? Or, perhaps, I have been sheltering a terrible secret within my chest these last fifty years and am finally at liberty to disclose it? While either would undoubtedly make for a thrilling tale, I must confess that the reason for my narration is that I am in love and it is the fullness of my heart, the utter felicity of being at long last united with the woman I adore, that I must share it with the world.

That being the case, I fear that you shall soon discover that I am an indifferent story-teller, quite careless and inaccurate to anything outside my own heart. I must also warn you that I am neither a poet to supply my fair one with epithets and metaphors nor a historian to relate the course of events in all particulars and dwell on detailed accounts of dates, names and places. But if you bear with my inconsistencies as a narrator, I promise that you shall hear as fine a love story as there ever was to tell.

So let me tell you of Brightmore for it is from here that our story takes its sedate course before moving into more turbulent waters of the world. Some fifty years ago Brightmore was but a small settlement in the south of England, lost amidst the kingdom's famous sea-bathing places, and comprising a few families of note and even less streets of worth. The principle estate of the helmet was that of Brightmore Hills situated in the snug valley between two woody hills. It was a formidable manor house erected in the days of yore and apart from its ancient walls Brightmore held little else of interest to a passer by with an exception of a boarding-school for young ladies that occasionally attracted a stranger to its midst.

However, due to the prodigious management of Lady Brightmore and her husband's affectionate heart, generous nature and considerable fortune, Brightmore soon turned into a fairly-sized town of recognition with an additional attraction of being located on the sea coast.

Before Lady Brightmore became the wife of the knight she was a penniless school teacher whose arrival at Brightmore caused little sensation at first. She came to take up a post at the school, but was turned out by its master who, it appeared, didn't have much faith in female instructresses. This event prompted future Lady Brightmore to appeal to the lord of the manor who also happened to be the patron of the school. They say that Sir William was instantly enslaved by her bold, dark eye and fierce temper and offered her his heart, hand and school into the bargain.

With Lady Brightmore at the head of the school it rapidly acquired a reputation for the excellence of its conditions and high quality of its education. Its proximity to the sea made it a most desirable destination for young ladies from respectable families whose first bloom of youth was pampered and nourished by the beneficial properties of its air. Naturally, considering all the advantages, it couldn't remain a mere boarding-school for long and was subsequently styled Brightmore Academy, attracting even more students and instructresses to its welcoming and fast expanding bosom.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

32 Comments

  1. Lynne Connolly
    Jun 05, 2010 @ 05:22:26

    An interesting experiment, but I’m not sure where you’re aiming this book. However, some of the most successful books come out of wild experiments, so I’d say go for it!

    Since you’re writing in the style of the period, and in the first person, you really have to be spot-on accurate, so I’m being picky here (not that I’m ever anything else, I’m sorry about that!)

    Is the narrator male or female? I’m assuming female, which would make this a lesbian romance. So you wouldn’t be selling to me, although the recent televisation of Anne Lister’s diaries indicates there is a market for historical lesbian stories.

    “principal” not “principle”

    A desert island is a relatively modern concept, developed by the late Roy Plumley. Before then, while it might have been possible to discuss it, I don’t think it was a common construct, so it struck me as a bit modern in tone. Not anachronistic, though.

    Were boarding schools actually extant in the Regency, or is this a modern construct? I write in the mid-Georgian era, and there were certainly none then, but I’m not sure about the Regency, 60 or so years later.

    It’s a commendable attempt and well written, but because it’s written in the style of the time, it must be neccessarily a bit slower. I had the same decisions to make when I wrote Richard and Rose, as it’s in the first person, but I decided to make it more immediate, and in any case, books of the 1750′s were full of derring-do and audacious action. My tone is more modern, because I write for the modern reader, but I carefully avoid any anachronisms and modern constructs, even more than I do in my third person books.

    So from one madwoman to another, you go, girl (or boy!)

  2. Bernita
    Jun 05, 2010 @ 05:25:43

    This has a certain leisurely charm.
    I think you meant “hamlet”–not “helmet,” however; and your prose could be enhanced by the judicious application of a few more commas.
    All in all, I believe you have captured the essence of a certain period style.

