(Black Lace/Ebury. First published 1998, republished 2006, to be republished 2014 – still available now; it just means a range of different covers!)
What inspired you to write an erotic story set in this time period?
My reasons were quite pragmatic. I started my writing career in the mid-90s with contemporary, short-story erotica. After a few years, I was keen to try my hand at writing a novel so sent off for submission guidelines from Black Lace, the main UK publisher of women’s erotica at the time. One of their stipulations was that authors should use the words ‘fuck’ and ‘cunt’ sparingly, and with caution. I couldn’t imagine creating credible, contemporary characters who had such limited sexual vocabulary so I got around the issue by setting my book in an era where those kind of linguistic restrictions are entirely appropriate. I primarily write femsub, and discovered it’s much easier to generate the tension of that D/s dynamic in historical fic. In those days, nice girls didn’t, so the female character has a reason to resist his desire to overpower and ‘have’ her. By contrast, my contemporary characters have choice and agency, and are able to be honest about their kinky sexualities.
What research did you do?
Vast amounts! And this was pre-internet. I wanted to write a book that conveyed the texture of everyday reality in another time – the clothes, the cabs, the drawing rooms, the gas lights etc. Believe me, without Google, it’s incredibly difficult to find out precisely the kind of underwear people wore in 1875! I got lucky at my local library when I found a book on undergarments in the Dress History section. I had that book on loan for about a year. I also spent a lot of time in the children’s library – a surprisingly good resource for basic period info on transport, clothes, food and so on. Away from the library, I read a lot of Victorian pornography which was completely fascinating –both charming and filthy!
What’s the favorite traits your characters have?
Oh, they are a motley crew! Because I’m writing erotica, all my key players in DTL are, in some way, rebelling against the repressive sexual mores of Victorian England. Some do it brazenly, some nervously. I wanted my characters to have plausible reasons for not conforming sexually. Gabriel is an artist, a bohemian deliberately positioning himself outside the mainstream while still needing its patronage. Lord Marldon is wealthy, cruel and powerful so he can largely do whatever he wants. Lucy is widowed and has less need to safeguard her reputation than virginal Clarissa. Clarissa is motivated by love for a man who won’t meet her father’s approval. Beyond that, when Clarissa is kidnapped by Marldon, the kindness of her friends comes to the fore as they unite in an elaborate rescue bid. Being able to show loyalty, depth and integrity in supporting characters who might initially seem superficial and hedonistic was a rewarding part of the novel-writing process.
Why did you choose London as the place to set your novel?
It seemed the obvious setting. It’s a city I’m familiar with, and one that’s well represented in fiction and history, so research was bound to be relatively easy. It’s also the place where the nobility would go for ‘the season’ in summer, temporarily vacating the family pile in the Shires. The book centres on Clarissa, new in the capital and about to meet Lord Marldon, the man she’s expected to marry. It’s a well-worn trope but that narrative of country innocent in the big city leads to all manner of contrasts and conflicts – fertile ground for story-telling.
What part of the book did you enjoy writing the most?
I had a lot of fun with the minor characters and the Upstairs Downstairs aspects of several relationships in the book. I also loved writing the sex scenes where Lord Marldon is taking great delight in being sadistic and villainous, and is blithely incorporating members of his household in scenes designed to humiliate poor, naive Clarissa. Writing sexy, charismatic ‘baddies’ is always hugely enjoyable!
Lord Marldon moulded a grasping hand to the curve of her buttocks. He caressed her through layers of silk, drawing her loins closer to his. Clarissa felt his desire, a stern hard rod, digging into her belly. She imagined that imprisoned shaft of flesh violating her maidenhead and a bittersweet intensity tugged deep within her. Gabriel had valued her honour but Marldon would place no store by it. In the haze of her arousal, Clarissa was thankful for her bondage. If he should attempt to ravish her, she would be unable to fend him off.
‘Hardly a good start,’ murmured Lord Marldon, smudging kisses over her neck, ‘considering you’re supposed to be resisting me.’
Clarissa moaned weakly. His hand roved over her breasts. His lips brushed against her ear.
‘Are you wet?’ he asked softly. The closeness of his mouth blurred his voice to a low intimate tone, thick with warped sensuality and so darkly threatening. The sound speared Clarissa’s groin with a shameless clutch of longing. ‘Are you?’ he repeated. ‘Shall we find out, Clarissa?’
Marldon stepped away from her and clicked his fingers. ‘Marcus, James, get rid of her drawers.’
Clarissa shrieked as a couple of strong, slender youths stepped forward, flexing their fingers and smiling eagerly.
‘No,’ she begged, her eyes wildly beseeching. ‘Not here. I entreat you. Let us be alone, my lord. Then you can have me, I swear. But, please, not here.’
Lord Marldon could not contain a faint gleeful smile. ‘You must accustom yourself to it,’ he said. ‘I’m afraid the prospect of coupling beneath the bedclothes fails to excite me.’
You can purchase this book here.