Confessions of a Footnote Fetishist

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I have a confession to make and it’s a little bit of an embarrassing one.

It’s something I’ve obsessed over for years.

I tend to tell blurt it out, even when I promised myself that this time, I’ll keep a lid on it.   People on the street, people I get stuck beside in long lines, family, friends, the cats – it doesn’t seem to matter.

*whispering* I have a long standing addiction to footnotes.


I said it.

My name is Elyse Mady and I’m addicted to subscripts and itty-bitty fonts, all crammed down at the bottom of the page.  I always read them.  Sometimes, I even read them first.

And don’t even get me started on bibliographies and works cited.  Monographs.  Secondary sources.  My heart beats faster at the thought.

I definitely got to indulge while I was writing my latest book, “The White Swan Affair” because while it’s a romance with not one but two happily ever afters, many of the events in the story really happened.

The White Swan Affair

In July, 1810, there was a raid on a molly house in London and a tailor named Robert Aspinall was arrested and subsequently tried in what was, before Oscar Wilde’s trial in the late 19th century, one of the most notorious prosecutions of homosexuals in modern English history.    Might seem an odd place to go looking for romance, but when I stumbled across a mention of the trial in, of all things, a footnote, my story senses started tingling.  *clang, clang clang*

Something about the event, and the treatment of not only the accused (which I think can be summed up as appalling) but their families, too, who had to partake in their vilification, appealed to me as a writer.  What would it be like to find out that your husband — a grocer from Essex, or a solider or a carter perhaps — has been leading a double life?  What would you do when no one will acknowledge you, because your father or your brother or your son has been identified by name in the papers as committing a crime ‘too unnatural’ to speak of’?  When your business is ruined and the accused faces death by hanging for their transgression?  The injustice of it all made me want to tell something of the story.  I had to.  The character of Hester simply walked into my mind, worried and distracted about her brother’s fate, and demanded that I start.

So for the first time in my writing career, I was delving into real people and real history.  This meant a lot of research.    I read primary sources, like trial transcripts from the Old Bailey and newspaper accounts and studied prints and maps to get a sense of where everything was happening.    Lots and lots of it never ends up on the page and I’m OK with that because a romance novel should be, first and foremost, about the romance.  And some of it is simply the product of my imagination and best guesses, because that’s what a writer does when they’re telling a story.

But it was exciting learning about a Regency world where balls and Lady Jersey and 10,000 a year weren’t the focus – where life was incredibly hard and bravery took many forms and often involved making difficult decisions where the only hope was to mitigate hardship, not escape it.

So that’s what my love of footnotes has led me to.  A story I was compelled to tell and that I hope readers will enjoy immersing themselves in as much as I did, if only to gain an even greater appreciation of a time and a place so many of us love to escape to.

I’ll never underestimate the power of subscript again!


Elyse Mady is the author of  “The White Swan Affair”, The Debutante’s Dilemma”, Something So Right” and “Learning Curves, all with Carina Press.  She blogs at  You can also find her on Twitter at @elysemady, Facebook and Goodreads.

In addition to her writing commitments, Elyse also teaches film and literature at a local college. In her free time she enjoys (well, enjoys might be too strong a word – perhaps pursues with dogged determination would be better) never ending renovations on their century home with her intrepid husband and two boys.

With her excellent writerly imagination, she one day dreams of topping the NY Times Bestseller’s List and reclaiming her pre-kid body without the bother of either sit-ups or the denunciation of ice-cream

7 thoughts on “Confessions of a Footnote Fetishist”

  1. J.L. Hilton says:

    I’ve already bought my copy and can’t wait to read it. I loved “Debutante’s Dilemma.” Sadly, the injustice wasn’t left behind in the Regency period. I live in NC and the state recently passed an amendment against same-sex marriage. What’s truly “vile” and “unnatural” is the hate being spewed at people whose only offense is love and the desire to live fully and honestly like the rest of their fellow human beings.

  2. Looks like a fantastic story, Elyse!

  3. P. Kirby says:

    I have an odd relationship with footnotes. See, if they’re there to give additional, but non-essential information, I read ’em. But…if understand the work requires reading the footnotes, my belligerent self rebels, and refuses to even look at them. They are required reading, ergo, they are dead to me.

    Congrats on the new release!

  4. Your cover hero looks yummy. I’m not usually a reader of historicals, but I think I will add this to my kindle. I love inspired by true stories. :-)

  5. Is there some trick to reading footnotes on a Kindle? (Or, to be specific, an iPad running the Kindle app?) I usually see the asterisk but don’t happen on the footnote until the end of the chapter. Then again, I had to get my fourteen-year-old to show me how to zoom in when taking a picture with my iPhone.

    Congrats on the new release! The unjust treatment of gay and lesbian people during the regency is one of the least attractive aspects of an otherwise appealing period, and sadly one which we haven’t entirely left behind today. I’ve bought and downloaded THE WHITE SWAN AFFAIR and can’t wait to start reading it.

  6. Ooooh, I do love me a good footnote. All of those juicy little pieces of information just tossed to the bottom of the page. That’s where you get all the lovely details. And to have footnotes combined with romance? *shudder* Lovely.

    Congratulations, Elyse!

  7. Interesting the paths research will take us down as writers! I’m peering at footnotes all the time since I “do” Ancient Egypt LOL. Some of the best stuff is buried in the tiny print. I admire your taking on these themes and best wishes with the book!

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