  3. DS
    Jun 05, 2010 @ 05:33:30

    “principle estate of the helmet” OK principle common error, but is this a meaning of helmet I’m not aware of or a spell check error?

    Anyway, I like it. Good luck and I hope I see it on sale some day.

  4. BlueRose
    Jun 05, 2010 @ 05:34:03

    BORED NOW!

  5. Vanessa Jaye
    Jun 05, 2010 @ 06:10:53

    I liked it. It’s charming. You’ve captured the tone of the times. The few typos have already been mentioned. While I really like the author’s voice and the protag/narrator (so far), there’s no hint of plot/coming conflict in this excerpt–not that there absolutely needs to be–so I’d probably rely on the synopsis/blurb to make a purchasing decision.

    Great excerpt! Hope you sell this.

  6. Leigh
    Jun 05, 2010 @ 06:51:12

    From a reader that is very picky about the historical/regency book that I read, I find it very appealing. As others have said you captured the tone of the time period which immediately pulled me in.

    I enjoyed the bit of history about Brightmore. As a matter of fact, the romance between Sir William and the lowly school teacher seems almost more compelling then the romance between your heroine and hero.(My first impression was of a heterosexual romance).

    Maybe elaborate a little more on the turbulent waters statement. . . A little more of a hook there. .

    Look forward to seeing this book on the shelves (even more as a e-book since I have a reader)

  7. Shannon Stacey
    Jun 05, 2010 @ 06:54:19

    I could count the number of Regencies I’ve read in the last fifteen years on one hand, but I really liked this excerpt. It has a relaxed storytelling voice that drew me in and invited me to get comfortable.

    The only thing that really caught my eye was being told the narrator’s not old enough to have a long story to tell but then finding out (s)he’s fifty. I was under the (possibly mistaken) impression fifty was pretty old for the time.

    But, as Vanessa said, I found it charming.

  8. Jane O
    Jun 05, 2010 @ 07:36:19

    Definitely intriguing. I really like the formal tone.

    I can’t help wondering, are you deliberately keeping the sex of the narrator ambiguous, sort of like the narrator in Sarah Caudwell’s mysteries? It would be very interesting if you could keep this ambiguous clear through, but I’m not sure if it would be possible. Or, for that matter, if you had any such intention. I may be trying to have you write a different book.

    One nit to pick: fewer streets, not less.

  9. Ros
    Jun 05, 2010 @ 08:49:48

    Hmm, I’m not sure. I like the idea of this and the style appeals to me a lot, in principle. But those lengthy sentences and period style are much more difficult to pull off than you’d think.

    For instance:

    I suppose I should start with some sort of introduction for I believe it is customary to acquaint the readers with one's name, person and situation at the start of one's story.

    ‘the readers’ is wrong. “one’s readers” would work but you already have “one’s” twice in the sentence. I’d think about introducting the narrator as ‘The Author’ who addresses ‘The Reader’ to simplify this a bit:

    I suppose I should start with some sort of introduction for I believe it is customary for an Author to acquaint her Reader with one's name, person and situation at the start of one's story.

    But I am not so old as to have a long story to tell and not so vain as to imagine that any of it would be of any interest to the public. Then why, you might as well wonder, am I telling you anything at all.

    This last sentence would make me stop reading I’m afraid.

    That being the case, I fear that you shall soon discover that I am an indifferent story-teller, quite careless and inaccurate to anything outside my own heart. I must also warn you that I am neither a poet to supply my fair one with epithets and metaphors nor a historian to relate the course of events in all particulars and dwell on detailed accounts of dates, names and places. But if you bear with my inconsistencies as a narrator, I promise that you shall hear as fine a love story as there ever was to tell.

    If you’re going to tell us you’re an indifferent storyteller, you’d better be a damned good one. There isn’t enough in this excerpt to judge that, but I have to say that I think this is an incredibly brave way to start a book, and the rest of it will really need to be exceptionally good to live up to it.

