Thursday, August 12, 2010

Meeting My Waterloo

I finished the outline of the third book in my romance novel series last night. These being the same stories I was fiddling with last summer (seriously--the whole series is planned). I wrote the first one through, submitted it to a contest, got some pointers and honest-to-goodness feedback on the first 35 pages.

Then I got into Last Request and left the Regency historical novels on my desktop.

Well, the spark came back about a month or two ago. I acquired a new Regency-set romance (one by an author I'd never read before, in fact, though I read the blog she shares with other historical romance writers). I indulged my interest in Waterloo by reading Georgette Heyer's An Infamous Army. Then I bought Sherry Thomas' latest release--His At Night--which is actually late Victorian, but her writing is so good, her prose is so beautiful, that it made me want to write a historical romance again. I'm girly-geeky. I like a good historical romance novel.


I settled for outlining them first. Thoroughly, in bullet points. Sounds boring, perhaps, and way too methodical to be possible for moi, but I feel creatively fulfilled in knowing how these stories fit together, how something that happens in Mady's story in book one resolves itself in Laura's story in book 3. I'm working on another outline, for a Tudors-set story about the adventurous son of a nun and a priest, but it requires a hefty amount of research (watching The Tudors does not qualify, unfortunately) and thinking through, so it'll take a little longer. I'm not feeling particularly inspired in that direction right now.

Regency romance is very familiar to me. I mean, it's Jane Austen and John Keats and lords and ladies, with the background of a long war with the French (and Americans) to make the stakes higher. It's an insane king and his fat, hedonistic son, with a wealthy, refined aristocracy, the Industrial Revolution, reform, rebellious Irish, troublesome French...Empire waists...Vanity Fair...

The Keegan series has been percolating in my mind for the last year. Mady's story is first, then Alexandra's.

Book 3 is Laura's story. She's the stepsister who runs away into a trap in book 1. It's 1815. When the news of Napoleon's escape from Elba reaches the family, their old family friend (son of the local lord, who is the Keegan girls' guardian), now a newlywed, decides to buy back his old commission. Alex's husband also goes back to his former army position, since there is a sore lack of veterans, and Alex is headed to Brussels, Belgium, in the spring, to be with her husband as the British and allied forces gather in Belgium and drill and train--and await Napoleon.

Laura asks to go to Brussels, too, where she meets an army major, encounters cruel gossip about herself and the events of book 1, and lives through the tension and confusion of the battles of Quatre-Bras and Waterloo.

I'd read a romance that took place partially in Waterloo. An Infamous Army is all about Waterloo. It's high drama. June 15, 1815, the Duchess of Richmond throws a ball in Brussels, which most of the high-ranking officers of the army attend. It's at this ball that the Duke of Wellington, who was the field marshal of the coalition forces, receives confirmation that the French have crossed the Belgian border but are headed to a village closer than intelligence had originally anticipated--so Wellington gives his orders to mobilize at the ball.
Imagine a solider leaving for his regiment, bidding his wife or sweetheart farewell--he's still in his dress uniform, they've just been dancing--and now it's time for battle.

Quatre-Bras came a matter of hours later. The Prussians, British allies, were at Ligny. They lost and retreated, so Wellington decided to retreat as well, to keep communication between the armies open--they ended up at a small ridge outside of the village of Waterloo, just 10 miles south of Brussels, where civilians waited for news. Was Napoleon going to invade the city? Should they leave for Antwerp, closer to the sea, in case? Where were the Prussians? What the hell was going on?!

Then a huge rainstorm came down on the 17th. By 6 am on June 18th, the ground was saturated, but Wellington's army was in place. They fortified a chateau called Hougomont and a farm called La Haye Sainte in the middle of the valley where they fought. Wellington had his reserves and the bulk of his men hiding behind the ridge so the French couldn't see his true numbers. I read that the men laid down on the ground during parts of the battle to trick the French.

The Allies won. The French ran away. Napoleon was ruined. 75,000 French soliders died or were wounded. The Allies lost 22,000 to wounds and death. I was trying to figure out what the infantry, cavalry and such did during the battle. I got that down pat, but then the questions arose: who actually fought there? And where could I insert my fictional characters? A Google Book search later, I found a book that listed the British casualties by regiment. The cavalry charged too far into French lines and were cut down by artillery and the infantry mainly stood in square formation and shot at the French cavalry and lancers. The Engineers were present, but didn't do much. I even played the Battle of Waterloo game.

So those are the logistics. But what happens after a battle, when there are dead men lying on a battlefield, horrific bloody mess, dead horses, smoke, cannons, guns, bayonets and looters--some of whom reportedly killed wounded men for trinkets and good teeth.

I'm looking for a good source for Wellington's despatches during this time--some of them were directly quoted in An Infamous Army and I like his formal but wry tone. But in reading up on who ran what regiment and who the major players were, I came across the story of Colonel Sir William DeLancey, Deputy Quartermaster-General, and his wife of ten weeks, Magdalene.

You see, DeLancey (who was born in New York to Loyalist parents--DeLancey Street downtown is named after the family) was on Wellington's personal staff. It was late in the battle of Waterloo when, while talking to Wellington, DeLancey was on his horse and was hit in the back by a richocheting cannonball, which knocked him off his horse. He was carried to the rear of the army and taken to a cottage, but was left there, presumed dead, until someone saw him.

His wife had joined him in Brussels and was in Antwerp awaiting his summons for her to return to him. At first, she heard he was alive and unharmed. Then, she heard he was alive, but wounded. Then she heard he was dead. Then, finally, that he was alive but wounded. Magdalene went to Waterloo to find her husband and nursed him for a week until he finally died of his wounds. Later, she wrote a narrative of the events, called A Week in Waterloo in 1815. Supposedly, she wrote it for her brother to pass around to family, so that she wouldn't have to repeat the story. I found it online and am reading it now: Link.

It's a primary source account of what civilians were doing in the lead up to the battle, as well as a heart-wrenching account of what happened afterwards. It's a direct look into that time.

I'm still not sure if I'll get around to writing these three stories, but with completed outlines, it'll make it easier on me. Plus, unlike the other research-intensive story, at least I don't have to research the following: The Catholic Church. The Reformation. Henry VIII. The Silk Road. Nuns. Priests. Pilgrimage of Grace. Gay Italians.

Whew. Might let this one percolate for a year as well. It doesn't really have a broad point yet...it's just a Tudors fantasy gone on acid.


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