Spare a Thought for the Spare Heir

Prince_Harry_and_Meghan_Markle

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding on 19 May 2018 is hot news, so here’s my little contribution to the #royalty craze, a tribute to the spare heir.

It must be a tough gig being the little brother of the heir (of the heir apparent). Prince Harry, bless him, seems unlikely to reign. Heck, who knows if his father, the heir apparent, will make it to the throne.

History is speckled with spare heirs winding their way to the throne. Tempestuous Henry VIII, a spare himself, fathered three children, all of whom had a turn holding the sceptre in the hot seat. More recently, Elizabeth II, a daughter of a spare, could have pursued a life of quiet obscurity if love and duty hadn’t collided so violently in the life of her uncle Edward VIII, the abdicator.

Fascintating Spare Heirs

Late in 2014, I encountered the intriguing concept of spare heir. After pondering the potential for sibling jealousy, the impact on family dynamics, and the effect on one’s sense of identity and purpose, I followed it deep into the rabbit hole of  research and emerged with some cool background conflict for a story.

I wondered if there were ever any twin heirs and spares? Imagine missing out on a kingdom and a crown (or, conversely, relative freedom from duty)  by a matter of minutes! A quick shake of Queen Victoria’s family tree and out fell a golden apple, AKA the propelling nugget of goodness—a historical fact that leads to a series of compelling what-ifs that beg to become a story!

I found heir apparent twins. Almost…

William_IVVictoria wasn’t the daughter of her predecessor. She was the niece of William IV, who’d failed to produce a (legitimate) heir. William and his mistress, actress Dorothea Jordan, produced a herd of children surnamed FitzClarence. But William and Queen Adelaide had a string of bad luck in the progeny department. Their two daughters, Elizabeth and Charlotte, both tragically died shortly after birth. Adelaide’s final pregnancy ended in a devastating stillbirth of twin boys, who, as far as I can tell, were not named.

If those boys had lived, one would have become king, and the other a spare—but a spare by only moments. Meanwhile,  Princess Alexandrina (Victoria) would have remained an obscure princess—a round-raced, royal hanger-on, probably sequestered to a drab apartment at Kensington or worse. No pretty young queen, possibly no marriage to Prince Albert, and no dour, widowed monarch. How would the 19th century have fared without her formidable imprint? How would the 20th century differed?

See what I mean about a series of compelling questions?

History’s Loss, My Gain

I gave those unsung twin boys life and names, and I dug into their family history for a bit of intrigue. I didn’t have to go deep; the boys’ grandfather would have been King George III. Remember him? His illness rendered him unfit to rule and was the reason for the Regency period. He was considered mad (which I must point out is one weakness among many other good and noble qualities he possessed, like being a faithful family man and an ardent promoter of scientific enquiry. He was a fascinating and misunderstood character.)

Augustus (my name), the firstborn twin in my story THE TEMPLE OF LOST TIME, inherits not only the throne but also his grandfather’s illness. Though fairly young, he’s slowly dying and losing his mind. King Augustus’s desperation to extend his reign makes him volatile, cruel, and vulnerable to exploitation. His dangerous obsession with olden magic puts both his life and empire at risk. This is the world of my story: London, 1853, during the dark and unstable Augustan Age. Great Britain teeters as time ticks away.

Meanwhile, King Augustus’s twin, the spare heir Prince James, is healthy, capable, and wildly popular with the masses, a fact that torments the paranoid, enfeebled king.

#RoyalsBehavingBadly

King Augustus not only inherits a genetic illness, he also adopts his philandering father’s habit of pursuing beautiful actresses. His prime target is the lovely Lucy Le Breton, a popular actress and singer at the Theatre Royal. She does everything she can to avoid the despicable king.

Eleven-year-old Toby, Lucy’s son, is the hero of the story. More than anything, Toby yearns to know his father. What he doesn’t know is the clock is ticking, and there’s no time to lose…

So, a bit of wondering about spare heirs plus a few years of writing and rewriting and rerewriting has resulted in a story, THE TEMPLE OF LOST TIME, a middle grade historical fantasy adventure, which is currently in submission. It is the first of three books. Wish me luck as I try to find a good home for it.

Temple of Lost Time 5_1

To the Real Spare Heir!

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have a rich and colourful royal history behind them and a life full of possibility ahead of them. Here’s wishing them happiness and long life together. May the real spare heir be spared the wild adventures of my imagination! To the royal couple! Cheers!

Image Credits

Prince Harry & Meghan Markle

By Mark Jones CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

William IV, Public Domain

Genre Exposé: Gaslamp Fantasy

BigBenSunsetByGrahamVPhotoCC

Steampunk everyone knows. But how about Cyberpunk, Dieselpunk, and Clockpunk? Or Gaslamp? These are the specialist terms of the hard-core fantasy-fan. They are all sub-genres of Science Fiction and Fantasy, which are sub-genres of Speculative Fiction.