  10. DianaW
    Jun 05, 2010 @ 09:01:39

    I’d have put it back on the shelf by the second paragraph. Definitely the third, when the narrator describes how indifferent s/he is. Meandering paragraphs that don’t really tell me anything except to tell me that s/he’s not going to tell us anything except for in a meandering way just turn me off, and felt self-indulgent (especially since I couldn’t tell whether the self-indulgence was the writer’s or the narrator’s.)

    But if it had started here

    Before Lady Brightmore became the wife of the knight she was a penniless school teacher whose arrival at Brightmore caused little sensation at first.

    I’d have read on.

  11. Courtney Milan
    Jun 05, 2010 @ 09:15:10

    It is very, very rare that this kind of attempt at a true period voice works for me. It did with Alison Richardson’s Countess Trilogy–but that worked because she immediately dropped me into the character, and I knew it was going to be a fun ride.

    But this sort of thing is generally not my cup of tea–I’m not usually charmed by charming–so I don’t think I’m your intended audience, and doubt my critique would be helpful. I suspect that lots of people would like this kind of thing–I’m just not one of them.

    As for nitpicky errors that jar me, aside from the ones mentioned, “…comprising a few families of note and even less streets of worth.” Should be FEWER streets of worth. Things you count, you use fewer.

  12. Darlynne
    Jun 05, 2010 @ 09:21:06

    I like DianaW’s recommendation (#10) for starting with Lady Brightmore. And while I know nothing of the period, I do understand the comma, the application of which would help the reader navigate those long sentences. I like the voice and am interested in reading more. Best of luck and thanks for posting.

  13. Castiron
    Jun 05, 2010 @ 09:54:29

    I love the voice. However, this sample is a little rough. Others have pointed out some problems with word choices (principle rather than principal; helmet rather than hamlet). Also, commas are missing in many places where I’d expect them. For example:

    “the lord of the manor who also happened to be the patron of the school”

    would read more easily as

    “the lord of the manor, who also happened to be the patron of the school”

    The former would also suggest to me that there’s some other lord of the manor who wasn’t a school patron; it’s like the difference between “the man who juggled kittens went to the bookstore (, but the man who juggled puppies stayed home)” and “the man, who juggled kittens, went to the bookstore (to look for the romance novel featuring kitten-juggling)”.

    It’s a really interesting start, though, and if the grammar were cleaned up, I’d certainly read the rest of the chapter to see where the story’s going.

  14. Stephanie
    Jun 05, 2010 @ 10:09:56

    Hmm. I’m torn between wanting to commend your originality and wanting to red-pencil about 90% of the info dump. Packing the beginning of your tale with this much backstory seems a bit self-indulgent to me, even given your narrator’s disclaimer about not being much of a storyteller. In fact, that disclaimer might backfire, because readers might agree after the first few paragraphs that the narrator can’t tell a story and feel no inclination to continue.

  15. Ros
    Jun 05, 2010 @ 10:56:52

    @Lynne Connolly: ‘desert island’ reminded me of Robinson Crusoe (which is definitely earlier than Regency) rather than Desert Island Discs! Though I think Crusoe’s island (and Alexander Selkirk’s) were deserted rather than desert.

  16. Lynne Connolly
    Jun 05, 2010 @ 11:58:58

    @Ros: That’s why I said it wasn’t anachronistic, it just sounded modern. It’s something the historical writer has to beware of, and often a reason why sometimes a reader can think a writer is being anachronistic when he or she isn’t.

    It’s awfully hard to pull this kind of thing off, and it has to be really good to attract readers. I’m not sure the romance market is the right place for this kind of pastiche, but I’d be really interested in seeing how this does.

  17. Julia Sullivan
    Jun 05, 2010 @ 14:24:12

    It would be very unlikely for a Regency parent to send a daughter to a boarding school kept by a man—girls’ boarding schools of that era, which did exist, were kept by widows or maiden ladies, unlike the girls’ boarding schools of the late 17th and earlier 18th centuries, which were generally kept by schoolmasters and their wives (cf. the school at Gorges House and the many schools at Chelsea established in the 1690s).

    “School teacher” here is either an anachronism or an Americanism; it should be “schoolmistress”.

    To be brutally honest, this is like reading something by Mr. Casaubon and it’s off-putting; my hope would be that the whole book wouldn’t be in this voice.

