Janet Mullany


I needed light relief. I'd just written a book (as yet unpublished) where the hero/heroine were angsty and terrified of the implications of their falling in love, and even the weather was bad. An editor (whom I knew slightly) called me up to bark by way of greeting, "Janet, are your hero and heroine always so horrible to each other?" My answer must have included some variant of the word "yes" since I didn't sell it to her.

So I decided to write something for fun, just to clear the palate, and the result was The Rules of Gentility. Wouldn't it be funny, I thought, if someone wrote Bridget Jones's Diary set in the Regency. You couldn't have the calorie,
cigarette, or alcohol counts, but you could have a lot of other fun things taken from other chicklits--a passion for designer shoes could be for bonnets, for example. And it could be written in first person, a device I love (and which some of my favorite writers use--Nick Hornby, Anna Maxted, Jennifer Weiner)--and in a sort of Regency-speak in the voice of a fashionista heiress. Even better, I could lapse into the hero's voice when I found Philomena a bit too breathless and gushing.

Wait, I thought, after a few thousand words and the dim emergence of a plot. This is becoming serious. I like these characters. Plus a cast of secondary characters had emerged: the hero Inigo's terrifying mother and terrified bully of an older brother; Philomena's sisters, a collection of wannabe suitors, her mother who never stops talking (Mrs Bennett of Pride & Prejudice combined with Miss Bates of Emma) and a hymn-singing lady's maid. And there was so much more I could do with them: we'd already had The Kiss at the Ball; still to come were Proposals in Unusual Locations, High Adventures in Low Places, and Big Misunderstandings, all wrapped up in the revered plot device of The Fake Engagement. So, yes, it was an affectionate spoof of just about every Regency plot device.

In a way it was also an experiment, a getting back to basics--the WWJAD (What Would Jane Austen Do?) of romance. I couldn't suspend my disbelief long enough to write, or read, heroines who embarked on lofty careers; mine seem to aspire to either become whores or wives. Even Fabienne, the heroine of my first book, Dedication (Signet Regency, 2005) seems about to give up her career as a bohemian patroness of the arts for love and motherhood. What can you do with a heroine who announces upfront that her ambition is to marry well and meanwhile spends her spare time on fashion and rather vague philanthropic pursuits? Quite a lot, I found. I'm convinced, also, that Philomena is a cosmic joke on me, after all that stomping around claiming I'd never write a book with a virginal nineteen-year-old heroine.

I thought it was time, too, for someone to write a really funny historical romance. Anyone who spends any time at all online reading up on romance knows how popular sites are that spoof romance and in particular covers--and these are created and enjoyed by romance writers and readers themselves. You have to know and love the genre to be able to make fun of it. There are lots of brilliant historicals out there with fabulously witty one-liners and repartee, but nothing that made tea come out of my nose. One of my most embarrassing moments was when I met a Big Author and told her, with great enthusiasm, how I had laughed aloud in the scene where ... and as I babbled on, I realized
from the blank expression on her face, that it had not been written that way. So I released my inner comedy beast, the one that snuck out at the most inappropriate moments; the banana skin at Almack's, the whoopee cushion as the hero kneels to propose.

I hope you have as much fun reading The Rules of Gentility as I did writing it.