I love Gaslamp because it combines Historical Fiction with fantastic possibilities. A librarian from the New York Public Library described Gaslamp as “Jane Austen or Charles Dickens meets Harry Potter.” I like that.

lamp-294127_1280Spotlight on Gaslight

When I describe my book The Temple of Lost Time as a Gaslamp fantasy adventure for middle-grade readers, lots of people reply, “I’ve never heard of Gaslamp fantasy.” Maybe not, but I bet you’ve read it! (Read on for a list of classic and popular titles.)

Gaslamp (or Gaslight) is a sub-genre of both fantasy and historical fiction. It is usually set in Regency, Victorian or Edwardian times, and it’s generally set in England or its (former) colonies. It refers to the gas lamps of the time, which cast a peculiar, eerie ambiance. The fascination with faeries and spiritualism in the Nineteenth Century informs the genre. Comic series creator Kaja Foglio coined the term Gaslamp to describe her Girl Genius series.

Gaslamp fiction is often mislabelled as Steampunk, which doesn’t work because the literature lacks a ‘punk’ tone, i.e., disaffected, brash, irreverent. [Some people are quick to point out that much of Steampunk itself isn’t exactly ‘punk’ either, but I’m not going anywhere near that debate!]

Gaslamp incorporates themes, subjects, and tropes that aren’t found in pure fantasy (Tolkien) and faerie (MacDonald). While Steampunk emphasises (mad) science, clockwork mechanics, and steam power, Gaslamp explores magical possibilities and delights in supernatural elements, time-slip, alternate histories, parallel dimensions, etc.

Gaslamp comes in many flavours from dark and broodingly Gothic to swashbuckling and adventuresome, from polite and romantic to sassy and theatrical. It can include romance, espionage, boarding schools, sleuthing, piracy, and more. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?

Popular Examples of Gaslamp Fantasy

Here are a few that I’ve enjoyed or plan to read:

From the Classics:

  • Peter Pan and Wendy by JM Barrie
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker

Recent Popular Gaslamp Titles:

  • The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
  • The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
  • Drood by Dave Simmons
  • A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
  • Kat Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
  • His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik
  • Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith

Fancy A Gaslamp Sampler?

  • Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells: a Gaslamp Anthology, edited by Ellen Datlow et al

My Gaslamp Fantasy Series The Toby Fitzroy Chronicles

A little Peter Pan and a lot of Indiana Jones…

I can’t wait for the day when my middle grade novel, The Temple of Lost Time, is added to the list of popular Gaslamp titles above. I like to describe it as a little Peter Pan and a lot of Indiana Jones because it’s a swashbuckling, adventure-filled quest laced with magic and danger. Real places and factual personalities mix with imagined characters and fantastical beings. Myths and legends intersect history as my characters sail out of this world into another, a place called Achronos.

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At first, I thought I had written a Steampunk story thanks to one critical scene that involves a pretty cool steam-powered device. However, while editing my third draft, I sadly conceded one scene doesn’t make something Steampunk. Steampunk is a tone, a theme and a philosophy, all rolled into one.

I did some research and concluded that I had the makings of a Gaslamp fantasy. With that bit of understanding, my redrafting became more focused. I rewrote the whole thing with the conventions and aesthetic of Gaslamp uppermost in my mind. My opening scene now shimmers with weird and wonderful possibility. My earlier, rather watery denouement has transformed into something much richer and more fantastic.

Allohistory – When History Becomes a Playground

Like many Gaslamp tales, my story takes place in an alternative Nineteenth Century England. It’s 1853, but Queen Victoria is not on the throne. Instead, I went to the annals history to devise another monarch—one far less benevolent and mild than our Victoria.

Victoria became queen when her uncle, William IV, died without producing a legitimate heir. Uncle Will had nine illegitimate children to his long-standing mistress, stage actress Dorothea Jordan, but his poor wife, Queen Adelaide, was not so fortunate in the motherhood department. She birthed two daughters who died within weeks. Between these girls, there was a miscarriage, and subsequent to the second girl’s death, there were twin boys who were stillborn.

I gave lives to those boys, and named them Augustus and James. I imagined England under the rule of Augustus. With one wave of my writerly wand, a puff of smoke, and a Hey-Presto! the Victorian Era becomes the Augustan Age. Augustus inherits more than the throne, namely the physical feebleness and mental illness of his grandfather, Edward III. What’s more, I made him riddled with paranoia and positively obsessed with the magical possibilities of myths and legends. Old King Augy is not a popular guy. He’s unpredictable and tyrannical, and is hell-bent on cheating death. To do so, he is desperate to find and raid The Temple of Lost Time

That’s all I’ll say for now. Fingers crossed, a publisher will quickly pick up my book so you can find out the rest!

[P.S. I’d love to know what you think, so please leave me a comment!]

More on Genre and Gaslamp Fantasy…

Check out the following resources:

Over to You!

Are you a Gaslamp Fantasy writer or reader? Got a favourite? Share below!

Image Credits

Big Ben Sunset by Graham V Photo, CC BY-NC-ND, 2.0

Vectors are CC0, Public Domain