  18. hapax
    Jun 05, 2010 @ 14:28:03

    Oh, dear. I was mildly intrigued by the voice, but distracted by the typos and meandering style, until I got to Castiron’s comment:

    “the man, who juggled kittens, went to the bookstore (to look for the romance novel featuring kitten-juggling)

    and now I am quite desperate to read the book that begins with that sentence.

  19. Scarletti
    Jun 05, 2010 @ 14:33:34

    Just as a reader, I would keep reading. I would hope the narrative would recede and the action wouldn’t be as passive, if that makes sense.
    Not a professional in any sense, but as a reader it has promise to me.

  20. Marianne McA
    Jun 05, 2010 @ 16:13:06

    I imagine it’s really hard to write as someone who isn’t a great writer, and for me, the character of the narrator isn’t 100% believable yet. I agree with everyone that the awkwardnesses need to be either ironed out, or else exaggerated so the reader is sure that they’re characterisation rather than mistakes.
    But I think it’s a lovely idea – the incompetent author – and I liked the first part where he/she explains why the book is being written.

    Just to be entirely unhelpful, on a ‘you can’t please all the people…’ note, I’d disagree with DianeW and Darlynne. The Lady Brightmore bit was where I lost interest: I’m interested in the author, and the badly written love story they promise me – and I’m sort of prepared to read about Brightmore if I really have to, to know the setting, but I really don’t – at that moment – have any interest in the backstory of a secondary character I haven’t met.

  21. theo
    Jun 05, 2010 @ 16:28:50

    Though I agree with the other nitpickers ;), apart from the grammatical and spelling errors, it does have a certain je ne sais quoi to it, but you lost me at

    That being the case, I fear that you shall soon discover that I am an indifferent story-teller

    because if you’re going to tell me you’re an ‘indifferent storyteller’, I’m not much interested in wading through your indifference to get to the true story underneath.

    So that is where you lost me.

    I did give it another go though, but again, the nitpicky things were too hard to ignore.

  22. Maura
    Jun 05, 2010 @ 18:42:07

    The style doesn’t appeal to me. I was bored by the end of the second paragraph- this is too much of an infodump for me, and the style just feels a tiny bit strained.

    As an aside, the very first thing I thought, upon reading the very first sentence, was “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth….” The “oh HELLO reader, I am your narrator and I may or may not be unreliable!” intro has been a hard one to pull off ever since that one.

  23. Sherry Thomas
    Jun 05, 2010 @ 20:42:05

    This is ambitious and original, so definitely props.

    I thought it was a female narrator until “united with the woman I adore.” Is it?

    Every single one of my books start with unapologetic info-dumpery. So far be it for me to question the use of background information at the beginning.

    But it would be good if you next paragraph begins with “It was at this school that I met my beloved” or something else that brings the narrative back to the story at hand.

    First page is valuable, valuable real estate. Is Sir William and Lady Brightmore really what you want to focus on at this point? If it is, well then, carry on. If not, you might want to relate their story a little later, when a reader’s interest is more firmly established.

    My reaction as of the end of the first page is tentative curiosity, curiosity for obvious reasons, tentative because I don’t know where the story is going and whether I’m going to like what I will get.

  24. Lucy Woodhull
    Jun 05, 2010 @ 21:27:11

    This is an interesting idea, so kudos!

    You lost me at indifferent, though. If your narrator doesn’t care, why should I? Tell me he’s bad at it. Heck – have him be bad at it in an entertaining way, fine. But not indifferent.

    I come from an acting background, and one of the hardest things to do on stage is act bored. Because usually you come off as the actor being bored instead of the character, and the performance being boring. Same thing with a writer. Your character says he’s boring and, if he is, the writer is boring, too.

  25. Ros
    Jun 06, 2010 @ 01:41:15

    @Lucy Woodhull: I don’t think ‘indifferent’ means ‘bored’ in this context, it means something more like ‘mediocre’.

