I was coming up to fourteen at the time, I think. A good friend and I fancied ourselves as a writers. So we set ourselves a challenge: we would each write a story, of which only the title was decided. We’d call it ‘Captain Black’ and after that it was up to each of us to come up with a story to go under the title.
I’ve still got my effort, such as it is. Handwritten, in an exercise book bound in brown paper, lavishly illustrated, it is a maudlin romance set in the 18th century, with a background of the ’45 (Bonnie Prince Charlie and all that). I can’t remember my friend’s version. I wonder if she has it somewhere about her house?
Fast forward to the late 1970s. I’d written two novels set in seventeenth century England, on the strength of which I’d got myself an agent but no publisher (something that just wouldn’t happen today – agents no longer feel able to stick with anyone not immediately successful). So my agent suggested that I might try writing a romance for Mills and Boon, under a pen name, just to bring in some pin money until one of my historical novels found a home.
I read a few of the Mills and Boon ‘Masquerade’ series to get the idea, and then came up with a book in six weeks flat. And, with a nod to my teenage self, I called it ‘Captain Black’. It was published in 1980 under the pen name Caroline Martin. Much, much later it re-emerged as a library edition, as ‘The Highwayman’ under my own name.
And now I’m editing it for conversion to an Kindle ebook, with its original title and author. I’m finding that an oddly disconcerting experience, not having read it since it was first published. It feels like something written by another person, someone much closer to the fourteen-year-old who wrote the first story than the woman I am now – but then, even as a young mother, I was much closer in years to that teenager. I know that I could not write something remotely like this if I were to start again now. Have I really changed so much? I suppose it’s easier to write simple romances when you’re young and romantic. As one grows older, relationships become more complicated – or at least, one becomes more aware of their complexities. They are all the richer for that; and they can still have their share of romance, of a different kind.
There are six more of those old historical romances that I hope to relaunch soon, so I shall be interested to see if I find a more familiar voice in the writer as I revisit them one by one. As it is, it’s like meeting my very young self, a person I’d almost forgotten about, coming back to remind me of what I once was.