Trying to write Behold, Here’s Poison
In Novembr 1935, Georgette, Ronald and Richard moved out of Blackthorns and into a house called “The Paddocks” in the village of Broadbridge Heath near Horsham. It was a temporary move, made necessary by their decision to renovate Blackthorns, even though they did not own the house but rented it. Georgette was desperately trying to finish Behold, Here’s Poison, but by the end of November, to her great chagrin, she had made almost no progress. As she explained to Miss Perriam: “I have been thrown out of gear by my chosen poison being no good, & it has taken me a lot of time to find a substitute.” She was also in a quandary over money, for the cost of new carpet, lights, furniture and furnishings was proving to be far more expensive than she had anticipated and Georgette was afraid that she would soon be “at my wit’s end for ready cash”. They were living on an overdraft and she was trying to decide if she should continue writing short stories for magazines like Woman’s Journal or stick with the novel. Georgette would have loved to see one or more of her novels made into a film and had hopes that a film company might buy an option on Regency Buck, but once again she was disappointed.
“Why the blazes not one of those stinking film companies can see what a super film Regency Buck would make beats me…I despair of films – I expect Fate is going to be ironic, & i shall sell them when it doesn’t really matter much.”Georgette Heyer to Norah Perriam, letter, 25 November 1935.
Georgette’s “Unavoidable Domestic Difficulties”
Heyer was determined to complete Behold, Here’s Poison before the move back into Blackthorns on 16 December. Two days after writing so pessimistically to Miss Perriam about her struggles with the book. she wrote again much more optimistically to report that, “Behold, Here’s Poison is going along nicely”. Georgette had made “no less than 3 false starts” with the novel, all of which she had torn up. Since then, however, she had written 10,000 words of “Promising Stuff”. Once she got going, Heyer usually wrote with extraordinary facility and in the first few decades of her career generally had no difficulty in finishing a 100,000 word manuscript in six to eight weeks. Behold, Here’s Poison, however, was not to be one of those books. Her aim to have it to Hodder & Stoughton by Christmas proved impossible due to “unavoidable Domestic Difficulties” and Georgette’s remarkable admission that
“after my breakdown last year I daren’t sit up all night writing any more. 5.30 a.m. is now my limit”Georgette Heyer to Norah Perriam, letter, 11 December 1935
It cannot have been easy living in temporary quarters at The Paddocks while supervising the building and renovation works at Blackthorns and attend to Ronald’s and Richard’s needs while trying to write several short stories and a novel in order to alleviate her money worries. Nor can it have helped that The Paddocks was
“like a refrigerator. Three outside walls to the sitting room, two lots of windows, & one French window. Such a delightful summer house, as all my guests remark.”Georgette Heyer to Norah Perriam, letter 27 November 1935.
Georgette Heyer and her stately wolfhound
Georgette stopped writing over Christmas and put her money worries to one side. Her friend Joanna Cannan had been in touch with the happy news that she’d found a pedigree wolfhound at an affordable price.
“One charming thing has happened: I look like getting a wolfhound for a song. Been offered a champion-class puppy for £2.2.0, because she’s dislocated her leg, & it isn’t now quite straight – thus making her useless for show…Her name is Misty Dawn, & you can’t deny that I should look well with a stately wolf-hound at my feet!”Georgette Heyer to Norah Perriam, letter, 27 November 1935.
Georgette was elated at the prospect of another dog to join her adored Johnny the bull-terrier and Puck the Siamese cat and she travelled up to Henley to see her likely new pet. The breeder was Miss Esther Croucher, a noted European wolfhound judge, owner of the Rippingdon Kennels at Woodcote, and, from 1939, secretary of the Irish Wolfhound Club. Georgette was smitten with Misty Dawn who stood 33 inches at the shoulder and in later years Georgette would sometimes jokingly threaten to make a scene by bringing her wolfhound with her to lunch at the Ritz.
“the wolfhound wasn’t just any dog. The Irish wolf dog was the hound of kings and warriors dating back to the beginning of Ireland itself, world-famous for its ferocity, prowess in the hunt and —not the least — for its near-human qualities.”Bob McMillan, 27 March 2018, https://thewildstare.com/what-was-the-wolfhound-artists-secret/
The Talisman Ring – “a wholly glorious novel”
A fortnight after Christmas, Georgette finally returned to her desk and managed to write 7000 words in a single day. By 4 February 1936, the manuscript of Behold, Here’s Poison was complete. It had taken her less than three months to write the novel, but she still apologised to her agent for having “been so long over it”. Even before she had finished it, Heyer was already thinking about what to write next. She’d begun planning a book about Waterloo, but a few weeks later thought she might write some more short stories first – including one called “Corinthian”. By mid-March her money worries had become so severe that she had concluded that the best thing to do was to “abandon – or at any rate postpone – the Waterloo book, & instead to write a light, saleable Regency novel”. She planned to call the novel “Corinthian” and promised to let Miss Perriam “have a synopsis & some 6 or 7 chapters as soon as possible”, but three weeks later she still had not delivered them. Then, on 2 April 1936, Georgette had a breakthrough:
After several days brain-racking, during which time it appeared to me that I had Written Myself Out & couldn’t think of any plot at all, a Wholly Glorious Novel burst upon me in the space of twenty minutes. Three hours work filled in the rough sketch, & the result is the accompanying synopsis, [not attached – unfortunately!] which I hope may convey something to you. I start work tomorrow, & shall hope to have a fair wog to send you by the 14th. Anyway, I send a synopsis now. Unless I’ve lost my gift for the Farcical, which I do not think, I’m going to perpetrate one of my more amusing & exciting works. The title is The Talisman RingGeorgette Heyer to Norah Perriam, letter, 2 April 1936.