  26. Polly
    Jun 06, 2010 @ 07:46:06

    I like the concept, but there’s still some stuff to be ironed out. First, keep the tone consistent. I like the very even-keeled, amused narrative voice. But then, you’ve got stuff like “penniless school teacher,” which dips into more melodramatic terms. In fact, that whole paragraph doesn’t seem to fit to me. If you’re going for an Austen-like style, it’s better (I think) to reference her social status and leave it at that. Everyone will know she’s poor, but “penniless teacher rescued by rich man” says melodrama rather than social comedy to me. And, “enslaved by her bold dark eyes” is too much too, I think. Austen gets away with descriptions like that because they’re always a wink at the comedy–see the description of Sir and Lady Bertram in Mansfield Park.

    Take out the contractions. The more formal style requires a consistent formality of language.

    Is this a male or female narrator? I thought it was female until the “woman I adore.”

    And, a girls’ boarding school with a guy at the head? I don’t think so, not then.

    Overall, though, I would definitely be interested in a story like this, provided the voice seemed consistent to me. I have to forget that it’s not a period voice. If I can do that, I’m all for it!

  27. Suzanne
    Jun 06, 2010 @ 10:55:33

    I’m afraid I have to give this a thumbs down. The omniscient POV is telling not showing, and the massive backstory/info dump would have me closing the book fast.

    While the style is true to books written in that time period, keep in mind your readers are in the here and now. And many don’t have the patience to plow through all you’ve written.

    At least you can pat yourself on the back for attempting something different.

  28. sao
    Jun 07, 2010 @ 06:14:45

    I came to this quite late. I love the voice. It’s unique, however, it took a little bit long. If the story is about Lady Brightmore, then, I don’t really appreciate hearing the ending before I start the story. If it’s not about Lady Brightmore, then, I’m still on info dump. Elegantly done info dump, but info dump.

    To keep the interest of the modern reader, you have to get to the point sooner. Perhaps if you were a successful, published author, you’d have the liberty to meander, but there is so much bad writing out there, so many stories that never get going that you can’t look like you’re another wanna-be author who has the pacing of a snail.

    In real life, I’d probably give you three pages to thrill me. Not 3 carefully read pages, Para one caught my interest, by the end of the page, I was reading carelessly. You’d either need to keep my interest from para 1 or catch it again by page 3.

  29. Christina
    Jun 07, 2010 @ 14:18:57

    IMO, nix the entire third paragraph. Snorefest. And I don’t care how cool your story is, if your character “sucks at telling it” (paraphrase obviously mine) I don’t want to hear it.

    Also, is instructresses actually a word? If it is, it’s a bit of an awkward one to read, especially as many times as it was used in this excerpt.

  30. Mischa
    Jun 07, 2010 @ 14:32:58

    Your narritive voice seems to match books from the time period quite well. However, since that POV bores me silly, I wouldn’t bother reading on.

  31. HeatherK
    Jun 08, 2010 @ 10:32:24

    A lot of these offerings I can’t even make it to the end of, but this one, I reached the end before I realized it. Yes, there are the errors that were already pointed out, but they didn’t really distract me all that much. I actually liked it and I’m a super picky reader. I don’t read regencies, but I’d definitely pick this one up and give it a go.

    I found something about it intriguing, though I can’t explain what.

  32. Lana
    Jun 09, 2010 @ 00:41:32

    I would read a first person narrative like this, but not if it was marketed as a romance novel. And there would have to be an unusual twist to the story as well as a unique narrator. I think of Sarah Waters, for example, and her wonderful Dickensian lesbian narrators. I am afraid that I wouldn’t carry on if this is story is narrated by an upper class man who falls in love with a young woman at the boarding school. It just isn’t sufficiently intriguing and I would rather turn to a real 19th century novel. I find the voice of this narrator to be a bit overwrought, to be honest. Too many adjectives – 19th century narrators are not this florid.
    At the very least, cut the part where he tells us about all the adventure stories he will not narrate. Those stories sound a lot more interesting than a story about “the fullness of my heart, the utter felicity of being at long last united with the woman I adore.” I am afraid that I don’t care how full his heart is and you are giving away the happy ending, which takes all the narrative tension out of your story! Even though we know the hero and heroine unite at the end, we like to pretend that there is uncertainty.
    Good luck with this – I would say that you have to market beyond the romance community in order to get editors to take a chance on it.

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