Most writers dream of publishing a best-seller, quitting their day jobs, and basking in the glory of riches, readers, and glowing reviews. Unfortunately, a significant percentage of wannabe authors fall by the wayside when the path to fame becomes littered with rejections and disappointments.
Mary Balogh is one of the exceptions. She wrote her first novel, A Masked Deception, in longhand in the kitchen after the dishes were done. Three months later, Signet offered her a two-book contract. The first book was published in 1985 and she won the Romantic Times Award for Best New Regency Author the same year.
Balogh grew up as a Jenkins in Swansea, Wales, married a Canadian who likes to play Santa Claus during the holidays, and taught high school English for twenty years before she was finally able to leave teaching to become a full-time author in 1988. She discovered Georgette Heyer during a maternity leave when she was working through a Grade XI reading list, and was instantly addicted to the world she’d only known before through the novels of Jane Austen.
The Baloghs live in the city of Regina, Saskatchewan in the winters and Kipling, a rural farming community, in the summer months.
Discovering Mary Balogh
Coincidentally, my own interest in Regency romance was piqued with Georgette Heyer as well, and eventually I discovered the Signet and Zebra lines. I can’t recall which of Balogh’s I stumbled upon first, but I can tell you that after that I scrambled to find everything she’d ever written. When she announced that she had written her last Signet in order to write longer-length novels, I felt betrayed. While I enjoy her later books as well, for some reason, I still think of Mary Balogh as a Signet Regency author.
What Is It About Balogh’s Writing?
It’s the characters. In A Secret Pearl, which I’m re-reading right now, I feel the desperation of the young girl forced to offer herself to a man in order to survive. She’s alone in the world, fleeing from a villainous cousin, unable to find respectable work, and her options are few. I have tears in my eyes just thinking about her dreadful situation. Then suddenly she is whisked away to a ducal estate to be serve as governess, as it turns out, to the daughter of the man who took her virginity. A married man. And then her cousin shows up…but I was hooked long before that. I must find out how my heroine gets her happy-ever-after when it seems hopeless.
As you can see, Balogh doesn’t shy away from the darker themes. While the typical balls and waltzes do feature in her Regency stories, they often take a back seat to the seamier, more uncomfortable topics, such as adultery and prostitution. In fact, one of the books I will never forget is about a prostitute named Priscilla who becomes a mistress. Here is what Balogh herself says about A Precious Jewel.
This is the book of mine that seemed impossible to write but had to be written. Sir Gerald Stapleton was a minor character in The Ideal Wife and was forever lamenting the loss of Priss, his long-term mistress, who had left him to marry someone from her past. I found myself not only fascinated by that relationship—Gerald had taken Priss from a brothel to be his mistress—but also obsessed by it. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and weaving a story about it—and dreaming up a reconciliation and happy ending for them.
The problem was obvious. I was writing traditional Regency romances at the time, and it was clearly impossible to use a working prostitute as a heroine. And Gerald himself was a beta male, not the dashing, rakish rogue so beloved of Regency readers.
But the story would not leave me alone. I finally wrote it—it took me two weeks!—and shelved it for a while. No one would ever publish it. It had been written for my own satisfaction. But one day I sent it to my editor anyway, just to see how she would react. She reacted by sending it straight through to copyediting! And when it was published, it became a reader favorite.*
Which of Balogh’s books is your favorite? Do you prefer her earlier, shorter Regencies or the later, longer ones? What do you think of her use of themes commonly considered taboo in the Regency sub-genre?
Web site: http://www.marybalogh.com