One of the things I love about writing romance is that I can write about serious issues but still slip back into the comforting hold of a Happily Ever After. It’s not that I’m making light of these issues, quite the opposite – writing about heroes and heroines with survivor’s guilt or those who suffered abuse or bullying is my way of ‘discussing’ those issues with myself without letting them overpower me.
In my third book just out this month, The Duke’s Unexpected Bride, the hero Max is plagued by guilt about his part in the death of his fiancé. In my next book will be out in November, Lord Hunter’s Cinderella Heiress, the hero is also suffering from guilt at his failure to prevent his younger brother, a war veteran, from committing suicide. Suicide among veterans (and among active soldiers) is a real and growing problem.
Today at least there is awareness about PTSD, the impact of battle, the difficulties of reintegrating into civilian life, and the costs incurred by families of veterans and especially those whose loved ones commit suicide. But imagine how it would have been two hundred years ago after decades of war around the globe: thousands of veterans returned to England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, often damaged in body and mind, without income or the ability to find employment. There were some hospitals dedicated to caring for soldiers ‘broken by age or war’ (the most famous was the extensive Royal Hospital Chelsea established by King Charles II in 1681 and built by Sir Christopher Wren), but they were a drop in the ocean and didn’t address the difficulties so many had trying to rebuild their lives after years at war.
18th century engraving of the impressive Royal Hospital Chelsea from the Thames. To the right was the famous rotunda of Ranelagh Gardens (demolished in 1805):
Even those who were lucky enough to have families who cared for them, there was no understanding of the horrific impact of battle on the psyche. They were called heroes and expected to return to normal and to shed their nightmarish experiences as easily as they did their uniforms.
It is no wonder there were cases of suicide among men who experienced the horrors of war, many of which were not be reported as such for religious reasons or because of family pride or simply because they weren’t ‘clear’ cases of suicide.
In my story, Lord Hunter’s brother has been brutally tortured and suffers from acute pain. It is never clear whether the overdose of laudanum which kills him is an intentional suicide, though Lord Hunter is as certain as he can stand and is haunted by what he considers her failure to help his brother out of his tortured shell. Like many members of families who are affected by suicide of a loved one, his guilt at failing to protect his adored younger brother becomes a driving force in his life and very nearly prevents him from opening himself to his own thirst to live and to the healing power of love.
All fairy tales carry within them a core of painful reality. Happily Ever Afters are much more potent when hard earned. So out of the ashes of this very serious topic I wove my own fairy tale - luckily Hunter’s Cinderella heroine Nell (who has a few scars of her own, but that’s another story) is not easily dissuaded from pursuing her imperfect prince…
Here’s an excerpt from the first of my Wild Lord’s series which starts with Lord Hunter’s Cinderella Heiress in November 2017:
‘Here, this will keep you warm.’
Nell turned. Hunter was behind her, holding a glass of cider, its coil of milky steam carrying all those smells upwards, encompassing all the joys of the fête in a single receptacle. For a moment all the agony of unrequited love and impending loss fell away – right now Hunter was with her, a smile beginning to form in his eyes as he looked down at her. She took the glass, breathing in the scent of the cider, and sighed.
‘It’s just cider,’ he said with a laugh, his expression losing the remainder of its uncharacteristic grimness. ‘You look as if I am offering you the elixir of the gods.’
She shook her head and tasted it. In all her years attending the fête with her father she had never been permitted to taste this hedonistic brew and it had achieved mythical proportions in her mind. It didn’t disappoint – it slid down her throat, evoking a thoroughly sensual response like stepping into a warm spring swirling amber and amethyst and gold. She closed her eyes to let the taste spark those colors, surrounding her and fading away at the end, leaving just the fundaments of apple and cinnamon and a hint of clove. She opened her eyes with another sigh, letting it go.
‘That was my first time.’
As the silence stretched and with the glow of the bonfires lighting the same colors in his eyes she might have believed she had conjured Hunter from the same pagan spring in her mind. It took her a moment to even realize her words might be grossly misconstrued.
‘My first cup of Wilton cider,’ she explained.
‘You have an interesting way with firsts, Nell,’ he remarked, and the spirits in the cider, which had been tumbling through her quite leisurely, chose that moment to expand in a rush of heat that spread through her like the birth of a sun.